From his working base in Dakar, Senegal, and with a few new local friends, a Canadian expat road (and back-road) trips across the lush, glorious beauty that is West Africa.
Story and Photos by (and courtesy of) Michael Henry | Feb. 3, 2022
West Africa is low on most traveller’s bucket lists. The continent’s other regions overshadow its natural and urban wonders. The countries are small, the visa processes painful, and the roads inconsistent, making overland trips challenging. And the reality of poverty is tangible.
The draw, though, is that the region’s complexity enables delight, surprise and discovery. Dakar, Senegal, sits on a peninsula jutting off the tip of the continent, right at the intersection of a bewildering cultural geography. Head east from the city and you’ll end up in Mali, home of the region’s greatest ancient empire and outstanding modern music and craftsmanship.
The deep Sahara beckons to the north with its mysterious charms and hard-living communities. To the south, national borders change every few hundred kilometres along with languages and recent histories, as the land rapidly becomes wetter and greener. The Cape Verde archipelago off the western coast was never inhabited before the Portuguese found it, and its islands now have a culture all their own.
At the junction of so much diversity, Dakar is a melting pot. Guineans sell hardboiled egg sandwiches to Ivorians on every street corner. Malian Tuaregs show up out of the desert offering gold and silver rings, and Nigerians look to set up businesses. The city can also feel like somewhere else entirely.
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When the sky is the right colour, it is a picture-perfect town on the North African coastline. On certain beaches, one could be in the Caribbean. All of this flows on top of the rhythm of Senegalese culture, the banter of Wolof, the beat of Mbalax, and the mosque’s frequent, lyrical call. The city’s rhythms seem counterintuitive: brown hills turn blindingly green and then brown again, stray cats dominate the back streets, huge boulders show up on the beach one week and are gone the next. Three languages are required for each cab ride.
And all this pulled me in deep over the years I lived in this dusty gem of a city.
Despite Dakar’s complexity, I never understood how many worlds the region contained until I went and moved around in some of them. A few days’ journey in any direction plunged me into a new reality. And yet all these realities were tied back to Dakar, and the mythical opportunity that it represents.
This story is about two trips in opposite directions from Dakar, and the threads that connect people’s lives and dreams across a beautiful and complex region.
The Borderlands of Senegal and Guinea (August 2019)
Sitting in the back of the bus to Kedougou, I felt cautiously victorious. I had shoved my way through the bustling kaleidoscope of a Dakar cloth market to find the unmarked storefront that doubles as a bus stop in the late afternoons.
By luck or fate, a single seat on that day’s bus was still available. Victoriously clutching my precious ticket, I had watched as the bus arrived and an instant economy grew up around it. Young men carrying huge racks of sunglasses made impassioned pitches to the passengers, women offered refreshing fruits, and a group of workers performed miraculous feats of engineering as they loaded the roofs with everything from 50-kilogram sacks of grain to a single pink children’s bicycle.
I had boarded last and gotten the worst seat but found it more comfortable than any transport I had ever taken out of Dakar before. It all seemed too easy.
Then the real loading of the bus began. An endless parade of Dakar’s worldly goods began filling every centimetre of available space around the seated passengers. I’d found myself nestled under boxes of cooking oil bottles, with a massive flat-screen TV resting on my lap. A fellow passenger caught my eye and offered a thumbs-up, a smile, and a sincere request to be careful. It was his TV. I wondered if he was the owner of the suitcase taking up most of his seat, or if we were all responsible for someone else’s treasure, collectively radiating the spoils of the globalized city out to the countryside.
I was headed to Kedougou, the capital of Senegal’s remote southeastern region, with a plan that I knew probably would not work. I had a burning desire to walk in some green hills, which are in short supply in Senegal’s hot flatlands.
Guinea, which borders Senegal near Kedougou, has such hills in abundance. But the border roads are notoriously rough and slow in Guinea’s hills, and I didn’t have enough time off work to travel them. It might be possible, though, to walk across the border up to Mali Ville, which is the first main hill town in Guinea. The walk would take two days. To make it back to work in time, I would then have to find an intrepid motorcycle rider who could take me back to Kedougou over non-existent forest paths.
The first Kedougou-area guide I contacted told me that no bike rider was crazy enough to take a tourist over that route. The second guide, Idi, told me it would be no problem at all. Ignoring that the truth no doubt lay somewhere in the middle, I agreed to meet Idi in Dindefelo, a village close to the border.
