For the past few weeks, I have been in Senegal for Stomp Out Malaria Boot Camp. A few times a year, PC Senegal hosts a big training about all things malaria for Volunteers from across Africa. I will be extending my time with Peace Corps for one year to act as National Coordinator for Stomp Rwanda, so Boot Camp is prepping me for my next job. I’ll get to describing Boot Camp later, but first a bit about my time in Dakar.
I flew to Senegal a few days before Boot Camp started so that I could visit the capital Dakar. Dakar is located along a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. Dakar is nothing like Kigali! As the plane descended over the city, the first thing I noticed was the landscape. Dakar looks completely flat and sandy with some scrubby plants. Dakar is a big city, with sprawling neighborhoods of cement block buildings.
Stepping out of the airport, I was met by a wall of humidity. I hopped on a bus and headed downtown, where I was planning on staying. I didn’t have any idea where I was going other than a landmark near my nameless hotel recommended by a friend, so I asked someone on the bus to help direct me. The ride ended up taking over an hour through heavy traffic, so every time someone near me got off the bus, they would tell the next person to look out for me. I also didn’t have any coins since I was coming directly from the airport, where I exchanged only large bills. The bus company wouldn’t accept my money, but fortunately some people on the bus pooled change to pay my fare. What generosity!
The bus ride was a sensory overload. Kigali is overall pretty calm, quiet, well-organized and clean. Dakar is the opposite- loud, smelly, dirty, and chaotic. The roads were clogged with taxis and donkey carts. Young men were playing football in sandy fields on the side of the highway. Mosques were broadcasting the evening call to prayer, vying to be hear over children shouting and donkeys braying. Black plastic bags fluttered through the air and collected in the gutters. I sat on the bus, clutching my bag and staring out the window, trying to get over my initial culture shock.
On my first full day in day in Dakar, I walked around downtown to take in the sights. Downtown Dakar is much more organized and clean than the outlying neighborhoods I had traveled through by bus the evening before. Many avenues reflected the French style- large boulevards lined with trees and white buildings. I took the time to visit a few art museums, one of which displayed traditional cultural artifacts from various West African countries. It was really interesting to see just how different the culture here is from the culture in East Africa. For example, I saw many traditional masks used in wedding ceremonies or coming-of-age ceremonies across the region.
I also visited two local markets- Marche Karmel and Marche Sandaga. Marche Karmel is centered around a beautiful mosaic-covered building. Inside there are merchants selling local produce and seafood. The outside of the market is lined with stalls offering craft goods, jewelry, paintings, and more.
Marche Sandaga is the largest market in Dakar. Almost any good imaginable is available there, from batteries, to food, to cloth. I spent far too much money buying local fabrics. I love all the African prints offered here in Dakar. I’m excited to get new clothes made out of the fabric!
The next morning, I took a 20-minute ferry ride over to Ile de Goree. Goree is famous as being the last stop in Africa for the historic slave trade. It’s unclear how true that is, but a trip out to the island makes for a relaxing day trip. The island is home to many local artists selling their work along the roads. The houses are picturesque, and bright cafes dot the coastline. It reminded me a lot of St. Augustine or parts of Savannah. I met some ex-pats working in Nigeria who were also on vacation in Dakar. It was nice to have some company when walking around the island.
On my last day in Dakar, I met up with an old friend of mine who is currently serving as a PCV in Senegal. It was great to catch up with him and have someone to be my tour guide after having to entertain myself all weekend. Highlight of this day: the ice cream parlor that must have had 40 different flavors of ice cream. And not the poorly frozen, gritty ice cream we get in Kigali. It was delicious! Thanks for being a great tour guide, Chad!
Despite my first impressions, Dakar proved to be a beautiful and interesting city. I’m really glad I had a few days to explore. It was really neat looking at the countless cultural differences between Senegal and Rwanda. It was also really nice to be able to use French again. I didn’t realize how rusty I’ve gotten!
Senegal is cool, but Rwanda remains number one in my book! Rwanda, ndagukumbuye. Rwanda, I miss you!