Series: My Semester at Sea
I think I Found Home
By Chanel Watson
During the pre-port before we dock in Dakar, Senegal you can feel the tension in the room because everyone doesn’t know what to expect. This is the first time “Semester at Sea” has ever taken students to Senegal, and not a lot of professors have traveled there before. Everyone would get off the boat uncertain of the area and the behavior of the people. However, one thing was certain among the Black students; this would be the country that we come face to face with our past.
As soon as we got past the gate from the port, we were bombarded with Africans trying to greet us and become our tour guides. These people have never seen me, but when they saw my skin color they greeted me saying “Welcome my sister.” Because we were Black, we got the most attention outside the port besides our white counterparts. It was interesting to see that this was the first port where white privilege did not exist, and Black people were highly favored and privileged by the natives.
People came up to my friends and me asking for money or to buy anything from their markets. Dakar is a poverty stricken city and many people have shops set up outside just to make enough money to feed their families. The city does have necessities such as supermarkets, cell phone shops and clothing stores, but the markets are in major competition.
The most memorable experience in Senegal, or even the entire voyage so far, has been visiting Goree Island. Goree Island is home to the Slave Mansion that holds “the door of no return.” It was the last place the slave trade took place and also held the slaves that ended up on ships during the triangular slave trade from Africa, to Brazil, to America.
When we got off the ferry that took us to the island from Senegal, we saw children in the water and colorful houses along the beaches. Mothers were roasting peanuts outside their doorsteps over a fire and men created sand paintings in the huts.
We walk through the houses to find the slave mansion, which is no bigger than a single-family home in the states, open to the public. When you walk in, you can see two floors of empty rooms with no doors in different areas of the open roofed mansion. Different doors had signs over top of them to let you know who belonged in different rooms such as “Enfants” and “Cellule Des Recalcitrants”. If you walk straight to the back you are able to see the door of no return, a door that led straight to the ocean.
It was a sentimental moment for my Black friends and me, because we all realized that at some point, our ancestors had been in one of these small rooms where they crammed over 50 people into a cell. The last thing they were able to see was the ocean. Slaves who tried to rebel were placed into a smaller cell, and those who did end up escaping would just end up being shot by the guards who were waiting outside the building. There are some items from the second level of the house that remain such as some trunks and shelves of vases and chests. The second level also leads into a view of the ocean.
Despite the poverty in Dakar and Goree Island, the natives were truly happy. They seemed to live life to the fullest and walking around with huge smiles on their faces. Even though they relied on the little money they got from tourists coming to their shops. As Muhammad, one of our tour guides over the week, told me “Welcome home to your family” and that’s exactly what Senegal felt like.