The Dakar-Kedougou bus rolled through the plains as they turned from brown to green, arriving before dawn. I excavated myself from beneath the TV and settled down in the local shared-taxi stand to wait for transport to Dindefelo. Drivers and mechanics slept under mosquito nets rigged up to their cars; cooks started preparing the beans and eggs for the morning’s sandwiches before first light.
As the morning progressed, a pickup truck with benches rigged up in the cargo bed appeared in front of the Dindefelo-bound shack. The other hopeful passengers and I settled into the art of waiting for West African transport. We all knew that the pickup truck would leave only when full, but the number of remaining spots was unclear.
This unknown variable is critical because it determines how aggressively one should wait. When only a few spots are left, you have to hover next to the vehicle ready to jump into a preferred seat. If you start hovering, or even sitting in the vehicle too early, you are likely to start a stampede where the other passengers think the transport is ready to leave.
These stampedes doom everyone to sitting in the stifling truck for much longer than necessary. The waiting game takes some skill. The conductor organizing the proceedings was an energetic man, and we tracked his movements with intense focus. Around noon, he made an almost imperceptible nod to someone who turned out to be the driver. The stampede was on. We packed in and began rolling south through richly varied countryside, over red roads plied only by dilapidated bicycles, and us.
Dindefelo might be the most beautiful village in all of Senegal. Majestic orange cliffs set the backdrop for red earth, luscious fields of grain, and riotous flowers growing along the paths.
I met Idi, an engaging, clearly brilliant polyglot and former soldier in the civil conflict in the Casamance region. With the opportunities available in Dakar or Toronto, someone this impressive could have pursued any future he wanted to. In Dindefelo, guiding wayward foreigners might be the most lucrative role, but it has no established upward trajectory. At the same time, his life and relationships in the village mean everything to him; they make up the core of who he is.
We hit the trail, hiking a steep pathway up the cliffs into the true borderlands, a plateau of interspersed forests and fields that is almost inaccessible by vehicles. I would have missed the border marker, a single stone a foot high, if Idi had not pointed it out. Although I could see neither the Senegalese lowlands nor the Guinean highlands that surrounded us, I had the distinct feeling of being at a place in between spheres of influence. It did not seem to matter much which country we were in; in either case, the plateau was on its own.
Farther down the trail we came to a small collection of thatched huts, one of which was Guinean immigration. The young soldiers joked that they were disappointed with my valid visa because it meant they could not impose any fines. After a round of quizzing about why we were there, they seemed to show some grudging respect:
“Ce n’est pas un touriste. Il veut découvrir.” He is not a tourist. He is here to discover. With that, we were into Guinea.
We hiked hard the rest of the day, passing through truly isolated villages where we saw almost nothing that did not grow in the area. The path through a village was often lined with stick fences and maize above head height, creating an impression of secret passages. There was also a great deal of uninhabited moist forest approaching the density of a jungle.
We crossed knee-deep rushing rivers that added to the feeling of being cut off, in the most satisfying way, from where we had started. We started losing our lights as we approached the base of the hillside that we planned to climb up to Mali Ville. Idi had a contact in the next village. We opened a gate and walked through the maize on a twisting path, ending up at a clean, well-appointed household, where we lounged on chairs made from local reeds. All their major possessions, in fact, seemed locally made.
With outstanding hospitality, they welcomed us—unexpected visitors—into their lives for the night without a second of hesitation.
We crossed the plateau’s final village in the foggy grey dawn. A wooden fence bound together with woven bark rather than nails or wire encircled the stick huts, the sleeping people, and their cows. The climb began, presenting some interesting scrambles including a spot where people had stacked up branches to help passersby navigate a steep section.
Halfway up the hill, we stopped and had breakfast with a family who farmed the hill’s only patch of flat land. Idi knew them well and told me they had been there for several generations. I tried to imagine a life where, for decades, meeting people outside one’s family means scaling a challenging hill. One of the sons knocked some hard guavas out of a tree for me, and we all laughed at my inability to get it down.
Near the summit, we passed a group of elderly women starting down the hill while balancing large plastic buckets on their heads. The confidence with which they moved made it clear they had done the hike many times. In contrast to them, my legs were shot.
Idi’s pace only quickened as we swept into the outskirts of Mali Ville. Old, decaying mansions rose out of the fog, then I saw smaller but lively houses, and people laughing on the streets, and even some cars. The cool fog signalled our arrival in the proper Guinean highlands.
