My thoughts on eating around the bowl

Here, it’s customary to have meals where everyone is seated around and shares from the same plate or bowl. Rice, fish and fries, whatever. Various families do it different ways. Some utensils, some hands. Some seat on the floor some sit on stools. And I’m sure there are other variations I haven’t been exposed to. Some families might not eat around the bowl at all. But from what I’ve experienced, here’s what I think:

  • It’s awesome because if you don’t like something, like an olive, you can just put it back in the middle of the bowl.
  • But sometimes what you want, like the ONE carrot they put in ceebu-jen (it’s not even a whole carrot…what do they do with the rest of it?) is one the opposite side of the bowl of you and not exactly in the middle so you can’t just reach across and cut from it….but I’ve started doing that anyway. My eyes need those carrots!!
  • You don’t have to worry about eating too much because if the plate doesn’t get finished, you’re not the only one at fault.
  • You eat way too much because the bowl usually has enough food to feed 20 people even if there is only 8 people in your family. Self-control Omolayo, self-control. But man, I could honestly just sit around the bowl and finish a whole thing of ceebu-jen myself(as long as they leave me the carrot).
  • Sometimes more people than can actually fit around the bowl are fit around the bowl anyways causing me to almost elbow little girls as I try to maneuver my corner. 
  • Overall, I really enjoy eating around the bowl. I think it’s a fun way to have meals with family and friends – and way less dishes to do once the meal is over! 
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A Day in Paradise

The other Saturday, Oct. 5th, a few of us went to the Iles de la Madeleine. This place was gorgeous! And absolutely worth the small hassle it took to get there. Turns out maybe you  shouldn’t rely on everything a guidebook a few years old says. But we got back and there just fine, so the adventures continue!! =)

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Senegal Top 10

My Top 5 Favorite Things about Senegal!!

  1. The food – literally could eat ceebu-jen for the rest of my life!
  2. Cool breezy evenings – the only escape from the heat
  3. Watching boys dance mbalaxx – This type of music, I honestly cannot find the beat! But it gets everyone here soooo excited!! Plus, (this is a BROAD generalization) the boys here are quite good looking…until they say something and you kind of want to hit them. So watching them preoccupied with mbalaxx is awesome! =)
  4. Being able to walk most places, and if not, take transportation for pretty cheap.
  5. Beautifully dressed people!


My 5 Least Favorite Things about Senegal!

  1. Flies – they’re EVERYWHERE!!
  2. Rainy days – I literally swim to class. I have to walk across streets where the water comes almost to my knees!!
  3. When people say “pst” to get my attention! – “That’s not my name!”
  4. People who laugh in a non-friendly way when you’re trying to speak Wolof…I don’t laugh at people trying to speak English!
  5. A toss-up between the heat, the car exhaust, dodging poop and the gender roles that leave sexism unacknowledged.
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Saturday night, my purse got stolen.

It was nothing tragic – if anything the whole situation was just kind of bizarre. Two friends and I left a party a little before two – quite early for a Senegalese party – so early in fact that all the guests hadn’t arrived yet. The party is in Oukam and we find a taxi that agrees to take us Sacre Coeur 3 for 1,500 CFA. In the taxi, we ask him if he knows the “Immeuble Marima,” – the usual drop off spot for the Sacre Coeur crew since most taximen know it. He says yes. As we’re driving we realize the other two girls live a little further away from it so maybe it’s best he takes us to our houses. One girl lives closer to the Brioche Doree so we ask him to take us there first. “That’ll be 500 CFA more.” So begins a short argument that ends up with us angrily telling him to just drop us off at the Marima even though we agreed on a price before telling him WHERE in Sacre Coeur we wanted to go and that the distance between the Mariama and the Brioche was not 500 CFA.

We storm out of the taxi and start ranting about how nonsensical and full of rubbish the taximan was. The road we’re on is well lite and cars wiz by, but there is little to no foot traffic. We don’t hear a motorbike come from behind us. I soon notice that it’s dangerously close (it’s not uncommon here for people to pull strange maneuvers that leave them quite close to pedestrians – cars and bikes alike). I’m the closest to the road and I turn to tell them not to drive so close to where we’re walking – but the Wolof and French phrases escape – not that I had that much time to formulate them.

