We woke up for the second time on African soil, in a beautiful room of the Lamantin Beach hotel. Our room and facilities were very comfortable, but I hadn’t managed to get the airco to fully function. There was somewhat fresh air being blown in, yet we awoke sweaty and hot. A dip in the pool would soon calm that feeling.
Breakfast at the Lamantin Beach hotel was super. A huge buffet with everything you could desire, from cereals, to fruits, smoothies, cheeses, yoghurts, omelettes, sausages… and of course, a delicious cup of coffee. The only thing missing for me was chocolate paste, which I used to make the malaria tablets easier to swallow for the baby. I thought I would give some sweet homemade jam a try, but baby wasn’t having it. So I ended up crushing the tablet and mixing it with his soya milk. Then hoping for dear god that he drank up all the powder. On a side note, I believe he did take the pill as hoped for, since none of my kids were ill during or after our trip. But I wasn’t reassured at the time itself.
The baby had also come out in a rash of little red bumps all over his body. I consulted with one of the other moms in our travel party and we decided it could be numerous things : a heat rash, an allergic reaction to the mosquito repellent spray, a reaction to the chlorine in the swimming pool… In any case, the rash wasn’t something to be too worried about.
We made our way to the meeting point at around 9:30 where our bus and travel guides were ready to pick us up. We were all excited about our visit to the Pouponnière, an orphanage in Mbour. I had researched this facility before heading out. It’s a non-profit organisation with French origins to shelter and raise orphans from the region. They rely solely on gifts and donations from abroad, and on volunteers to help out with the children.
The orphanage was a complex of various buildings within an enwalled setting. It is mainly run by women, counting approximatively 150 orphans of which 80 boys and 70 girls. Upon arrival we were required to disinfect our hands with Dettol and I was advised the baby shouldn’t have any contact with the children, in case he would infect them with some strange European disease. I found that rather weird, but didn’t think to complain about it. I was more worried about the baby catching some strange African disease from the orphans. Especially since those little sweethearts all drummed around the baby’s buggy to look at my little one having his feeding bottle. Their little hands touched him and their beautiful eyes were looking vividly at this little blonde angel. Then one of the children leaned into the pushchair and kissed the baby. Oh my horror! The child in question had a runny nose, so I quickly whipped out the Dettol and cleaned the baby’s face.
We had a guided tour of the entire orphanage. Children were grouped by age, from the very tiny babies in cribs, to the toddlers, and then pre-school children in a separate building. The bigger children weren’t there as they were attending school. Each family in our travel party had bought some items from a local supermarket (run by a French couple, I must add). The items on the wishlist were: bleach to clean and disinfect, gallons of water, pampers and nappies for the babies, and baby milk. It seemed such a small contribution, but happy to give to those less fortunate.
After the orphanage we stopped for a meal in Joal, in the shade and by a river. The food was delicious and we enjoyed being sheltered from the scorching hot sun. In this weather, we drank so much water, but also gin and tonic, and even beer. Kids still enjoyed the more sugary drinks.
After dinner we crossed the bridge over the river to Shell Island. A small island completely covered in shells. The legend goes that people used to eat the seafood which they had gathered and then just threw the shells on the floor. Over time, so many shells had accumulated, it covered the entire island.
There was another smaller island next to Shell Island, again connected by a small bridge and covered in shells. This is where the dead were buried. Catholics and Muslims side by side. In our society, something of the sort would seem unthinkable. Yet there in Senegal, people respect each others religions.
We had a guide who took us around the islands and who told us all about the local folklore. He also asked me where was my “gazou”? I told him I don’t have a “gazou”. At which he eyed me attentively up and down, and then asked me to give me my email address so we could exchange some letters. I told him I have no time for writing emails and that I wasn’t looking for a “gazou”. He gave me a puzzled look.
We made our way back to the mainland in fishermen boats. Needless to say I was not happy about this ride. I had my eyes on all three of my kids and was worried about crocodiles and pirhanna’s and whirlpools. All of which were not present in these waters.
We finished our tour of that day by visiting the fishermen’s port of Mbour. This is one of the largest artisanal fishermen’s ports in the country. We saw the fishermen returning from sea with their catch of the day. All of them aboard multicoloured “pirogues”. This was a very extraordinary experience, to say the least. All these people so busy all over the place. The stench of the fish lying on the sand rotting in the scorching sun. As we walked over the sand between all the people a horse started urinating, just meters away from the fish. We saw shark fins lying out in the sun to dry. The Asians are crazy about shark fins, we were told. They pay good money for it.
We were also reassured that the fish from this port never makes it’s way to the local restaurants or hotels. According to our guide, the fish for the fancy restaurants and hotels never sets foot on the beach, but is shipped immediately elsewhere. I am dubious about this statement, as we also saw lorries filled with ice to preserve the fish. And what about those shark fins which the Asians where so particular about?
I had a deep sense of poverty and the extreme conditions in which people work and live in Senegal. The people were tired and working hard. Their looks were not friendly. One lady growled something after me, at which our guide said something to her and then he told me the lady had wished my baby a long and prosperous life. Another woman looked at me in passing and said “give me the baby”. Now this is something I have been told numerous times during my holiday in Senegal, but this was the first time I heard it. It struck me as odd and I didn’t like it. No I was not going to give my baby. I wondered if a little blonde baby would sell very expensive in a country like Senegal…
After that it was back to luxury in the Lamantin Beach hotel. A leisurely dip in the pool. A refreshing shower. Our best clothes for dinner and cocktails. The children danced. The food and music was Moroccan that evening. Bliss, pure bliss.
I fell in love with Senegal. This was a real adventure. Something new and very different. The kind of experience I had been longing to have with my children for such a long time. I was scared before heading out to Africa. I had no idea what to expect. So I had researched the conditions and all of my questions. I knew in fact that there were no dangerous crocodiles in Senegal, nor dangerous spiders or anything of that sort. I was prepared with disinfectant, Dettol and every possible cream or pill for any eventual ailment. I was prepared and reassured. Looking back, this was the best holiday and the biggest adventure I have had yet.
You see, when you’re prepared, you are free to experience the adventure with an open mind and a healthy dose of curiosity.