Thirteen days in Dakar


Foreword

In Dakar, every day is a breathe of fresh air. From dawn till dusk, the city is swept by new winds, and its shores washed by new waves. Even from far away, you can hear the ocean at times. You always feel it being nearby.

Day 1 - 2 - 3 - The Lost Bag

All of these first three days are put together in one chapter, because quite frankly, they were a mess. First, we had spent half of day one in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, making sure that the last details of producing pieces for the Premiere Collection were done with. After completing dozens of trips and errands around the boroughs of Yopougon, Plateau, and Cocody, we were only then able to literally run to the airport. Therefore, leaving Abidjan and headed to Dakar felt like the beginning of a fantastic break. Or not!

Landing was perfect. The seashores looked enchanting, and welcoming. Dakar was finally upon us. The humongous monument of African Renaissance greeted us from afar, as we peeked through the aircraft’s window. The sun, too, had it all shining in gorgeous bronze metal. After waiting a short while, we got off the plane, cleared through security with our passports in hand, and ran to luggage claim. Everything was going well up until we realized that one of our bags did not make the trip. The bag was lost. It was stranded in Abidjan for security reasons. On the way to our “rented” apartment, and away from the airport, Dakar already felt sour. Indeed, spending day one, day two, and day three - till 8PM GMT - without “the lost bag”, and with only one outfit for me to wear, was not fun at all!

However, getting together with our friendly host, Walle, was quite all right. He made us feel at home upon entry to our new home. He took good care of us, and we slept through the rest of the day feeling rather hopeful. The next morning, for breakfast, we grabbed bread (baguettes), powdered milk, sugar, soda drinks, and coffee at the local boutique. One first thing we had noticed about Dakar, is that there is a convenient store or boutique at every neighborhood’s corner. Something that’s prevalent in Abidjan too. But I was rather amazed to find out that they are also present: fresh fruits and veggies stands, a butcher, a fish seller, a fabric dealer, a hairdresser, a pharmacy, a beauty shop, or anything, anyone may need, all at very close range to our home.

Everything was so conveniently located. And it seemed to be that way in every neighborhood we had gone or passed through. We especially fell in love with the fresh fruits and veggies stands, sprouting around every block. We didn’t need to walk or travel too far away to get to our most essential needs. Therefore, spending the first three days close to our home, getting adjusted to the “lost bag”, was not bad after all. We then proceeded on getting acquainted with our rather pleasant surroundings. We were staying in the calm and cosy Hann Mariste neighborhood, south of Dakar. We discovered new housing and office spaces that showed great, clean, squared architecture with flowers and greenery surrounding little backyards and alleyways.

After grocery shopping, Walle called up his good friend and neighbor to come cook some local dishes for all of us to share. We started off with the classic and beloved Thieboudiene, ceebu jën in Wolof (language spoken in Senegal, in The Gambia and Mauritania), which literally means “rice and fish”. The kitchen was full of flavors, spices, vegetables, and a fresh fish we had bought at the local fish stand.

The Thieboudiene meal was purely invented in the nineteenth century by Penda Mbaye, a legendary cook hailing from the waalo-waalo (resident of the historic Kingdom of Waalo centered on the Senegal River delta, around the city of St. Louis). She was a professional cook, making a living with her cuisine, until the day she decided to use cherry tomatoes to bring in more flavor and color (red) to her rice, much to delight of Senegal and the rest of us. In West Africa, the meal shows similarities to the “Riz-Gras” from Cote d’Ivoire, and the “Jollof rice” from either Ghana or Nigeria. We are not going to get into an argument of which one is best, especially between the last two.

After we all shared a meal of Thieboudiene, we were amazed by the next one too, the Yassa!

The Yassa, is clearly an onion sauce that’s prepared with grilled fish or meat (chicken, lamb, beef). For one serving, one has to at least cut an handful of yellow onions.

Even though the bag was still lost, we had rested, ate some good local meals, found a nearby cyber café to keep touch with the rest of the world, ran some errands, organised the rest of our stay, before eventually reuniting with the “lost bag”.

Day 4 - Jummah Mubarak

Every Friday, millions of Muslims across the world head to their local mosque for Jummah Prayer. Much like most Christians do every Sunday. Senegal alone is home to well over 13 millions Muslims, 92% of the country’s population. In Dakar, too, the local mosques get buzzing on Fridays. Given that this day was our real first outing, since recovering the “lost bag”, we were excited to witness the city on such a busy day

The heavy traffic of cars, yellow taxis, “Carapides” or « Ndiaga Ndiaye”, and people from all walks of life, became even more prevalent, leading that up to the noon hour prayer. Women, men, children were all dressed up in their finest bubus and outfits, rich in color and style.

