Dakar, West Africa. Morning hour. It’s so quiet you can hear the palm trees swaying in the light wind, and how the great Senegalese flag flaps from the easy breeze. By no means is this hotel located on the outskirts of town, but the serenity is remarkable. I try to take this moment in as I reminisce about the last two days happenings.
The roads in Dakar aren’t by western standards, and it’s only in the plusher parts of the city paved roads can be taken for granted. Even there, streets, as well as sidewalks, are likely to not be intact. Drivers tend to think of road signs as recommendations rather than directives, and novelties such as seatbelts and taximeters haven’t yet had their breakthrough in Senegal. Slowing down for speed bumps seems to be a waste of time, just like trying not to get ripped off the fare. Even though essential skills in bargaining, as well as limited knowledge in French, comes in handy when mediating, the price will vary if you’re not Senegalese.
As we drive alongside the coastline I roll the window down and feel the breeze from the Atlantic. Being located at the tip of the Cap vert peninsula Dakar is a city almost completely surrounded by ocean, and the refreshing scent of saltwater is present almost anywhere you go. I eventually get dropped off on the Independence square, a mid-point downtown and only a stone’s throw away from the waterfront. Old edifices in various style surround the elongated square, the most beautiful remnants of Senegal’s colonial area. Balustrades and french windows, arcades and second-story verandas, hidden in between the turmoil of open-air markets and the Senegalese everyday life.
Located just off the coast of Dakar is immensely beautiful Île de Gorée, a transshipment place of great importance for slaves during the colonial era. 15 minutes it takes from the mainland, to travel back in time. As soon as I step off the ferry in the tiny island self-appointed guides line up offer me their services, but I fend off every offer to marvel in solitude. The island is a picturesque haven of shuttered houses flanking narrow alleys, rigorous stone walls and exuberant flowers climbing every facade. To earn their livelihood the islanders exhibit a miscellany of wooden crafts and handpainted canvases in almost every corner, for soaring prices to gullible tourists. The store owners physically drag you into their shops, if you don’t walk fast enough. I run into a colleague of mine, but forget to watch my next step, and I soon realize the island is crawling with lizards the size of housecats. All of a sudden open-toed shoes seem like a very poor choice. Sigh.
I drink seasoned coffee from disposable mugs while I watch the puritan life go by on the island. My travel companion and I end up in a conversation with one of the local vendors as she tries to persuade both of us to invest in her small business. I’m mesmerized, not by the business, but by something I’ve come to realize is a common trait amongst the Senegalese people. Being introspective but not demure, and very mentally strong. Something I appreciate a lot. We continue our banter, but in the middle of our frivolous chat, reality suddenly comes knocking on the door, and it becomes clear that life here is simple in considerably more senses that just materialistically and technologically.
When it’s starting to dawn on the woman that she’s not going to make a profit out of us, she starts joking that if she can’t sell her business maybe she can sell us her sisters? I wink my one eye and say to her that I would prefer to go with one of her brothers instead. Instantly she glares at me with a dismayed look on her face, and she starts murmuring an inexplicable chant in French. This kind of blunt Homophobia I have very little experience of, but I just look back at her and shake my head in a sense of despair. My, somewhat more credulous companion, has a stronger reaction than I do and starts condemning the woman for her unseemly gestures. It becomes clear that this awakening has caught him off guard, not being a matter he would normally reflect upon being a heterosexual.
A bit later he asks me, what it feels like, the disdain? I smile, and explain to him, that ignorance and fear of the unknown are something you will come across everywhere you go, which is why you have to remind yourself that no progress was ever sprung from a source of unawareness. The person I have become did not flourish in a place of ignorance, which makes it very irrelevant for me to seek for acceptance in a place of obsolete values. Big shoes you can grow into, but life is too short to waste any time trying to squeeze into a pair that’s already too small.
As we contemplate life while walking down one of the many cobblestoned dirt roads, a young boy of maybe nine or ten years approaches us. He’s in a cheerful mode and engages in conversation with the two of us as we pass by. All of a sudden the little boy points at my friend’s wristwatch and admires it with wide eyes. My friend smiles back at him, and then he looks down at his watch. I can see him fiddling with the lock, and moments after he takes it off and hands it to the boy. The boy is instantly overwhelmed and starts jumping around, showing his newly acquired gem to all of his friends whom all are throwing envious looks at him. I’m standing a few meter away as this heartwarming scene takes place, watching them both. My companion, acquainted enough to understand the insignificance of materialism. The little boy, humble enough to understand the great value of small gestures. Both united in the purest forms of wealth.
