I’m on the early morning flight from Dakar, recalling the mixed feelings I had about Senegal when I was leaving Asia. Just a few days before I flew out towards the West, I had met two German ladies on the Ko Chang Island. After talking to them, my mind was full of questions: “Why do I have to leave Asia? Why did I schedule such a nonsense itinerary where I have to fly to the other side of the globe? Why don’t I just stay in this region, in Thailand, where travelling is so easy and hassle-free, tourism and backpacking so common?”
I doubted my decision to stay with a family, people that I didn’t know anything about, except for a brief and minimalistic description I had received 2 days before my scheduled arrival in Dakar.
Today, as I leave Dakar and look back, I can only laugh at those thoughts! I had planned to stay in Dakar for 3 weeks. I ended up staying for five! Yes, one additional week was due to the wait for my overland transport to Dakhla that never happened, but still. My stay was much longer than originally planned and even then I hesitated whether to leave this place or not. It had been a long time since it was so difficult to leave a destination behind.
Falling in love with Dakar
It is amazing to see how quickly I put down roots in this city, how well I got to know it and its hidden corners, and how effortlessly I bonded with new friends I made here – all things that took me more then a year when I moved to Brussels years ago. Of course, moving to Brussels as an expat, when you immediately start to work full-time, is not exactly the same as visiting a foreign city on holidays and only having to focus on a language course, but still!
There is something about Senegal, or rather; there is something about Dakar that makes all the difference. It is difficult to describe what that “something” is. Is it the people who want to sell you something everywhere you go? The dust that manages to sneak into every nook and cranny of your belongings? Taxi drivers that always quote a double price? Marriage proposals that white women get on almost daily basis?
Is it the sounds of African vibes and music on every corner? The colourful outfits of Senegalese women and the way they walk down the street with calm graciousness? Their incredible beauty? Or perhaps it is all those tall and fit men, who exercise on every available spot along the loooong seaside promenade of Dakar, with their gorgeous hands that I couldn’t help but stare at?
Or maybe it is the regular water blackouts (as one of the locals nicely called it) during the day that force you to take a very cold shower with a bucket of water? Sandwiches served by ladies seating on the pavements?
The taxis that are so old that you cannot be sure they will manage to make it all the way to your destination? Endless views over the ocean and the morning breeze while you ride your bike along the seaside promenade, known as Corniche?
Horse-drawn charettes (wooden carts) finding their way through the busy streets and other interesting contradictions seen on so many corners…
Was I charmed by the incredibly beautiful outfits of Muslim men, especially on Fridays, when they pull out all the stops for THE prayer of the week? Or that moment of the 2pm Friday prayer, when the whole city stops for 20 minutes and everyone kneels down to pray, and suddenly you are surrounded by SILENCE?
Or was I attracted to the easy pace of life with no stress and no rush? The tiny shop around the corner of my house, selling my favourite bread called tapalapa, wrapped into a newspaper?
Maybe it was all those second-hand shoes that you can buy on almost every street corner?
Street vendors selling everything from tooth brushes, lemons, jeans and cleaning accessories to tiny furniture pieces? The incredibly loud markets, where it is almost impossible not to overpay by 4 times? And I could go on and on….
It is probably the mix of all of this, but I guess it is mainly about PEOPLE!! Despite my limited communication skills in French, it was amazing to experience the remarkable warmth of the people at every step. Once you get used to (and master!) the non-stop haggling, people always wanting to talk to you or sell you something, once you are able to overcome these challenges and accept them all as part of the culture, you realize how warm and friendly the Senegalese are.
Warm family welcome
The family I was staying with added another incredible feel to the whole Dakar experience. I was not their first guest. In fact, over the past 9 years they had hosted over 40 foreigners. Yet they still managed to warmly welcome me, as if I was their first and only visitor. They cooked for me, ate with me, socialized with me every evening, answered my every question, and asked about my day and my home country..
Ama, the younger of their two daughters and one of their six grown-up children, a girl close to my age, took me to the market and to the local aerobics class. Moussa and Karfa, the two eldest brothers, showed me around the countryside.
This morning the family wouldn’t let me take a taxi. Even though I had to leave the house at 4.30am, Ama and Moussa drove me to the airport. And yesterday evening, as I was saying goodbye to the family, they gave me two amazing and very unique presents.
It is very rare for me to leave the country and already plan my return. Especially since there are still so many hidden treasures to discover in this amazing world! But in the case of Senegal it is not only a feeling of wanting to come back some day, I am convinced that one day I will return to this enchanting place
….and Thank you
Finally, I just want to say: THANK YOU to each and every one of you that I have met in Dakar in the past five weeks. THANK YOU for sharing with me your precious time and moments. THANK YOU for contributing your piece to the mosaic of one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had! Inshallah!