That night I experienced incredible small-town hospitality, from several different angles. First, Idi brought me to an establishment named (in English) the Mount Loura Night Club. The Club was a windowless concrete building with weak lighting, minimal music, and no dancing. It made up for these missing elements in the form of shared solidarity of drinkers in a Muslim country.
Most patrons sat alone at plastic tables, eyes down, not embarrassing others by acknowledging their presence and their consumption. By contrast, Idi was the excited foreigner, ringing friends to come and talking to everyone he could. Back at the guesthouse, the family running the place made us a fish-heavy feast, humming tunes while removing the bones in the courtyard outside our rooms. We ate as darkness enveloped Mali Ville.
Later, Idi brought me to hang out with his friend Diallo, who lived in a small room dominated by an impressive sound system. Diallo’s dream was to be a driver, but he had not yet managed to afford the various training and paperwork (and “fees”) needed to get a license. He explained that driving would allow him to meet many people … and, eventually, pick up girls.
The most uncertain part of the whole operation commenced the next morning. We walked around town searching for moto drivers willing to bring us back into Senegal. We struck out repeatedly but learned more about Mali Ville in the process.
Two elderly men greeted us from a stationery shop and told us that the shop was actually the town’s tourism bureau. They showed us a board recording how many tourists arrived each year: from a low of 20 in 1999, the number had increased steadily to more than 1,300 in 2008; but then saw several dips due to insecurity and Ebola.
Their kindness and their board are a living testament to the remoteness and warmth of the town. Elsewhere, we saw sobering reminders of the region’s poverty, such as a boy holding a large metal chisel with his bare hands against a truck’s wheel while a mechanic hit it with a sledgehammer. I had not seen people taking this kind of risk in Senegalese towns.
After a long search, we finally found two riders just crazy enough to think it might work. I hopped on Boubacar’s bike and, with a quick smile, he pulled on some shades and jolted down the rocky road.
The feeling of freedom and relief was immense as we covered ground, now having reasonable hope that this trip might actually work. A quick shortcut turned into a stream crossing on a log bridge, and then a steep drop down a heavily eroded hill. The hills showed themselves off in the incredible weather. Boubacar kept up a running play-by-play as we rode:
“Not just anyone could do this. For this road, man, you need to know the bike. You can’t just force it to move, you have to convince it to. Really, I am the only one who could do this so well.”
After making it down the mountain, we passed back through the undulating in-between plateau, this time passing through a more consistently populated area than where we had hiked before. We even visited a Saturday market, where groups of friends were all selling the same things — bright chilies, tomatoes, mangoes — with no competition at all between them.
From the outside perspective, fuelled by the raw fun of riding, the plateau seemed almost idyllic. The abundant greenery and open land seemed to represent enough for everyone. Still, it is clear these remote lands face massive constraints. It must be incredibly difficult to get anything onto or off the plateau, including government services. And it’s easy to imagine that if something went wrong here, the people would have to flow down the same road we were taking, Dakar-bound.
We stamped out of Guinea at the customs hut and slogged down the worst road of the trip into the Senegalese lowlands. Trucks loaded with people on every available surface inched up the road at a snail’s pace, in the first few hours of what Idi said would be a two-day journey up to the Guinean road system. Boubacar gunned it down the last stretch of road to Dindefelo, and I stepped onto what felt like the first solid ground in a few days.
All that remained was the ride back. The car to Kedougou, and the bus to Dakar, were just as cramped as they were the first time. My excitement level was also the same, but the reason for it had flipped.
Instead of an eagerness to explore a little-known area, I felt a powerful drive to be back in Dakar for its choice, variety and opportunities. The bus felt full of this drive to get to the big city and make something of it. I talked to a young, well-dressed man sitting across from me, and he summed it up best:
“If you are in Senegal, you are in Dakar.”
We arrived early on a Monday morning, but I decided to take a few more minutes before coming back to thoughts of work. I rushed to the beach and put my toes into the surf, surrounded by wrestlers doing their first workouts of the day. I was happy to be home, and with a view I could look out to that had no limits.
Mauritania (August 2018)
Mauritania, which borders Senegal to the North, is a great unknown to most Canadians. It is mysterious and evocative, with a harsh climate, a sparse population, and semi-forgotten wonders that the Saharan sands are slowly devouring.
It also contains brutal human realities: half the population is light-skinned and essentially rules over the other half, the mostly dark-skinned Haratine people, who are partially descended from formerly-enslaved people.
