We’ve been asked this question probably 200 times. There were many reasons, but my husband’s favorite is how I fell in love with my Senegalese sailing instructor in Turks and Caicos, and waited for him on sure every morning and afternoon calling out Mamadou! Mamadou! towards the sea. Like a lost puppy dog.
I like talking about our favorite restaurant Patisserie des Ambassades up in Harlem where all the locals are eating secret delicious food that’s not on the menu and drinking mysterious magenta-colored beverages.
There is of course the African Pavilion of the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010 where Africa was showcasing one of its greatest resources, its raw and untouched beach front properties!
And when I asked my African colleagues where I should go to see the real Africa, towns, markets, culture, food… not a luxury safari glamping situation… I was told to go to Senegal.
You can’t leave out the fact that Delta has a non-stop seven hour flight direct to Dakar from JFK. How can you resist a seven-hour flight that will take you to a mysterious old continent, a turn back in time…
No matter which story we told, all arrows pointed towards Senegal.
Markets or marchés, as they would call it in Senegal, or France, were the first words we uttered to our driver upon landing in Dakar. We first went to Village Artisanal Soumbedioune, a little artisanal crafts market mostly selling wood carvings or woven basket goods, steps from the Terrou-Bi Hotel where we stayed, a loungy seaside resort with a bigger than Olympic size pool on the beach right outside the city center. Then we were taken to the Gallery Antenna (La Galerie Antenna) that had everything from antique wonder woman cuffs to wooden stools and the obligatory African mask, but merchandise was sparse and pricing high.
As we drove through the inner-city we learned about the I-don’t-care-bus, public transport that just zipped in and out the narrow streets and back alleys, barely stopping for passengers to hop on and off, and drooled over the bustling action at Sandaga Market, but weren’t allowed to get out of the car to explore it as supposedly there were many professional pickpockets around there. Treating me like a travel rookie!
I was internally indignant until my husband’s foot got ran over by a taxi while he was jostling to take a picture of me posing in the Medina Market – a true local paradise without a single tourist to be seen – while at the same time trying to protect all the contents of his wallet in his jacket pocket. The taxis were luckily small and light but if you’re in the middle of the road acting like you own the place, they won’t hesitate to just say I don’t care and run over your left foot.
But we forgot all foot pain back at our hotel, sitting on our veranda facing the seaside, when we saw little mounds of sawdust being produced out of tiny burrow holes on the seat of an antique wooden stool. We had just picked the stool up for around US$40, after successfully haggling it down from the original calling price five times that, at a little side stall off Sandaga Market.
First lesson learned: don’t try to act like a pro first day in a new town – OR – if a deal is too good to be true, look for termites.
Lead-in image (Mosque of the Divinity) courtesy of NewsWhistle
A GUIDE TO SENEGAL