The Ndiaga Ndiaye, which name stems from that of the enterprise’s creator himself, is undoubtedly the monument of public transport in Senegal. The colorful and eccentric Mercedes Benz 580d bus serves thousands upon thousands of locals, in every corner of the city and its whereabouts. Ndiaga Ndiaye success in public transportation tells a story of going from rags (orphaned at two, young farmer, apprentice driver in his teenage years) to riches (business mogul, awarded with the medal of National Order of Lion in 1985 by former Senegalese President, Abdou Diouf.)

One other important aspect we noticed on the first days, is that the streets are fairly clean. For one, they are much cleaner than most streets in Abidjan. And the graffitis in some corners of the city do advertise for anyone to keep the streets clean.

The Grand Mosque of Dakar was designed by Moroccan and French architects, inspired by the andalou-arabic architecture. The prominent green color is symbolic of the islamic faith.

After Jummah prayer, we headed to “Downtown Dakar” to visit the IFAN Museum, before it closed in the late afternoon. Coincidentally enough, there was an ongoing exhibition on African textiles.

The Kente Gentlemen brand is indeed obsessed with color, poetry, and culture. All of which are very present in the local fabrics that were traditionally handmade, using techniques dating as far as back to the tenth century. Our project aims to discover and celebrate them all. As the local artisans and weavers are true artists, poets of the textile, worthy of praise and respect.

The huge front yard garden of the museum offered us the opportunity to embrace the Dakarois’ fresh air. The sun was well high up and shining. The weather was kind and sweet. We therefore decided to walk around the city before headed back home. However, we had not had lunch yet. And there was this Indian restaurant on the other side of town that we were somehow determined to get to. After a twenty minutes Taxi ride, we ended up nearby the N’Gor beach and got lost. Still, another opportunity for us to discover the whereabouts of the city. Please keep in mind that we intended to visit Dakar on a fly, and authentically get our own experience of it all, for better or worse.

We walked around for a while, still on empty stomachs. But soon after, a miracle happened. A “Dibiterie” was right across the street! The “Dibiterie” is a Senegalese monument for food. It’s the place to be - to get fresh grilled meat on charcoal fire. All mixed with some oil, onions, special sauce and spices, to make up for a juicy morning or afternoon meal. The liver meat is most preferred. It typically runs out by noon. Try half-pound of meat for a drooling start. After we ate, we hopped on another Taxi to get home. We soon realized that the best way to get a good tour of Dakar as a whole is to ride a taxi. Throughout the day, we had hired three cabs, walked around for miles, and felt like we had been through the entire city, going from one end, one shore, to another. Anything, but! We had had yet to see much more of the city!

Day 5 - Place de l’Independence

On the next day, we were having trouble getting internet at our neighborhood cyber cafe. Remember, it was very important for us to keep in touch with our collaborators back in Abidjan, much less the rest of the world. We then heard that at the Place de l’Independence Place, there was free wifi available. Once there, we were disappointed to realize that that was not much of the case. Still, it was a place we had planned to visit regardless. And the weather was beautiful again that day; which gave us the opportunity to walk around the city and check out more sightings. The independence square sits indeed at the heart of Dakar. It’s surrounded by old colonial buildings, such as the Chamber of Commerce, and new affirmations of the country’s development: shiny skyscrapers, charming restaurants, long roads and avenues, and business men and women walking around the street between trendy cars and motorcyclists.

The Republic of Senegal had gained its independence from France after breaking away from the Mali Federation, which was formed by merging Senegal and the French Soudan (renamed the Republic of Mali) in 1959. Senegalese poet, politician, and cultural theorist Léopold Sédar Senghor, was elected the country’s first president in August 1960.

We soon walked towards the port of Dakar, and eventually got information on ferry hours to get to the Goree Island. Merchants were trying to sell us handmade watches, jewellery, artifacts, and even some taxi rides back to our place. We got ourselves some grilled peanuts instead. The day was still young, so we continued on walking around till we reached the Hotel de Ville sitting up top a small hill.

On the back end of the building, there wasn’t much activity going on. It was rather calm and soothing. We sat and rested, greeted by the scent of the garden’s flowers, and birds chirping above the sunny sky. There was a small restaurant animated by a few people, and a lot of steps leading to the building, which, besides the garden, made much of the backyard’s decor. The building showed great architecture and colors. Once you get out to the front end however, you might get invited to a rather busy wedding reception.

