Dakar’s stunning railroad station

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On Saturday when I took a walk downtown, I got a closer look at the renovated railroad station, which I had peeped from the car a few weekends ago. Here are some better pictures than the ones I posted then.

The station was inaugurated in 1914 and went out of service about 100 years later after both the Dakar-Bamako and Dakar-St.Louis passenger trains stopped running. (I believe the suburban commuter line moved to a station a little further north but I’m not entirely sure.)

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For a few years, there were plans to demolish the station and build a park there instead, but thankfully that would-be travesty never came to pass. Instead, the government decided to renovate the station and make it the southern terminus of the new express commuter line that runs through the suburbs and ends at the just-finished airport an hour outside of town.

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I’ve also heard about plans to rehabilitate and relaunch the Dakar-Bamako line, which would delight me should it ever actually happen. I have seen footage of the 40+ hour journey and it looks like the stuff of dreams (punctuated by extreme boredom, fatigue, and discomfort). For now, I’m overjoyed to see my favorite building in town being resuscitated and returned to its former splendor.

P.S. Chemins de fer (literal translation: path of iron) is such a beautiful way to say railroad, don’t you think?

Good things happen in threes

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I just realized that yesterday was the three year anniversary of the day I first landed in Dakar, bleary- and wide-eyed in equal measure. I’m so, so grateful to be back, especially in February when the weather is (mostly) lovely. During this time of year, the Harmattan winds do have a tendency to sweep in and turn the sky yellowish and cover everything with dust for days at a time. That’s no fun, but knowing it’s sand from the Sahara desert being deposited on us is pretty neat. I also find it neat that even though I’ve only spent about 15 months in Dakar total, this is my third February here.

I’m spending this weekend prepping for my first shoot of this trip (happening on Monday), as well as fleshing out my ideas for a documentary that is getting me very excited even though I haven’t even asked the intended subjects of the film for permission to make it yet. Getting ahead of myself is my M.O. in life, and while it has its downsides it also gives me lots of fodder for fantastic daydreams, which I enjoy.

On that note, I will now turn from words on (digital) paper to images on digital video.

But first, just to complete the theme, three beautiful buildings I passed in the downtown neighborhood of Plateau this morning (the one at the top of this post was not so much beautiful as incredibly bizarre – note the ceramic swans!). Have a lovely weekend, and see you next week!

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Benin: Ouidah for the Revenant

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Okay, time to wrap up the Vodoun festival, with my favorite part: the Revenant, also known as the Egungun. Several years ago, it was seeing the gorgeous (uncredited – sorry!) photo of Revenant masqueraders below that made me put the Vodoun festival at the very top of my bucket list, though at the time I didn’t know what they were called or anything about them, and I expected to see them throughout the festival.

Benin's Mysterious Voodoo Religion Is Celebrated In Its Annual FestivalIn fact, they made only a few appearances, and only one of which I caught. On the evening of the 10th, a much smaller crowd of people than had been at the festival proper gathered in a dirt field in the center of Ouidah to watch the spectacle. From the moment I saw them I was transported with awe – although everything I had witnessed so far had been mind-blowing, these cultural masterpieces were what I had come for.

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Benin: Ouidah for the Vodoun Festival

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After I posted about the Fête du Vodoun yesterday I realized that I never actually explained what it is. A national holiday held every January 10 in Benin since the 1990s, it is a day for Beninois to celebrate – and to share with the outside world – the Vodoun religion practiced by a large percentage of the country (I’ve seen estimates ranging from 20-60%).

According to this informative 2012 article from the New York Times (that still rings true to my experience in 2019),

Despite the efforts of Christian missionaries, this ancient belief system still has millions of adherents along West Africa’s former Slave Coast, from Ghana to the Yoruba-speaking parts of Nigeria, but especially in Benin. A succession of dictatorships suppressed vodun after independence, but in 1996 Benin’s democratic government officially decreed vodun a religion, and ever since, thousands have openly practiced it.

The Fête du Vodoun is, in effect, a show of pride in practices, beliefs, and a culture that endured despite endless attempts to wipe it out. Though festivities take place all over the country, the apex is in Ouidah, which is considered the heart and soul of Vodoun. It is around Ouidah that Vodoun first developed hundreds of years ago.

