Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dakar, and then Home!

We got home at about 3:00AM on Tuesday, just yesterday that is! To conclude the rest of what we did: As predicted we ate good Palestinian family cooking, and were entertained by the family for the duration of the last 2-3 days in Amman. Then, on the evening of the 17th we flew to Dakar, Senegal, arriving on Wednesday afternoon, the 18th, meeting up with Justine (older daughter), who flew into Dakar from Bamako, Mali, arriving about 30 minutes after we did.

Justine served as our tour guide in Dakar, and thank goodness, because her French is basically fluent, and if you do not speak French or the native Wolof, you will mostly not be understood. Dakar was my first Africa experience, and it was quite an eye opener. I have traveled in the Middle East a handful of times in my life, both as a child and as an adult, so I am not unfamiliar with what it means to stand out and look like an American tourist, or what it is like to speak to someone who speaks broken English, and then feel stupid for expecting the native of another country to understand my imperialist language, or what it means to go to an open air market, and have the vendors pester you until you pay attention to them, and hassle over the price until you feel both ripped off, and again like an ugly American for not just letting them get the excessive price they were asking for….. After all as a basically middle class American, I have far more privilege and access than the average flea market (“Souk” in the Middle East) vendors; their goods, even at a somewhat inflated price, are still lots cheaper than I could get them for in the States, and so what if I overpay. I am visiting briefly, and if I can boost their economy even just a tiny bit, maybe that is a good thing; my small tourists gifts at inflated prices are not going to break my bank. Excess baggage fees are much more likely to do that, and you won’t see me, or anyone else, haggling over those! All of these experiences that I have had many times before were true again in Africa, the difference being that it was all many times more intense.

Instead of being only mostly obvious as an American tourist, and sometimes being able to blend in because I basically look like an Arab, until I don’t dress or speak like an Arab; in Senegal we stuck out like sore thumbs. Instead of being able to count on someone speaking the Western language that I speak, I had to either fumble with 30+ years old bad high school French, or hope that they might speak better English than my bad French, or (what was usually the case) count on Justine to translate or just speak for us. Instead of the vendors being a little pushy, they were persistent in a way that you cannot even imagine. As we were walking along the street at any given time, someone who has something to sell, which seemed to be almost everyone, would begin to walk next to us, and then speak to us, telling us that they had something for a good price, and would hold whatever it is that they are selling in front of our path, making it very difficult to ignore them. If you were to try to ignore them, they keep speaking, and walking along side or in front of you. If you continue to ignore them, they might try speaking to you in English (generally they would try French first); they might go back and forth between their good French, and broken English. If you begin to speak to them to tell them you are not interested, they then know that they have your attention, and have won round one. Now they begin to tell you that what ever it is they are selling is beautiful, is a good price, etc. Please come to my shop. Over and over, I was truly impressed. Despite themselves, the street vendors, as unrelenting and pushy as they were, were generally very friendly and likeable, making it that much harder to ignore them.

There is more to Dakar, however, than just pushy street vendors. Again, as we did everywhere on this trip, we ate very well, including a meal offered at the home of Justine’s Senegalese family from her college study abroad experience. We took in some historical sites, found our way to 3 different beeches, and to the open market (as opposed the random street vendors, sprinkled throughout the streets), and enjoyed breathing in the colors of Senegal. Indeed the colors of Senegal are truly spectacular. I bought a post card or two that showed off the colors, but it was not difficult to take a picture at any given moment and create a spontaneous post card. Wherever we went where there might have been a crowd of people, the show of color was always bright, vibrant, and truly beautiful. The cloth that is used for clothing for anyone, anytime, dressing up or not, is always vibrant, bold, and colorful. Senegal was truly breathtaking. We took in the tiniest taste of a tiny slice of this very grand continent. I hope to be blessed with more African adventures before I get too old to want to deal anymore with airports and airlines!


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