15 September 2006

The Travails of My Trousers

Lazily taken from a letter I wrote to my good friend Harry while in Dakar, Senegal.

9 August -- My trousers are being held hostage by the Senegalese government. I discovered a tear along the seam of one of the legs yesterday, so today I took them to a local tailor and, after a prolonged negotiation, I left expecting to pick them up after lunch. I returned after 3, but the tailor's was still closed. Assuming he was still at lunch, I came back again a bit before 5.

When I got there, the men at the neighbouring store told me the tailor was gone, the place locked, and he might not return today. Given that I had (faint) hopes of leaving tomorrow morning, I found this a bit vexing. I asked if anyone knew the tailor's phone number, but they said no and, when pressed, that no one around there knew how to contact him. Cryptically, they said he doesn't have a key anyway.

So I settled down and played a game of foosball. Another thing that Senegal has over Gambia, besides electricity, roads, and the like, is foosball tables galore. Going down a town’s main street, I see one every two or three blocks. I don’t know if they are truly foosball mad (or perhaps the French brought higher smoking rates and a love of foosball to their colonies), but they are truly abundant.

A little later the tailor did return. He promptly told me the trousers were ready. I suggested that he fetch them. At this point one of the assembled men decides to tell me that he is the one in charge off the sewing booth – it resembles a freight container from a ship – but he cannot open it.

He explains that the space is rented from the municipal authority, which decided that afternoon to lock out tenants truant on their rent payments. He told me he would go tomorrow to pay his arrears and collect the key. When? In the morning, Insh’Allah (God willing). Does he have the money to pay the rent? No. Does he know where he’s going to get the money from? Nope. So, when might he be back to open the place if he does happen to get the money? After 1 o’clock, Insh’Allah. Reiterating that I may be leaving tomorrow does not faze him. In fact, he, the tailor and the rest of the crew found it all quite entertaining.

I have to admit it was amusing (aided in this hindsight as I was by a can of Carlsberg given to me by a Nigerian who stayed in the room across from me), but it crystallizes some depressing facts of life here – that so much depends on the arbitrary whims of government officials (the closings took place without any notice or warning), that nobody gives a shit when things are delayed or held up, and the compulsion to withhold information unless asked repeatedly.

24 August – In a happy ending, I picked up the trousers on my way back down from Mauritania!

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