The next few moments happen in a span that seem unnaturally slow given the circumstances. Before my words get out, the guy sitting behind grabs my purse. There’s a split second that exists that I could have grabbed it back. The driver pulls forward and my $10 side saddle bag snaps from the chain and they have it instead of me. My mind still hasn’t quite processed what happened. The boys stop their bike a few feet in front of us and stare back at us. We stare back at them. There’s a few more split seconds where I think maybe they know me – otherwise why would you stop and stare at me after taking my bag – they must just be messing with me. Then suddenly everything clicks for the three of us all at once and we yell and run after them, at which time they of course take off, crossing into the main road and leaving us behind.

They got away with about 6,000CFA ($12), some tissue paper, my chapstick and lipgloss, a copy of my passport and the keys to my house (that’s the only thing I really felt bad about because they weren’t my keys, I just got permission to take them upon leaving). Then the taximan, who had gotten back onto the main road, had the audacity to ask us what happened!! I had my phone in my right hand the whole time and I was able to call my host brother to let me in. All in all, we were quite lucky! Particularly since I almost brought 10,000 CFA with me, almost brought the keys for my room (no copy of those) and almost brought my camera! The experience wasn’t traumatizing, just really shocking (interestingly enough, I had also gotten electrocuted earlier that night at the party).

At the end of the day, it was a good learning experience. Just pay the extra 500 CFA to get taken to our door. Hold on tightly to your bag when walking down the street. All three of us agreed that we had started feeling safe in Sacre Coeur 3, and while this doesn’t mean our neighborhood is dangerous, it just reminds us to never let your guard down. In addition, we’re reminded that it’s almost tabaski here (a Muslim holiday celebrating how Abraham was willing to sacrifice Ismael for God, but then didn’t and sacrificed a sheep instead – super watered down version). Holidays mean that people feel pressured to provide large feasts and dress well for family gatherings (or they know people will have more money on them for those same reasons). Either way, theft rate goes up around this time of year.

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Not everything is steeped in cultural significance

Throughout our orientation – and even before I came to Senegal – we heard a lot of “it’s important to do this and this, make sure you don’t do this and that.” Wanting to make sure we would be able to navigate this new culture with many traditions we may not understand, our program administrators inundated us with rule after rule of Do’s and Don’ts.  While some rules were just to ensure we were being polite: don’t reach across the dish when around the bowl, always greet everyone; others were superstitious is nature: don’t talk about a woman’s pregnancy, don’t compliment people too much.

Particularly as a female traveler in a predominantly patriarchal society, there are other rules and nuances you must be aware of. Some men may not want to shake your hand at all, while others want to jump in your pants the first chance they get. Between trying not to offend anyone and trying not to give anyone the wrong ideas, you might start over thinking every little situation, every little action.

In my host family, my father is an Imam and he has a 2nd wife somewhere. We’ve exchanged a few greetings but have never really had a conversation – I’m sure part of it is that he doesn’t really understand my deplorable French and worse Wolof – but I don’t push it. On Fridays, there are many men over for lunch and my sister and I eat upstairs after they all finish eating downstairs. This is odd in my house, because every other meal, we all eat together. I haven’t been able to figure out if there is a particular reason we do Friday lunch like this or if there simply isn’t enough room for all of us to eat around the bowl at once. All I know is that I’m starving and my two nephews, 11 and 12, are eating and I have to wait another 45 minutes. I sulk quietly, but I’m too nervous to ask.

A few nights ago, during dinner, we all gather around the bowl. There’s a guest who sits in the area of the mat I generally sit in (not that we have assigned seats), so I sit on the left side of him and to the right of my host dad. My host cousin who lives with us and is 20 or 21, looks at me and says “You!” and gestures for me to move away from that spot! My cheeks feel really warm and I’m thinking “Oh no! I did a cultural taboo!” I guess I noticed that my cousin was the only one who ever sat to the immediate right of my dad. Perhaps that was a spot reserved for the next oldest male in the house. It made sense anyway – not even my host mom sat there. I left really silly.