In fact, Mauritania was the last country to (officially) outlaw slavery in 1981, and only (officially) criminalized it in 2007. (It’s worth noting that according to the World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, a new, tougher anti-slavery law had to be enacted in 2015 “under pressure from civil society and human rights organizations” because slavery and forced labour continue to be a serious, systemic problem in the country.)
At the same time, it is the only country in the West African Sahara where independent travel through the desert is currently possible. Its harshness is in itself a draw that gives the traveller a chance to grapple with how people build lives on the margins of the desert and on the periphery of the global market.
Mauritania also has the world’s most alluring train, a three-kilometre beast that anyone can ride for free as it ferries iron-ore from inland mines to the coast. Visions of riding the rails over windswept sands under the clear desert night filled my head; I had to go. My goal would be to ride the train, and to pick up as much else as possible on the way. (Actually, I read Chris Elliott’s story in Outpost a few years ago on riding the iron-ore train —“Way, Way Off the Beaten Rails”—and decided to give it a go myself.)
I set off for Mauritania a few weeks before the Tabaski festival (the year is 2018). Known worldwide as Eid al-Adha (the Festival of Sacrifice), it honours the Prophet Ibrahim’s devotion, as he was willing to sacrifice his son Ismail at Allah’s command.
(Judaism and Christianity have similar stories with the names Abraham, Isaac and God; and it is worth noting that in all three religions, Ismail and Isaac were half-brothers.) Allah stayed Ibrahim’s hand at the last moment and told him to instead sacrifice an animal like a lamb.
And so, for Tabaski, every Muslim family needs to procure a sheep and slaughter it. Because there are many more families than sheep in big cities, this explosion in annual demand for sheep creates some truly epic supply chains, which the COVID-19 pandemic has made even more complicated, according to a recent (July 2020) New York Times article. Sheep fever reaches such a pitch that every empty patch of ground in Dakar becomes a sheep stall, even in normal times. Back streets fill with men carrying their prized purchases home on their backs, which the NYT reports have gone from US $140 in 2019 to over $170 in 2020.
In the countryside, shepherds who have fattened their flocks all year walk long distances across deserts and borders to bring their sheep to markets. Market vendors then ship the sheep to cities on whatever conveyance they can find. If you take public transport anywhere in the region around Tabaski, you’ll likely have some sheep strapped to your vehicle’s roof.
The need for sheep creates a yearly rhythm of opportunity, chaos, connection and cultural exchange throughout the region.
The night before I crossed into Mauritania, I was in a sweaty hotel room in Saint-Louis, Senegal, worrying about the next day’s border crossing. To calm my nerves, I studied up by watching a YouTube video on how to pronounce “ouguiya,” the name of the national currency. By 8 a.m. the next morning, the Rosso border was already an exciting battle. There is no bridge over the river that forms the border, so the first step was to jump into one of the heavily laden pirogues who were stridently competing for passengers.
On the other side, I fought through a crush of bodies to the ticket window, only to find that the window did not provide visas. After repeating the same process a few times, I gave in to the forceful offer of a local fixer, who took me to the visa station. Fifty-five euros later, with my bag thoroughly searched for illegal alcohol, I was in Mauritania. The fixer even found me a dusty sedan headed to Nouakchott, the country’s capital. I squeezed in with a family of five returning from visiting relatives in Senegal, and we were off.
The road to Nouakchott passes through sandblasted tent communities and weathered roadside stores. Frequent military checkpoints announce the strength of the Mauritanian state.
A strange, unwritten rule for travellers in Mauritania is to carry a “fiche”—a photocopied paper with passport, visa and itinerary—to hand to soldiers on the road. I had made 10 copies in Dakar and had only two left as we entered the city.
Lying right on the Atlantic coast, Nouakchott feels like the final resting place of all the hot winds that have blown west across the Sahara over the years. We rolled into town around rubble barricades on the highway. I stepped out of the car and realized I had no idea where to go, or how to get there. There were no buses, no taxis; no bright stands offering connectivity to the world via a SIM card; few street-food offerings.
I finally found some women making Senegalese food, and a fellow customer offered to share a meal. Mohammad was a local businessman whose fortunes were tied to Mauritania’s main sources of foreign income: iron ore and fish. He lamented that demand for the ore had gone down, and foreigners had overexploited the fisheries. As we finished our meal and he pulled away in a Mercedes, reminding me to call him anytime to discuss business opportunities, it seemed to me like he was doing fine.
