Dakar

Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the February 21, 2011 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.

Dusty, dry, and dark. That was my impression upon my early evening arrival in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

The 20-minute ride from the airport to the hotel offered a scenic view—a long coastline dotted with golden beaches, steep rocks, and wide fields where boys play football, athletes exercise, and all sorts of people gather.

But it was hard to shake the impression of a dusty, dry, and dark Dakar.Dakar is a windy city surrounded by the sea. The sea wind blows hard from the Atlantic Ocean, kicking up dust in the sandy city. The atmosphere is dry, and the bareness of the seashore and the beaches accentuates the environment’s dryness.  The long and wide avenue that runs parallel to the coastline lacks greenery. Coconut tress line one side of the avenue, but they are limp, wilted by the intensity of the sun.

Upon reaching the hotel, located on a main narrow road in the city center, I noticed a dark scene.  The ten-minute evening walk from the hotel to a French restaurant frequented by expatriates could be scary for a first-time visitor. It hadnothing to do with the presence of suspicious characters; vagrants in Manila are more conspicuous and annoying. The problem is that no street lamp illuminates a desolate stretch of the street, which is abuzz during daytime.

But my first impression is wrong.  At daybreak, a different Dakar emerges.Dakar is a riot of colors.

Men and women wear bright-hued clothes. The men—Muslims or not, wear flowing kaftans in a variety of colors— formal white, sparkling blue, coral red.The women likewise wear resplendent and colorful dresses, especially the boubou, a ubiquitous robe sewn from embroidered cotton that is richly dyed.

Senegal has its version of the Indonesian batik. It is said that the Dutch colonizers of Indonesia brought the batik technology to Senegal.  That’s a positive example of early globalization.

Street life is vibrant.  The markets offer a cornucopia of goods—fresh tropical fruits and vegetables, meat and seafood, aphrodisiacs that are said to be better than Viagra, made-in-China toys, music of world-renowned Senegalese musicians like YoussouN’Dour, Senegalese fabrics and costumes, souvenirs for tourists, and fake luxury items like Rayban sunglasses and Mont Blanc pens.

And the Senegalese people are nice and friendly, even as strangers like me have to be cautious in dealing with stall owners and touts who pester prospective consumers to buy overpriced or counterfeit goods.

And despite the Pinoy’s biased view about beauty—that black is not beautiful—my friend and I have to admit that we have been smitten by black beauty. Joy, married and a mother of a precocious Philippine Science High School student, admires the Senegalese men for their handsome faces and lean, muscular build.  She is not alone in her judgment of beauty.  Senegal has become a favorite destination of European middle-aged women who seek the companionship of or, bluntly, a sexual relationship with vigorous Senegalese young men.

The women are tall and thin, their complexions are smooth, their eyes are enticing, and they have the curves.

Joy and I visited Dakar to attend meetings related to the World Social Forum (WSF), the alternative to the elite-oriented Davos World Forum.  The Dakar Forum, attended by thousands of activists of many nationalities, was likewise a riot.

In fact, its opening day fell into total chaos, as the rector of the university, which hosted the Forum, cancelled the use of rooms upon pressure from the Senegalese President.  Organizers of different seminars and forums, having no rooms, had to innovate.  But because the Forum was an explosion of activities, the participants who could not find the events that they wanted to join could attend the other activities held in makeshift tents and open spaces on the campus.

The themes for the Forum were broad and mixed—economics and development, environment and climate change, sustainable agriculture, health and alternative lifestyles, tourism, music and arts, independence struggles, human rights, etc.The positions expressed in the different venues also varied, manifesting a pluralism of ideas.

But the main activity revolved around the revolution in Egypt.  Almost everyone in the Forum and in the rest of Dakar,was following what was then the unfolding uprising of the Egyptian people that eventually toppled the Mubarak dictatorship.

Joy and I prefer the riot of colors and the chaos in Dakar and in the WSF to the cold drab, and predictable environment of Davos.

Dakar offers a different world, a different globalization.  The progressive, percussive, pulsating world music of Senegalese YoussouN’Dour serves as a metaphor of this other world. That’s one good side of globalization.

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