After dinner, when everyone else had cleared the living room, I asked my cousin why he told me to move spots. (Since he’s my age, I’m not nervous asking him bizarre questions). He responds (this is all in French) “Oh, no reason. That’s my favorite spot.” I laughed and explained I thought it was a taboo and he laughed too. I’ve observed him more the last few days and I notice he always sits there even if my host dad isn’t eating with us.

While I appreciate all the information we learned during our orientation, all the rules kind of get to your head and put you on edge. And while it is important to be observant and respectful of the culture you’re in, it doesn’t mean every little misstep is of cultural significance. Sometimes people just want to sit in their favorite spot.

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Foto Friday

So this is something I’ve been trying to start for a while, but for some reason, internet usually eludes me on Fridays.

The other things is that I’m not positive which form Foto Fridays should take, so some suggestions and feedback would be much appreciated. Here’s what I’ve got:

Type 1 (This one): One large photo of something awesome I did that week or since the last time I posted and I talk about it.

Type 2: A handful of my favorite photos since the last time I posted and no words (Maybe a short caption of what/where the photo is from).


This photo was taken at Toubab Dialaw – a small town a few hours from Dakar. Our school took us there for a weekend excursion and we stayed at a resort like hotel called Sabo Bade. Sunday morning, I woke up quiet early – around 7 (although I’m still not sure why, since I stayed up dancing till 3). The sun had only recently risen and everything was peaceful. It was at that moment, as I looked over the vast ocean, the breeze blowing around me and the sun glistening off some rocks in the distance, that I realized I was having a really good time in Senegal. Everything was coasting, I was making friends and knew my way around – for the most part – and my French wasn’t entirely failing me. But mostly, I just soaked up the moment. I was at peace with my surroundings, I had no immediate worries. I breathed in the fresh morning air. I snapped a few photos. Did some yoga poses. Walked over to a gazebo that over looked a beach where I snapped this photo. I sat on the ledge of the gazebo and journaled to the symphony of the waves crashing below me.  I’d say it was a pretty great morning.

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Knees and Trees

The easiest and cheapest mode of transportation in Senegal is the car rapide. It also happens to be the most dangerous. Car rapides are old, fast, usually crowded and may or may not have breaks. But I can get from my neighborhood of Sacre Coeur 3 to my internship in Yoff – about the distance of Target to Elon and back again, or Point Lookout to Great Mills – for 100 CFA, 20 cents. Car rapides try to go as fast as possible with as many people as possible. This means they may wait for a long time at a stop to get people to take it. This also means that once they see a final person about to board they’ll slowly start taking off and the person is just supposed to grab the edge and jump on.


Generally, I’m a pretty good jumper, but this particular morning, Thursday the 12th, I was wearing a green pencil skirt. The car rapide saw Claire and I approaching, she got on but I was still a few steps behind. The car rapide started to move forward – no problem! I’ll just jump on. But rather than landing on my feet in the car – my shin scrapped against the ledge and I landed hard on my knee. The car stopped when the other passengers made noise and the apprentice helped me in. He still made me pay for the ride though.

There is an open cut on my shin and knee but they are healing very well. My knee suffered the worst of the fall and it’s still swollen, it’s considerably warmer than my left knee and I can’t it bend well – meaning I walk very slowly. This probably wasn’t helped by me going camping with the other CIEE students at the Great Green Wall.


The Great Green Wall is an initiative to plant trees across the continent of Africa in order to stop the Sahara Desert from advancing further south. It also helps to alleviate poverty. But as I soon found out upon returning home, no one in my family knows about it. Friday, after a visit from some of the founders of hip-hop/youth civil society movement “Y’en a marre”, we took a coach bus for over 5 hours from Dakar to a town near Saint Louis. From there we got into the beds of 4 white trucks and drove two hours down a dirt road surrounded by nothing but open fields, speaked with trees, herds of crows, donkeys and goats grazing and the occasional thatched roof village compound. Our destination was a compound made up of a few buildings and many tents.


