Moving to Dakar
Beautiful Year-Round Weather
Dakar has perfect weather for those who love the sun and heat. Most of the year is very pleasant, manageable heat. From July to October the weather is tropical: extremely hot and humid with some rain. (For some, the humidity is hard to handle, for others it is enjoyable. This is a question personal preference.) From November to April it is warm; the humidity lets up allowing for dry rain-free heat. The humidity then cranks up again in May and June, as rainy season approaches. It can be hard for some: the trash on the streets, the dust when it is windy for those with asthma, the poverty.
Senegalese are very talented. You can buy woven furniture and baskets, beautiful batik materials, wood sculptures, and colorful paintings. Some artisans may even be willing to pass on their skills to you! There is also iron-work, gold and silver available at reasonable prices. As well, having clothes tailor-made is inexpensive.
“Teranga” and Safety
“Teranga” is the Senegalese custom of hospitality. Senegalese are welcoming, warm people. Senegal, in general, is a relatively safe place to live. The country is both politically and economically stable, and crime rates are relatively low. In Dakar, there is some petty crime, but it can be avoided through common sense measures.
There is plenty of opportunity to travel. It is safe to travel by car (should you decide to buy one). Senegal has a well-developed tourist industry, compared to other countries in the region, and receives large numbers of tourists from Europe. Hotels and resort areas are found all along the coast, especially south of Dakar; and you can stay at many eco-tourism lodges elsewhere.
Nightlife and Culture
Dakar has a rich nightlife: on any given weekend, there is live music, theatre, and dance clubs to choose from. The French Cultural Center downtown offers a library and lots of entertainment. Many of the cultural events (dance, live music, films) are in French, but non-French speakers are welcome. The Baobab Center and the British Council also offer language classes (Wolof) and some special events, such as movies.
Senegal has a relatively good health care system. As a teacher coming here, you will be able to get English-speaking help from physicians who have been trained in Europe and who have worked with school faculty and students for many years.
You will find a wide variety of restaurants in Dakar: Thai, Japanese, Korean, Italian, French, American, Lebanese, etc. Senegalese cuisine (fish and rice, chicken yassa) is among the best on the African continent.
Dakar is located on the ocean and, therefore, has many beaches and islands nearby. This gives the city a year-round vacation feeling. You can enjoy a beer or glass of wine on one of the many bars along the beach. You can also admire the nice views and panoramas as the sun sets over the ocean.
There are lots of foreigners in town. Besides the tourists heading to resorts for all-inclusive vacations, you can meet English-speaking ex-pats living in Dakar. There is a large community of Americans in town working at the American Embassy, USAID, Peace Corps, and NGO’s. There are also a lot of French ex-pats in Dakar.
When grocery shopping you can find many of the products you are used to from home. Many imported goods are available, especially products coming from Europe. But, beware, they can be expensive!
There are some drawbacks to living in Dakar, or merely realities that you should be aware of before you come over. Life in Dakar may be different from what you are used to.
Like other capital cities, Dakar can have traffic jams. Compared to other large African cities, Dakar’s traffic is moderate. Recently completed construction of four-way highways in the area surrounding the school and neighborhoods where the school community lives has eased traffic. As in other developing countries, some cars and public transport emit fumes, which can be annoying if you are behind one in traffic.
Road Conditions and Driving Style
Some roads in Dakar are narrow and poorly maintained. More recently, road construction has improved the seaside Corniche and major roads leading to the suburbs. Senegalese have a more aggressive driving style than North Americans are used to. Some drivers tend to consider stop signs and red lights as suggestions rather than rules that need to be followed.
It would be very helpful to learn some French before coming to Senegal. French is the language most commonly spoken by the people who will serve you in stores and restaurants. While French is the official language, many people in Senegal only speak Wolof, the national language, and some broken French. Taxi drivers, for example, often speak little French. You can pick up Wolof once you get here.
Cost of Living
Some incoming teachers will be surprised at the high cost of living in Dakar. While there are many services that cost less than in North America (dining out, household help, manual labor costs, etc…), household items and food imported from Europe (cheese, for example) cost more.
Senegalese feel that personal interactions are very important. It is considered rude to launch into a question or conversation topic without a casual greeting first. For example, when you go to the store to buy something, before asking: “Do you sell laundry detergent?” you would begin by saying hello and asking how the salesperson is doing today.
Electricity and Water Cuts
Dakar often loses power or water for several hours at a time, especially during the rainy season. Both the apartments for foreign hires and the school grounds are equipped with generators and water storage tanks. Sometimes, the generators run out of fuel, or break down, but generally speaking, ISD teachers have electrical power at school or home.