I have been back for seven weeks, and I can still feel Africa on my skin and in my hair and up and down my arms.
I spent nine days in Dakar, Senegal. After taking my first steps – and then thousands more – on African soil, I am still moved by the experiences I had and the people I met. Dakar, an international city of one million residents, has an unemployment rate that remains between 30 percent and 40 percent. Its marketplaces teem with residents trying to sell wares, mostly to tourists. It is a dry collection of cement structures (It is the cement capital of western Africa). I don’t think I remember seeing grass outside the hotel grounds.
It is a city in a country that is seeking change, like many African nations moving away from colonialism and toward independence. Senegal’s president advocates a plan for a United States of Africa, if he can get countries to become states and the West to embrace an effort that includes Mohammar Khaddifi, who spoke at a festival-related forum at the base of the African Renaissance Statue.
It was my first trip ever to the African continent, (My goal is to visit every continent before I die; I have three to go (if you follow the model taught in most English-speaking countries and China, that there are seven continents: North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia Australia and Antarctica). Latin American children are taught that there are six continents (There is only one American continent.), and the Olympic ring depicts five continents (Antarctica doesn’t count)
How many planets are there again?
I was invited on this journey to attend the second World Festival of Black Arts and Culture, an exuberant and expansive celebration of music, painting, sculpture, photography and fashion.
We even ran into the president, almost literally, when his limo just stopped outside a gallery we were visiting, and he just got out and walked around. Can’t imagine that ever happening with President Obama.
But I went in search of ghosts, of the missing history in my life, of the gaps in my past. I saw Wyclef John and hundreds of dancers and local artists perform. But history was always in the back of my mind.
Now after my first trip, I plan many more. To read more about this one, please visit www.freep.com/rochelleriley.