The next day, we woke up early and drove about 30 minutes to the site where trees were being planted. We received a brief introduction to the history of the initiative and were put to work. From 9:30 am to around 1pm, my fellow students and the workers set to work putting samplings in holes 10 meters in neatly pre-toiled rows. I hobbled along behind taking pictures and was eventually lifted into a truck to pass out trees. With Sama’s help, I was able to plant one tree by crouching down with my right leg out stretched beside me. Sunday, we made the same long trip back to Dakar, stopping in Thies for lunch.

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While it’s obvious that I shouldn’t have gone camping this weekend and should have instead rested my knees and even more obvious that I shouldn’t have tried jumping into a moving vehicle in a pencil skirt – I can now say two things: I’ve officially contributed to the Great Green Wall and I’ve earned my stripes on the mean streets of Dakar. Because on the bright-side, my injury is one that could only occur in Dakar.


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One Month Update

So this is almost two weeks over due, but I just wanted to give a quick update on how everything is going in general and how I’m adjusting. There are random things that irk me that I may or may not elaborate on in later posts, but in general, everything is awesome! My French has improved considerably and I’m able to hold entire conversations now – even if they are short. I’ve got a routine going and I know how to get where I need to go. I’m making friends and having fun. Everything’s going well.

The Good

Just about everything is the good! I’m loving my classes, my internship, the people around me, my host family, Dakar and Senegal in general. My program is pretty great! All the faculty and staff are very friendly and really invested in their work! They are genuinely concerned for our well-being and they make themselves quite available. I’m taking five classes with CIEE, auditing one and continuing my Wolof courses at the Baobab Center, so I’m staying quite busy – just the way I like it. But despite all of that and working on my research, I’m finding time to hang out with new friends and explore the city! On top of it all, I’ve also found some down time to read, draw, jog a few times, do some yoga and other random things I generally can’t find time for in a regular semester!

The classes I’m taking are Intermediate French II, Education and Culture in Senegal, Gender and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa (My favorite class!! And the teacher’s research interests align with mine!), Senegalese Culture and Society (we get really interesting speakers each class), and my Internship seminar class which is in French. The class I’m auditing is a French course called Crisis Management and International Law in Africa. I would have taken it instead of Education and Culture, but I didn’t place into the right French. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I understand in the class and I’ve even participated a few times!!

My internship is a blast! I’m the Assistant in Communication at ImgaiNation Afrika – the first Children’s museum in Africa! The working environment is very energetic and I enjoy being with my co-workers. The director, Karima Grant, is a wonderful person with a lot of spirit and a beautiful vision! I’m getting to put the skills I’ve learned in my Strat Comm courses to work and having lots of fun while doing it!

I’m making friends in my program that are wonderful and I’ve kept in touch with the Senegalese friends I made in my old neighborhood and I try to go see them about two or three times a week. I’m also getting along with my new host family. They teased me endlessly, particularly the 11 and 12 years-old boys, when Nigeria lost to Senegal during the Afro-Basketball tournament. Nothing says family love like being teased about a sports team you didn’t coach.

The Bad

I sleep and eat soooo much here, it’s not even funny! At most houses, breakfast consists of bread and anything from cheese, chocolate, butter or jam with some tea, powdered milk or Nescafe. At my house, it’s an unusually small piece of baguette and cheese or chocolate (I always take the cheese). Then lunch is generally any time after 1, and Fridays can be as late as 2:45 for me. Dinner at my house is between 8 and 9pm each night (earlier than most other houses). But between breakfast and lunch and between lunch and dinner, I’m so extremely famished! Because I’m so hungry, I end up stuffing my face during lunch and dinner. Thus, I’m either extremely full or extremely hungry! And the food here is so good, I can’t help eating as much as I can and since I’m never sure what time the next meal is, it’s safer to just go ahead and over eat. I think one of the biggest differences here for me (and most other students in the program) is not being in control of when and what you eat.

On top of that, I’m packing in 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night!  I don’t even know why! It might be the heat or how much I walk here, but by 9:30 I get really exhausted! By 10 or so, even if I’m trying to journal, I’ll just pass out! Then I generally wake up at 7 or 8. It’s kind of the life – but still a bit bizarre!

