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Archive for October, 2010

Dakar, Senegal

source: bettypress.com

Senegal is where the friendliest people on earth live. Nowhere else have I met people that gentle and peace loving. From their elaborate greetings to their broad and warm smiles, Senegal is  truly le pays de la teranga.

Two people will meet and they will ask each other“ca va” three or four times before getting to the point of the conversation. They take their greetings seriously and twice I got in trouble for failing to greet. I was trying to find my way around one of Dakar’s biggest and West Africa’s finest hotels, Hotel le Meridien President, and I saw a cleaner and went to ask for help. Though I stood right next to him, he completely ignored my question and did not even bother to look up. Eventually he raised his head and sounding deeply offended he said, “you passed by earlier and didn’t even say hello.”

Indeed, Senegalese culture exposes the ignorance of anti Muslim rhetoric: 90% of Senegalese are Muslim and they are the kindest people you will meet on earth. If you stay there long enough, you might convert to Islam. I visited a cemetery in Dakar where Christians and Muslims are buried side by side. And judging from how tranquil Dakar was during Ramadan, the Senegalese take their religion seriously, unlike the French of whom over 90% are Catholic but rarely go to church. But the Senegalese have not succumbed to radicalism, even to the point where I found liquor and wine at the grocery store.

Generally tall (many men and women are six footers), their gentleness nullifies the intimidation of their towering figures – gentle giants so to speak. The gracefulness of their women only enhances their attractiveness. In fact, more than their hospitality, the beauty of Senegalese women is the strongest impediment to leaving Dakar.

inside Radisson BLU

I first went to Dakar in April 2007, while I was studying in France. I visited again about a month ago and I was quite astounded by how much it had changed. There are world class hotels, shopping malls, roads and captivating monuments that didn’t exist before. The Radisson BLU hotel opened this year and has the best infinity pool I’ve seen in my life. It overlooks the sea, seemingly merging with it in a perfect union of the artificial and the natural.The Meridien hotel has been around longer and is more established, but it’s worth mentioningbecause their customer service is exceptional.

Beside Radisson, a beautiful dual carriageway snakes along the coastline, graced by palm trees, complemented by pavements where Senegalese jog and exercise. Three years ago, it was slightly better than a dirt road. Off it is an uncompleted mall that sits on the ocean shore, next to the Radisson. Inside is a grocery store, a Levi store and many other international retailers. Once completed, it’ll be one of the largest malls in West Africa.

Monument de Renaissance Afrique. source: monuraf.com

This boulevard also weaves past the one of the world’s largest statues. Situated atop a small hill, it’s a statue of a gargantuan family overlooking the Atlantic ocean, and it bellows the renaissance of Africa, a statement of monumental proportions that Africa is alive and will thrive. Designed by Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade and built by North Korea, it’s about a foot taller than the statue of liberty. Its construction, estimated at $27 million, caused a lot of controversy internationally and locally. Why would a poor country spend so much on a statue?

But I was inspired by the sheer size and the boldness it took to build it. Further many monuments today were built long ago when poverty was rife. We visit them today and admire them, inspired by the “visionaries” that conceived them. The same will happen in Senegal and even though today this monument causes uproar, one day a new generation will celebrate what a “visionary” leader Abdoulaye Wade was.

Three years after my first visit, Senegal continues to defy many of the stereotypes about Africa. They have never had a coup, a phenomenon that plagued several African governments after independence. The HIV/AIDS rate is 1% of the population, lower than Washington DC’s 3%. They have never had a civil war. Their staple has been a stable government and a steady economy. Yet it’s not all rosy, especially regarding sanitation and the problem of numerous children begging on the streets. But all in all, Dakar is a pleasant city, a bastion of peace in a continent that has too often known war, and a beacon in a time of great hope.

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