Senegal is difficult to write about.
After being spoiled rotten in Europe, most people struggled at first when we were suddenly in a place so different from what most of us have ever experienced.
My first day in port left me confused and worried. A large group of my friends wanted to go to Goree Island, which is a beautiful little island 20 minutes from Dakar that also is a very important site in the history of the slave trade. When we stepped out, we were not ready for the aggressiveness of the cabdrivers and shop owners. Getting to the island was a 4 hour ordeal… Since no one in Dakar gives change all of us fresh off the boat went to ATM’s to take out money, and our crisp 10,000 Franc bills were rejected. everywhere.
We accidentally hired two tour guides that day that helped us get change, took us to fabric shops we didn’t even know we wanted to visit, and followed us around all day, even on to the boat to the Island. Some of my friends were angry and put off by their insistence so I, as my usual pacifist self realized that I had to communicate between the two parties. Our tour of Goree Island was nice… I would have loved more time there since it was a peaceful retreat from the hustle of Dakar. Thankfully I managed to go to the most important part of Goree Island.
The slave house here was the final stop for people being taken to the new world. It was incredibly powerful to see the holding cells and selling grounds where families would be split up forever. Walking in, the energy of the place vibrated with pain and loss even after all these years.
The following day I went to mass at a monastery called Keur Mussa. We met with a monk who showed us around the place before the service.
The music used in the ceremony was a lovely mixture of catholic hymns and traditional Senegalese music adapted for worship.
I loved the art on display inside the chapel.
The following day I visited the Holy City of Tuba, which has one of the largest Mosques in Africa. It was quite a drive and once we got there it turned out women not only had to wear head coverings, but pants were also not allowed! Local people were very kind and leant us some fabrics to cover up. In the time while we were waiting, a small crowd gathered around us and took pictures and videos on their phones. It was so interesting to feel like we were the tourist attraction. In the moment it felt kind of odd, but I realize for most of history it’s been the other way around, no?
The mosque was massive and beautiful. We heard so many sounds that definitely were different than Morocco’s calls to prayer to me.
People approached and asked to take pictures with us. It was so funny.
Our last day in Dakar I did an amazing field program that took us to the famous pink lake. However that turned out the be the least exciting part of the itinerary. We went to a Fulani village where we met the chief and his wives, who showed us inside one of their homes. Each wife has her own house where she lives with her kids, and the husband alternates where he sleeps each night to make it fair.
The women were selling handcrafts to supplement their income which is mainly based on farming.
The people were so welcoming and friendly, and it was incredible to communicate even though there were no shared languages at all.
I learned how to say “thank you” in Wolof- it’s “jerryjeff”.
Yes, pronounced like “Jerry-Jeff.”
Then after lunch we stopped on the side of the road to another small community where we watched as they performed their traditional dances! There was a group of drummers, all male, that accompanied an all-female dance group. They came out in their beautiful traditional clothing and did what amounts to a dance off as the music intensified. We were pulled up into the dance floor one by one and had a hilarious time trying to copy their movement. As a crowd from the village gathered to watch us as much as the dancing, some women hopped up and joined the dancers too. The community seemed very close-knit… Of course everyone knew each other, and having large tourist groups come through to watch the “show” must be a common occurrence. It seemed like they were very proud of their heritage and traditions and loved sharing with us.
This last day was truly wonderful because I felt the most human connections of my entire stay in Senegal. Maybe it was getting away from the big city that did the trick.
The first day I was conflicted because I wanted so much to like it. I wanted to have amazingly human interactions with people that have lived incredibly different lives than me, but this was difficult when I was struggling to do the most basic things.
I now realize that I went in with the wrong mindset… you don’t come here to “like it”. If you want to “like it” you go to Cancun. I want to be challenged, I want to embrace feeling uncomfortable and have honest conversations with myself about privilege and issues that I saw play out before me for the first time.
Senegal left an indelible mark in my mind.