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When I became a Godmother

This is a collection of journals I wrote for Wolof class. I initially intended to try and mesh them into one but I was practicing with different conjugation forms and I’m just far too lazy to move all the information from each into one cohesive piece. So, enjoy!

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July 10th

Ëllëg, man, dina dem New Mexico ndax sama “Godson” am na “baptism.” Alexander Cole Ayodele Akinnikawe la tur. Xander la tudd. Pàppa bu Xander, sama kuzeŋ la. Ayo la tudd. Moom, pàppam mag ju góór la sama pàppa. Waaye, Ayo am ma at bu gën man, kon, tudd naa ko “Tonton Ayo.” Tonton Ayo, jabaram, Erin la tudd. Erin, Ameriq la jóge.

Tomorrow, I will go to New Mexico because my Godson has a baptism. Alexander Cole Ayodale Akinnikawe is his name. He’s call Xander. Xander’s father is my cousin. Ayo is his name. His father is the older brother of my father. But, Ayo has more years than me, so I call him “Uncle Ayo.” Uncle Ayo’s wife, he name is Erin. Erin is from America. 

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July 15th

Man, maa ngiy pare dem New Mexico te dinaa gis sama tonton ak waakëram. Sama doomu tonton bu bees bi, dina am baptisé. Man, Allah-yere bi laay. Kon, damay jëndal naa koy ndawtal. Maa ngiy jëndal sama bopp mbubb bu violet, dàll yu weex, ceen ak semeen yu weex. Dinaa dawal sama oto ciOrlando. Dinaa jël abiyoŋ ci Dallas ak aprés ci New Mexico.

I am preparing to go to New Mexico and I will see my Uncle and his family. My Uncle’s new child will have a baptism. I will be the Godmother. So, I am buying presents for him. I am buying myself a violet dress, white shoes and white necklace and bracelets. I will drive my car to Orlando. I will take a plane to Dallas and after to New Mexico.

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July 16th

Keroog, dama tukkiwoon ci New Mexico. Ñówoon naa ci booru 12:00am. Ci New Mexico, tangoon na waaye nuguloon. Gisoon naa kër yu rafet yu bare. Waajuru Ayo danañuy yàggoon ci kër gi, itam. Samidi, yeewuwoon nanu ci suba teel bi te demoon pour “photoshoot.” Erin ak sama tonton, Ayo, am nañu naari doom. Ayana am na juroomi at te Alexander am ñetti weer. Ci gannaaw, ndékkiwoon nanu ci Cracker Barrel. Dama nelawoon tuuti ci diggu bëccëg bi. Erin, Ayana ak man, génnoon kër ga ci ngoon bi. Premiere, demoon nanu rafetaay bu butig te seeni we wu baaraam piendrewoonal nañu nu. Ci gannaaw, demoon nanu ñam wu butig. Dimaas, danu yeewuwaatoon ci suba teel bi. Maa soloon sama mbubb bu bees ak yëf yu bees. Jëmoon nanu ci eglis ci yoor-yoor. Am nanu baptisé bi gannaaw mass bi. Xarit ak mbokku Erin ak Ayo ñu nga fay, itam. Maa jàppoon Alexander “during” ci baptisé. Moom, baaxoon na lool. Ayana, du baaxoon. Ci gannaaw, amoon nanu ndajee ci kër ga. Danu Lekkoon fajitas ak gâteau. Waajur yi wax “about” seeni xale te xale yi xuusoon nañu.

A few days ago, I traveled to New Mexico. I arrived around 12am. In New Mexico, it is hot but not humid. I saw many beautiful houses. Ayo’s parents were staying in the house as well. Saturday, we woke up early in the morning and went for a photoshoot. Erin and my Uncle Ayo have two children. Ayana has 5 years and Alexander has 3 months. After, we had breakfast at Cracker Barrel. I slept a little in the middle of the day. Erin, Ayana, and I left the house in the afternoon. First, we went to the beauty store (salon) and our nails were painted for us. (It was my very first mani-pedi). After, we went to the food store. Sunday, we woke up early in the morning. I wore my new dress and new things. We headed for the church around 10am. We had the baptism after the mass. Erin and Ayo’s friends and family were there also. I carried Alexander during the baptism. He was very good. After, we had a gathering at the house. We ate fajitas and cake. The parents talked about their kids and the kids swam.

