After showing him around Dakar for a little, Jasen and I embarked on a short and small tour of Senegal this past week going to three different cities: St. Louis (Ndar), Saly Portudal, and Toubab Dialaw. Each place had its own personality, with a shared, key characteristic of being tourist spots, but even that trait has affected each community slightly differently. Before I get into each individual place, for the GPP student in me, I also wanted to revisit the topic of poverty…
*long blog alert*
Poverty: Globalpov Take 2
In my first blog about my travels here I talked about the subjectiveness of the standards of “poverty,” in that it seems necessary to separate individual poverty from infrastructural poverty to understand how people in “poor” communities can personally own affluent commodities such as flat screen TVs and the latest smart phones.
It wasn’t until the long drive up from Dakar to Ndar that I saw poverty that obviously consumed the community, as well as the individuals. The entire first month here, I had stayed in the capital Dakar, and worked with urban farmers, and while rural agriculture always comes up as a factor effecting urban ag., I hadn’t really taken the time to think about it. So far, one of my questions, especially for city officials, has been along the lines of, “Why do all your projects focus on rural agriculture, but none focus on urban agriculture? Why is urban agriculture not addressed?” To which the answers typically follow with “It’s not big enough.” En route to Ndar, we passed some villages and rural farms, and then, I understood a little bit better. I knew that rural agriculture was literally bigger in space and that rural agriculture was bigger as a national income via exports (urban agriculture typically stays local), but I didn’t know how BIG of a project rural agriculture was for the state in terms of needing help. I don’t think I have ever seen land so dry and desolate being used for large scale, intensive agriculture to support a community. Villages were small, with shacks and houses made of cinder block walls, but no roofs, scattered throughout the land. And other than those little shacks and the occasional herd of sheep, goats, or cows, it was a few miles until the next spurt of life – small market boutiques, auto/construction material shops, a clothing shop, and some sort of agricultural shop, selling seeds, chemicals, and whatever else. I suddenly understood how much the state needed to invest in these areas. But I couldn’t help but wonder: Why spend so much time and money trying to help people farm on dry, exploited, nutrient-less sands, but invest money to develop building and homes in the Niayes region (near Dakar; Pikine is in the Niayes region), which has the most fertile soils, prime for agriculture? Perhaps because they’re just expanding the city from central Dakar?
This also leads me to think about the rural farmers in the US and how different their lives look to the city, and how we can probably see, like here in Senegal, grave poverty. There’s a sharp divide between “city” and “rural” all around the world as each country follows the path of industrialization and urbanization as “development.”
city in dakar VS rural w. senegal
Another teller of poverty, which is widely circuited through media, is tons and tons of trash, everywhere. In Dakar, there was trash, notably, throughout the streets, but along the highway, and when we got to St. Louis, man, there WAS trash. Huge areas, some of which might be landfills, some of which are definitely not meant to be landfills, such as river banks, were covered with trash. The image immediately triggered my memory of the photos I’ve seen in commercials or presentations, or project brochures on POVERTY IN THE THIRD WORLD. Typically, these photos are dramatic captures of trash-ridden communities in Southeast Asia, and feature a little kid of color walking or looking through it. It was interesting for me to then see these photos realized, but in Africa, and I started to think about why this image was actually applicable to “third world” or “developing” nations. Why do “poor” communities in SE Asia have almost identical pictures as a community in W Africa? My mind trailed off to consider how the international division of labor, such as outsourcing manufacturing of American or Western corporation, could have introduced Western commodities, and the trash associated with those commodities, to these communities, but without the proper waste management system or infrastructure to support it. And on top of the state probably not having a waste management system to collect all the new plastic trash and soda cans, the international corporations and their factories don’t really have restrictions or laws to abide by in order to protect the environment and communities from their harmful pollution. But, that’s just where my thoughts lead, and I’m not familiar with the trash trail, personally, to try to talk more about it.
Dakar –> Ndar (St. Louis)
St. Louis, originally named Ndar before colonization, is a major, major spot for international travels, whether it be for aid programs, volunteers, business, or just tourism. Previously the biggest slave stop from Senegal, St. Louis, has a rich and complex history of white/non-black – black relations, as one can imagine. Made up of a few connected islands, Ndar has distinct neighborhoods: a more city-like section on the mainland, a tourist island where the French colony was, and an island suburb with smaller, closer, less attractive buildings where local families reside. Much like on the island of Gorée, another ex-slave trade stop, there is a lot of French colonial style architecture, and although the paint isn’t well-maintained, the buildings are much nicer. Obviously, there was a harsh divide when the French occupied the land between their island and the other one, and unfortunately (in my opinion), that divide remains as a result of tourism. Instead of French colonial families living in the nicer houses, many French and a lot of other international people stay in these builds that that are now hotels today. I think the history paired with interactions of (potentially ignorant) tourists and volunteers, made for a slightly more tense atmosphere in Ndar for me. Hustled by everyone, almost robbed by a kid, I felt a little more like a dollar sign than a person.
THAT BEING SAID, and aside from a lot of trash, Ndar was beautiful! We got to see the rivers and the famous grand bridge, colorful boats and buildings, and REALLY TALENTED ARTISTS. All throughout Senegal, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting artists who carve, paint, and do leather work fantastically and seemingly with ease. There were quite a few artists who welcomed us to their homes and tables, and have truly appreciated that we have learned, and attempt to speak, some Wolof. After hanging out for a little, they opened up and dropped down some of their guards, exchanging smiles, laughter, and arts pieces for some really great prices!
