For one week, I backpacked through the more rural areas of Senegal, encountering people, lifestyles, and cultures very different from those of Dakar. I went in with an open mind and an open itinerary, both of which were absolutely necessary. I learned to live without running water or electricity, and to adapt to the fine arts of negotiation and of asking people (instead of the internet). I have split my recounting into three parts:
1. Dakar → Kédougou → Dindéfelo → Bandafassi (SE Senegal 1/3)
2. Bandafassi → Ibél & Iwol → Kédougou (SE Senegal 2/3)
3. Kédougou → Diakhaba → Tambacounda → Dakar (SE Senegal 3/3)
Days: 8 (Sept 29-Oct 6)
KM traveled: 1500 (950 miles)
CFAs spent: 75,000 ($150 – half of this was the sept-place for getting to and from Dakar; the other half was for lodging, food, buses, and water. If you exclude the sept-place, this works out to less than $10/day)
Liters of H20 drunk: 27 (add a few liters for pre-departure overhydration and post-return rehydration)
Day 6 Thursday 10/4
Kédougou → Diakhaba (Ja-hha-ba)
Fanaanee: Campement Touristique et de Chasse le Dioulaba
I started the morning with an outrageously delicious bean sandwich on tapalapa (200CFA, $.40). When the rest woke up, we spent the first part of the day perusing Kédougou’s market. Fabrics here are cheaper than they are in Dakar, and the market itself is less overwhelming. I bargained for two different fabrics and sealed the deals with a firm handshake and eye contact. The vendeuses were thrilled by and appreciated the gestures. For lunch, we bought the 100CFA ($.20) brochettes we’d seen during our first night at Kédougou, which turned out to be grilled organs.
We returned to our campement to rest and at 4pm, we met Chrissie, the Peace Corps Volunteer with whom we’d been corresponding for Couch Surfing. One couldn’t help but to like her immediately – she made us all feel comfortable despite the fact that there were six of us surrounding her. Together, we took the bus to Diakhaba, which is in Malinke territory. There were no campements here! Chrissie asked for us if we could ride on top of the bus, but the apprenti denied us because of the gendarmes, and then afterwards because it wasn’t prudent.
Diakhaba was rustic but clean-feeling, with wide, tidy paths, and we saw two ovens for making delicious tapalapa. Her father, the village chief, showed us his vegetable garden (farm), which had guavas, sugar apples, mangoes, bananas, papayas, rice, peanuts, bitter tomato, lettuce, and peppers. We tasted peanuts straight out of the ground: they’re crisp and watery.
While we waited for dinner, we had the opportunity to talk with some of them men in the village (the female professors have noted that in the villages, the women work and the men sit under the shade. We found this observation to be accurate). I brought up what I’d learned last night from the gold miner and learned that even the chief’s kids were to work in the gold mines.
Soon night fell and we ate our dinner outside, oily noodles and LOTS of meat (thanks to Chrissie’s generosity), by lantern light. The potatoes were cooked perfectly and delicious. We had struck luck because tonight there was a wedding. After learning how to count to five in Malinke over ataaya and kola nuts, we walked around in the dark to an unknown building.* We sat in a circle in a room and had a HUGE hot light flashed in our faces as we were recorded saying our first and last names for the groom, who was in France. That’s two for two weddings this week in which the groom is absent, demonstrating how marriages are still a union of communities, not necessarily of individuals. The filming felt like a cult initiation and we laughed about how sketchy it felt.
Day 7 Friday 10/5
Diakhaba → Tambacounda
Fanaanee: Chrissie’s hut
At 6am, Greg and I explored the village as the sun rose. We ate pan omelette at the “restaurant” (shack) that had been recently established by one of Chrissie’s brothers. We also tried the traditional breakfast, mono, which was sour balls of cornmeal in water. Mono’s slightly fermented flavor reminded me of tíanjiuníang, a Taiwanese (?) dish that involves fermentation and rice wine. Our morning was peaceful and all of us got to take thorough showers in Chrissie’s beautiful open-roof latrine. Purple flowers grew over its thatched walls, lending it the air of an Herbal Essences commercial.
After lunch, Chrissie showed us around the village across the street, which spoke a different dialect. In the village, there was a random Western-style mansion. Sketchy… drugs?
After our tour, we attended a funeral. A villager had died while abroad in France and his body had been returned to the village for burial. All of the Diakhaba men went into the mosque to pray while the women wept outside. I was told that the men then carried the body into a corn field, where it was wrapped in white muslin and buried with the head pointing towards Mecca. As a woman, I was able to stare at the back of other womens’ heads* and hear names shouted over a megaphone. Everyone had dressed up in finery. After a few hours, we were given some cornmeal to eat and dispersed back to our compounds.
Unfortunately we had to take the bus immediately to get back to Kédougou – actually, we were lucky there had been a funeral because transportation came to and from the village once a week, and it was thanks to this funeral that we had a bus back. When we reached Kédougou, an argument broke out because some people had not anticipated paying. Our group paid for our fare and booked a sept-place to Tambacounda. Our driver was the worst yet. The ride was VERY fast, swervy, and scary. We were dropped off at one of two Total stations, where a man from our campement was waiting to meet us. I began climbing into the back of his truck when he opened up the front part. We were amazed: air conditioning! Still, he reminded us that “This is Africa!” as he squashed seven into the front cabin.
Auberge Bloc Gadec had appreciable water pressure and we trekked to a place called Best Burger for dinner. The bugs in this city are incredibly numerous: any light has a visible cloud swarming underneath it. We also negotiated to fit all of us into the same room for our last night together.
Day 8 Saturday 10/6
Tambacounda → Dakar
Fanaanee: Auberge Bloc Gadec
In the morning, we walked to the gare and negotiated a sept-place back to Dakar for 70,000. Ominously, a coffin was tied to our roof. The car ride was miserable because our driver was swervy and it was a very hot day and the windows didn’t open, so I was greenhoused in the back. At one gas station, I bought ice cream, my first in Dakar, and back in the car, steam rushed madly off. That is not scientifically accurate but that’s how it looked. Midway, our driver stopped by his home and tied two live sheep onto our roof. As we drove, one of them partially escaped his body bag and kept bleating and loudly tapping the roof of our car. Those sheep must have been half-dead by the time they were untied in Dakar. We ourselves found ourselves being terribly ripped off for a taxi back to Sacré Coeur, so we walked with our blaring backpacks until we found an accurate price. The exfoliating shower at home was as wonderful as I’d expected.
*A common theme: not knowing what is going on.