Ending with a bang
Trip Start Apr 05, 2009
36Trip End Jul 16, 2009
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Unfortunately, this is my introduction to Senegal
It gets better. Julie and Kareem met me at the gate, and I was too overwhelmed by the heat, my exhaustion, and my empty backpack pockets to give them a proper hello. But as we headed to their apartment, it settled in that after 3 months of meeting people for a few days at a time, I was finally able to spend time with friends who have known me for years, not hours, and it is wonderful. For those who don't know Julie and Kareem, I can tell you that there are few places outside of DC where I would feel more at home than in their home anywhere in the world. Julie and I first became friends by crying about our homesickness and the difficulty of school during our first year at Georgetown (she would go on to be valedictorian of the School of Foreign Service), and we lived together during our second year. I know her family and Kareem's family, and the pictures in the house are all familiar to me. Plus, they are exceptionally generous and hospitable, and I trust them completely.
My first day in Dakar, I didn't leave their apartment. It's true that I didn't have any orientation or knowledge of how to go anywhere, but I was also seized by a fear of doing anything on my own in this place that is so, so different from anywhere I've been before. Having my bag pockets emptied probably didn't help, but I did find the sentimental items I thought I had lost and realized that I didn't care that much about the other items. On the second day, I forced myself to get out and walk up to a lighthouse about an hour's walk away with a view of Dakar and the entire Cap Verte peninsula. Because I was not thinking clearly, I went for this walk in mid-afternoon, when it was most hot and humid, and without enough water. But I had the opportunity to practice my French-- which turns out to be better than I thought-- and made it to the lighthouse and back with only one wrong turn
The next day, I had instructions on how to go to l'Ile de N'Gor, a small island just off the northern end of the peninsula not far from the apartment. I ignored the persisting fear and set out in a taxi toward N'Gor village, arrived successfully, and took the pirogue (a small longtail boat) across to N'Gor Island. Upon arrival, I was approached by a local Senegalese man who turned out to be an artist and showed me around the island. After Asia, I was expecting him to demand payment from me, but he insisted that he didn't want payment and stuck to that. His generosity in spending an entire afternoon with me and even refusing a cup of tea that I offered to buy him is really remarkable. We spoke French the whole day and he explained to me the artists' culture on the island and showed me a couple of small galleries. I ate yassa poisson for lunch, grilled fish with a caramelized onion sauce, and a small salad-- which I realized I probably shouldn't be eating about halfway through and my stomach hasn't been quite the same since, but it seems to have been ok. When I took the pirogue back to the mainland, another local started chatting with me and ended up showing me how I could walk back to the apartment through N'Gor village. He walked me all the way to the main street, probably way out of his way, just to be hospitable. I came back to the apartment radiant after such a great day of really interacting with locals and speaking French
On Thursday, Kareem had arranged for me a tour of Dakar and Ile de Goree with a local guide, Doudou, and a driver. Doudou went to university for geography and history and is a wealth of information about not just Senegal but Africa. Our driver was also named Doudou, so in French, I was with "deux Doudous" all day, which sounds really funny when pronounced in French and I laughed about it a lot with Julie and Kareem when I returned at the end of the day. I saw the Presidential residence, Dakar University, the food market with the biggest lobsters I have ever seen, and then Ile de Goree. The island was established as a slave trading base by the Portuguese and then the French and English and is covered in red and yellow colonial buildings. It also has a Slave House, one example of the many houses on the island where people taken from the interior of Africa were brought, separated, weighed, assessed, and of course left in horrific conditions until a ship would come to take them wherever they were sold to, provided they survived long enough to get to the ship. Knowing the history on the American side of slavery, it was interesting and horrible to see it from the African side. Doudou and I talked about how terrible it is that so many parties could be involved in something so terrible-- it required the collaboration of African chiefs, European slave traders, New World slaveowners, and governments and even some church officials that encouraged and sanctioned all these activities. The island today is a car-free haven for Dakarois-- it is quiet, pretty, and also has a thriving artist community.
Today we are getting ready to head to Palmerin in the Sine-Saloum delta for a relaxing weekend. Julie and Kareem will be staying in a stilt-house bungalow directly on the water, and their friend Izzy and I will stay in-- get this-- a bungalow IN a baobab tree. How awesome is that!! When we return on Sunday, I will be catching a flight to Lisbon, my final stop before I head home. Have a great weekend everyone, I know I will!