Though we spent most of our time in larger cities like Dakar and Saint Louis, we did have the opportunity to visit some smaller villages. Life there is very different from life in the city, and I loved getting to meet and talk to the people there. They have such an open, friendly, community-oriented philosophy of life, and were incredibly welcoming to us. In fact, it surprised me how willing they were to let us into their lives.
We went downtown on Friday afternoon to see the grand prayer at the mosque there. The streets were so crowded, the closest we could get was two blocks away from the mosque. The streets had been transformed into an extension of the mosque, with hundreds and hundreds of people laying out mats and rugs in the middle of the street itself to pray. We stood behind them and watched. It gave me chills to see the unity and faith of the people there. All across the city, thousands of men and women were praying at the same time to the same God. Of course, as soon as the prayer ended, the street went back to its previous state of commerce and chaos, but for a moment everything was quiet and still.
We rode past a bunch of microgardens, where the villagers had developed a way to cultivate herbs and some vegetables in the middle of the desert. We passed a desert oasis, complete with palm trees and fresh water. We rode all the way to the beach, which was one of the most beautiful, serene, pure, clean beaches I’ve ever seen. The sand was smooth and white, the water clear and soothing. The setting sun and the ocean mist coated everything with a soft gold halo.
Bissap: Not a dish, but a drink! It’s a strong infusion of hibiscus flowers, made by boiling water, adding dried hibiscus flowers, sealing the container and letting it chill. The Senegalese add plenty of sugar to make it sweet, and often a bit of vanilla. It tastes like the best fruit juice I’ve ever had, though it’s not from a fruit. I plan to buy several sacks of the dried flowers so that I can make some at home.
They spend much of their time memorizing the Quran. At first, they don’t really understand what they’re saying, but they learn the pronunciation and the learn to sing the verses. They keep practicing until the get it perfect, because they are taught that God’s word is perfection and should not be said imperfectly, either by mixing up the words or mispronouncing them. As time goes on, as they learn Arabic, and as they are taught the doctrine, the children begin to understand what the verses mean.
L’Ile de Gorée is one of the most beautiful places in Senegal. The colorful houses and quaint narrow streets are unbelievably charming. The artisan’s markets are beautiful to browse, and the variety of the handmade art is surprising, given how small the island is. It’s more diverse than most markets in Dakar, at least as far as art and jewelry. In spite of its beauty, Gorée has a dark history. It played a central role in the slave trade out of Africa. At least 100 million slaves passed through Gorée, through the Maison des Esclaves.