Being back in my home town of Dakar, there are few things that I started to notice. One of them is that Dakar became a big construction site with houses, buildings, roads and so on. Moreover, every single lot is taken, even in the remote places where people did not want to initially live in. At this rate, I am afraid that in the future my kids will not be able to purchase a house, let alone a lot in this small town. On top of that, Dakar is saturated. There is traffic almost everywhere, people are jammed in small apartments, and need to go outside to have a little air in this heat. Markets are so crowded, that they surpass their normal areas and come all the way to residential areas. Sometimes I feel like I live in Bombay or Tokyo. It can make one feel very claustrophobic.
But one phenomenon that has hit me the first weeks since our return is the luxury that people wrap themselves around in this city. For a developing country, there are many 3 story splendid houses, luxury cars and Senegalese Haute couture dresses. Driving around town, I saw more Range Rovers than I have seen in my entire life. Matter of fact, if you sit in traffic long enough, you can see that one out of four cars is a Range rover or another type of SUV (Believe me I checked). Even if they are used cars, they must have cost a fortune. Back in the 90s and the beginning of the millennium, only ministers and celebrities drove SUV around. Now, it seems anyone can afford them.
Scarf - Dmart
Kimono - old, Forever 21
Dress - Sandaga market
Bag - Carrefour, Dubai
Shoes - Westside, Pune
Bracelet - thrifted
Furthermore, dressing up has gone to a whole new level with fabrics and tailoring prices skyrocketing around town (I should not really complain about it, because I am taking advantage of the system with my own business) . A beautiful fabric may set you back to $20 the yard. Considering that you may need 6 of them to have a decent traditional Senegalese dress, it will cost you. Then, you will have to pay a tailor/designer a small fortune to turn that fabric into a beautiful masterpiece. If you need that dress for an event, you will also have to purchase a matching clutch and shoes, jewelry and let us not forget the Brazilian or Indian hair to look super gorgeous. Because no one wants to be caught dead wearing the same thing twice.
Finally, people living in Dakar or at least the ones I know, like to have a fancy lifestyle of brunching in hotels, after work diner in restaurants, pool party during the summer, and week end getaway out of the city in rented houses. I once tried enjoying a drink with my best friend in a hotel, but we were stuck drinking mineral water because we thought the drinks were overpriced. When I complained about it to my baby brother, he told me that there were more expensive places around town that were always packed. I do not mind going out at all but not when the tab makes my accountant cringe (I am my own accountant, by the way).
With all that, I often hear around town that there is no money in the country. Every time, I am shocked. Like how with all see around, there is no money? “People have problems” is what I get as answers “but they hide it well”. And by hiding it, they mean they are covered in debt. They borrow from family, from friends, from banks to afford such a lifestyle. Let me give you an example. I have been selling fabrics and other items of closing for years. I can frankly count the number of times I was paid cash for them. Usually people pay me in three months time. I even have some people who never paid me. They took the item and disappear. I can call them to remind them, but either they shamefully complain of having problems or they shamelessly accuse me of being too greedy. Needless to say that I will not sell them things again. And I am not the only one who suffers from this. Anyone who sells stuff as a side business in this country has been a victim. I remember how I was when I had a credit card. I would go crazy shopping and then dreading the day I had to pay. It became so bad that I decided to cut the card and be free (even if that meant I could no longer enjoy online shopping). To this day, people propose me items of clothing that I find absolutely gorgeous but if I do not have the money, I will not buy them. That is why it is hard for me to understand how can people just go about their lives covered in debts.
However, it is very comprehensible. Dakar has become a city of consumption. We are much like the Americans, the Chinese, the Indians. When we want something, we have to get it no matter what. We also have become a society of instant gratification. We need everything, right now. There is no need to wait for it, or even work for it. We want the luxury house, the fancy car and the nice clothes right away. And we cannot stand when someone around us is dressing up better than us. We got to show them. It does not matter if that person probably has a higher salary than us. It does not matter if we have red in our ledgers. All that matters is to be seen. It is commonly called “throwing acid” on someone.
As for myself, people are always on my case to become like them. It always start with a
-“Why don't you dress up better?”
- “Jeez! I wish I could but I cannot afford it with your prices!” I usually clap back.
For me, dressing up is very important but I also know life is not about the clothes I wear. Besides, I cannot spend money I do not have on things I probably do not need, to give a fake image of myself. I am superficial, but not that shallow. I want things in life and believe me if GOD grant me a job with a good salary, I will work to make my dreams come true. Then, and only then will I “throw acid” on people.