Bonjour! As you can see, barely 48 hours in Francophone Sénégal have already made me fluent in the language of Molière, even though – sorry, Académie Française – English has gained a lot of ground. And apart from these two colonial languages, there are of course the original African languages spoken here – notably Wolof, bur also Mandinka, Joola and many others. Strangely, these are referred to as dialects, as in “he speaks French, English and about three African dialects”. Imagine we referred to Portuguese, Italian and Russian as “three European dialects”! But there you go, our language betrays and shapes our thinking.
Sitting with my fellow travellers in the courtyard of Dakar’s Hôtel Océanic – a faded beauty pregnant with history (Eugène Jamot, the French docteur who defeated the Sleeping Disease stayed here in 1931/2, presumably terrified of nodding off) – I’m writing against the clock before we head out on another action-packed day under the capable leadership of our guide, the supremely fit Yass Diallo.
It was suggested that I should write a blog – being a writer and all – and while I first balked at the idea the way I initially balk at any idea that isn’t mine and smacks of being told what to do – I finally saw the light and relented. I will treat this blog as a diary and keep it very informal.
So, what the hell am I doing here? Sénégal has never been on my list of places to visit – I simply had no connection to the country or its people. At the same time, I was intrigued, and when the opportunity arose to go on a two-week tour of the country in a Transit van with Yass, a superfit Senegalese personal trainer from Hounslow, and my dear friend Justin, I though why the hell not? and signed up. After all, it began in Africa. Coming here is a return to the source.
Months passed after purchased my ticket (very reasonably priced!), and finally the day of departure had arrived. I wasn’t very well prepared, but at least I was clued up enough to bring some malarials and check on my yellow fever vaccination (I ‘d already had it in 2007, but kind of forgot).
What did I expect as I was heading straight South, straight into the tropics? Perhaps Sénégal never turned me on because of its French connection – while I like spending time in France, I’ve never felt passionate about the country and its culture. It’s possible that on a subconscious level this indifference transferred to the country’s former “possession” – a clue as to how colonialism can still colour contemporary perception. I didn’t necessarily expect a country of great beauty – the Bradt’s Tour Guide I read beforehand described the entire place as flat – but thought that at least the music would be highlight.
Perhaps this is the best way to embark on an adventure: one’s mind as clean a slate as it can be, the closest I get to being a virgin these days.