“Close your eyes again! …Now can you hear it? Can you hear the harrowing creak of the chains? Can you perceive the silent cry of that mother who knows she’ll never hold her child in her arms again? Listen to the sea! Its waves never forgot the hopeless stare of the men embarking on the vessel or the distress and screams of the slaves pitilessly thrown overboard…”
As the ferry draws away from Gorée, the passionate monolog of our guide and the still vivid and poignant images of the House of Slaves keep stirring my soul. After a brief visit of the Governor’s residence, the IFAN historical Museum and the imposing ruins of a castle also known as “Fort St Michel”, we are now leaving the island and heading to Dakar, the bustling capital city of Senegal.
Senegal is considered in the African Diaspora as a land of Pilgrimage, the reason being that places like Goree and St Louis were important trading posts during the Atlantic slave trade.The Republic of Senegal is located in West Africa and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Mali, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau and Gambia which Senegal shares deep ancestral, historical and cultural ties with (Confederation of Senegambia). The local currency is the West African CFA franc.
While French is Senegal’s official language, it is fluently spoken only by a minority. Wolof however is the most widely spoken dialect, and other idioms include Fula and Diola.
Senegalese people are very warm and welcoming and “Teranga”, which means “Hospitality” in Wolof, is not a mere abstractnotion: it’s a way of life, as indicated by the popular Senegalese proverb: “A visitor is a king, and should be treated as such”.
Senegal has a rich cultural heritage and the griots’ role and influence as keepers of the oral tradition is still recognized. The capital city, Dakar, is host to traditional Senegalese wrestling matches and most music venues and nightclubs play ‘mbalakh’, the local modern music. Famous for being the homeland of some of Africa’s greatest writers, such as Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Sembene Ousmane or President Leopold S. Senghor, the country is also full of talent, with a roster of world-renowned Senegalese-born musicians like Youssou N’dour, Ismael Lo and global superstar Akon.
A portrait of daily life, one of the remarkable sights on Senegalese roads are the horse-drawn carts; the contrast with motorized engines is quite peculiar, even more so if you are unaccustomed to seeing both kinds of vehicles riding the road side by side. Other common means of transportation include the very popular (and usually overcrowded) “car rapide” as well as taxis, which can take you pretty much everywhere; the price they’ll charge will depend on the distance to your destination, and bargaining with the driver is possible, if you feel you are being overcharged.
If planning to visit Senegal there is a wide selection of accommodation: five stars hotels, private villas and bed-and-breakfasts are available. The best period would be between November and March, with a dry and cool climate which makes it the perfect time for bird watching in the Sine Saloum Delta and wildlife spotting at the Fathala Reserve. Saint Louis, with its distinctive colonial architecture, is a place with fine shopping facilities. The Casamance region is renowned for is beaches and tourists resorts, while the city of Kedougou provides good accommodation for life-seeing tourists who travel to the distant Bassari region to experience living as the people in rural areas.
Dakar with its stunning beaches and exciting nightlife is the place where things happen! For curios, leather work and trendy African fabric, the “Marché Sandaga” is the place to go.
The “Place de l’independance” is a central landmark and the Corniche’s view is a sight to see. And there’s the gigantic African Renaissance Monument; a 160 feet tall man, emerging from the rock and holding his woman in a protective grasp, while their boy on his father’s shoulder, points the horizon with his tiny arm. It’s the highest monument in Africa, and the only attraction you won’t have to look for, as it dominates the city, perched atop a hill.
Cuisine is the most exciting aspect of the Senegalese Teranga and though the absence of pork from most menus is noticeable, many specialties captured my attention, and are sure to please your tastebuds:
“Tiebou dienne”, a meal made from herb-stuffed fishcakes with rice.
“Mafe”, which is a mutton or beef served in peanut sauce.
“Yassa” which is a type of onion and lemon sauce served with barbecued chicken.
Take note that around ninety four per cent of the population is Muslim, so take Ramadan into consideration when planning your trip to Senegal, as most restaurants are closed during the day and nightlife is likely to be less dynamic.
Now close your eyes, Africlectists. Can you hear it? Can you hear Senegal calling?
Images by Jeff Attaway