Before we arrive in Dakar there is a lot of speculation amongst some passengers, the usual question of “What are you going to do in the new port? “has become “Are you going to get off the ship at all?” Why are people so scared of Africa? One German couple point blank refuses to even consider venturing out. This is a place they believe they will be murdered. Over centuries Africa has been getting bad publicity and still the image of the “DARK CONTINENT “seems to remain in a lot of Europeans eyes.
As Africans we love our heritage and are overjoyed to see the city that previously we have only seen from the air on trans-Atlantic flights to the USA. Dakar also re-kindles some memories of the transformation proses that led to the South African democracy. Today however we are just two more people on the streets of this busy Senegalese port.
Busy being the operative word here. The streets are bustling, vendors, children, cars, chickens, cats, dogs, goats and cattle all lobby for a spot in the scorching sun. It is hot outside: 44 degrees and the long white robes of the Senegalese men now make more sense. It is a very colourful city with vibrant energy and beautiful, though neglected architecture.
Yes, there is poverty, harassment from people trying to make a living, poorly kept infrastructure, opportunistic crime and if you come on a hot day with no wind blowing: THE SMELL. If you just look at these things, you would also see no reason to visit. You would miss the traders, coming all the way from Mali to sell their wares and the many stories they joyfully share. The small baby that cries because she also wants to have her photo taken. The drinking of mint tea that is an institution on the streets, with everybody trying to be more ingenious to successfully brew their special pot.
On the other hand the very modern, clean and well organized ferry that takes you to Goree Island shows great development in this city with many faces. A visit to Dakar is not complete without visiting the Island. The biggest attraction for tourists being the role it played in slave trading and the House of Slaves has led to many pilgrimages to the island. Silently we wonder who we should be more feared; the European and American slave traders or the inhabitants of a dark continent.
Goree Island is the complete opposite pole of Dakar. You enter another world and travel back in time to this World Heritage sight. No motorised vehicles are allowed on the island therefor it has a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. With laid-back little restaurants dotting the marina and cobble stoned walkways leading up to local artists displaying their work in makeshift galleries.
We cool off with a La Gazelle (local beer) and admire the nearby Goree Institute founded by well-known South Africans Van Zyl Slabbert en Breyten Breytenbach. The Institute is a Pan –African Civil Society Organization, which works towards promoting self-reliant and open societies in Africa. We could easily stay longer on this peaceful island and with the work that the Goree Institute does, who knows we might be back sooner than we think.