Le Jeep de la résistance

Even to the most seemingly unlikely of places, the Middle East seems to follow me. Case and point: my most recent trip to Dakar.

As a matter of daily procedure, I would park my vehicle each day at Independence Square, in the heart of downtown Dakar. On one of the first days that I did so, I was sitting inside the vehicle when a uniformed policeman approached me, accompanied by a man in plainclothes. To my astonishment, the plainclothes man asked to see my passport.

I was stunned. Traveling in Syria, Iraq, Israel, you always carry your passport and expect to be stopped by the mukhabarat. But Senegal? It was only because I was carrying business papers with me that I even had my passport. So I showed it to the guy, only because he was with a uniformed policeman, and he read my name into a radio. I was puzzled. What could they possible want? Something pertaining to customs? (since I had just concluded the port clearance process the day before)

They then left me alone. Later in the day though, as I walked the covered sidewalk adjacent to my vehicle, I was approached again, by a policeman asking me what I was doing. "Just taking a stroll," I told him. "My car is parked right over there." He asked to show him my car. So I began walking toward the silver Jeep parked just a few yards away. "That's not your car!" he told me. He was right, there had been an identical silver Jeep Grand Cherokee Special Edition parked about 6 spaces away all day!

The interesting part was, I looked at where the other Jeep was parked. It was in a chained-off area, marked with a sign: Reserved for Embassy of Israel. Suddenly, everything made sense, and with a chuckle, I returned to my own Jeep.

Here's the deal: the Israelis have their embassy on the 4th floor, I believe, of one of the main structures at Independence Square in Dakar. Now, I have already written previously about the large Arab community in Dakar, and indicated that most of which were Shiites from Southern Lebanon, many tracing their origins to the very villages that were targeted by Israel in the Summer War. It is not hard to guess, therefore, the disposition of these individuals toward the most recent flare-up in hostilities. In fact, in many Lebanese-owned shops, I commonly saw pictures of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah hanging in the window.

Independence Square itself was the scene of a large organized Lebanese demonstration to protest the war. So security is tight in that particular spot. I suppose when I rolled up in my "decoy" not-quite-Hezbollah Jeep, the security personnel got curious, and that's why I was approached.

But all's well that ends well. I ended up making good friends with the policeman, and the plainclothes guy who first approached me, and I also had the chance to chat with 2 aspiring Israeli diplomats, about my age, who were stationed in Dakar.

Never a dull moment, even in sleepy Senegal.