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Remembering Senegal

February 24, 2008

Ten years ago this week, I traveled with a delegation of Oxfam organizers to Senegal to visit several small organizations benefiting from the British anti-hunger NGO’s support projects. Our visit included stops in Dakar, Kaolack, outlying rural areas, and a final few days on Goree Island. No other trip has impacted me more than this amazing visit to West Africa.

Senegal is an “easy” country for Westerners to visit because unlike many other territories in Africa it hasn’t been torn apart by civil war or violent political transitions with decolonization. Dakar was the capital of the French West Colonies, and the influence of French culture shows. Most people in the city speak three languages: Wolof (the indigenous language), French, and Arabic. Our guide and translator, a brilliant and tall man named Douda Ndao, spoke these three as well as English and Spanish.

When we arrived, the city looked as though it was being completely rebuilt because there were so many construction projects underway. Many new buildings were empty and in mid-construct, seemingly on pause. Streets bustled with people dressed in bright swaths of fabric alongside what seemed to me like a virtual barnyard of different animals. Live goats tethered to old and battered VW wagons stared at me through our tour bus window, and children ran all around the streets looking happy yet poor.remembering senegal

Apparently, Dakar hasn’t changed very much in ten years. Next month, Dakar is hosting an Islamic summit, and President Abdoulaye Wade has asked affluent Senegalese property owners to make their luxury homes available for the visitors:

The former French colony on Africa’s westernmost tip is hosting an Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) summit in less than three weeks. More than 5,000 delegates, including heads of state and ministers, are expected from over 50 nations.

The oceanside capital Dakar has been turned into a building site as the city struggles to prepare new highways, conference centres and more than half a dozen luxury hotels, some of which still appear to be bare concrete shells.

“I’d like to ask all those who have nice villas to lend them to us for three to five days,” Wade said in an appeal broadcast on state television late on Thursday.

“When a head of state says I’m coming with 200 people you can’t tell him to come with just 50. The Senegalese must mobilise to meet this exceptional event,” he said, but added that he was confident everything was on track.

Not everyone’s happy about it, but it seems like it’s all going to work out.

Our delegation slept in dormitories at the local Public Health Department, and though the accommodations were simple, the food was exceptional.

More on Senegal tomorrow.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 2, 2010 3:16 am

    luxury hotels are always expensive but they offer some very attractive features and packages ;-,

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