Ile de Gorée

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September 9th 2007
Published: September 10th 2007
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I had been looking forward to going to Gorée Island since I first read about it in my guidebook. I knew it was an important port in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, but I did not know how fabulous the rest of the island was going to be.

The day started off late. Of course. Senegal is so laid back that sometimes it seems like time stands still. We were supposed to be at school at 7:45am, which of course meant we left at 9, thereby missing the 9am ferry which left from the port on the other side of town. Once at the port, we were hearded like cattle through the gates to a ferry that was barely tethered to the dock. We had to leap across to the boat and then fight for a seat or spot on the railing. The island really wasn't that far from Dakar, only a few kilometres, and we arrived and had to (once again) leap over open ocean to reach land.

La Maison des Esclaves (the Slave House), is an eerily beautiful house built in the 18th century by the Dutch. The main floor has several small, dark dungeons where slaves were kept for months at a time, chained to the wall by the neck, waiting to be sent to the Americas. The museum curator was so passionate about his mission in life and how he vows to teach everyone who passes through the island the atrocities of slavery. The small musuem on the top floor (where the European family lived a normal life with all the slaves being kept just below them) was relatively boring, but the view was amazing. There is a door on the ground floor, known as the door of no return. It was where the slaves walked across a plank and boarded a boat, so it was their last glimpse ever of African soil.

The island looks like it's straight out of the Caribbean. The houses are painted coral, red, yellow, and white; the sky and the ocean are perfectly blue, and the plants seem greener than they do at home. It was very hot, and we all drank litre and litre of water as we trudged through museums and up to the top of the island. It was definitely worth it, though. We were able to see the finish of the annual Dakar-Gorée crossing (a swim from the mainland to the island...between 3 and 5 kilometres - no one seems to know for sure the distance). The beach was not ideal for swimming (VERY rocky and overly crowded), but the Senegalese were out in droves, diving off of piers, hanging out in pirogues (colorfully painted, carved wooden canoes) and huddled under umbrellas that were in every color of the rainbow. We decided to forgo the beach and opted for ice cream instead. Service, like nearly everything else here, is laid back and slow, so it took an hour and a half for us to get three drinks and ice cream sundaes!

Gorée is definitely a tourist trap, but we didn’t really care. Jordan and I got our hair braided - he looks like a Latino thug, but luckily I avoided that look! There were stalls all the way up to the top of the island selling carvings, paintings, jewelry, wraps, etc. People approached us every two minutes trying to peddle us jewelry or calabash rhythm shakers. Paintings lined the walls and the grass, and I wish I could buy some to bring home, but they’re just too big (and I’m afraid they would clash with our décor at home!) I bought a hot pink, tie-dyed, beaded wrap skirt (I LOVE the colors here in Senegal). I’m attempting to collect little gifts along the way, but it’s hard to haggle with merchants and not get too frustrated by all the attention and commotion we cause.

Today is Sunday…which means all the American students are dreading dinner. It is apparently a widespread practice here in Senegal to eat lakh on Sunday nights. Lakh is probably in the top ten grossest things I have eaten to date (also included on that list are catfish nuggets and sushi). Lakh is sour milk, flavored like vanilla and sweetened with sugar, mixed with millet, which is apparently a whole grain, but I think it tastes like someone left Smacks (or another equally gross cereal) in the milk for far too long and then dumped it in the sour milk. In our family, they give us lakh in a bucket with a spoon and we’re expected to eat it. Fabulous. Michelle and I can choke down a few bites before we cannot bring ourselves to put one more spoonful of the sweet, tangy, grayish-brown porridge in our mouths. Our little brothers, however, LOVE lakh and want to eat our leftovers (of which there is quite a bit). They also eat lait caillé vanille (vanilla flavored sour milk) out of a container kind of like Go-Gurt. Ew.

Lastly, I have been kicking an idea around in my head, and I have finally made a hard decision. I will not be sending out postcards. Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE writing postcards. However, postcards here in Dakar are hard to find, expensive, and usually in bad condition (they look like they’ve already been mailed back and forth between the continents a few times, the folded in half, and the corner torn off). Also, the postcards are either ugly or they perpetuate ideas of Senegal that I don’t want to perpetuate (they are often pictures of huts or villages or women breast-feeding infants… nothing at all like the Dakar I live in) .Plus, it’s about $1.40 to mail a postcard, and I just don’t trust the Senegalese mail system (the card might not arrive until 2009, if it even gets to the US). I am truly sorry, but postcards here are just not a great idea.

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11th September 2007

I'm glad that Dakar is as colorful as your personality ;) And I'm insanely jealous. Good luck with the sour milk! :P
11th September 2007

Kate- first off I love reading your travel journal and your pictures. What an amazing experience! Before I left for school, I talked to your mom at Joann's (funny thing, I told her I bought some leopard print fabric and she was like 'why leopard?' and I wasn't sure why except that I like it). anyway-- the sour milk/millet thing sounds gross but I do feed my bird millet. (Pet parakeet). And he thinks its the GREATEST FOOD POSSIBLE. Millet is a treat for birds! haha I'm sure he'd love lakh, but then again, he's a bird... Tara
1st October 2007

Really loved reading about Senegal. I was there years ago and I am now madly in love with a Senegalese man who lives here in the US. Please share a little girl talk on what you know about the men. I have studied the culture and traveled all over West Africa. A dear friend from LA who lives and works in Nigeria for over 20 years keeps me posted on a lot.

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