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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Senegal: Dakar & Goree

Dakar, capital of Senegal. Arrived here after morning flight on Air Senegal International (member of Royal Air Maroc Group) from Conakry, Guinea. While being driven on the way to central Dakar, it was obvious that this is a much more progressive country than many other African nations. The roads were not only better but were being widened to accommodate the fast growing traffic. Sure – there were congestions but something was being done about it. In most African countries, rulers just sit tight and loot. Development is something they leave to the foreign doners. Indeed Senegal is the only West African country not to have experienced a civil war or a coup d'etat, and the first one where the president gave up the post willingly after losing the elections.
Senegal is also one of the most touristy West African nations, in a region that attracts few tourists. I saw them on Dakar streets, and even a few backpackers sleeping under a tree outside the city hall. Many travel agencies as well and a surprising number of people speak English. Only irritating thing are the touts who are quite pushy and persistent – they peddle all sorts of things – this is after all the homeground of most of the black people you find in European cities selling fake leather and other products. Most of these peddlers in Europe are from Senegal and their remittances form a large percentage of the country's foreign exchange earnings.
I often find it weird when peddlers try to sell me electronic items made in Asia. It's like trying to sell ice to the Eskimos.
Senegal is also an Islamic country – 90% of the population is Muslim and the influence of the Mourides Brotherhoods is very strong – they wear long robes and control many of the industries here. The portraits of the Khalifs, or chief of the Brotherhoods are found in many shops. Here in Senegal, people are as likely to greet in "Bonjour" as well as "Salaam aleikum".

We bought our air tickets to Praia (Cape Verde) and from Praia to Bissau (Guinea-Bissau) at the Air Senegal International office in downtown Dakar, and then head for Goree Island on a ferry. Goree, a former French slave station off Dakar, is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island may have a tragic history but is today a pleasant and easy day trip out of Dakar. Many well-restored colonial buildings and picturesque setting with the skyline of Dakar's skyscrapers in the foreground. Glad to be back in tourist country after many days in "difficult" countries such as Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

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