Trip Start Jun 02, 2003
41Trip End Dec 31, 2006
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My first night in I ordered food (for delivery!): a tomato and mozarella panini and a nutella crepe. Heaven.
After taking care of business, the first item on my agenda was to equip myself for the "wintery" nights. I headed for the market. I held my head high and walked confidently through the streets in an attempt to avoid having guides or street sellers attach themselves to me
I was warned first. "Oh, marché Colibane, watch your bags." "Put your purse under your dress." "Don't take any money out in the street; go in the shop." So, as the screachy, colorful, old bus rambled through Marché Colibane, I nervously looked around wondering what I had gotten myself into. Was that man a potential thief? What about that one?
I held tight to my belongings and walked purposefully down the road avoiding the men hawking their t-shirts and pants and glancing sideways to find a stand that interested me. Finally, I saw it. Old American jeans and sweatshirts advertising universities or basketball teams, church functions or brand names
Dakar did feel sort of like a Paris of West Africa, though it was definitely still Africa. The center of the city had small, tree-lined, cobble-stonned streets and colonial looking buildings that felt like Europe. The streets led to beautiful "grand places" with green grass, benches, and fountains. I experienced a bit of culture shock wandering through these parts, but my feet always led me back to the Peace Corps bureau, which was located across from the Grand Mosque in the Medina quarter, which felt very African indeed.
Senegal is an extremely Muslim country, which means that the streets become significantly less trafficked at prayer times
At night, I would eat dinner or fall asleep to the incredibly beautiful and relaxing sound of Muslim mystics chanting the Koran over loudspeakers. I always thought that the Grand Mosque was just playing a cassette recording until one night I turned a corner looking for the telephone place and saw a group of Muslim men sitting cross-legged on mats in a circle with some microphones in the center and chanting. I was enthralled.
Despite its strong Muslim faith, Dakar is a hip, happening place that is much more, dare I say, Americanized than the other places I have visited in West Africa. While I was in Dakar, I connected with an old friend from Benin, a Senegalese artist/trader named Tidiane. I met up with Tidiane and his friends a few nights to have dinner and chat. I noticed strong differences between the way that Tidiane and his friends interacted and the young people that I know in Benin. Dakar has had much more western influence, and this was obvious.
One night we went to a club called Skyner to go dancing
I did most of my exploring on my own, though. I visited the Ile de la Gorée, a gorgeous, tiny island about a twenty minute ferry ride from Dakar. There, I went to the very unexciting IAN museum, which mostly displayed archaeological findings. Then, I wandered around the entirely pedestrian island. It is obviously a tourist mecca. Cobblestone pathways reminiscent of Venice. Small, flowered enclaves. Short colonial buildings that made me think of Rockport, MA. Incredibly stunning views of blue waters and cute fishing boats. I climbed up to the fort part of the island that was essentially covered in paintings, jewelry, and other works of art. I bought some souvenirs and then tried to figure out where the sounds of drum beats were coming from. From the very phallic memorial (don't ask me for what...I can't remember), I gazed down at some teenagers drumming and dancing. Later, I went down to watch more closely. The dancing was amazing...wild, swinging arms and hair, leaping, stomping..
In Dakar, I also happened to do some job research. One night, the taxi I was in with Tidiane and his friends went by Dakar's Suffolk University campus, and I spontaneously decided to go there the following day to see what I could find out. I am interested in working in the study abroad field, and I thought they may have some positions available or be able to point me in a good direction. Spontaneity paid off. I met the Director of the university who had happened to host some Benin Peace Corps volunteers the week before for the West African Softball Tournament. He was very helpful and put me into contact with a woman around my age who helps run a study abroad program in Dakar. I met with the woman, who was extremely helpful. She told me some good websites to go to, and one night she showed me another side of Dakar's nightlife by taking me to a restaurant/jazz club called Just 4 You. The music was fabulous. She also put me into contact with another person who works for Africa Consultants International at their Baobab Center. The man who works there runs various study abroad programs. He, too, gave me some good advice. If anyone is interested in finding out what the Baobab Center does, check out www.acibaobab.org.
All good things come to an end. A week after I arrived, again the plane took off for Cotonou... with me in it.