The next day’s goal was to enter the deep desert in the direction of Choum, the hamlet where the train stops. I hit the streets of Nouakchott and realized that some cars on the road were acting as clandestine taxis along fixed routes. The trick was to wave frantically at the most beat-up car in sight, preferably one that looked as if another passenger’s added weight would buckle it.
An endless series of car changes brought me to the Garage Atar, where a convoy of vans was preparing for the desert. Paying customers waited patiently, while workers secured the real valuable cargo—Tabaski sheep—onto the roofs. With amazing luck, I met Peter, an American living in Morocco, who as part of a West Africa trip was also going to ride the train. His Arabic skills showed their value right away as he translated the insults of the imperious grandmother sitting behind me in the van, who felt I was leaning back too far towards her.
The convoy travelled nonstop through the barren sands, with no greenery or habitations in sight for hours. We stopped only at isolated roadside mosques for prayers. At sunset prayer time, we were too remote even for a mosque. The vans stopped in the dusk, and the wind blew swirls of sand around the men as they knelt and prayed under the vast Sahara sky.
Peter and I joined forces and made the final preparations for the train. I bargained hard for a blanket decorated with multicoloured hearts to put between the iron and our bodies. We grabbed a pickup through the last few hours of desert canyons to Choum, sitting in the cab with a throng of Tabaski sheep strapped to the roof above us. We arrived early enough to see some of the rhythms of life in Choum.
A man carefully shredded a cardboard box and dunked each piece in water before lovingly feeding it to his backyard herd of goats. A mother looked with pride at her obviously brilliant son as he spoke to us in French. The leader of a group of teens introduced his friends to us, giving each one an insulting Arabic nickname. A couple of boys sitting in an abandoned train car exhorted us to say “Allahu Akbar,” and as the setting sun painted the neighbouring cliffside a brilliant orange, we said it and meant it.
Since no one knows exactly when the train will come, the passengers all stand together along the tracks. A couple of young guys lounging on packing crates told us they were using the train to ship pasta in bulk from humanitarian relief projects to sell on the coast.
Refugees from Western Sahara, a disputed territory mostly occupied by Morocco, who assert sovereignty under the name Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, inhabit bleak desert camps and receive food from relief organizations. These entrepreneurs told me that most of the food recipients would rather have cash to buy other goods or food according to their own needs. So, the Sahrawi refugees take some of the food they receive from relief programs and sell it to entrepreneurs, who pay them cash on the spot and use the free train to bring the food to lucrative coastal markets. Our new friends believed they were providing a needed service to the refugees as well as being able to make a living and a profit for themselves.
All of a sudden, the train was there, and the rush was on to stake out territory. As we climbed into a car and dug our iron nests, we saw merchants passing sheep after sheep onto a car behind us. We settled in, and the steel rails took us on our iron beds into the desert night.
Some moments stood out. The train stopped at midnight in a tiny sand village to switch tracks and prayer music floated over from the mosque muffled by the sand and iron dust and desert immensity. The moon set off to the right side of our desert ship, casting a deep orange glow. At dawn, the sun rose behind us, pink and then gold. Fellow travellers unwound their headwraps to see it, wreathed by tea-smoke from pots they had dug into the iron ore.
The experience was pure movement, the lullaby of the train, the desert stars above, the iron dust collecting in my eyes and mouth and nose, the feeling of passing through an absolutely different world. There was no softness, no tenderness, no way to get off the train until the end; but it was exactly what it was, and there was a harsh beautiful perfection to it that matched the Sahara.
At the end of the line in Nouadhibou, the sheep-sellers threw their animals unceremoniously three metres to the ground. With the sand and blinding sun meeting the salty ocean breeze, I felt I had arrived at the end of the world.
Ditching our iron-filled heart blanket, Peter and I tracked down the notorious Nouadhibou ship graveyard created by foreign companies taking advantage of corrupt officials who allowed them to dump their dead ships. We asked the blue-robed men at a bustling, diverse local market for the locations of the town’s transport hubs, learned that we were headed in different directions, and said our goodbyes.
The Nouadhibou Garage did not inspire much confidence. An ancient Mercedes and a beat-up green van sat off the side of the road with their wheels stuck deep in sand. The van slowly filled, and then overfilled, and we were ready to cross 500 kilometres of coastal desert. As we hit the road, I felt a surge of optimism, and saw that my fellow travellers were feeling it too. We were headed to the big city, towards opportunity, to Nouakchott and Dakar and places beyond.
