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My trip to Goree island

 

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Mika walks with a limp but that doesn’t stop him navigating his way with one crutch through scores of school children waiting anxiously to get on a ferry.

Exams are over in Dakar, Senegal, Ramadaan is coming up and schools are taking their kids for a field trip to Goree Island.

It is a long wait, until Mika asks us for money, twice the price it costs for locals, to buy a ferry ticket to Goree Island. If I was an American or Brit, I would have had to pay over three times the price.

At first he is skeptical that I come from South Africa, but my fixer, Mustapha assures him in French.

When Mika turns to speak to me, his english is heavily loaded with an American accent. He has never been there. He learnt English from American tourists that travelled to the the tiny island he calls home, he says.

The ferry is charming but not sophisticated. If Prophet Noah had a steel arc, I’d imagine it would have looked like this.IMG_0665

The Atlantic is dark and mysterious on this day but we glide across it for 3km smoothly until it is docked on a pier close to the Goree shore.

The shore is filled with a sea of kids basking in the hot West African sun and cold-ish waters of the Atlantic.

There is not a swimming costume in sight. The kids swim- or splash excitedly- fully clad.

We pay a tax at first once we get to the tiny island. It is mostly how the island survives- with the most popular occupation is being a tour guide.

Mika, who has been doing daily for over a decade is quite a popular character on the island.

We start with lunch an naturally it is fresh fish prepared with little spice and grilled on a fire. I added some potatoe chips with my order.

Mika wouldn’t have any. He only eats a plate of rice in the evening which, he says, his wife prepares to lovingly.

Once refuelled, we start our tour of the 900 meter island- clouded with a dark history.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGzUPHnDvIg

Already at the entrance of the House of Slaves my throat is restricted. Mika shows us the difference sells where West Africans would be stacked like sardines as they wait to be shipped off across the Atlantic.

A Unesco world heritage sight, most of the House of Slaves and the rest of the island is preserved in its historic form.

Sight of the Door of No Return makes my knees tremble.

“This is where the slaves were taken and packed on a boat. It is called no return because either you made it across the ocean to America or you were throw overboard,” Mika says.

If there is one place the reinvigorated the spirit of Pan Africanism in me, this was it.

This could have been a beautiful resort island. Instead, centuries of colonial oppression has made this island another symbol of Africa’s dark, dark past.

The rest of the tour is more optimistic. We pay a visit to sand artists who use sand from across West Africa to paint the most exotic pictures.

We pass by local vendors- selling beaded trinkets and other little stuff. Business is not so great on this island and they rely heavily on foreign tourists to make ends meet.

IMG_0748There are remnants of Portuguese, Dutch and French colonial presence across the island which makes for picturesque walk ways as school kids sing and dance.

As I leave the island, that hollow feeling of anger roped together with sadness at this beautiful island’s terrible past I felt on entering is eased by a sense of optimism incited by the smiles of the Goree children.

Goree island was a trip of recovery for me. It showed me the worst and made me faithful in a bright future.

 

 

 

 

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