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Published: October 15th 2009
On their first trip to Africa many have used words about going back to the motherland. Strangely, to me it was fitting-- because Senegal is so much like Haiti, where I was born. The obvious similarities are tropical, busy, dark skins. Beyond that the architecture is very similar (houses have open brick work, fans, sherbet colors). The differences that struck me are that this is a flat country and there are many birds.
In Dakar our hotel was next to a mosque. Speakers 5 times a day with prayers, noticeable, but not loud enough to wake me up. In the streets I am struck by variety. First in clothing. People wear everything. The Muslim influence is present but not overwhelming. The women are robed, veiled, in jeans, strapless dresses, and some capri type pants. Men are in African robes of every description as well as western styles. There is not much attention to dressing for the heat, and everyone sweats profusely (still, no one has been offensive to me )
Riding on the bus is always great for getting a personal feel for a place. The first I was on was hot (excuse me for using that word again, and again...). Young people quickly give up seats to the elderly (just a little white hair needed), but more to the men, even when a woman with a baby strapped on was on board. The mother casually nursed her child with no attempt at modesty. There are beggars in some areas, but on the bus they seemed peculiarly well dressed but they received more coins than kids on the streets.
The major place I wanted to sight-see in Dakar was Gorée Island, a slave shipping station. Having studied & taught the history, what we saw was not surprising to me, but others there were clearly moved. One person who had been before did not go again, being ashamed to cry. It is good to know there is a major effort at preserving the location as a reminder. If only it served to show people how cruelty and greed should be eliminated it would be great, yet there are many modern situations that are nearly as horrifying.
Outside of Dakar now. Staying in a town (village, really) with a fellow volunteer since my place is not yet available. It is kind of nice to have this transition so I am less thrown on my own just yet. The contrasts are startling: houses have an outside bathroom but wireless internet (much easier to get than wired, like cell phone instead of land line); there are sheep and goats in the front yard and a huge satellite dish in the back. Offices of higher-ups the school system have peeling paint and lack shelving or much furniture, but are air-conditioned and all high tech. The street lights are few and dim so the stars are incredible. So many of them, so bright, just breath-taking.
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