September 28, 2004

Email from a friend visiting Dakar

Dakar is known as the Paris of West Africa, not really sure why. [...]It is a megacity – in every way from overpopulation to crime to extreme urban poverty. [...]The African extended family system affords a safety net to the poorest and most vulnerable. In Dakar there are entire families living on the street. It is also supposed to have extremely high crime crates but thank god I didn’t experience that personally.

Although I did get ripped off for just about everything I bought, the city is extremely expensive. A meal in an average restaurant in $10 (bay area prices). But for lunch you can have fresh fish and rice on the street for $2. By the way Senegalese food is awesome. Flock to your nearest restaurant if you can to experience this culinary delight. Yassa (onion sauce) and peanut stew are the main staples. [...] The food was out of control and there was a griot playing the Kora while we ate.

The nightlife is Dakar is the best in West Africa and I got to sample some of it. [...] But I did get to see Sheihk Lo bust out some Mbalaxx (Senegalese music with a lot of percussion). [...] It is common for random women to run on stage during a song and break out in a crazy dance flailing theirs arms and legs and thrusting their hips in unison with the djembe. Very cool sight to behold. […]

In terms of an adventure I had a big ass roach crawl on me in the middle of the street and I rode in the public transport (colorful yellow and blue vans sitting about 15 people, with music and decorations).[...]

My most favorite sight was watching people gather in the streets for the Friday prayers. Friday is the holiest day for Muslims and although they pray 5 times a day, 2 pm is a big one. The men gather at the mosque but since there are so many people the prayer spills over into the streets (women pray at home although menopausal women are allowed to go in the mosque, but not many do). Since Dakar is such a huge city this means all the streets near the mosque get filled with people praying. No car passes, no pedestrians walk. I got caught outside at that time and had to wait until the whole thing was done to pass. It was so beautiful to see a sea of people standing and kneeling unison. [...]

Hope this description wets your appetite to come visit, Dakar is only a 20 minute flight from me (Banjul, The Gambia) or you can take the public transport – 5 hrs.

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