We have been very fortunate to visit many cultural sites during our stay in Dakar. One sobering visit was to Goree Island, a tiny island just off the coast of Dakar, where West African people were held for up to three months before being shipped to North or South America or the Caribbean as slaves. We were able to tour one of the remaining slave houses and witness the cramped conditions that the people were kept before their horrendous journey across the Atlantic. The windows were literally spaces of just a few inches so people could not escape while the caretakers lived above them in beautiful accommodations that overlooked the ocean. We were also able to see the “door of no return” were, as our tour guide called it, “people said goodbye to Africa forever” before boarding the slave ships. Some of the history of Goree Island has been preserved for people to learn about the past and reflect on current and future decisions made in our world concerning the treatment of humans. Today, Goree is home to around 1,800 residents, including an all-girls boarding school.
Our next stop was La Renaissance statue that was built over the course of many years and finished in early 2010 to usher in a new era of African rebirth. The statue sits atop a hill in Dakar, almost always present in the distant horizon. La Renaissance, which is the tallest statue in Africa, has been met with much criticism since its creation. Besides the price tag of $27 million, the statue was sculpted by a North Korean company which many argue has no connection to Senegal. Some Senegalese are also offended by the appearance of the statue; the short skirt on the woman and very vague African features of all three of the people depicted. On top of that controversy, the former President who was in office when it was created also claims 35% profit raised from tourism associated with the statue. You can imagine how much this angers the Senegalese people! The entire controversy surrounding La Renaissance reminds us that behind every “attraction” within a city, town, or region, an crucial story exists. As visitors, we cannot be ignorant to these local perspectives.
Another cultural visit was to Lac Rose, also known as the pink lake because of the algae bloom that is present. The lake is just inland from the Atlantic Ocean, separated only by a few sane dunes. Lac Rose was not nearly as pink as all of us thought it would be but there was a definite hue of the color when the wind blew perfectly. Because of the high salinity, humans can easily float in the lake but it is not done often because the high salt content that can damage skin if exposed for long periods of time. The lake is not only used as a tourist destination but also a place of salt harvesting. The workers slather themselves in shea butter to protect their skin before they set out in canoe-like boats to collect the salt. Men bring the canoes back full of salt and women haul the loads in basketfuls on their heads to nearby piles. When the companies arrive, the women barter a good price for the salt and then it is shipped to many places to be made into cooking salt, salt for preservation of fish, or epsom salt for baths and other uses.
This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State blog. The views and information presented are the grantee’s own and do not represent the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program, IREX, or the U.S. Department of State.