Bush and Ballpark Cuisine: Dakar, Senegal

Salaam aleikum from
Dakar, Senegal, not exactly a picture postcard kind of place, as it seems to be populated mostly by husters, hasslers, robbers, and shady businessmen. No wonder George W. chose it as his first stop in Africa - it's like Congress.

Speaking of Bush's visit, here's a little story that didn't get much airplay, a story of freedom American-style:

Bush was in
Senegal for a grand total of 6 hours (hey, it beats Uganda, which got about 3 hours). He landed in Dakar and met with West African leaders first; then he took a boat to nearby Goree Island. Goree was a big shipping center for the slave trade to the Americas (though just how big is debated by historians).

Anyway, it was here on Goree where Bush gave his eloquent anti-slavery speech. Slavery, he said, "was one of the greatest crimes in history.... Today we gather in respect and friendship, mindful of past wrongs and dedicated to the advancement of human liberty."

Meanwhile, Goree's 600 residents had been rounded up and removed from their homes early that morning, before Bush's plane had even set wheels in
Dakar. The families were cooped together on the island's dusty soccer field, in sweltering heat, under a tent set up for their convenience, with chairs and fresh water and cake available. Fishermen were not allowed to take their boats out and fish that morning. Shopkeepers were not allowed to sell their wares. Bakers were not allowed to bake their bread. Everyone had to remain at
the soccer field for 6 hours. Bush was there for barely one.

The "let'em eat cake" strategy backfired.

"It was the same - like slavery," one irate local told us.

"F__k George Bush," said another.

Ah - respect, friendship, and liberty indeed. Perhaps this is why we are hassled so hard when we walk down the street in
Senegal. A typical exchange goes like this:

"Hello, my brother. Hello my sister. [handshake] How do you like
Senegal? What are your names? Here is a picture of my good friend in California [insert photo of random white tourist] Do you want to visit my shop? Why you no want my shop? We are brothers! We are sisters! Different skin, same blood. My shop nice. Just come in for a look. No buy if you no want. My shop THIS way. Why you go THAT way? Hey, where you go?"

He then follows us for 20 minutes, muttering a string of Senegalese curses. So much for brotherhood.

It would be nice if we could bond with the locals over food. Alas, vegetarians are viewed with great disdain; only poor people don't eat meat. This leaves us with a style of Senegalese cuisine that is best described as "ballpark" - peanuts and beer. It is like being at a perpetual Cubs game, which really isn't such a bad thing. Groundnuts are a major crop for both
Senegal and Gambia. They account for 40% and 70% of the countries' GNPs, respectively, which gives you some indication as to the state of things. An economy based on peanuts is worth - well, peanuts.

Jul 21 - 26, 2003

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