Lessons from Africa
I came home from Africa and capital C, Crashed. Well that’s not entirely true, I got the flu and wrote my stories about the trip for Black Is Global and then the holidays came around, so I never really got to share my experiences with you on the ol blog! Which may be all for the best because by now, my memories have had 4 weeks to marinate and you’re getting the stuff that really stuck with me. Here are my lessons and thoughts I gleaned from my trip with the Black Is Global team to Senegal!
1. We need a new narrative.
Years of reading National Geographic, heck even Google News, had given me the life in Africa was filled with immense suffering, poverty, violence, unrest and the idea that AIDS is so rampant that you can catch it by simply walking down the street.
Well, my trip to Dakar couldn’t have been further from this experience. Of course this heartbreaking side of humanity DOES exist, but there is also a whole other culture that is less talked about. There are posh lounges, sunny resorts, shopping malls, French cafes, comfortable homes and stretches of sandy beaches. Beyond material comforts, there is a well-educated populace, individuals concerned with environmental and social causes, and a network of globally invested citizens. In other words, life in Dakar is remarkably similar to our lives heres.
As much as it’s important to be aware of the world’s struggles, it’s equally important to celebrate and be aware of it’s successes and triumphs.
With the students of the Senegalese – American Bilingual School
2. THINGS FIT!
So you know how you’ll walk into a store here and try on a pair of jeans in “your size”, but they’re too tight in the rear, too narrow in the thigh and somehow way too large in the waist? Even after trying on dozens of pairs you walk out empty handed and frustrated. Le sigh.
Well NO SUCH THING WAS HAPPENING IN DAKAR MY DEARIES!
I walked into one shop in the local mall, pulled an [awesome] one-piece pantsuit off the rack, tried it on and it FIT PERFECTLY. My fellow traveler Miss Felicia Leatherwood did the same with a couple dresses and other pieces. Never would this happen in the states, we thought and realized that these clothes were made and designed by people with bodies more similar to our own! Pretty cool.
Even cooler was that so my piece happened to be a little big in the chest area and the on-site tailor took it in within a matter of minutes for free . Very very cool.
And while we’re here, I might as well mention the abundance of beautifully patterned fabrics Dakar is known for. Sold in stores and markets, you can take a fabric of your choosing and have the outfit of your dreams created. It took me awhile to figure out that this was REALLY how a majority of the amazing outfits were created that I saw and I missed my boat. But you heard it hear first: custom tailored African garb—- I will be back for you.
There’s hustle and then there is HUSTLE and as far as I’m concerned, Dakar wrote the book on it. The tenacity of the sales people I encountered was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life before. “NO” is not taken quickly or easily as an answer. People are selling anything and everything–EVERYWHERE and at all times. It was truly impressive.
4. Natural has a long way to go
Weaves and relaxers are beyond dominant in Dakar. I knew this would be the case based on what I had heard, but I was truly surprised to see how few naturalistas we encountered. Felicia attributed this not just to lack of access to products, but also a lack of education about what to do with one’s hair once natural. As a result, out of the handful of natural styles we saw, a majority were loose naturals or simply braided. There were no two-strand twists, coil outs, or flat twist updo’s we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. That said, there were a few naturals to be found and thankfully Felicia was there to give advice to those who were looking!
5. We are all connected
It all comes back to Africa. Everything.
From the theories of human evolution that place the birthplace of mankind in Subsaharan Africa to slavery the subsequent diaspora of black people around the world, Africa is the origin of human life and all civilization. As such, all humans on this planet are related to one and other, regardless of color, religion or ethnic heritage. I touched on this earlier, but we are truly more alike than we are different.
Dakar is a former French colony with a 94% Muslim population, even with these differences I still saw similarities in culture and lifestyle, values and traditions.
I interviewed a very prominent Senegalese doctor who had some very important words of advice for the children of the African diaspora about our need to come together and guide the rest of the world back to a place of balance and shared understanding. Idealistic indeed, but still something for which to hope and aspire!
All in all, my experience in Dakar was fabulous. The people and their unparalleled Teranga (hospitality in English) made me feel oh-so welcome. It was not only a beautiful country, rich with cultural history and heritage, but also a beautiful people. I’ve written several articles exploring Dakar in greater depth over on Black Is Global, so please go check out the site and like the Facebook page to support the movement!
Now without further ado, I’d like to share some of my photographs from my trip with you! Enjoy!