Yesterday, after more than one and 1/2 years of fundraising, planning and immense anticipation, we finally arrived in Senegal. We landed in the country’s capital of Dakar and because we weren’t scheduled to meet with our BuildOn team until the following evening, we decided to stay at a hotel in Dakar, right on the beach. There were several western hotel options in Dakar, but this hotel stood out to us as it was not only right on the beach with a view out to Goree Island, but it also seemed a little more “local” feeling. In the end, we were very happy with our choice, and after such a long journey, it was nice to just chill at the hotel with it’s an idyllic setting, have a nice dinner overlooking the Atlantic and get a good nights sleep.
Our first morning in Senegal was clear, sunny and warm and after a nice breakfast looking out at the sea, we checked out of our rooms and met with a local guide that we had arranged in advance to take us to Goree Island, which is an island about 20 minutes of the coast of Dakar with a very tragic and horrific past. The Ferry terminal was large and very colorful. We were greeted by many women (all beautifully dressed in gorgeous outfits with vibrant colors), asking us where we were from and what our names were. They each then invited us to visit their shop on Goree Island once we got there. We ended up chatting with several of them on the Ferry as well, which was fun!
From the 15th to the 19th century, Goree Island was the largest slave-trading center on the African coast and it’s where the Portuguese, French, English, and Africans would bring, hold and “process” slaves until it was time to send them off to their final destinations. Our main stop on the Island was a museum that was once one of the “Slaves Houses”. While the white settlers lived comfortably in the upper section of the buildings, the slaves were kept in unimaginable conditions right below them. We were shown small rooms (think jail cells) that would house large numbers of men, women and children in a very cramped space. They were only let out once per day to go to the ocean to relieve themselves.
One of the rooms we saw was set aside for the “breeding women”, where healthy young women were impregnated by the biggest and strongest slaves in order to produce more slaves of value. Apparently, the women were OK being breeders because it meant that they could stay on the Island versus being shipped off to be laborers in who knows where. I guess the fear of the unknown was better than the horrible conditions they lived in.
According to our guide, it’s been estimated that between 15 and 20 million slaves were “processed” through Gorée over the 3 centuries that it was a slave trade hub, all going out through the “Door of no return” and onto ships bound for far off destinations. Hearing about the details and conditions of this place and seeing this site in person was truly devastating, and there were many tears shed by all of us. It’s unfathomable to understand how humans can be so cruel. We can only hope that better education, more empathy and a true understanding of the history of atrocities such as this, will help to lessen the chances of repeating the past.
Despite Goree’s very tragic past, it’s now a charming island full of artists, friendly people, and colorful houses and shops. We stopped into an artist’s workshop where they did a demo of creating sand art paintings. The artists create beautiful paintings depicting African history using different color sand. Several of us bought some of the paintings.
And of course, there were our friends from the Ferry who insisted we come and visit their shops! A common refrain was “you are my sister, come with me and I will give you the best price!”. Sure enough, we did end up buying a few items, as there was a lot of pressure selling going on. But it’s all part of the experience and we had fun with it!
After our ferry ride back to Dakar, we piled into our van and headed off to pick up our luggage from our hotel, as well as make a stop in one of Dakar’s historic markets on our way to the town of Saly (about 1 hour south of Dakar on the coast), where we were meeting the rest of our group.
Several of the ladies in our group were interested in potentially getting a colorful local style dress, like the ones we had seen so many beautiful women wearing on the island of Goree. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday and only a small portion of the market was open. After looking at a couple of shops and being shown MANY different styles and fabrics, the consensus was that none of what was shown was fitting the bill of what was desired. So back into the van we went, but just before we left, one of the shop keepers came out with a pile of skirts, which sparked interest in several of our party. Then another pile was brought…..and another….and after probably 20+ minutes of showing new garments to us in the van and negotiating prices (we were told to counter offer 20-25% of whatever they said the price was), several items were purchased!
And again, we were off on route to Saly. The journey was relatively uneventful, other than the occasional waving passengers from other buses on the road and the incredible sunset we saw off in the distance.
Getting off the highway to enter Saly, we were greeted with a vibrant and bustling little coastal town, with lots of restaurants, shops, markets and resorts (this is a big resort area for the French).
Our Hotel was definitely much nicer than expected and very different than the typical grade of hotels that BuildOn uses for pre and post-trek accommodations (not that they’re usually bad) but this one is just a little exceptional, and we appreciated it!
We met our official BuildOn team which included our Trek Leader Dylan, Trek Coordinator Kim and Translators Boubaca and Marie Jo (an incredible team we would soon learn!) for dinner, followed by a short orientation about the village we would be visiting, cultural norms, acceptable behavior, etc. The following morning would include some language lessons after breakfast, and then heading out to the Village of Diokoul. Our adventure was about to begin and we couldn’t wait!