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Benin: Allada for the Fête du Vodoun

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There is no way I could ever do justice to what I saw in Allada and Ouidah, either in words or pictures. I’m overwhelmed by the idea of the effort it will take to even halfway decently convey its awesomeness, let alone the effort itself. So I encourage you to think of this as a shoddy CliffNotes version of events. If you want to really get a sense of it, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself. (Or maybe it’s impossible to truly experience it as an outsider – I’ll touch on that in some later post.)

But for now, let’s get this show on the road… Continue reading

Sorry you don’t have this view from your office (I don’t either – it’s Mamie’s)

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While my Internet connection Chez Lo is faster now than it was two years ago (when it was basically non-existent), it is still not great. And that is why it has taken me two days and counting to upload my Vodoun Festival videos to YouTube so that I can share my next installment in the Benin-Togo-Ghana chronicles.

Hopefully I’ll be able to post them early next week, but in the meantime, here are some links I stockpiled so that I could one day share them here for your reading pleasure:

An amusing essay: Does Duolingo even work?

I’ve posted here before about untranslatable words in other languages. It’s interesting to see what the French consider to be untranslatable words in English.

Here’s an article from a few months ago – about why the French don’t show excitement – that is actually quite apropos for me to share now, the same week as my post about funny faux amis.

Even passive exposure can help you discriminate speech in another language, so put on that background radio/TV/computer/iPad!

That reminds me of the Paul Noth cartoon in the New Yorker that made me seriously LOL a couple of weeks ago:

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And with that, I’m walking away from my screen and going to bed.

Oh, wait, before I do.. one more insightful and ever so slightly relevant thing I read ages ago but never shared (and which reminds me, perversely, to encourage you to check out my Instagram profile if you want to see some of my vacation pix ahead of me posting them here):

Good night and good weekend, all!

[Saturday addendum via Irene Pedruelo‘s listserve: this essay on “privilege-centered design” is relevant well beyond design. Amazing quote: “If we only observe and imagine those who resemble ourselves, then what we call empathy is merely introspection.”]

Destination: Everywhere

UntitledAre you ready for my second awesome flight search discovery in two weeks? It’s another one that is gobsmackingly useful, and so obvious that in retrospect I feel a little dumb for not having thought of it sooner: there is a way to search for flights with only a departure location and travel dates.

Both Google Flights and Skyscanner allow you to opt out of providing an arrival city (for Google Flights you leave that field blank; for Skyscanner you type in “Everywhere”). You can then filter the flight results by price and choose your destination based on what you can afford.

I happened upon this travel hack last week after I decided to plan a girls’ getaway for my birthday in October. My high school friends had all intended to whisk us away to exotic locales for their big 4-0’s but never ended up following through. As the youngest, I’m the only one still staring down 40, and therefore the last best hope that we will go on a group trip before we all turn 50. So, after my college friend mentioned that she is planning a trip to Eastern Europe for her own birthday this spring, I started toying with the idea of turning my fantasy of a Martinique-Guadeloupe solo trip into a shorter 4-day birthday weekend with friends. Having heard that Norwegian Air now flies to Martinique for under $250 roundtrip, I figured it would be both a fun and affordable destination.

Then I searched for flights and saw that Norwegian Air doesn’t go to Martinique or Guadalupe in October, and the cheapest alternative flight at that time is something like $950. But now that I had gotten the idea of a birthday getaway into my head, I asked myself, “Where else could we go for $250?” A short Google search later, I found the Google Flights and Skyscanner tools and discovered that:

• for under $300 roundtrip, we could fly nonstop to Iceland – where I’ve never been and where the Ring Road is a highly scenic option for a 3-day excursion.
• for under $400 we could fly direct to Ireland – where I spent four months of my 20th year studying abroad, and where it would be lovely to return exactly half a lifetime later.
• for about $410, we could fly to Barcelona and drive from there to either Andorra or the French Pyrenees to hang out in beautiful house nestled in jaw-dropping mountains for a few days.

Those are three pretty awesome options. So, thank you to Google Flights and Skyscanner for helping me to get the 40th birthday festivities train rolling. (Why do I keep using non-aerial travel metaphors when I have every intention of flying??)

P.S. An addendum to my last post: Less than 24 hours after writing about how the Dakar of 2019 remains largely unchanged from the Dakar of 2016, I attempted to check the schedule for my favorite live music venue in the city, Just4U – and found it was closed for good!

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Waaaaaaahhhhh. A TRAGIC LOSS. Clearly I should have waited more than a couple of weeks before making any grand claims about this city…