Mother Africa: Pt. 1 - Everyone is Home

A few think pieces about my trip to Africa are swirling in my mind. This one is more of a travel diary of my incredible experiences on the continent. My travels took me to Senegal and The Gambia; two of Africa's most western countries.


Getting There:

I flew from Detroit to New York in mid-October which is the beginning of the dry season in Western Africa. I then flew from New York to Dakar, the capital of Senegal, on an 8-hour flight. This was my first flight over an ocean and I was quite anxious but a little Benedryl helped! I would also recommend flying Delta or Air France. Newbie Tip: If you fly an airline you are unfamiliar with, research whether it is an airline that uses older refurbished planes.

We had THE BEST guide ever! Mr. Mame Laye of Senegal. He lists himself as an English Tour Guide and Facilitator and is a member of the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations. I've never had a guide before on a trip so this experience was so comforting. Being with a group of women traveling in a foreign country, having this gentleman and his driver with us to negotiate and quite frankly his presence added a comforting feeling of safety. Senegal and The Gambia are two of the safest countries to travel to in the world and are known for their low crime and hospitality. But, the language barrier in Senegal (they speak French and Wolof) was overwhelming at times.


Mame Laye taught a few Wolof words and phrases. I went to Senegal thinking I would try my best to speak my broken French and impress the people. They were polite. But, when I tried to speak Wolof, THEIR language, the look on their faces was one of such pride and appreciation. Historically, many countries invaded and colonized Senegal, but France made the most impact. French is STILL listed as their official language although over 70% of its people speak Wolof.



Driving from the airport to our first hotel was really interesting. So many of the homes seemed unfinished. To my unknowing American eyes, I thought this must be a really depressing area we were traveling through. But, then I had to check myself. Mame Laye told us that if a home is finished, the residents pay property taxes, and if not, they don't. Quite far from depressing, actually pretty genius.


Both the Senegalese and Gambian people are known for their hospitality. This is all I kept hearing about and so grateful to have experienced it. We were caught in some unexpected traffic and a few of us had to go to the bathroom. While we were in a bustling residential area, there wasn't a Walgreens on the corner to pop into. Mame Laye approached a woman sitting outside of her home and she graciously opened her home to about 6 of us who couldn't wait anymore!


The people were so excited about us as Americans being there. It meant a lot to them that we enjoy their country and had a positive experience. As African-Americans, they kept saying "Welcome Home." At first, I thought this was just them being polite, but the more I heard it, the more I believed them. On many occasions, this sentiment was followed up with "You and me, we are the same. You may live in America, but we are all from here." Cue the tears.


The man who took the picture of me in the green outfit said he loved me and asked for my number. I also had a few marriage proposals. What's that sound? Oh, that's just my self-confidence level shooting through the roof! No, but seriously, the kindness, you can see it in their smiles. They are so joyful and want to share that joy with everyone they come into contact with.


Goree Island - Maison Des Esclaves

A number of countries in West Africa have "Slave Castles." These were essentially ports and structures that served as hubs for the Atlantic slave trade. The one I visited in Senegal was on Goree Island and called the Maison Des Esclaves. I'd encourage you to read more about other locations here. There are about 40+ of these structures that still stand today and many have been transformed into museums educating the world about this history. I must also say, you do not need to be a person of color to visit and appreciate these countries or these landmarks. The people who live here want the world to know what happened so that history doesn't repeat itself. We SHOULD feel uncomfortable when learning about the atrocities of enslavement and genocide. The uncomfortable shows our humanity.


If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen my story detailing my emotions while visiting Goree Island. Here's the recap video in case you missed it.

Bandia Reserve

When I heard we were going on a safari, I immediately thought about posing with some lions and tigers, and elephants. And like an unknowing American, our safari guide informed me that predator animals don't typically live in the Western part of Africa. I DID see many giraffes, monkeys, a rhino, and an ostrich that followed us around half of the reserve. My mom said Simba was going to greet me at the airport. Next trip I guess.


Side Note: I was in this reserve for several hours and barely sneezed. The African air was so clean and my allergies definitely took notice!!


Finishing out with a few other tidbits that will definitely be helpful if you are considering a trip to Senegal or The Gambia.

  • WiFi is spotty. Hearing this, I thought this will only be a minor inconvenience. It'll be nice to be unplugged for a bit. But, I did not factor in how restaurants use the internet to run credit cards and there were many times, some of the cards from our group did not go through because of the lack of consistent internet access. Our guide was great about exchanging money for us because I wasn't too excited about using an ATM.

  • Rolling power outages. This was funny because the first time I experienced it, I was getting a pedicure in a spa. The power went out and everyone carried on as if nothing happened! By the end of our trip, I was used to it.

  • Senegal and The Gambia are both Muslim countries. I did not need to cover my hair or be fully covered in clothing. I did however bring a few scarves just in case I was able to tour a Mosque or church.

Other experiences I enjoyed visiting!



This trip was life-changing for me. I have another piece I'm working on about how I thought I would come back as a different person. Now that it's been a month since I flew over the Atlantic, I truly understand, I came back with a love for my true self that I had never before experienced.


Stay tuned!



P.S.

This was my roommate, Kenia. We met over zoom, came face to face at JFK airport and now we are already planning our next trip to Africa. #EverythingHappensForAReason