Meow

We’ve got some pictures! I’ll try and add them in to the previous two although it still doesn’t really work.

A quite relaxed week all told, but with its fair share of stuff wots gone on n that. I like Senegal a lot. It really is cut in to thirds of French, African and Arabic. I reckon it’s got mostly the best stuff of all 3 as well. They live in tandem with each other and create a unique country that’s a pleasure to be in. 
On Monday I walked the other side of Lac Rose that I didn’t make it to… and that’s about it. Nice and relaxing. I read some of my book, which is an academic text called The Black Atlantic by Paul Gilroy, and had some dinner. There are cats in most waterside restaurants here. Due to the complete lack of choice in most places – they literally only do Chicken or Fish and Rice and that’s it – I’ve had fish and rice every day for a week. But I give most of the fish to whatever cat is sat next to me because I really don’t want to have to eat it. I had beef last week because it was the only thing I understood on the menu, and it was alright, but I became vegetarian in June and really enjoy it. I’m not pleased that I’ve had to pause it but maybe I’m just not going to the right restaurants. Still, I’m feeding cats, so maybe I’ll carry on. It’s not an expensive hobby buying fish and giving it to cats.

I’d booked a new hotel, in Dakar itself this time, to stay at from Wednesday to Wednesday. I said thanks and goodbyes to Modou, who was so great, and headed with all my stuff for the bus. At Keur Massar it was another bus to the hotel. Google Maps had got the location wrong by 1 and a half miles so I had to hop in a taxi after asking everybody nearby where on earth this hotel was and nobody knew. It’s called La Villa Blanche and it’s lovely. Hostels are much cheaper but I just know I’d hate it, so I plumped for my own space. I’m probably missing out on things but I’d just never get to sleep in a hostel. 

I walked down to the Nigerian Embassy and spoke to them about a Visa to go back. Impossible. I need to have been here for at least 6 months and if I want another one, I need to apply in England. So that’s a bit rubbish. My thoughts were that it would be expensive but not impossible. I really wanted to go back for Calabar Carnival but will have to do it another time. I should have said goodbye to them all properly! But I wanted to keep positive thoughts on going back. This means that I’m seriously thinking of going to Ethiopia early, and then Japan earlier too – because that then gives me time to go to Jamaica for 2 weeks before New Orleans. It could work out for the best and Trailfinders can sort it out in an instant for a price I can pay.

Up the road from the Nigerian Embassy are Le Balajo and Just 4 U, apparently two of the best music venues in Dakar. I thought I’d give Just 4 U a go. Music doesn’t start til midnight and even with me dithering all evening, I still got there at 10pm. I sat and watched as the place filled up and then at dead on midnight the band came on. Now, I like Hip Hop a lot, but cheap heavy metal imitation Hip Hop that just copies Americans, I do not like. Hip Hop to me is perfected as recorded music, so translating it to a live environment seems to take something away from it. Rap, of course, has its roots in Africa. It’s a continuation of the perennial admiration given in African cultures to those with highly developed speech skills. They are largely oral cultures so this has been around forever. I’m not sure where a screechy guitar solo and two blokes shouting ‘fuck the system!’ fits in with that. A lot of the West wants to be re-Africanised and a lot of Africa wants to be Westernised. I left after an hour.

Also if you want Hip Hop with a full band, Loyle Carner’s your man. This tune is a belter.

I walked back the hour walk from Just 4 U up the main road and was the only pedestrian. There were loads of cars about. The quest to see some music I like here goes on! There’s loads of places around to try for the next few days. I’ll have to relax in the day and go out at 11pm instead I reckon.

Yesterday I took the bus down to Place de L’Independence, once I’d found which bus it was. I’d basically walked half way by the time the number 7 showed up. The public transport here is great, it’s jut me that’s a bit rubbish with it. I wanted to go to Ile de Gorée, a tiny island just off Dakar that has real significance in slave history, and the boat leaves from close to Place de L’Independence.

A lovely 20 minute journey over the water and we were there. It’s a gorgeous little island, full of colonial buildings and packed with touristy things, and is a UNESCO Heritage site. 

There are natives and locals and it felt like they all work for the restaurants, or as tour guides, or as market sellers. I went to the Historic Museum first which has the history of Gorée. It had slave history, including information about the Dutch, British, Portuguese and French, and a history of Religion on the island. It has a gorgeous view of Dakar too.

A little bit about Cowrie shells. They were used as currency in Benin and Congo and as Ballast on Slave Ships by the Portuguese. They were used for the duration of the slave trade and in 1788 24 tonnes of them were shifted by slaves. 

It was all in French so I pieced together bits and bobs but I took photos of some of it and have Google Translated it, hence knowing what it says on that picture!

There’s a statue on the island marking liberation from slavery. I love that they are stood on a drum.

Next was the Maison des Esclaves, the House of Slaves. This was a building built by the Dutch in the late 18th century that housed slaves for no longer than 3 months at a time before the European ship arrived. The bottom floor had the cramped cells that slaves ‘lived’ in, damp stones, dark and tiny, and upstairs was the spacious and floorboarded Merchant quarters. Around 200 slaves lived in the house at any one time. Different cells housed men, women and children, 30 at a time in cramped rooms, sleeping sat upright and shackled in chains. Under the stairs was a punishment cell. How Merchants could live freely upstairs and not even stop to think for a second what was happening downstairs really gets me. Did any of them think about it and just ignore it? Surely one of them must have had some compassion… surely they must have.

The tour guide, a toothless local who was a real character, said that Nelson Mandela spent 3 minutes in the punishment cell in 1991 and came out in floods of tears. Bill Clinton, President Obama and George W Bush all went in too, similarly affected – apart from George Bush, who apparently laughed when he got out. Does that surpise you?

The tour guide also spoke of how collaborative the slave trade was between Europeans and Africans. Towns and villages in Africa have a King and these Kings sold off their people to the Europeans. They were paid in alcohol, gold, all sorts of other things, and willingly sold their people into slavery. Perhaps it was easier doing that rather than fighting it. The Europeans weren’t the first though; the Arabs started using slaves in the 11th century. 

Lonely Planet says that the Maison des Esclaves didn’t actually have that many slaves pass through it, and also stipulates the legitimacy of the ‘door of no return’, which drops straight in to the sea. It says that ships couldn’t get near the house because of the rocks and a jetty was nearby anyway. I think that’s a very basic view and very disappointing. Regardless of how many slaves were taken to and from the island, the building acts as a symbol of 500 years of white oppression. Once slavery was abolished, a lot of traces of it would have been destroyed by the Europeans cleaning up after themselves, so using a best-selling travel book to complain that a house of slaves didn’t have enough slaves in it is pathetic.

A bit of fish for dinner to feed the cats and back on the ferry to the mainland. The sun was setting and the island looked gorgeous.

I’m on the hunt for music over the weekend, both to find that Sanza and to check out some of the other venues. Hopefully I can find some real Senegalese music. I think I’ll head down to The Gambia for a couple of days too next week if I can make it. I’m not sure anywhere else round here is Visa-less so I’ll be over in Ethiopia sooner than expected. Which is nice.

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