After a few hours of wandering the streets, it was time to get home, rest, make some dinner, before headed out for our first night of partying. We had not much of an idea of what to expect going out on a weekend in Dakar. After reading a few outdated blogs (unfortunately enough for us), we were told of Thiossane, a club owned by the world-acclaimed Senegalese artist Youssou N’Dour. The discotheque promised a mix of both classical and contemporary Senegalese music. And we might even experience a performance from the artist himself! Or Not! It was completely dark once we got there. There was absolutely nobody in sight. The place looked completely shut down. In situations like these, it’s best to phone ahead of course. Still, we were determined to have a good time. Hence, we drove down to Soumbedioune, headed to a club we had heard about as well. Yet another disappointment. Even though open, it’s best that we don’t dwell on the details of that. But here’s another good advice: if lost, or wondering where to be or go to, please ask a taxi driver or a true local. Well, most of them do speak in Wolof - the main language of Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania, and the native language of the Wolof people - and not French, nor English. But when you come across one your sorry self can communicate with, it’s best that you keep the conversation going on what’s the place to be or go in the city. That, of course if you are not as dangerously adventurous like us. So, we asked and got carried back to Plateau (Downtown) to a nightclub called Texas. It was magical. The club offered great music, great vibes, great design and service. We ended up having a swell time, dancing, screaming, jumping, and partaking (more like witnessing) with the locals under urban contemporary jams and mbalax music. We also met and hung out with a group of diasporan Dakarois from Paris and Toronto, who too were visiting. We had so much fun that we did not realize that it was then 4:00 AM at some point.

Day 6 - Lazy Sunday

We had planned to got out but we got so exhausted from yesterday’s experiences that we eventually slept through most of the day, while watching episodes of How To Get Away With Murder.

Day 7 - African Renaissance Monument

After breakfast, it was time to for us to experience the Maffe, another popular Senegalese dish. In Cote d’Ivoire, there’s also a recipe that’s similar, but not quite. It’s called ‘Sauce Arachide” or peanut soup, and usually served with a side of rice or foutou-banane.

In the afternoon, we headed out to the African Renaissance Monument, which had greeted us back on day one. The bronze monument stands atop a hill, one of “The Mamelles” - “The Mamelles” stems from the appearance of female breasts made by the two neighbored hills.

To have a monument is one thing; but having it sitting on top of a hill is another. In all, the massive statue reaches up to an impressive 160 feet, and grandiosely reminded us of the bold ambition of achieving the continent’s revival or renaissance. Behind the art and symbolism of the sculpture, we can witness a woman holding on to what seems to be her family, with her posture fleeing the troubled past, yet her hand remaining connected to it. And outfront, we perceive a man lifting up their child, and leading the way to the horizon, hence towards a better future. Undoubtedly, the statue continues to receive backlash for its rather expensive bill, and otherwise sexist and un-Islamic features. Meanwhile, some locals remain enthusiastic about the infrastructure, which clearly became a landmark and tourist attraction for the city, much like the Statue of Liberty is for New York City. Surely, the passing of time will affirm of who is to be on the right side of the debate.

After many glances and observations, the statue remains overwhelming. Besides the glaring vertigo, I for one remained touched by the messages which were graved on the site.

Jeune d’Afrique et de la Diaspora, Si un jour tes pas te portent au pied de ce monument, Penses à tous ceux qui ont sacrifié leur liberté ou leur vie pour la renaissance de l’Afrique." - Abdoulaye Wade

“Young Africans, from the mainland and the diaspora If one day, your steps were to guide you underneath this monument Think of all the people who made sacrifices for their freedom or their lives for the renaissance of Africa.” - Abdoulaye Wade, former president of Senegal.

Upon descent, we walk around the garden of palm trees and flowers. Passing by one of the flowers, the mythic Fleur Paon (Peacock Flower), I was reminded when being a kid, the flowers were dissected and studied in our courses of SVT (Sciences de la Vie et de la Terre - Science of life and the earth). I felt goosebumps: a trip to memory lane was in session right there.

Afterwhile, we visited the nearby local artists and craftsmen. We soon connected with one artist named Sow and copped a few gift sets from his stand. He testified that business was slow now, since not so many people come around to visit the monument. Sow was very kind to us. We were planing to visit the Lac Rose, and requested info, to which he even suggested to take us there two days later. We exchanged numbers and left the monument place, which also has a concert hall down below its mighty staircase.

To finish off the day we went to the beach N’ Gor, and walked around till sunset.

Day 8 - Gorée Island

7AM - Early in the morning we took a taxi to the Port of Dakar. Upon arrival, folks were gathering around the port, also hoping to board on the earliest ferry to reach the island. We had planned to spend most of the day out there, and had breakfast on the docks. The boat ride was quite romantic. We were surrounded by gigantic cruises and cargo ships in the beginning, before carving the waves on the way for a good 20 minutes. It was also a good time for us to recap on our stay thus far, halfway into it. Afterwhile we landed on the island shores. And during our first steps on soil, we were surrounded by local tour guides, merchants, tourists and visitors from different walks of life. We were also greeted with a heavy air of brutal history. We started our own tour right then, walking around most times alone and away from the crowds --and tour guides. The goal was to get lost on the island, discover its painful history, embrace the beauty in the blooming nature and colorful architecture, and experience it all by our own means.

