August 31, 2009
Today I flew into Dakar. It was dark when we landed, but I could still make out the coastline of the small peninsula the capital city lies on. I had to keep telling myself that I was in Africa, a small ocean but endless world away from the place I had just left. The group was picked up at the airport at 6am by the MSID leaders, but the early time did not prevent the street hustlers from already picking out their favorite scam targets: white people, more commonly known as “les toubabs” in the native Senegalese language of Wolof. We loaded into a white van, our baggage strapped to the roof. As we drove through Dakar towards our hotel, the sun was just rising, revealing a quiet city, with a few men roaming the street on this early morning during the month of Ramadan. It quickly became apparent that Senegal is a third world country, the sides of the roads piled high with trash, the landscape dotted with the occasional tree and several horses and goats with ribs protruding, tied to a cart or simply wandering freely through the waste.
It was quickly brought to our attention what an unfair world we live in as we drove up to the hotel, over an unpaved road filled with potholes, but we arrived at what I would consider a luxury hotel: including running water, air conditioning, and very comfortable rooms. We spent the day at a house not far from the hotel, getting to know each other, eating delicious cheboujen, the traditional Senegalese meal of rice, vegetables, and fish, and learning a little bit about the life and culture of the place where we had just arrived.