‘Must See’ Sites of Dakar

U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Greg Fondran, U.S. Africa Command Outreach Directorate wrote

After seven months at U.S. Africa Command I finally made my first trip to Africa. I had always wanted to get to Senegal for the Paris-Dakar Rally, but the impetus for this trip was the U.S. State Department- and U.S. Africa Command-sponsored conference in Dakar titled, “A Strategic Look at Relations between North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.” Needless to say, there were a lot of smart people in the room bringing various perspectives to the discussion of the similarities, differences, challenges and opportunities in these two geographically close, but historically, politically and culturally diverse regions of Africa.

I spent some extra time in Dakar to get outside of the conference room to round out my short time in Senegal. It was here that I realized that had I chosen French instead of German to fulfill a language requirement back in 7th grade I would have had a much easier time getting around the city and communicating!

I was able to pal around with two other folks from U.S. Africa Command and our first stop was a short distance up the coast to that massive statue you see as you fly in to Dakar, the African Renaissance Monument (Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine). Dedicated less than a year ago, it has caused quite a stir due to its size, cost and design. Regardless, it is a uniquely remarkable fixture on the landscape, easily accessible and yearning to be explored. Then, we headed downtown to the Kermel Market (Marche Kermel) for some souvenir shopping. Inside the beautiful market building itself are all kinds of fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood and meats while scattered about and surrounding the building are vendors huts selling beautiful jewelry, wood carvings, metal sculptures and cloths. Depending upon your penchant to bargain hunt, the market here can be described along a continuum from innocent haggling, to hassling, to downright harassing. For those accustomed to paying the “sticker price,” a day at the market can be a little wearing on the soul, but it is an essential part of the overall Dakar experience!

At this point, I separated from my colleagues in order to continue my exploration of Dakar with a “must do” visit to Goree Island (Ile de Goree), which bears the distinction of being a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site. Probably the most notable site on the island is the House of Slaves (Maison des Esclaves). Although the size and scope of the former slave trade on Goree Island has been questioned, this site exists as a symbol and significant reminder of this unfortunate chapter in world history and definitely merits the visit.

On my way back to the hotel in preparation for my return flight that night, I had to stop at Dakar’s version of “Muscle Beach” where, all day long, men exercise with the simplest of fitness routines using pull-up bars, raised handles on concrete slabs for pushups, and slanted boards for sit-ups. But the most interesting sight is men bench-pressing with old tire rims as weights. Who needs an air-conditioned fitness center and modern weight-lifting machines when you’ve got the Atlantic Ocean breeze and real “iron” to pump?!

As I wound down my first trip to the African continent, I reflected on my gratitude for participating in the conference, making acquaintances with some of the most interesting people and experiencing a little bit of Senegalese culture (albeit through the tourist “lens”). I can only hope I can make a return trip and get outside of Dakar to visit places like Saint Louis, northern Senegal and the Casamance in search of “teranga,” the often heard word to describe Senegal (it is loosely translated to mean hospitality in Wolof, a major language of Senegal). After this short visit to Dakar, I’m confident I would find it again.

Visit us at www.africom.mil

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