Dakar, a West African hub, past and present

pirogues on the beach of Yoff near Dakar

„Guten Tag, Sie sind aus Deutschland, ja?” (Hello, you are from Germany, aren’t you?) a black woman in her 40s asks us in impeccable German. We are just having our first breakfast in Senegal: Fresh baguette spread with a spicy bean paste at a small food stall, separated from the hot and dusty street by a thin colourful piece of cloth. It turns out that Aisatou has studied as a physical education teacher at the University of Cologne. After returning to her home country she took residence in Yoff, a picturesque fishing village just 12 km outside of Dakar. Yoff is situated next to Leopold Senghor Airport, which is busiest during the night. The few arriving and departing planes roar through our dreams as if the tarmac was going straight through the courtyard of the otherwise quiet and sleepy hostel, the Auberge Poulagou.

goats in a Dakar market

From Yoff we shuttle into Dakar by public bus every day, which takes at least one hour each way. The blue and white city bus usually makes its way at walking pace through the narrow streets lined by tiny market stalls. The Muslim holiday of Tabaski is only one week away, and traders are bringing goats to the markets, hoping for profits and thereby adding to the traffic chaos.

The island of slave traders in Dakar

Ile de Goree on approach from the sea

Only a 30-minute boat-ride away from Dakar lies the beautiful car-free island called Île de Gorée. The air is filled with pleasant chatter, and flowering bushes board over iron-wrought balconies and garden walls of the colonial houses.

street with people and flowering trees on the Ile de Goree

From the 15th century onwards the island was a regional trading harbour. Not the least of the “goods” at that time were slaves destined for the Americas. We visit the Maison des Esclaves, a renovated 18th century slave trader’s house. In fact, the owner was a so-called Signare, a well-to-do daughter of a white man and his black mistress.

The maison des Esclaves

light pink exterior staircase of the Maison des Esclaves Ile de Goree

The Signare’s airy living quarters make up the first floor, while in the basement there are several cell-like, windowless rooms. It was here that men, women and children were kept separately, awaiting their fate.

A doorway opens directly from the basement rooms onto the ocean, suggesting that many of the slaves went this way into the unknown. In reality the ships may have been too large to dock at the island. So, goods as well as slaves probably had to be transported on board by smaller boats. Nevertheless the Maison des Esclaves is a rare remnant of that business, bearing witness to the injustices committed by the slave traders.

waterfront with boat and outdoor cafe on the Ile de Goree waterfront

Back in Dakar we walk away from the port, when two street hustlers try to sell us an old T-Shirt. Suddenly one of them bends down, grabbing Isa at the shin. Meanwhile the other tries to use the distraction and goes for her wallet. Fortunately we are quick enough to fend them off. The next day another couple tries the same trick, again without success, in front of an Internet café.

Moving on to Northern Senegal

After four days in Dakar, we were happy to pick up our Malian visa, ready to head north. The next days lead us along the coast and then through Northern Senegal to the colonial city of St Louis.

NB: Our travels to Senegal were not sponsored in any way. We paid all expenses ourselves

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