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Goree – Take 1

So today, August 17th, I had the choice between studying for my French exam and going to Gorée Island for the day with some people from my neighborhood – judging by the name of my post, you can probably guess which one I picked. I had stayed in my room studying until someone knocked on my door and said “Come eat, we’re going to Gorée” – not quite like that, but you get the gist. I ate a late lunch, since I had been antisocial all morning, took a taxi and went to the ferry port. A ferry takes you from Dakar to Gorée. Before we disembarked the taxi, Papi turns to me and says: “Don’t act like a foreigner, they’ll make you for 5,000 CFA.” Apparently that’s the price for non-Senegalese people and for Senegalese people its 1,500 CFA. Not trusting my poker face, I just gave him my money to get my ticket for me.

We get a ticket and filed onto the ferry – the whole thing is actually quite an efficient process. There’s a place to buy your ticket then you go into another room to wait for when you can board the ferry. They hole-punch your ticket before you get on. We sat on an upper deck on the ferry ride which was about 20 – 30 minutes. It was a lovely day – over cast, but warm with lots of breeze.

On Gorée, there were many, many people. The beach itself isn’t large and it’s quite rocky, but there are many places that jut out of the side that older kids like to dive into the water from. I jumped in once – the water is VERY salty and I grew up on the other side of the Atlantic! I just don’t remember Ocean City’s water being quite that salty. But many of the divers were quite impressive, doing flips and such. It was fun to watch – especially since I wasn’t about to get back in.

We stayed there the whole day (well we had arrived around 3pm – maybe later). Going in and out of the water, talking, watching other people. Most of the people in my group were planning on staying the night at island and had brought a tent. But I had to return and someone went back with me. But we noticed the 2nd to last ferry arrive just as it was leaving! We ran to catch it but to no avail. Luckily there was one more that arrived around 12:30 a.m. – I don’t even want to know what time I got home. All I know is that when I did, there was a party for young boys and girls (tween looking) in the house across from mine! It was extremely loud, but I drifted immediately to sleep! Gorée had been way to fun for a loud party to keep me up. A couple less hours of studying was definitely worth it.

Another wonderful thing about Gorée is that I finally took pictures!! To make up for my complete lack of pictures recently – I’ve put the entire set here! I also have some videos of two brothers from the neighborhood flipping into the water – I’ll try to upload them!!

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I also wanted to comment on why this is called “Gorée – Take 1”. It’s because in the CIEE program that I am on, we’ll be going to Gorée Island on September 1st. When we go there, I’m pretty sure the primary objective is to explore the historic slave house. Before today, I only knew a few things here and there about Gorée. When someone in the states tells you about it, it’s all about the slave house and how it’s a huge tourist spot. And when people as if you’ve been to Gorée, it usually implies have you toured the slave house. What they don’t tell you is that lots of people live on this Island and that many Senegalese people go there for day trips, fun days at the beach, etc; essentially, that life goes on around this historic site. I fell that somewhere along the way, I learned this. But seeing it in person made me really warmed my heart. To me, it was similar to the Elmina and Cape Coast slave castles in Ghana. Outside those eerie walls, and right up against it actually, Ghanaians moved on with their daily lives not allowing the history of the building to hinder their work and their play. Like in Ghana, I love seeing Senegalese people utilizing their own tourist attractions.

I’m finding it hard to quite express what I feel I’m trying to say. Simply, for me, it’s an interesting comparison. When the people in my neighborhood say “oh, we’re going to Gorée,” it means, “We’re having a beach day, let’s go have some fun.” But I know when the program puts it on our schedule, it means “Let’s go explore the slave house and reflect on this horrific part of world history.” This is of course a worthy pursuit and I’m looking forward to that event, but I’m glad to have seen this other side, this local side of Gorée first. So yes, I’ve been to Gorée Island. But no, I’ve haven’t seen the slave house.

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