Househunting in Dakar: everything but the kitchen sink

It turns out that finding somewhere to live in Dakar is quite a tricky task. When I was here before, I was exceptionally lucky – I spent my first year in accommodation provided by my employer along with a group of other expats, and just when I got a real salary and therefore had to find my own place, a couple of friends of a friend were leaving their flat. I took over their lease and paid a lump sum for all of their furniture and all the bits and bobs they left behind – it was so easy (well, apart from spending four hours in a stairwell the day I moved in because it turned out they had given me the wrong key). Even more conveniently, when I was leaving, one half of the couple had just returned to Dakar, and so bought all the same furniture back again!

I hadn’t quite appreciated how lucky I had been, until I came back and started to search. Initially, I was hoping to find someone who was leaving to conduct the same kind of deal, but I had planned poorly for that: there’s an expat exodus at the start of summer, and far more people are arriving than leaving at this time of year. The other options are furnished apartments, flatshares, and unfurnished places.

Getting a furnished place sounds like the sensible option, but they are so expensive – and rarely furnished in a style that I could live with, usually featuring copious amounts of pleather and/or velour. Still, I looked at a couple that were in my budget: one was a studio at the top floor of a family home – you had to actually go through the house to get to it, I have visions of tiptoeing in after a night out just as people are getting up to pray – and it was filthy, all the furniture was falling apart. There was one large bedroom-lounge, a small bathroom, and one other room ,which, the owner told me, would be the kitchen. ‘I’ll put a fridge here, and an oven here, a little table here and a shelf for the plates here’. Ok, I see, I said. But, well, there’s no kitchen sink? ‘You don’t need a sink, there’s a bathroom’. Right.

The other one I saw was advertised to me by a courtier (I’m not sure of the English translation of this job title – it’s not quite an agent, but a broker for agents, who will take you to see flats for a small ‘visiting charge’ and a substantial sum when you find one) as a ‘furnished studio by the beach’. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? The description was not untrue – it was by the beach, and it was furnished. Unfortunately, you would never know it was by the beach because there were no exterior windows whatsoever, and the furniture was two double beds in opposite corners of a room small enough that you had climb over point at which they met to get to the bathroom. There was a kitchen sink, but the kitchen otherwise consisted of a bottle of gas with a little stove attachment, in a cupboard in the hall.

After these attempts, I gave up on finding somewhere furnished. I also swiftly gave up on the idea of a flatshare, because it’s generally not much cheaper to rent a room than it is to rent an entire empty flat, and who wouldn’t choose the latter, given the option?

I recruited a friend to help my find an empty flat in my budget – I’m not sure he knew we would end up seeing 12 in one day, and going through three courtiers. With every viewing my list of necessities grew longer, from a modest list: 1 (or 2) bedroom(s), separate living room, not on the ground floor (I believe in at least giving wannabe robbers a challenge), must either have hot water or the pipes necessary to fit a water heater (I know it gets cold in January) and of course, a kitchen sink. Then, we added must have windows in the bedroom, after seeing a couple of places that did not. Next: must be in a building which is fully built – there is a LOT of construction work going on in this part of town at the moment , and there are whole neighbourhoods of half built buildings – which, as well as the noise of buildings, doesn’t exactly make for a safe walk home. Then: must have a kitchen that is part of the same building – the courtier couldn’t quite understand my objection to having a kitchen accessible across the roof (in case you’re also struggling it’s partly not wanting to have to lock and unlock two doors if I need to venture to the kitchen at night, and partly because I’d quite like the option of going to the kitchen when it’s too hot for clothes). Also: must have a kitchen big enough for a fridge AND an oven. I know, I’m such a diva.

Just when we were about to give up (actually I had given up hours before but my friend and the courtier wouldn’t let me go home), we found it! A studio (in the Senegalese usage of the word, which is actually quite a large one bed flat) in a family house (but with a separate stair case) with lots of natural light (but unfortunate flickering strip lighting…) and even a hot water heater (… which I’ve just discovered doesn’t work).

I have been here for a few weeks now and I’m mostly settled in, having bought all the essentials – mostly second hand. My plan when I leave is to sell all the stuff to someone (or to my landlady, who is interesting in renting it out furnished). Fingers crossed it’s that easy!