Going back to Dakar felt more like going back home for me. Senegal is my second home and Dakar is my second city (Milan is my third, even if I live here, if you were wondering!!).
Even if I was there a few years before it felt like many things have changed in two years: new buildings, museums, mosques, highways, Dakar is a very fast-pace-moving city and I was really surprised about the big changes in just few years!
It is a very crowded and noisy city but I can’t help loving it so much. I love it for its vibrant atmosphere, the music, the people, the colored car rapides (public buses – see picture above) I love it for being so modern but so traditional at the same time, always open to renovate, to look at the future without forgetting its past. Dakar is a city of art, museums, street art, probably one of the most interesting cities in Western Africa.
We arrived from the Lac Rose, not long after lunch which gave us some time to spend in the city before going home (real home, as I spent the last few days with my Senegalese family). The first thing I asked to see was the Rail station in the city center. Why? Because I madly fell in love with the decadence of this colonial building the last time and I read some time before that it was completely renovated. I was happy to see that the renovation did not change the vibes of this wonderful building (very art deco) that has a beautiful story to tell. I was also happy that my favorite basket crafter and the lovely Malian market were still there though!
We then moved to the second big news in town: the newly inaugurated (just a few weeks before) Mosque of Massalikul Djinaane, one of the biggest mosques in Western Africa. It took 15 years to be completed but I was in complete admiration of the wonderful rich decorations of this mosque, that we visited at the sunset where its colors were sublimated by the golden light. After this amazing visit I couldn’t be happier to finally see my Senegalese family after so long.
Even if the celebrations of being with my Senegalese family lasted until late, I woke up super early in the morning to take the boat to Gorée, an island that really took my heart the last time. I really wanted to go back there and this was maybe the only place in Dakar that did not change in the meantime.
Gorée is a UNESCO Word Heritage Site, because of its symbolic role in the Atlantic slave trade although it is a bit under discussion in the history of the slave trade. On the island there is the House of Slaves (Maison des esclaves), built by an Afro-French Métis family about 1780–1784. The House of Slaves is one of the oldest houses on the island. It is now used as a tourist destination to show the horrors of the slave trade throughout the Atlantic world and its visit will not let you indifferent. I cried as a baby the first time, so did I the second one. The only thing that can make you stop crying is the beauty of the island itself, its breath taking views on the ocean, its lovely super colored houses, the warmth of the people, the many artists who live there, the rhythm of djembe. The memories that I have here are priceless.
I spent the morning on the island until lunch time, then I took the boat to come back to Dakar and to continue the visit to the new “happenings” in town. Another big news was the newly inaugurated Museum of Black Civilizations, that is conceived with the goal of highlighting “Africa’s contribution to the world’s cultural and scientific patrimony”. No need to say that I was speechless in front of such a representation of the histories and contemporary cultures of Black people everywhere, even outside Africa.
We moved back to the city center to have a long walk in the Medina, the old town, to visit the “Grande Mosque” (only from the outside as visitors are not allowed) and to enjoy the real Dakar, as I call the Medina, a neighborhood full of history but also a new cultural and artistic center of the city, especially for young artists and street artists.
We then moved towards the Corniche to visit (again!) the African Renaissance Monument (Monument de la Renaissance Africaine), a copper statue (the tallest in Africa) located on top of one of the twin hills known as Collines des Mamelles overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and representing a family drawn up towards the sky, the man carrying his child on his biceps and holding his wife by the waist, “an Africa emerging from the bowels of the earth, leaving obscurantism to go towards the light”. In front of this monument stands one of my favorite Mosques in Dakar, the Mosquée de la Divinité. Not as beautiful as the others mentioned before but I have a special affection for it that makes it very beautiful to my eyes!
We left the last day in Dakar for shopping and believe me, it is the hardest part!
First of all because Dakar is full of amazing markets and you cannot miss many of them, not only for buying food and other stuff but also because some of them are just amazing!
Marché Kermel is worth a visit especially for the building: housed within a kiln-shaped hall built during colonial times, the market has been a gathering spot for traders to sell their wares to European settlers since 1910 and it is a pleasure to spend some time among the typical Senegalese food and drink sellers to discover more about the culinary culture of the city. If you feel at ease, there is a very rudimental “restaurant” on the side where you can eat many different typical dishes at few euros (I did!).
Marché Sanadaga is a cluttered and congested marke, full of boutiques, side streets and stalls offering really everything and very good for wax print fabrics, even if the best for it is definitely Marché HLM in my opinion: full of colourful stacks of wax and bazin you can sip attaya (tea) while negotiating the prices!
