Toubab Diaolo – or “the white man’s surprise” – is a little coastal paradise tucked behind a handful of very average-looking villages. It’s also where we spent our last weekend in Senegal.
The resort we stayed at was absolutely beautiful, full of flora and art and a stunning dozen yards from the beach. We were so excited when we arrived that we all hopped right into the Atlantic and walked along the shore. After a delicious dinner of fish and rice – for which we were joined by three cats and one outrageously large cockroach – we hit the hay, thoroughly exhausted.
Although Toubab Diaolo was gorgeous, it had the worst facilities. There was a shower in our room, but no toilet (that was down the hall), and the water only worked about a third of the time. Also, Alice and I woke up the next morning with little red circles all over our bodies. Although they didn’t hurt or itch, we were pretty sure that we’d each cuddled up with some bedbugs that night. No matter – the rest of our weekend was awesome! We did some shopping, made Batik bandanas (Batik is like tie-dye, but you take a paintbrush and paint hot wax onto cloth to create two layers of color), got drum lessons, and finally, in the evening, went horseback riding.
This was probably one of my favorite moments of the entire trip. I’m not a huge fan of horseback riding, but the evening felt almost magical. My horse’s name was Dirizi, and she was the best-behaved of the bunch. We set out as the sun was going down, a group of five with one native as our guide. We moseyed through the dusty desert with nothing in sight for miles but brush, small shrubs, and mountains. My horse passed straight through an enormous herd of cattle – not the friendly Holstein cows you’d see at the Dutchess County Fair, but huge, all-white monsters with massive horns and big black eyes. They were so close I could have reached out and touched them. We continued up a mountain, then through a wooded area with mango trees, and finally by pastures full of mules and goats. The terrain was untouched by humanity. I could have ridden that same path a thousand years ago and seen the exact same things. I will never forget that moment.
Eventually we returned from Toubab Diaolo, and settled back into life in Dakar. My last week in Senegal felt a little frantic, as our whole class was rushing to finish our big project. We finally received our dresses back from the tailleur, just in time for the final presentation. We each took turns giving a ten minute French presentation on a topic of our choosing. I was thrilled share all that I’d learned about religion in Senegal – my language wasn’t perfect, but my enthusiasm was clear, and I’m proud to say that everyone at the presentation applauded loudly for me.
I was thrilled to go home, but as a group, there were a lot of things we were going to miss about this country. We had all developed a serious addiction to Biskreme, the French cookies sold on every street corner. We loved heading over to the ice cream parlor as a group after lunch, occasionally giving our half-eaten cups to the children who would come around asking for money. Between our dance class, trips downtown, and all the friends we had made, it was going to be a tough break. My host family had been very, very kind to me. I didn’t think it was possible for me to express my gratitude for their generosity.
When it came time to pack up for our flight, I was unbelievably proud of myself for having survived this trip. Nothing about it was particularly difficult (although I would describe some aspects as uncomfortable), but the huge change in environment – and having to experience it all with only a few familiar faces, none of which were my family – was a novel thing for me. I boarded the plane after many draining hours at the airport, and had a pleasant 8-hour flight sitting next to Lily. And finally, at 5pm Eastern Time, I reunited with my mom, dad, and sister after an extremely long month in Africa.