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DURING MY RECENT TRAVELS TO GUINEA, I EXPERIENCED SOME TROUBLE GETTING OUT OF AFRICA.
Originally booked on a Friday Air France flight from the Guinean capital of Conakry to Paris, strikes in Paris forced the cancellation of my flight. I rebook onto Air Mali through Dakar, Senegal, yet, that too is canceled due to technical problems. I finally board an Air Senegal flight two days later to Dakar. While I finally manage to get out of Conakry, I’m met in Dakar by strikes at the airport, so can’t get off the plane! This is when I discover that I am sitting next to the cousin and manager of the internationally acclaimed Senegalese singer, Baaba Mal, and that Baaba Mal's entire orchestra is on the plane with me! Thoroughly satisfied with my hour stuck on the plane, I’m not quite as pleased when I finally make it through customs only to find that I’ve long missed my connection to Washington. Next available flight…24 hours… So this is the story of my very first 24 hours in Dakar.
Still at the airport, I call around to several hotels to find an available room. By the time I’m ready to head into the night, it’s 4 AM. Stepping out of the building and dragging my suitcases towards the taxi park, I’m immediately surrounded by a group of taxi drivers fighting over my business. But despite my car’s broken windshield and having to be push-started, we slowly make our way towards the center of the city. I check into the hotel, sleep for five hours, then get up to take advantage of my unexpected time in Dakar. I had read about a quaint fishing village called Yoff 30 minutes from the capital, so I decide to visit there first.
I had barely eaten over the past 24 hours and was pleased to be greeted by tantalizing smells emanating from a beachside fish stand.
A beachside "restaurant" serves fresh grilled fish in Yoff, a fishing village 30 minutes from Senegal's capital city of Dakar.
I sit down with my taxi driver for a very memorable meal of fresh grilled fish topped with mustard and a side of onions.
As I eat, black and white-spotted sheep and goats snooze in the shade of colorfully-painted boats that lined the beach.
Next, I head down the beach to visit the Seydina Limamou Laye Mausoleum. As my taxi driver takes the opportunity to pray, I watch a group of children washing in the fountain of the mausoleum. A young man walks toward me. Casually swining a long knife, he stops to greet me, introducing himself as Abdoulayi. Born and raised in Yoff, Abdoulayi doesn't speak French, but speaks very good English. After a few minutes of conversation, I ask him what the knife is for. "To cut a watermelon," he responds, promptly inviting me to eat with him.
Children wash at the well of Diamalaye (zem-zem holy water) in front of the Seydina Limamou Laye Mausoleum, which sits on the coast of Senegal in the fishing village of Yoff. Seydina Limamou Laye (1843-1909) was the founder of the Layne (meaning "partisans of God") brotherhood.
Though initially hesitant, I follow him to a tent next to the mausoleum, where he proceeds to dig a watermelon out of the sand. Cut into large pieces too big to comfortably fit in my mouth, we enjoy the refreshingly cool, sweet watermelon served with Chinese green tea. Abdoulayi tells me about his travels throughout West Africa, and his three years living in the Gambia in a house with a group of American students, where he learned English and Crazy 8s.
Seydina Limamou Laye Mausoleum in Yoff, Senegal.
Forty-five minutes later, I find myself following him to his house. He disappears for a moment, reemerging to hand me a piece of paper with the names and addresses of all his American friends in the Gambia. He sorrowfully tells me how he had lost touch with them over the years, as the addresses and contact information are old.
Long Lost Friend
I peruse the list and stop short, staring at a familiar name of a woman in Maryland. I think I know this person! Abdoulayi immediately disappears for a second time, reappearing a minute later, large brown envelope in hand. Out comes an assortment of old, yellowing photos. He leafs through them briefly, then hands me a photo. There it is, staring me in the face – a photo of him with a former colleague of mine in Maryland!
How incredible! Such a series of events that weren’t supposed to happen, leading me from one adventure to the next, as if each step of the journey was meant to bring me to this final destination!
After some time, I regretfully thank Abdoulayi for his hospitality, and my driver and I head back to the taxi, pausing along the way to photograph a group of children in front of a roadside mosque and to admire the colorful wall paintings advertising a tailor's shop.
With Senegal's adult literacy rate at only 39%, many shops, like this tailor in Yoff, a fishing village 30 minutes from Dakar, display pictures of their services.
Colorfully painted buses roam the streets of Dakar, Senegal.
Once back in Dakar, we visit the colorful Marché des HLM ("HLM Market"), with its long rows of market stalls (and cars) decorated with colorful fabrics for sale.
We end the day at Dakar's coastal fish market, where three Fulani women sit behind small piles of fish for sale, colorfully painted fishing boats in the background.
A man sits on one of the colorfully painted fishing boats that line the beach at this fish market in Dakar, Senegal.
Customers bargain for a good price at this beachside fish market in Dakar, Senegal.
I end the day with a group of Fulani boys grilling fresh fish on a makeshift grill. My very first 24 hours in Dakar... absolutely magnificent.