Gorée Island sits off the coast of Dakar and can be reached by a 20 minute ferry ride. Its sad and bleak history reveals much about the past of this country, its past European inhabitants, and the disheartening 300+ year tradition of slave trade across the Atlantic Ocean.
As part of the program, we had the privilege Saturday to visit this beautiful place. We jumped into taxis and had a rather reckless ride from campus to the downtown harbor. Although I gazed ignorantly out the window at our passing surroundings, I was only made aware of our dangerous ride with every gasp and cling to my knee that Clarisssa made beside me. If you think NYC taxi drivers are bad, you obviously haven’t been to Dakar.
Aida, the program assistant and Senegalese native came to our rescue at the harbor when us girls exited the taxi and realized we had no money to pay the driver. The giant ferry station was like any other tourist destination, full of Toubabs, but better yet, those dressed scantily for a mostly Muslim country-enough to make my friends and I cringe. People in our tour group happily dug into their premade sandwiches early on while I was wise and made a pact with Jens, my friend from Minnesota, to wait until lunch time (1pm to be exact) to indulge in our omelet sandwiches.
We finally lumbered onto the ferry like a group of cattle and while some were herded into the cabin inside, I swiftly took a seat outside on the bow of the boat next to a Gorée Island native who made me promise to visit her souvenir shop after my tours.
I would like to point out something I noticed on my way to the island. No it wasn’t exotic sea life, pretty birds, or beautiful scenery. It was scalps. The group of French teenage tourists dressed for a Miley Cyrus concert in short shorts had all gotten their hair braided into corn rows and their pale scalps starkly contrasted their hair color. From then on, I realized I would not be spending my money getting that done here. It’s beautiful on the Senegalese and I’m envious for the beautiful patterns it creates on their heads but for me, it would look gross and I bet you would be able to see my little moles and scars from bumping it too often as a child. Sorry for the side note-it was just alarming.
UpstairsresidetheEuropeannoblesandbelowtheslaveswerekeptin cells. Our tour guide showing us the women’s chamber.
Once on the island we slid into a tour group of the “House of Slaves” that showed us rooms where slaves were kept before being sold off to a ship bound for Europe or America. Each room shared a story of deep sadness: a closet for those resistant slaves that could contain up to 8 people at a time for 3 days as punishment, a young girls room where rich white men could look in and choose a virgin for their own, and the most depressing-the door of no return where a plank led to a boat out to sea where you were led and never heard from again or just an open door agape for those who had become ill and thrown into the water to compliment the island’s nickname of “Shark Island”.
The second destination, the Museum of History showed a different side of anthropology in general and was a breath of fresh air after the Slave House. The last room in the museum was set up by a local artist trying to begin his craft and buy his own studio, and while stumbling upon a beautiful sand painting, I knew this would help in some way to make his dream a reality.
1pm! Lunch time! Jens and I quickly found each other and while sitting outside off the bay of the island, we launched into our delicious baguette omelette sandwiches while also gathering glares from those who had eaten them that morning. Hahaha suckers!He is probably a foot taller than me but he still puts up with me.
The rest of the day, we explored the island: hiking up to the top, passing many identical souvenir shops with owners beckoning to us, and admiring the beautiful canvas paintings flowing in the wind that mocked my sand painting purchase.