Here are some highlights (and low-lights) from my first weekend exploring Dakar:
1) My best friend and I went downtown to try to withdraw money without a fee at our bank’s location here in Dakar. After the security guard checked our book bags for machetes, we waited in line to talk to the teller. Turns out, one cannot withdraw money from foreign banks in Dakar… only make deposits. Certain things in Senegal I simply cannot explain.
2) After leaving the bank, we decided to go to Sandaga market to look over some fabrics. We had taken a tour of the market with a local female student, and we had experienced previously the desire of Senegalese men to act as tour guides in order to be seen by other men with the toubabs. We were, therefore, not surprised when a teenager offered to help us navigate the marketplace, and we tried to act as familiar and casual as our student-guide had. The teenager aided us greatly and even helped us find the bus stop once we had finished. However, when he boarded the same bus as us and departed at the same stop, we began to act coldly toward him. After repeatedly asking him kindly to return home, he asked to be invited to our houses for lunch. He followed us for blocks while we angrily yelled “Stop!” and “Don’t follow us!” in French. Finally, at another bus stop, a group of Senegalese heard our complaints and strongly encouraged him to stop. It is important to note that at no point was I at all nervous or frightened; we were on busy streets in the middle of daytime in an Islamic society where violent crime is virtually non-existent. But I did become increasingly frustrating with the lack of power he assumed we had.
3) Our program visited Goree Island, home to the famous Door of No Return where slaves departed Africa for their perilous journey across the Atlantic to the Americas. While Goree is considered the tourist must-see of Senegal, I was largely disappointed. The museums, including natural history, house of slaves, and women’s, were poorly maintained and offered little meaningful connection to the important topics they discussed. What bothered me most about Goree, however, was the stratification between tourists and locals. The island’s inhabitants are entirely dependent on tourist consumption, which has developed a wonderful artist community but also a culture of begging. I watched with disgust as French tourist threw coins off the pier to young boys diving in after them–the Senegalese version of “sing for your supper,” I suppose. It is difficult to imagine the local opinion on toubabs, with an enduring legacy of colonialism and attempted cultural domination but continued financial dependence. What I have found from personal experience is that the attitude towards Americans is much more positive than that towards French.
Life here continues to be filled with surprises, some of which come in rapid successions and others with I continue to dig into at a glacial pace… what the Wolof call “ndank-ndank.” In my upcoming posts, I plan to divulge some of my findings on the political climate and the nightlife…
Until then, Jamm ak Jamm (Peace and Peace).