After a hourlong promenade, we were edging closer to the notoriously symbolic site on the island: La Maison des Esclaves. The House of Slaves, by definition, served the purpose of “housing” or actually storing slaves before departure to Europe or the Americas. They were different rooms, in which reportedly hundreds upon hundreds of women, men and children, were literally stacked in, shackled, mistreated, bargained, sold, killed, raped, abused, and removed from all human decency before being sent away to unknown destinations, passing through the notorious “Door of No Return”

A slave child would cost a mirror back then. Clearly, the lives of millions more would amount to nothing. Though, historians have argued that the site in particular, let alone the island, had had nothing to do with the slave trade. Still, the house remains for us all a grim memorial of one of humanity’s darkest chapter. It has long been visited by world leaders of the realm of Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama to name a few.

Soon, before dawn, we had left the island. We returned back to the Port of Dakar, before heading home, feeling overwhelmed by the troubling history and yet enchanted by the uniqueness of the island.

Day 9 - Sadanga Market

African markets are truly one of the kind. From Ethiopia to Congo, South Africa to Senegal, the bazaars in these countries of the continent do share somewhat of the same energy, color, hustle and bustle, and enthusiasm. We were on the quest for local fabrics, gifts, inspiration, and life! Truth to be told, you surely are better off experience that yourself.

Day 10 - Lac Rose

The night before, we had prepared for this trip. We packed lotions-- and more lotion, ahead of swimming in the lake. We also grabbed all the other necessary equipments. By now, you would have noticed that some of our brand’s clothing pieces were featured all around Dakar. It’s something we wish for: to show that anyone can wear these pieces in a real world environment and rock them well. And we did the same for our trip to Lac Rose, also expecting to shoot our second Visual Poem: Lake of Emotions. We first met up with Sow (the artist from the Renaissance Monument). He suggested that we take a local bus: cheap, fast, accessible, and full of ambiance. And it was: local men and women took the ride with us. Some stopped on the way, while others hopped in at different stops.

The ride was electric, bumpy, and really fast. Though some of our private parts suffered through the heavy and spontaneous bumps, it was so amusing and fun. We recommend that you do the same, on your way out there, also get to experience the popular neighborhoods and venues of old Dakar, that are full of life and enchantment, amidst the poverty and lack of good road infrastructure. After one hour ride, we arrived upon the lake. The sun was out and shining which was perfect, because the hotter the sun, the more colored and pink the lake becomes. We then applied lotion, took a boat ride to the middle of the lake, went to work, and swam- or literally floated on the lake!

Check out the “Lake of Emotions” visual poem here.

It’s important to wash salt off, so we had cold water poured on us. After the shower, we changed and then checked our local art work, purchased some t-shirts and artwork, before taking the bus ride back home.

Day 11 - Dakar: The Long Drive Around

We drove around for hours, passing through different neighborhoods of the city, to meet up with our mother’s friend for lunch. She lived in the Guediawaye area. After a good lunch, we walked to the beach by her place.

Getting to the town of Guédiawaye, north east of Dakar, to visit our aunt seems like a never ending journey. We finally arrived a fairly dry, windy, and populated area of the town. It was founded in 1950 as a commuter town for the city of Dakar, and lays on the Atlantic Ocean. Needless to say, wherever we went, out and about the city of Dakar, the ocean was always nearby.

Day 12 - Looming Departure

On this day, we slowed things up for sure. Departure was looming. We went to another beach, just sat by the water and chilled. We soon linked up with a friend and went to a fancy hotel in Dakar to enjoy dinner and the sunset.

Day 13 - Soumbedioune

On that day, we went to another of the mother’s friends family house for a gathering. After that, we drove up to another again and had lunch there too.

In the early afternoon we took a ride to check out the Soumbedioune Market, market spread across avenues of colorful boats, canoes, and traditional pirogues. Each evening dozens of fishermen land on the shores with their daily haul of fresh fish and seafood. All of them welcomed by the crowds of women and men, ready to buy whatever’s for sale. Unfortunately for us, we had come too early to visit the market and experience the night’s festivities. We had to return home and prepare to leave Dakar as soon as possible. Yet, we promise to return one day.

Day 14 - From Dakar to Abidjan w. Love

It was our first date with the city of Dakar. We surely missed on a lot of things to see and experience: the Cheick Anta Diop Univerisity, the mansion of the first President Sedar Senghor turned into a museum(it was temporarily closes), the Mosque of the Divinity, Sally Beach, just to name a few. But, we promise to come back and venture out again and again. We had left the city on an early morning flight, headed back to Abidjan, with lots of love and memories of such a beautiful African city. Dakar, till me meet again!

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