We made it a few hours before the first rigorous military check. The soldiers got everyone out of the van and started searching bags. Luckily, mine escaped detection because I had covered it with an onion sack. The soldiers found something they did not like in the bag of our toughest-looking passenger, who scowled and spat as they led him to their tent. The rest of us sat down in the sand and felt the wind pick up as the search continued.
By the end of the first hour, we were in the middle of a minor sandstorm. We wrapped our heads with any fabric we could find. Other packed cars and trucks came and went, each experiencing their own minor dramas against the barren backdrop. As the second hour ended, I turned to a university student who had the seat next to me in the van and asked me what he thought would happen.
“He thinks he is a real voyou, he thinks he can get past them. But he cannot.”
Nothing else needed to be said. Not long after, our man came out with his bag, and we continued to Nouakchott.
Night fell, and we cruised under the pinprick stars. Within striking distance of the city, both tires on the right side of the van exploded. We had only one spare tire, so we flagged down passing trucks until one agreed to give us their spare. The tire change was a serious operation as a whole side of the van had to be propped up on rocks, but our front-seat tough guy made back the time he had lost us earlier by smoothly engineering a solution.
We finally arrived at the city’s northern outskirts, and I followed Peter’s advice down a dark road to a cluster of beachside vacation huts, where I succumbed to exhaustion.
My only remaining goal was to get back to Dakar and sleep for days. To do so, I needed to get to central Nouakchott, take some cash out of an ATM, and buy a bus ticket to the border. Walking south along the beaches, I stumbled on the lively local fishing port, where boys were unloading seagoing pirogues full to the brim with catch, and women haggled for bulk purchases to sell throughout the city.
I made it to a downtown ATM and, trying to take out 700 ouguiyas for remaining expenses, got 7,000 instead (about $250 CAD). It was my error, caused by the bizarre Mauritanian cash situation, where the government devalued the currency by a factor of 10, but the old units remained in use verbally. In other words, a 200-ouguiya bill would be called a deux mille on the street.
I went to a bank to exchange the cash, but they could not do it; instead, the bank’s security guard offered to take me to someone who could. He led me deep into a maze-like market building, past stalls selling gold and silver rings illuminated by shafts of Sahara light, to a counter where several Moroccans sat counting huge stacks of euros and CFA (West African CFA francs).
Feeling like some kind of bandit, I got a wad of CFA, which I could use in Senegal. Only the bus ticket to the border remained. At the garage, I found that no more buses were going to the border that day. I bought a ticket for 6:30 a.m. the next day.
Back at the beach camp, I took off my shoes and ran up the deserted, pristine beach stretching north of the city. The clean sea crashed hard into the white sand, framed by the sunset. The solitude and beauty were so perfect, after days constantly on the very edge of uncertainty, that I whooped and cried. A teenager from a rich family ripped up to me on an ATV and asked me in English who my favourite NBA player was.
Well before dawn on my final day in Mauritania, I was walking the road toward the Senegal garage. With no transport, I had to get an early start to make the 10 kilometres to the bus. I walked straight down the middle of the street, staying in the floodlights of buildings as much as possible, because successive packs of dogs charged me violently whenever I teetered toward their side of the street.
But it turned out fine, and I made it to the border, got my Mauritanian exit stamp, and crossed the advanced biometric scans of the Senegalese side. Like so many others who move in West Africa, whether looking for something or getting away from something, I could already feel Dakar’s pull.
We pulled into the Dakar outskirts in full pre-Tabaski swing. Kilometres before the main bus stop, our driver gave up; there were simply too many people, cars and especially sheep on the roads. The electricity in the dusty air was awe-inducing. Everyone was dressed in their best: the women in resplendent boubous, and the men in regal full-length suits.
The bleating of sheep and the sounds of bargaining that humans do filled the air. I walked slowly, getting nowhere, but trying to take in the full scene and situate it within the grand rhythms of West African dreams, challenges, and migrations that I had seen when moving through Mauritania and the Guinean borderlands.
I could not make sense of it, but I did not need to. The hectic Tabaski streets were utterly glorious, exactly as they were. ♦
Michael Henry is now based in Delhi, but still dreams about Dakar. This was his first story for Outpost Travel Media and was first published in our magazine. You can find on LinkedIn here.