Senegal – it still matters if you’re black or white

When in The Gambia everybody warned us about the hustling hustlers of Senegal. How they could turn violent and intimidating and they wouldn’t leave us alone up there. That The Gambia is the much more relaxed culture of the two. However, since we wouldn’t be left alone for two seconds straight anywhere in The Gambia, we were kinda eager to see what’s really the truth. Honestly, arriving in Senegal was a relief. The border control went smooth, we got a little bit ripped off at the first sept place (shared long distance taxis) but my, my, the air was fresh! Not a single “Toubab”-shout for hours, no hissing, no whistles.

The tiny village of Toubacouta was welcoming and cheap, scenic on the Sine-Saloum Delta, and out of season, lovely quiet. After the non stop attention we had been given in all the places we visited in The Gambia, Senegal offered a welcoming change. We spent a few days roaming around the Petite-Côte, very happy that Bronaghs French is much better than mine! The process of reclaiming a language long lost doesn’t come easy at my age. (YES, I can play the age card, I’m over 30!) (Shush!) The food culture of West Africa is not adapted for vegetarians, hence I rather quickly gave up my years of idealism just to keep me going. Fish I can admit to being tasty if seasoned, but chicken is just plain and boring. Anyhow. When the conditions are harsh, it’s humid, hot, you’re dragging your backpack around after long hours folded up in shared taxis, you just eat what’s available. Trying to order something without meat got me chips and graded carrots for dinner. Now at least I can spice it up with endless portions of fish and rice, rice and fish or fish and rice. We accidentally ended up going to church on a Sunday, thinking it was just a random party. The DJ, the free dancing, the breakdance competition, the mime impressions, the treasure hunts and also the fake wedding made it a very easy mistake to make. But, caught in the hands of excited, good Christians we were not allowed to leave for a good three hours since we now were part of a new community. Hrrm. Churches are different in Senegal. Finishing in Dakar with a lot of Embassy business we ended up staying for a week in the capital. Rather expensive but blessed by a room with ac, we had no issues getting our visas sorted out quickly for Mali and Guinea. The ambassador of Guinea got so excited about our trip he had us pose for the camera as a memory and what he said was to promote tourism in his home country, hrrm! By accident we got to Dakar at the Tabaski weekend. For a city that size, it’s amazing that it can shut down completely for several days! All shops, all street vendors, all restaurants, everything shut – except for one and another bakery. Everybody staying with their families on the country side for the celebrations. It was pretty awkward. Having nothing but cake to consume, we walked the deserted streets of Dakar, lined with piles of goats carcasses in what seemed to be a Walking Dead episode. At least there was no hustling and Toubab-shouting during these days.

And then came Monday. Everything back in business we were once again centre of attention. With 300 people a minute asking us where we’re from, what’s our name, what we are looking for and why we are not polite enough to stop and have a conversation with every one of them, it got as tiring as in The Gambia once more. Sure, we’re here to experience. I do talk as much as possible to the locals, often the people owning the hostels, since it just comes naturally. Sometimes yes, I do have tea with people in the street, chat with the shop owners. But still, the people you reject, the ones you just don’t have the energy for, since it is the 300rd time within the last minute that somebody tries to talk to you, they play the racist card. “Oh, so you don’t wanna talk to me because I’m black?!” “You only talk to each other, cause you’re white?!” Would we really go all the way to West Africa if we didn’t talk to “black people” in general? And then there’s themselves, the only reason why they are talking to us is because we’re white. Because of our colour. They only see our colour, and then they play the racist card on us. To me, I can’t be bothered with colour, annoying people comes in all colours, and yes, you might be one of them! Ah, it’s a never-ending catch-22. I know the history is difficult and sure has put a mark on the relationships between “blacks” and “whites”. Many people here have a blue eyed view of all the money we make in Europe and how much easier everything would ever be if they just crossed the border. The difficulties arising in Europe these last years or decade haven’t made the news down here yet, but it’s sad to see the glorification of the old oppressors. I feel ashamed that people want what I have had all my life, just because I was born into another version of the world. And then you see all the potential, all the beauty in nature and people here, but also how their confidence have been stripped from them. Economically, politically, and in some ways culturally. Khadaffi did a lot of good things around here, and just as change was about to come, North Africa to unite, bang, bang, they shot him down. The media portrayed is as a saving of the people. But the timing of his death and the other side of the story was never told in Europe. Africa is still being ruled by the countries who call themselves democracies. Africa is being oppressed and controlled. And most countries will not be allowed to rise again until the end of capitalism. And here we are, two white girls with a passion for travelling. All part of a far too big a puzzle. But practically, what’s it like, Senegal?

It’s easy to travel, people are still extremely helpful and if they can, they will help you. They joke a lot and will drive you crazy before you realise they’re pulling your leg. They are surprised if you joke back, but love a decent exchange. There’s poor people around but not as many upright beggars as in Europe. Unfortunately lots of prostitution in different arrangements. I would say it’s safe, not many tourists yet, but they will start popping by in November. Surf looks awesome with big breaks and warm water! The very real history of the slave trade is also an experience on the heart breakingly pretty island of Gorée. Everybody loves football, and everybody loves Zlatan. Being Swedish is easy. Yep, all is quiet on the western front.

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