The sky is overcast and gray but calm. A perfect day to be on a plane, purse full of glossies and caramel candies, headed someplace far away and exotic. Someplace like Dakar.
Dakar, Senegal is a vibrant and dizzying city perched on the tip of a peninsula. A city that’s on my list of places to visit. I imagine it’s where elegance meets chaos, noise, vibrant markets, glittering nightlife, and lazy beaches. It is History-rich, colorful, and inexplicably beautiful. Here’s how Lonely Planet Travel Guide describes it:
Dakar is a city of contrasts, where horse-cart drivers chug over swish highways and gleaming SUVs squeeze through tiny sand roads, where elegant ladies dig skinny heels into dusty walkways and suit-clad businessmen kneel down for prayer in the middle of the street.
I’ll bet when it rains in Dakar it smells like deep, damp earth; the way it smells in Accra after it rains. And I’ll bet the people, dark as night, are mysteriously beautiful–clothed in beautiful bright garb and complex as the languages they speak–Wolof, Malinke, Pulaar, Diola, Arabic, French…I would get lost in it all; the incongruous harmony.
My top ten
1. Villages des Arts; a famous art complex, where some of Senegal’s most promising and established photographers, painters and sculptors create, shape and display their works in a large garden space.
2. Musée Theodore Monod; one of the best museums in West Africa. A testament to African art and culture with over 9000 objects on display.
3. Visit Medina; a bustling popular quarter. Home to many creative, trendy locals and the Grande Mosquée.
4. Shop for African fabric and jewelry in Marché des HLM one of Dakar’s many markets.
5. *Saint-Louis–West Africa’s first French settlement with unique historical charm. A UNESCO heritage site in Northern Senegal; not in Dakar, but worth a visit. An island in a river founded in 1659. Marked by the cosmopolitan culture of a large metis (mixed-race) community. The signares (women of mixed race who married wealthy European merchants temporarily based in the city) are the most famous examples of this (Everything about this place reminds me of New Orleans in Louisiana) The signares were essentially bourgeois email entrepreneurs that formed a key part of the economic, social cultural and political make up of Saint-Louis.
6. Picnic on the Pink Lake / Lac Rose–A shallow lagoon, surrounded by dunes, that turns pink! This subtle pink shimmer is caused by the water’s high salt content (10x higher than the ocean) and unique microorganisms that live there.
7. Breathe in the atmosphere of ancient, peaceful Île de Gorée (Goree Island).
Île de Gorée is enveloped by an almost eerie calm. There are no sealed roads and no cars on this island, just narrow alleyways with trailing bougainvilleas and colonial brick buildings with wright-iron balconies – it’s a living, visual masterpiece…ancient, elegant buildings bear witness to the island’s role in the Atlantic slave trade.
–Lonely Planet Travel Guide; West Africa
8. Contemplating history at one of the most important monuments to the slave trade: Maison des Esclaves. A former grand home-built on Goree Island in 1786, allegedly used as a departure point for slaves. It is one of the last remaining homes built by merchants in the 18th and 19th centuries, where they would live or work in the upper story and store their human cargo on the lower floor. A melancholy reminder of the suffering inflicted on African people during the Atlantic slave trade.
9. Relaxing at the lazy beaches of N’Gor with a copy of God’s Bits of Wood by Ousmane Sembène and some good Mbalax music (a national beat made popular by Youssou N’Dour in the ’80s. Created from a mixture of Cuban music, hugely popular from the ’60s, and traditional saber drumming).
10. Marvel at the feet of the African Renaissance Monument (artistic rendering of the bronze man, woman and child, at the top of this post). Allegedly Africa’s highest statue. Taller than the Statue of Liberty and Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. Unveiled in 2010 to commemorate Senegal’s 50 years of independence from France.
With the confluence of cultures present in Dakar, the food must be good! Tiéboudienne, Senegal’s most popular local dish is their version of Jollof rice. In fact, Senegal is the assumed birthplace of the infamous West African dish.
Senegal was part of several West African empires, including the Empire of Ghana (8th century), and the Djolof kingdom (13th & 14th centuries)…I’m assuming that’s were the name “jollof” rice came from.
This rounds out my top ten list of things to do and see in Dakar. I feel I would be right at home. Like Dr. Kwame Nkrumah said in [amazon text=The Struggle Continues&asin=0901787418], “Every country and town in Africa is my home.”
I’m at home, in the suburbs, looking out the window as I type this. The clouds are opening up to rain. The damp air smells faintly of wet grass and rubber tires from the odorless asphalt street. If it’s raining in Dakar, I’ll bet it smells like home.
Dakar is on my list, is it on yours? Have any suggestions to add to this list? Please share!
Photo Credits Here