A drop in the ocean for me, but maybe the entire ocean for him, he told me afterward. In my mind, I’m brought back to the now overshadowed, previous episode of the day, thinking that mindfulness will always prevail over ignorance. I think to myself, that sometimes it feels like I know everything there is to know in this world, and sometimes, I feel like I have everything left to learn. And that’s not the worst feeling to have, I keep discovering.
Thank you Dakar, it’s been the utmost pleasure.
The sun is slowly rising over the city of Yerevan. It’s just past 8 am in the morning, and the dew is still lingering on the vines that climb the walls of the quaint patio where I sit. While the new day is coming to life, the distant sound of motor driven vehicles comes closer by the minute. I sip on transparent coffee and read about weeks-long hostage dramas, fatal shootings, and political unrest. It seems a part of the world is crumbling just a few blocks away, all while I sit here. As desensitized as I am abundant with feelings.
Before I started to galavant around the world, I never used to question. It never dawned on me that racism exists far beyond white people oppressing black people. I never asked what other reasons than comparable salaries makes women worldwide fight for equal rights. Nor did I seldom wonder why some people would choose to pack up their belongings and leave their homeland for good, other than to live off others fortune. Little did I know that the practice of car seatbelts is a different practice in many countries. Even less did I know that in certain countries, people are considered to be cattle rather than humans. So yes, the unembellished truth is that I used to know very little of the world I live in. About the big things as well as the small things. Little things such as moving away from home at a young age is a very Western thing to do. Little things such as there is a vast difference between having an education and being educated. Small things such as brewed coffee is something I specifically have to ask for in most places, otherwise I will be given espresso diluted with water. Trifles to the world, but which means the world to me.
Yesterday, my close friend and I stumbled into a conversation with an elderly Armenian gentleman on our way past an antique market. His English was broken and his harangues long, but his message crystal clear, ”Promise that you will not forget to feel. That is the only thing you have to worry about.” he said taking our hands. And we promised. But have all of these accumulated experiences only made me feel disdain, I intermittently wonder? Having witnessed famine and oppression as well rudeness and ingratitude have shed a somewhat dismal light over this world, and I find myself desensitized. Desensitized from the ungraspable amount of danger in the world, which at this time seem to be lurking behind every corner. But here I am, In Armenia. In beautiful Armenia, marveling at old Soviet architecture, interacting with people whom I don’t speak the same language as and gasping at the incredibly beautiful caucasian landscape. And I feel so strongly that I am where I should be right now.
But there are times when I feel bemused if I’m just utterly naive, for doing what I do. Those are the times where I have to remind myself that amid all this darkness, my travels around the world has opened and continues to open my eyes to the smallest sources of joy, happiness, and sheer gratitude. People who understand that by listening we learn, by talking we just ingeminate what we already know. People who understand the simplistic value of please and thank you, and who reminds their children of the same. People brave enough to embrace, that despite how solicitous most people are to find someone else to hold onto, the most important person to hold onto is yourself. People that has made an imprint on me, and given me simplistic reasons of faith, to which all I have been completely dumb to just a few years ago.
The reality that you wake up to every day is very often also the reality to refer to as the world. And I was no exception. The reality that I face today is a different one almost every morning, as I fall asleep in a one-time zone and wake up in another. The world has become a considerably smaller place, and to know that within just a couple of hours you can be anywhere, is a remarkable feeling of freedom. Something someone who never traveled would not understand. Not like that. How the far-flung corners of the world all of a sudden aren’t that far-flung, or how this newfound attainability also creates a feeling of indifference, because everywhere is within reach.
I stood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires one morning a few months back when I somehow felt that I had found a feeling of home there, and it made me wonder if that’s the thing? Are we looking to come home? Because I can’t think of any greater sense of homelessness than being someone who refers to the whole world as their home. But finding a home can be done in a million ways. So I’ve come to realize that to me, It can be done a million times over, and I will still yearn for a million times more. That, makes me feel like the richest person on earth. And I rest assure that it will continue to do so, on the day where I no longer do what I do today.