After a couple of days in Latmingue, Natalie and I traveled to Saint-Louis, an old colonial city, the heart of which is located on a narrow island in the Senegal River. Saint-Louis was established in 1659 by French traders and is characterized by the distinct French and Portuguese architecture throughout the city. Today, Saint-Louis relies heavily on tourism and is full of shops, cafes, and street vendors, so there was no shortage of delicious pastries, beautiful textiles, and fresh fish. On our first day, we took a horse-drawn cart tour around the island and learned about the hard-working fishermen and families residing in the area, and saw the large wooden boats that take months to carve for their many fishing voyages.
We had a lovely Christmas staying at La Residence, which was a nice break before hitting the road again. On our way to Dakar, we stopped at Lake Retba – the Pink Lake – which is “pink” because of bacteria that is attracted by the lake’s high salt content. The salt is extracted by locals from the bottom of the lake using their hands, then placed into baskets to be transported to the shore where it is used mainly to preserve fish. It was an overcast day, so the lake was not as distinctly pink as usual, but we managed to get a light pink hue against the bright blue boats in the salty water.
After a couple days in Thies, Natalie and I left for a 2-day trip to Koalack to visit her host family in the village of Latmingue. After a long drive, we were greeted with warm hospitality, attaya [the most amazing mint tea], and a cieb dinner. I’m pretty sure I’ve never eaten as much and as often as we did in Latmingue, but it’s difficult to refuse all of the delicious tea, yogurt drinks, fresh melon, and homemade sauces! Between meals, Natalie and I explored the villages in the area, the local mosque, and walked to the river. Sharing their home, food, and customs, in just two short days Natalie’s family showed me the beauty of their simple yet rich life in Latmingue, which will forever stay with me.
I’m finally getting back to some blogging after a long break! After a busy fall and holiday season, I’m now editing and sharing photos from the trip I took to Senegal at the end of December. My sister Natalie has been a Peace Corps volunteer for the past two and a half years, so we decided to spend Christmas together in Senegal. She was with a host family in Latmingue for two years, but is now living in the city of Thies. We spent the first couple of days of my trip exploring her neighborhood and nearby city, walking through the markets to buy fabric for dresses, eating local beignets, and taking in the culture. The colors and patterns in the city are incredible, from fresh fruit, to spices, to long swaths of fabric hanging in shops and women dressed in vibrant gowns and headdresses.
Natalie and I are also in the process of launching a new business – Fulla&Fayda – so we took the opportunity of being together to do some planning and to visit the artisanal village where our handbags are made. It was so exciting to finally meet Tapha and his brothers, who are incredibly talented. Their shop is one of many in the village, among woodworking studios, jewelry shops, and textile galleries. After touring the village, Tapha invited us to have lunch in the workshop – my first (of many!) ceebu jen meal. Ceebu jen is a traditional Senegalese dish of rice, (usually) fish, and vegetables. The proteins and vegetables vary, but the dish is always flavorful and spicy! It is usually presented in a large bowl that everyone eats from communally, and with incredible thoughtfulness. The Senegalese are known for their hospitality and I have never felt so welcomed and included than when eating from a bowl of ceeb.
To round out our business ventures with some pleasure, Natalie and I took one afternoon to explore the mangroves of Saly. We found a car pool to take us most of the way to the beach, but ended up getting out to walk the rest of the way. It was a gorgeous 80 degrees and a great way to explore the area, which was more tropical than Thies with its palm trees and bright flowers. Once at the beach, Natalie found a guide who would take us on an hour-long boat tour. The water was quiet and still, letting us drag our feet as we weaved along the edge of the mangroves. We stopped on a small beach with a baobab tree decorated with shells and were told to choose a shell and make a wish as we added our own to the branches of the tree. Toward the end of our tour, we came upon a happy island with a string of restaurants and bars, so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in the sun with fresh seafood and ice cold beer. It was a relaxing day, and a great way to end our time in Thies before heading to Kaolack!