It was more complicated than you might think. Not all of the population uses towels—instead, the long wrap skirts that women wear to cover their legs when eating also do double duty as something to dry yourself with.
As a result, despite the fact that everyone in the program was on the lookout for me, it took a week for anyone to actually find towels in a store. Even then, that store was in the incredibly swanky mall downtown, and—because rich Dakarois will apparently pay through the nose for stupid things—cost 30,000 CFA ($15.00). For comparison, a large loaf of French bread (the favored breakfast, lunch, and dinner of everyone in the city) costs 100 CFA ($.20).
So, not wanting to pay through the nose for a towel—not to mention the cab fare that it would take to get to the insane mall and back—I bided my time. In the interim, I air dried and used a scarf that I had brought when I absolutely needed to dry my hair or wipe toothpaste grossness from my chin. (I am the sexiest international traveler.)
It was with thoughts of my poor, toothpaste-stained scarf that I wandered down to the Sandega market downtown last weekend. The market is touristy anyway, and the sight of 50-odd toubobs wandering through the street got everyone excited.
Then, out of nowhere, there came the towel vendor. He had a stall set up in the street with every color of bath towel Douglass Adams could dream of. The game was on.
Given that I was not the only person who needed a towel (and that almost all of the students are pretty clearly Not From Around Here), a girl’s host brother came with us to bargain. After some very quick Wolof, the final verdict was reached—the bath towel set me back 2,500 CFA ($5.00).
I was later told that this was overpriced, but given that it was half of what I’d pay in the US, I didn’t mind. My scarf was in the back of my mind, rendered unwearable by the bath grossness that came as a result of its use as a towel.
With that transaction I managed to solve a pressing need and reaffirm to myself the fact that a) commercial transactions do not have to be terrifying and b) I’m still terrible at them. Perhaps not the lesson that a semester abroad is supposed to teach me, but valuable nonetheless.