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A taste of Saint Louis…

August 9, 2010

Saint Louis is a lovely little island in the North of Senegal, close to the Mauritian border, where Steve and I are based for the next month studying French (with bits of wolof thrown in) before he heads off to Mali and I start work further down south, in a town called Thies.

We flew into Dakar last Sunday after an unexpected day stop over in Lisbon courtesy of TAP Portugal (no complaints here!). We only caught a glimpse of Dakar, staying in a suburb called Yoff near the sea, and spying out over the rooftops surrounding our guest house.  Yoff was an calm and intriguing insight into a city which I can’t yet build up a visual picture of yet because of its size (and one which made me wonder what people first think when they arrive in the middle of London). Although part of Dakar itself, Yoff is apparently an independent zone within the city, with its own local governance, no police force or government officials. This isn’t something you pick up on whilst just walking around though, and it would be intriguing to know what this actually means for people living there (rather than just the observation’s of the Lonely Planet authors).

Next day we caught a glimpse of the expanse of the city as we headed out around Dakar’s ring roads to the garre routierre to catch whats called a sept place (seven seater taxi) to Saint Louis. Heading out of Dakar the countryside started to open up, and revealed long open stretches dotted with baobab trees, and the occasional stop to buy papayas or mangoes from women at the edge of the road.

The island of Saint Louis is in the middle of the river Sénégal as it spreads out before it joins the ocean. On the other side of the river is a long thin strip of land called Guet N’dor, which separates the river from the Atlantic. Saint Louis itself is only a mile or so long (though if you’d told me that when I was jogging in the heat, I wouldnt have believed you), and is a bit of a tourist hub. From an outside eye there seems to be quite a sharp distinction between the island itself (calm, wide tree lined streets and quite a few shops orientated for tourists), and the land either side of it’s bridges – staying in the centre of the island you feel like you’re living in a peaceful tree lined bubble, insulated from many people’s daily lives.  On its shores though are lines of brightly coloured fishing boats, which hint the island’s fishing legacy and explain our daily poisson et riz for dinner.

The island also houses a small French cultural institute, which has been our base for the past week for French lessons. We’ve now settled into a nice routine of 3 hours of one to one lessons in the mornings, followed by a wander around hunting for lunch and library time après-midi. General wandering is great for soaking up the atmosphere, figuring out where the nearest and best boulangeries are, our local corner shop, and french practise with various people sitting on various street corners. Occasionally just as you’re peacefully wandering around the town treats you with something new, such the sight of a mass of white fabric floating towards you as the island’s men pour out onto the streets in their best traditional outfits for the Friday afternoon call to prayer.


 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Ann and Pete permalink
    August 20, 2010 12:52 pm

    Thanks for the interesting read Helen. Your few weeks certainly seem to have been busy both in soaking up the culture and educating yourselves in both language and technology!
    Hope you are coping with the temperature now and that sleep is coming more easily to you.
    I have spoken regularly with your mum and dad. In fact your dad is revelling in his new toy (phone) so receiving your emails is immediate.
    Look forward to more updates.
    Take care and regards to Steve.
    Ann and Petexxx

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