Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Impressions of Dakar
After a few days of refreshing repose in idyllic Saint Louis, Jason & I were ready for the madness of our first black African capital - Dakar. We traveled from Saint Louis in sweaty discomfort (nothing new there), squeezed into the smallest seats of a banged up Peugeot. These sept-place (seven seats) vehicles are ubiquitous here, and are bizarrely considered one of the more luxurious public transport options.
Daily life in Dakar - a typical street scene.
Approaching Dakar we drove through mile after mile of adhoc urban sprawl. We were glad to arrive at the Gare Routière (bus station) after the hot, dense traffic, although the onslaught of hustlers jostling to get to us quickly erased the momentary relief of clambering out of the car. We were accosted by touts filling Peugeots with passengers, teenagers selling watches, phonecards and bananas and taxi drivers who all quoted double what we were expecting for the ride to our hotel. We eventually decided overpaying was preferable to loitering anxiously around the Gare Routière, our body language undoubtedly screaming “New Toubabs (white-skinned folk) in town!”. As our taxi, one of the many here with broken windshields, crawled into the traffic jammed town, we stared out at the busy street scenes and their characters.
A young boy fishing for his supper.
Our first excursion was a wander round central Dakar to suss out the city’s vibe and explore a bit. Around town we were approached by a stream of surprisingly unaggressive vendors, touts and passersby. Many were trying to sell whatever they could to make a living, and amazingly managed to do it with a smile. Others simply welcomed us to Senegal. As my ‘just arrived in unfamiliar big city’ paranoia began to subside, any sense of hassle transformed into respsect for these determined, hardworking and friendly entrepreneurs. We had picked up on Dakar’s positive, laid back personality straight away and soon found ourselves going with the city’s flow.

The attractive view approaching Île de Gorée from the ferry.
Our next outing involved a short ferry ride to the Île de Gorée, a pretty isle with a tiny beach and bright colored houses built during colonial times. However, looking beyond the picture postcard aesthetic revealed a gruesome history which made for a sobering visit. Île de Gorée’s location off the west coast of Africa rendered it strategically important for slave trading across the Atlantic. Slaves seized from all over West Africa were brought here and kept prisoner before being sold and shipped to the USA by European traders.
The building in which they were imprisoned, the “Maison des Esclaves” is now a museum. Listening to the passionate 81 year old curator gave us a disturbing but fascinating insight into the cruel injustices that took place on Gorée for over 300 years. He explained how the slaves were jammed into boats like sardines with the expectation that 25 to 30% would not survive the Transatlantic crossing. We learned how the slave traders force-fed the underweight and threw the weak and sick into the sea to be eaten by sharks, and how the big and strong – West Africa’s "best stock" – were sought after and fetched the highest price. It is no coincidence, noted the curator, that so many of the world’s best athletes can now be found in the USA.
The "door-of-no-return" in the Maison des Esclaves. Walking through this door, West Africans sold as slaves took their last steps on home soil before boarding ships bound for the USA.
With such a poignant landmark to the atrocities of our white ancestors on their doorstep, one could forgive the people of Dakar for harboring some bitterness over this most evil and bleak chapter of history. We have encountered no such bitterness, and have been warmly welcomed here.
An innocent looking street on the isle.
On a brighter note, Dakar is famous for the excellent music created and performed here. My first taste of it was hearing prayer in a local mosque, and noticing how melodic it was. But Dakar’s musicians truly come into their element in the nightclubs, and we couldn’t wait to put on our best backpacker clothes and head out on the town. What made our night out even more exciting was being escorted by Dakar native Abdou Diop, a relative of our friends, Chris & Ngone Vaught, from back home. Abdou and his friend Umi took us to a great music venue, Alizé, where we were blown away by a fantastic ten piece Senegalese orchestra. The line up included guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, congas, vocals and tama, the distinctively high pitched Senegalese drum, held under the arm and played with a curved beater. The band took to the stage at 2am and we didn’t hesitate to get on the dance floor and get down to the mbalax music with great enthusiasm, to the amusement of Abdou and Umi. By 4.30am we’d worn ourselves out and were quietly relieved when the last song finished so these tired Toubabs could get to bed before sunrise.

Beautiful people are everywhere.

Dakar is an impressive city, with it’s attractive coastal setting, historic monuments and world class music. But the jewel in Dakar’s crown is definitely it’s people. Almost everyone here is exquisitely attired in Western clothes or stunning, colorful West African outfits, usually made to measure and modeled elegantly by the striking people who wear them. Jason and I agree that the Senegalese are the most naturally beautiful nationality we have ever encountered. Male and female, young and old, on the streets, in the sept-place cars and on the dance floors, beautiful people are everywhere. Furthermore, almost everyone we have met here has been warm, open and smiling. They are great people to be around.

If there's a bike to be ridden, Jason will find it and ride it!

As you can see, we've made ourselves quite at home here!

Dakar is a mixed city with a large number of expats. It is not hard to see why, and we have definitely speculated on the cost of living, employment opportunities, and whether our French is good enough for us to live here. A kind French doctor we met described Dakar as “a very special place”. After nine days here, we understand what he meant. Since day to day survival is a struggle for so many here, the positive and uplifting spirit that Dakar exudes is truly special. We are in love with Dakar and one day, we will invade it’s dance floors again.


Blogger Ty and Samantha said...

Hello-- your lastest blog is great!! Beautiful pictures!!

I continually get wonderful comments on your blog.

The students at Geneva Middle School -South love the blog.

Ty's big exam is tomorrow on Africa.

Be safe as always --your in our prayers and hearts

Don Teri Tyler and Samantha

10:38 PM  

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