Reporters on the Job

High-Speed Lane, Senegal-style: Correspondent Claire Soares says that when she went out to a weather-research site in Senegal, she traveled in a group with the US ambassador. The road out of town is notoriously slow, she says. But traveling with officialdom, she got a window on just how quickly one can move under the right circumstances – and why, perhaps, government officials are so slow to repair roads that drive ordinary travelers to despair.

"It is usually a nightmare to get out of Dakar to the junction where one road goes north and one goes south," she says. "It can take two hours under congested conditions."

But traveling with the ambassador, it took only 35 minutes – a record for Claire. The reason: They cleared the road for the convoy.

What particularly intrigued Claire was what happened in the convoy's wake. "In convoys here, everyone puts on their hazard lights," says Claire. "There were maybe 10 cars in our group at the start. But as we went along, our line mysteriously stretched to about 25 cars, all with their hazard lights on and moving along at a good clip right behind us."

Once Claire arrived at the weather-research station, there were the usual speeches and ceremonies. As she stood there, a colleague asked her about a particular type of tree nearby. She didn't know what it was, so she posed the question to a local driver. "He told me he knew what it was called in the Wolof language, but not in French, which I was speaking. But he helpfully offered to find out. After some time on the phone, he came back and pronounced that in Latin, it was Parinarium macrophyllum."

Claire searched the name on the Internet, persevering despite misspellings, and finally hit pay dirt. "I learned that in English, it is a gingerbread-plum tree – and that its fruit tastes like apples."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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