Ndar –> Saly Portudal
Saly Portudal is a beautiful area along the coast of West Senegal. From my observations, and from the internet, haha, Saly has become a town completely dependent on tourism. Unlike Ndar and Toubab Dialaw, there isn’t a big local community there. Although there are a few small “village” areas where locals live, most of the villages there are hotels that design themselves off of the village hut experience, though their landscaping is particularly neat, and every room has it’s own air conditioner. Some of the buildings, including the museum nearby, are pretty cool, and kind of remind me of the Rainforest Cafe restaurant chain, haha. Shops and centers there felt reminiscent of the OC, which was kind of weird, butwhatever, it’s chill, there were a lot of nice pools, and quite a few of the tourist businesses were actually ran by very tan white people who have settled there. Since it’s off-season (French tourists usually come in the winter), the place was basically empty. People, especially those artists, again, were super nice and
welcoming, and even though they did mention several times that they had no clients, I never felt greatly pressured to buy anything. They respected us well, and gave us the best prices, hands down, for sculptures. Literally, I named my starting price (the lowest price I’d give while bargaining), and they’d give it to us! And carve our names! I still feel a little tinge of guilt as I realize that part of the reason they give of such good prices is because they don’t have business right now, but we always parted ways with smiles and thanks.
Alright, Ima take some time here to just be grateful for the cars and other means of long-distance transportation I have access to in the states, because some of the vehicles I have spent hours in while traveling here are VERY questionable, and definitely uncomfortable. If you’re going the distance, your affordable and practical choices are either a sept place (a eight-seated [including the driver] small hatchback sedan from the late 80’s), or a minicar (similar to the size of a school bus for about 20 kids, also from the 70s or 80s, except we got in it with about 33 other adults and a couple infants). Neither have air conditioning, and depending on how new/used the car was, it might or might not have all the cushions, lining, or even internal parts, you might have a cracked windshield, and you might be able to see the dirt road beneath your feet. To get in one of these babies, you go to a gare routière, a central stop, with a bunch of cars and buses going to all the different regions, find the car going to your destination, get a seat, and wait for the rest of the seats to fill up. For about 10 dollars you can go 250km! I rather enjoyed traveling like this. Aside from the adventure aspect, and it being insanely affordable, I appreciate the whole concept of just waiting to fill up, and squeeze in, other people, strangers, who I would have never met, but was able to share the same roads, chairs, and sweat with. Even if we didn’t talk, something about those few hours of traveling beside someone made a connection that I oddly treasure. And yes, yes I travel with strangers on the greyhound and airplane, but it was different…
With that, I do have to mention that Dakar has a way better public transportation system with minicars and tata buses than LA, just sayinnnnnn’.
Saly Portudal –> Toubab Dialaw
Toubab Dialaw was my favorite place to visit, for sure. Perhaps its geographic location of a small nook in the cliffs along the coast, with a beautiful
stretch of a beach, naturally gave way for a small, peaceful, loving, nook of a community, perhaps it was something greater. But whatever it was, I’m glad it made Toubab Dialaw. The village is modest, and houses resembled those of the suburbs in Dakar; the hotels are magnificent with super cool architecture, and unlike in Ndar, the two intertwined with each other a lot. Again, the nook is small, so really it makes sense for the two to be more mixed with each other, but also I felt like the people were a lot more open to travelers, and they definitely went out of their way to invite you to their homes for cafe touba or dinner. I think, though, what was more powerful for me than being more integrated into their community and lives, was to see how integrated they were with each other. Locals looked out for each other, and easily exchanged money between vendors. For instance, some of the ladies who sold jewelry and clothing and such along the streets or beach would exchange money between themselves if they didn’t have change. Once, a lady didn’t have change for me herself, but worked it out with the owner of a nearby restaurant to give us drinks that she would repay him for later when she had the change. We frequented a house of a sometimes intense, but very nice young man, named Jammin, who always invited people – tourists and locals – to come over, eat, drink, play music, and just hang out tranquillment.
Toubab Dialaw was also a very spiritual place, with a rich history, and also with a bit more diversity in religions/beliefs. It was cool to be able to talk to people about the greater “light” as a higher power, as I prefer to believe in a greater energy of the universe, and to a man who was very interested in Japanese Buddhism, and just knew that he would want to come to talk to me eventually after seeing us walking along the beach the previous day. I could definitely feel a difference in the air and the pace of the village, I think because of their openness, but maybe also because they have an amazing beach as their front yard. Who wouldn’t be at peace? At some point, it started to remind me of Hawaii, the lifestyle and some people, but I don’t think I can go into it right now as this post is already long…
One last thing that was just perfect there was being able to take a traditional dance class from a very talented woman, with a full, live djembe drum band, on the beach. Taking a dance lesson was a major thing on my checklist, and I’m so happy that I was able to dance under a very well-respected and kind teacher, on a beautiful beach, with really cool drums, and beside one of my best friends/former teammate. I intend to learn some more casual dance moves/party dance moves at the clubs after Ramadan. :]
Bigeey: Peace, love, and harmony
On est ENSEMBLE: we are together…. forever, we are family
Living life every day
Senegalese food is good everywhere
Thanks for reading, especially if you read all of that, and supporting me!
Until next week… or in a few days,