Story and Photo by Natalie McCauley
Dakar juts out on a peninsula, forming the westernmost tip of the African continent and bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Historically speaking, as life shifted from the inland peanut farms to the coastal commerce of fishing and global trade, Dakar became a magnet for industry and opportunity. The city’s population expanded rapidly, spurring construction to fill in the lines of the city. However, some of its traditions are still decidedly rural: for example, goats, a symbol of good luck, live in courtyards around the city. I came to look forward to their bleats, ringing out in the neighborhood on Dakarois nights.
Lingering French colonial influences in the city can be heard, seen, and even smelled as the scent of freshly baked baguettes perfumes the early morning. Cool nights can be spent in the garden café of L’Institut Français, the French cultural center, where expats and local francophones gather to hear concerts, watch dance performances, and taste the eclectic mix of authentic Senegalese dishes and international cuisine.
A simple exchange in Wolof is like a key that opens the door to Senegalese hospitality. This language is the most prevalent of the many spoken in the city, and heavily integrates Arabic. The first of my survival Wolof instruction was actually the Arabic greeting and response wishing peace on your acquaintance – Salaam alekum followed by M’alekum salaam. After the Arabic hello-equivalent, ask how the other person is – nanga deff? They will likely respond with doing well – mangi fi rekk. Then you both give thanks to Allah for your mutual well-being – Alhamdulillah – demonstrating the Islamic influences of this majority Muslim nation.
Communities in Dakar are closely tied by political interests. The capital city speaks out by painting candidates’ names on walls, encouraging the public to vote for change or to be heard. Public art also reflects strong opinions among many young people that their nation needs to move more quickly towards equality and acceptance, while maintaining its national identity.
This story appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Baedeker.