Today’s journal was supposed to be about many things. It was supposed to be about running into fellow travellers and creating new adventures with them. Wading in a pink lake and finding Fura de Nunu. Instead, it’s about how I got sexually assaulted by a taxi driver, his singular act eclipsing the rest of my day.
It was 9 pm and after a long day of traipsing around Dakar, I had shut down. The rest of the team, however, hadn’t. We were right by the Renaissance Monument and had just grabbed dinner. Someone suggested we go eat at the top and everyone was in consensus except me. I had gotten to the point of the day where my wig felt too tight and my makeup felt too heavy. We had spent most of the afternoon at Lac Rose and the itch I had developed on my legs after the saltwater had tried was starting to spread. The only activity I was interested in indulging in was a hot shower.
I decided to grab a cab to our Airbnb. Captain was insistent on dropping me off but I was more insistent on finding my way. It was just 20 minutes away and I was born and bred in a madhouse like Lagos. What could exist in a city like Dakar that I couldn’t handle? Which was the reason I let my guard down. I didn’t bother to note the plate number of the cab I was in or the make and model, and text it to the rest of the team. I just hopped into the first cab I saw communicating my destination with broken French, gestures and the Google Maps app.
The first 10 minutes of the ride was pleasant. The driver kept pointing things out on the road and telling me the word in French, then Wollof. I nodded along and repeated the words he taught me enthusiastically like I was a toddler who was just learning her alphabets. Then he pointed to himself and said the Wolof word for man pointed at me and said the Wolof word for girl. He did this repeatedly until I comprehended what he was trying to communicate. “Oui c’est bon” I said cheerfully when I finally understood. But he continued and pointed at himself again saying the Wolof word for man but when it was my turn instead of pointing at me again, he cupped my left breast in his palm and squeezed it as he said the Wolof word for woman. I froze.
It was hard for me to understand what had just happened at first. A part of my brain wanted to register it as a mistake — maybe he grazed my boob accidentally. But when I looked up at his wrinkled face, I saw a sly smile plastered on it. “Oui?” he said. I didn’t speak, I looked straight ahead, then at my map, my Airbnb was still 10 minutes away. My mind raced at a thousand thoughts per minute. I was alone in a moving vehicle in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language with a foreign man who had just sexually assaulted me. The rest of my team only knew I was on my way back to the Airbnb, no one knew what he looked like. In fact, if I was asked to point him out in a line up right now, I couldn’t.
We were driving through near-empty side streets with no street lamps and I only had a vague sense of where I was. It was at that moment fear consumed me. There was no space for any other emotion. Not anger, or revulsion, they all took a backseat and I moved into fight or flight mode. The window beside me was rolled down. I could see the doors were locked but I didn’t want to alarm him by attempting to lift the lock. So I placed my arm on the window so that he didn’t suddenly roll it up.
I stayed perfectly still, using the map to direct him. I said a little thank you prayer every time he went in the direction I indicated instead of suddenly veering off track. Then I called a trusted friend and put the phone on speaker. I called a couple of times before it finally connected. By this time, I was five minutes away from my destination but it felt a lot longer. I told my friend that I had just been assaulted and I needed him to stay on the phone until I got to my Airbnb.
All through, the taxi driver kept chatting away, asking questions in French then broken English when he got no response. I stayed quiet only speaking when I wanted to give a direction. I could tell he didn’t understand how a map worked and simply assumed I was familiar with the area. I said another thank you prayer for this. Once he got to my hotel I barely waited for the car to come to a halt before jumping out.
My friend was still on the phone but I couldn’t hear him there was a sudden rush of blood to my head brought on by the sheer relief of seeing my Airbnb. I paid him through the window, collected my change and let myself into my Airbnb without looking back. I briefly wondered if I should have stopped a couple of buildings back and walked so that the pervert wasn’t armed with knowing my address. But it was late at night in an unlit back street and I thought about the story of the pot and the frying pan.
I went up the stairs and tried to open the door to our floor. It was locked so I sat on the staircase trying to take deep breaths to calm myself. My friend was still on the phone trying to calm me, but I was so shaken up. I tried to speak about what had just happened, instead, I found myself crying. It took me more than a couple of minutes to calm down. This wasn’t my first experience with assault but it was the first time I was also forced to fear for my safety.
The worst part wasn’t the assault itself, but the 10-minute ride that followed where I sat stock-still in fear hoping that that the groping was the extent of his perversion and I didn’t end up in a ditch by the end of the night. As I write this, I still feel no rage, just gratitude that the night didn’t take an even uglier turn.