Monday, September 14, 2009

The Potato Truck


     Getting from The Gambia back into Senegal was a challenge, one that reminded me what it is about Africa that makes me cry, laugh, despair and hope. We waited hours, asked many drivers, even bribed an official but could not get a ride into Senegal. Finally, a man transporting hundreds of pounds of potatoes to market in Senegal let us pay him a considerable sum to ride with his cargo.
     In a vehicle that was once a small truck but was now made up from parts of several other vehicles, he crammed all his potatoes and sixteen people. Like sardines. My husband lay on his back atop a mountain of potatoes like an upside down crab, his knees to his chest and his arms seeming to hold up the potato laden roof sagging only inches above him. Another man thinking he had found the sweet spot on the roof fell off and the roof suddenly bowed a bit less.
     I sat in the front seat, my arms across the shoulders and out the windows of the driver and the passenger next to me. My job was to hold both doors shut for the four-hour journey. The man next to me taught me a few words of Wolof and I taught him some words in English such as “spuds” and “overcapacity” and “unsafe.” There was no reverse gear so when we had to turn around (to pick up the man who had fallen off) we all had to de-wedge ourselves from the truck and help push the vehicle around. And we must have come in the back door to Senegal. We never did see a border post.
     The next day we made our way to the local police station in Tambacounda so that we could get a stamp in our passports making us official. After we had tea with the policeman he wrote in our passports in French the date and, “seen passing through Tambacounda.”

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