Dust, Dirt, and Salt Flats

Trip Start Mar 05, 2006
Trip End Mar 12, 2006

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Flag of Senegal  ,
Saturday, March 11, 2006

This morning, we went to the Grand Mosque outside of town. Unsure of how to enter (there didn't seem to be a main entrance) and not wanting to offend anyone, we walked around the entire outside before covering our heads and arms with our sarongs and just going in, assuming if we did something wrong, someone would yell at us. No one did. Inside, we quickly acquired a guide of sorts who led us around. Not so intricate or impressive as the mosques of Istanbul, it was well maintained and open inside. On a carpet in the center of the rather large structure, two children lay fast asleep. There were also many men in various locations praying.

Leaving the mosque, we headed back to town and the second largest covered market in Africa, the one in Marakesch, Morocco being the largest. It was like the market in Banjul, but less colorful and with way more fabric and sewing. Parts of the inside were covered in a piecework of corrugated steel or aluminum, the kind you find making homes in poor countries. Light came through in pinpricks, bouncing off the brightly colored fabrics and giving the impression of a disco. Along with the typical fruit, vegetable, and grain stalls, we passed a stall selling empty bottles. You finish your coke, the can the soup came in, anything we would recycle in the west, this stall sold. Makes you appreciate the luxury you have in considering such things trash.

Leaving the market, we thought we check out Chez Doo Doo (appetizing, non?) for lunch. It what is becoming a theme for this trip, the restaurant no longer exists. Of course, the guidebook was researched five years ago. Instead we found a shop selling snacks and some cold milk and an internet cafe, encountering more "real" Senegal along the way. You really don't have to look for it. It's just there. Another day of no tourists other than the French fishermen at the hotel.

The people are not as tall outside of N'dangane, though perhaps on average taller than Europeans. Their heights vary. They vary in skin tone, too, although overall, they are significantly darker than African-Americans. Skin whitening cream was on sale at all the markets.

But they seem happy. Average annual income in the Gambia is $330 USD and they are rated 161 out of 174 in the human development index, but it seems no one has let them in on this secret. Perhaps if you go further afield things change, but here, subsistence farming is meeting their needs.

There is, however, no hustle, no drive, no ambition. Not like South East Asia where everyone's rushing to get ahead and into the 21st century. If the outside world didn't interfere, nothing would very change. It's not even the Central American manyhana, it's complete ambivalence towards change. They are happy being what they are.

It is dusty. Dusty and dry. I've never been to the dry tropics before. I suppose they're still considered the tropics? We closed up our room and ran the AC last night just to get away from the dust. It's perpetually overcast here (the picture on the right-that bright little circle, that's the sun at 3 pm), most likely a result of fine dust particles in the air as it doesn't do anything to dampen the heat. It's not too hot, though. You're not absolutely drenched in sweat five minutes out from AC.

For the most part, people are friendly and helpful. Sometimes they want tips for stupid things (finding a taxi when clearly you could have accomplished that on your own) but we don't tip and if they get too assertive, we smile like to don't know what they're talking about.

Transportation works. It's complicated, but it's not a hassle or a frustrating experience. You have to accept that it will take all day to get somehwere; then you're good. there are lots of friendly people willing to guide you in French or English, and if you don't mind the overcrowding, it's cheap.

It feels safe. In and around the ferry the first time was a little sketch with our bags and I was glad I had no money in my pockets in Albert Market, but physical danger has never crossed my mind and for the most part, we haven't been afraid of pickpockets. We've just taken the obvious travel precautions.

The touts are pathetic. Really. They don't know what they're doing. They don't come right out and say what they're selling "I could show you the market," "look at my shoes, they would look lovely on you," and they give up way too easily. Most of them we ignore and they're gone in five steps.

They bargain funny, too. In South East Asia, it's a game, a long game. At least a minute for minor purchases, significantly longer for larger ones until you realize you're arguing over 40 cents with someone who makes $500 a year. Here, prices start outrageously high and fall outrageously quickly. Jumps of less than a dollar just don't happen and the seller will probably only hit two other prices on his way down to yours. We, on the other hand, hardly have to move up at all, generally asking for our first price (if it's a fair price) over and over again will get the merchant there quickly. If it's a price they're not going to acept, it quickly becomes apparent as they stop the game or don't change their price either. There is also less laughter in west African bargaining.

And those are the latest thoughts on this new, different, and wonderful country.

Next --> the religious city of Touba
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