Marché Tilène in the Medina is very similar to Sandaga and also very interesting, as well as Colobane, one of the less touristic ones, specialized in second hand clothes (oh yes, even in Dakar!!).
Last but not least, the artisanal market of Soumbédioune is a sort of small village where you can buy anything locally handcrafted (perfect to buy your little gifts) but it is more touristic then you will need to negotiate more here than everywhere else.
But Dakar has also a very vibrant fashion environment that is absolutely a not-to-miss when in town: Sisters of Afrika, Adama Paris, L’artisane, Sassy Chic, Tongoro are just a few names of amazing Senegalese designers who have their show room in Dakar that I strongly suggest to visit. I got a few dresses from Sisters of Afrika and Adama Paris and I couldn’t be happier.
It was a hard shopping day among markets and designers but we took a break for lunch to head to the Almadies, also known as the surfers’ paradise where we enjoyed a good lunch on the beach at The Secret Spot while admiring the Senegalese surfers on the ocean.
I was then ready (not really) to take a night flight from Dakar that would bring me home in the early morning the next day. Now I will miss Senegal so badly until I can go back again.
What to eat
Thieboudienne: the national dish, prepared with fish, rice, vegetables and tomato sauce cooked in one pot; it is usually served in a big bowl so that everyone can eat from it, it symbolizes the famous Senegalese teranga, their hospitality.
Mafé: possibly my favorite dish in Senegal, is a traditional spicy Senegalese stew made with a tomato-peanut butter sauce. The stew can be made from beef, lamb, or chicken with variations common throughout West Africa and it is served with rice. I don’t eat meat, unless it’s a mafé!
Yassa: Yassa is a spicy dish prepared with onions and meat or fish. Originally from Senegal, yassa has become popular throughout West Africa. Chicken yassa (known as yassa au poulet), prepared with onions, lemon or mustard, is a specialty from the Casamance region in the south of Senegal. Yassa Poisson (with fish) is my favorite one.
Naglakh: Ngalakh is a delicious Senegalese millet porridge that is traditionally flavored with either baobab cream, peanut butter, or sweet yogurt. It is typically served in large bowls as a dessert. The dish is consumed chilled, and it is recommended to sprinkle it with sugar before eating.
Domoda: Domoda is the national dish of Gambia, but you can easily find it also in Senegal. It is a peanut stew made with or without meat and served over fluffy rice. If meat is used in the dish, it is usually beef, bushmeat, or chicken. If Domoda is made without meat, any available vegetables can be added into the stew, usually pumpkins and sweet potatoes
Bissap/Bouye/Attaya: don’t leave the country if you haven’t tried the best drinks of Senegal! Bissap is a fresh drink made from the hibiscus (called bissap here) while Bouye is made with the baobab fruit. Attaya is the typical sugary Senegalese tea and I can tell you that you will ask for it all the time once you try it once!
Where to eat
Everywhere, especially in the streets or small family restaurants. I have never tasted bad Senegalese food, even if when I eat it at home, prepared by my Senegalese family, I am completely in heaven!
What to buy
Handmade textiles (wax, bazin): the Dakar markets are perfect to buy a lot of typical African textiles such as wax and bazin at very affordable prices compared to Europe. Just pay attention to the different quality of the textiles. Prices are almost standardized so you can negotiate basically if you buy many (as I do!).
Handmade silver Jewelry: Senegalese handcrafters are specialized in silver jewelry that has here incredible shapes inspired by the muslim sacred jewelry tradition and the tuareg one. My favorite rings come from Senegal and have important meanings for me as many of them have religious connotations.
Wooden home decorations: masks, statues, bowls, chairs, stools handmade with wood are typical here, it is the perfect place to grab your favorite one handcrafted locally.
Rugs: rugs are made in Senegal basically for religious purposes to sit for the prayers or just as a base where people can eat from the common plate. They are very cheap but also very well crafted with beautiful colors and patterns, you will love them!
Shea Butter: just the best and the cheapest shea butter can be found in Western Africa! The pure shea butter is a gift of the nature for almost everything so don’t miss that chance!
Handcrafted baskets: Senegal is famous for its amazing colored handcrafted baskets in many different shapes and sizes. I got mine in Tivouane on the way south from Lompoul but they are easy to find everywhere. PS: they will let you bring them on the plane, so don’t hesitate to buy more!
Tam tams: even if you are not a drummer you can still learn and if not, they still represent the beat of Africa’s heart and a wonderful piece of decoration (still looking for mine!)
A very last tip for all the vintage and antiques lovers: in many markets you can easily find very old men bringing old metal scrap and oxidized objects. Please stop and have a look: you cannot imagine the gems that are hiding in these little stalls for few cents if you have a proper look!
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