This week Bamba, Madame Ndiaye, Madame Sy, Khady, and I are traveling to two cities in the southern region of Senegal. We arrived in Tambacounda last night (462 km = 287 miles) after about 8 hours of traveling. That included stopping to eat in Mbour for 30 or 45 minutes – but it was slow going due to poor roads full of potholes, following old semis, and one-lane highways. The landscape didn’t change all that much until we got just outside of Tamba. For the most part, the countryside was scattered with low-lying brush, tall, dried-out grasses, and baobab forests. Some of the trees had leaves on them, others didn’t. Small villages with mud or cement huts with grass roofs dotted the sides of the highway. Sometimes the village consisted of several concessions (a compound marked off with a tall grass/straw fence that holds one family – houses for the husband, the wife/wives, the children, etc), other times they were just a hand full of solitary huts. Herds of goats and cattle that look a lot like Brahmans – but probably aren’t – grazed all around, and sometimes they even caused “traffic jams” because they wandered all over the road. Other than that, the only wildlife I saw were lots birds with really bright, beautiful plumage and two monkeys that darted across the road.
If you look at a satellite map of Senegal, you’ll notice that Tamba is right on the edge of the greener part of the country. While this region is just as dusty as the northern part, a bigger variety of trees grow here, and there are more of them. We’ll be traveling as far as Kolda in the Casamance before returning to Dakar. We went in and east/southeasterly direction to come here, and when we return we’ll go through The Gambia, a long, skinny English-speaking country that surrounds the Gambia River.
Bigger cities like Fatick, Kaolack and so far Tamba aren’t quite as developed as Dakar. In fact they reminded me of the higher end of the poorest Dakar neighborhoods. My Wolof teacher at the University of Florida hails from Fatick. Kaolack spreads out for what seems like forever (and you don’t realize it until you get out of town because the highway just brushes the outer corner of the city), and Tamba only has a few paved roads. In the cities the nicer houses are mostly made of cinder block and have corrugated tin roofs. Others are made out of old scrap wood, car doors, random sticks, or any hodge-podge of materials that the families could salvage. The roofs of those houses are made of a flat board covered in an array of warped wood (almost like large chunks of tree bark), tires, rocks, and anything that can keep the sun and rain out.
Last night I went out to eat with Bamba, Mamadou Wade, Madame Ndiaye and the chauffeur – we ended up going to a djibouterie (I think that’s how it’s spelled) which is a little tiny restaurant made out of the same scrounged up material as the houses that has slabs of raw mutton hanging from large iron hooks out in the open air. When I saw that that was where we were going (and they were really excited about it because it was “real, authentic” food that you can’t get the same taste from in Dakar), my heart sunk a little. Not only do I not like mutton because it makes me sick, but I’ve sworn many a time that I’d never eat meat from places like that. Yeah, they’re all over Dakar and I’ve seen the flies and bugs that swarm and/or crawl all over that meat. In fact, I’d just reminded myself yesterday morning while driving through Mbour that I’d never eat it. And there I was, stuck because that was the only place they even considered eating. And it was probably the only type of restaurant that was open at that hour. So I was like, “Ooooohhh, no. Heaven help me!” And I started praying really hard that my stomach would be able to handle the food. The guy cooked it on an open wood fire and brought it to our table on a piece of butcher paper (or it’s Senegalese equivalent) with dabs of dijon mustard on the sides. Everyone dug in with their bare hands, and there was nothing else to do but join in. We ate pretty much in the dark – there wasn’t much for electrical devices, just a small blue light and a tiny, tiny TV that the butcher/chef was watching as he waited for customers. Much to my surprise, I liked the taste and as of today, my stomach hasn’t given me too many problems. My digestive track isn’t exactly happy, but I haven’t spent all day in the bathroom. That was good because I’ve been in meetings all day and that would not have been an option!
All that being said, our hotel is nice and has beautiful flowering bushes. Enjoy the pictures that follow. I’ll write more about our meetings here either tomorrow or in a couple of days when I have more time. Tomorrow we head out to Kolda, a trip of 224 km (139 miles) that will take 3 or 4 hours due to poor roads.