As many of my Twitter followers know, I made it out to West Africa at the beginning of June and just returned last week. I spent most of my time in Cape Verde and Senegal and loved every minute of it. While there I met with diplomats (including 2 U.S. Ambassadors), dozens of entrepreneurs, spoke at a university and saw the sites. Not a bad way to go (definitely have to come up with some goal for number of U.S. ambassadors I can have a drink and fist bump with). Below are some fun anecdotes and tips from the lighter side of my West Africa travels.
#1 Fist Bump Origination
No matter what Wikipedia says, the fist bump DID NOT originate in the United States. EVERYBODY in West Africa does the fist bump, from casual gatherings to business functions. They even do a Sammy Sosa-like bash to the chest/heart after bashing with their “brother” (brother is used generally to describe a friend or someone you are aligned with in some way). The stylish West African fist-bump is WAY too widespread and natural for this to have been brought from the just-getting-on-board-the-fist-bump-wagon-U.S.A. I’ll make sure to forward this to Michael Arrington as Africa may be a good place for him to do *ALL* of his business meetings.
#2 Fittest City in the World
Every day in Dakar, at about 5pm the rush hour starts, and it doesn’t end until about 8pm. But this is not your typical car-induced traffic jam. Dakar sits along the coast and has its own Pacific Coast Highway. The difference w/ this traffic jam is that during rush hour there are more people along the side of that highway than cars in some stretches. This 20 mile long crowd isn’t leisurely walking home from work. They aren’t even briskly walking to do their daily grocery shopping. No, this group looks like they just jumped out of a Nike ad in their workout gear and their insanely toned ripped bodies and are all getting in their daily jog in 90-100 degree heat. I’d estimate that there are 10’s of thousands of runners along the highway on any given afternoon. Along some stretches on the beach, you’ll see a mass of maybe 500-1000 runners tightly huddled together running in unison. Also dotted along Dakar’s coastline are mini-gyms with simple equipment on the side of the highway. It’s normal to see pushup/pullup contests, bench press & weights (they use tires instead of iron plates). I’m not sure if researchers include Dakar in their surveys of fittest cities in the world, but I am 100% positive Dakar wins against all comers.
#3 Surfing is epic
Why doesn’t anybody talk about Africa surf? It’s all there. For the kitesurfers and windsurfers, there are steady wind havens all over the place. I personally spent my time at a windsurfing world tour site in Cabo Verde (aka Cape Verde) about 300 miles off of the west coast of Africa. The weather is some of the most consistent you’ll see anywhere. As it sits off of the Saharan coast, it has Saharan desert characteristics with archipelago ocean moderation. Cabo Verde brings consistent year-round temperatures at 80-85 F with low humidity. In fact, one of the locals told me they had seen it rain only a couple times in the last 2-3 years. Beautiful waves that range from the tame 3 footer to the much larger. And of course the host of a Surf World Championship Event at Ponto Preta (pics here. Can you say year-round surf-athon??
#4 Marketplace madness
Do we have any garage sale aficionados (umm @garyvee where you at)? Any flea market fans? Any gnarly negotiation fiends? You’re not going to like what I’m about to say, but you all definitely need to hear it. You are all AMATEURS. Can you be an All-American basketball player if you’ve never been to March Madness? Can you call yourself a real pro-golfer if you’ve only seen the Master’s on TV? The answer is a resounding ‘NO’ and that’s why all you street market fiends are still in the bush leagues. Because, as far as I can tell, Dakar is the Mecca of Street Market Madness and if you haven’t been there, well… you just need to. I’ll provide you with a couple anecdotes in case you make the pilgrimage:
Boo-Boo Extravaganza (warning: not for the timid or faint of heart)—When you first arrive at the downtown street market (ideally with a few travel buddies—i.e. more fresh meat for the vendors), walk down one of the streets and loudly announce to all that can hear you that you are in the market to buy a Boo-Boo. Now for those of you that don’t know, a boo-boo is the traditional African dress for men . It’s the ideal African tourist high-margin product. You should be walking as you say this—this will get you more coverage, and your movement will make the vendors nervous that you’re going to leave. Quickly several boo-boo vendors, ad-hoc brokers for boo-boos, sisters and brothers who know someone who sells boo-boos—they’ll all come out of nowhere to meet your every Boo-Boo desire. Now slow down and stop and let the rush of people settle down a bit, and then ask for the best price of a Boo-Boo, and then start walking again. Get really animated when you get your first price and tell them that they’re crazy and wave your arms, etc. Next, yell out a low-ball price (at least 1/5 of their ask), and start walking away. At this point you should have at least 20 people chasing you down the street. These guys will be yelling at you to visit their “factory” (i.e. their small shop), and b/c things are so competitive, they’ll also start yelling at and pushing each other. Eventually people will start grabbing you and try to physically restrain you, and that’s when you start running down the street.
Dakar Markets in style – take the coolest guy in the crowd that you just ran away from, and offer to hire him for $5 to take you around the markets for a few hours. Tell him his job is to:
a) show you all the awesome stuff in the Dakar street markets
b) help you negotiate on various transactions (a local can get the negotiations started much lower and you waste less time bluffing, calling bluffs as you get down to the best price
c) keep crazy vendors away from you.