The Goodbye is an occasional series about women leaving a place behind. Are you moving and feeling nostalgic? Fill out this form, and you could be part of the series.
Legend has it that my grandfather was on a boat headed for West Africa — to leave behind the chaos of his country, which would be partitioned into India and Pakistan — when the boat lost track. He actually ended up in East Africa, and then eventually Zambia, which has been my family’s home for three generations. After completing my education abroad, I thought I would return to work as a human rights lawyer in southern Africa. But instead, I have spent the last decade working in West Africa, perhaps fulfilling my family’s intended destiny.
I came to Dakar, the capital of Senegal, about four and a half years ago to work with a human rights nonprofit organization covering Anglophone West Africa. I moved here from Sierra Leone, a country that had been home to me for many years and still is in many ways.
It was a hard transition, and challenging to build a new community from scratch, particularly because my French was very rusty. But I learned many things: to embrace solitude; to be open to new people and possibilities; and that I am tougher than I think.
I’ve met many lifelong friends, rekindled old friendships, been inspired by fellow activists and learned that you need to let go in order to gain. I’ve hosted engagement celebrations, “hen parties” and baby showers. Dakar humbled me. I relied on friends to translate complex conversations and learned to accept that it is necessary to ask for help.
But Dakar also revived me. I slowly grew to love the salty sea air, soft pastel colors and walking the sandy paths of this oasis in the Sahel. (I joke that my memoir of Dakar would be entitled “Walking in Heels Through Sand.”)
Now, I am heading to London to take on a new professional challenge. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the city, but hope to discover a new side. I am sure I will return to Dakar, but it will inevitably be different.
So I’m saying goodbye to this chapter of my life with an “au revoir” — until we meet again — or, in Senegal’s official language, Wolof, “démal mangui ñew.” Indeed, the language barrier dividing the continent embodies a lasting legacy of colonialism.
I hope more Anglophones will be inspired to visit Dakar and to experience all its color and creativity. Below are eight of the places I’ll miss the most.
I’ll miss this intimate jazz bar in the basement of L’Djolof, my favorite hotel in Dakar, which is decorated in the terracotta colors of the Sahel. After tapas on their rooftop restaurant, I’ve watched outstanding jazz, Afrofunk and Congolese rhumba performances from household names such as Tony Allen and Awa Ly. It’s a small microcosm of all the musical delights Dakar has to offer.
This is the best “maquis,” or outdoor bar, in Dakar, where I’ve spent many an evening drinking cold Gazelle beer and eating grilled pork while football matches play on surrounding TV screens. It isn’t easy to get pork in Dakar (Senegal being predominantly Muslim), and Séoul 2 is overlooked. It is small and often crowded, so you need to share tables. But this, of course, allows for interesting conversations and eavesdropping.
I’ll miss having a sunset apéro at this hipster surf shack on the Corniche des Almadies, which has one of the best sunset views over the ocean. “Noflaye” in Wolof is roughly translated as “peaceful enjoyment.” I’ve spent leisurely afternoons doing it all: reading a book on a chaise lounge on their small private beach, watching intrepid surfers, sharing long chats with friends.
Whenever I needed to escape Dakar, I’d take a five-minute boat ride in a colorful pirogue, or wooden boat, and head to Ngor Island.
When I felt particularly active, I’d swim across — it takes about 25 minutes. Two restaurants offer delicious food (Italian or Senegalese) and peaceful deck chairs from which you can easily dive into the sea for a refreshing swim.
Alternatively, you can sit on the beach and eat grilled chicken or mussels from beachside vendors who sell all sorts of wears, including glow-in-the-dark bikinis.
With all the indulgence Dakar has to offer, aquabiking helped me keep in shape. I’ve come to love this French exercise craze, in which riders spin in heated water to the latest Afrobeat tune. The instructors are encouraging and friendly, and the diverse clientele helped me build a varied community. As a plus, the generous owner throws an annual party where music legends, such as Cheikh Lo, play overlooking the aquabikes.
My wallet will not miss this store, but I certainly will. The owners curate and sell items from independent designers from Senegal and across Africa, including artisan chocolate from Ivory Coast (where cacao is grown), bags made from bogalon (mud cloth from Mali), and handcrafted AAKS raffia bags from Ghana. Fortunately, I have many treasures from the shop to carry with me into my next journey.
I’ll miss this Italian-Peruvian rooftop restaurant, which serves the best ceviche I have ever eaten. Their cocktails and pasta are delicious, too, and they have jazz and DJ nights where you can spy Dakar’s glitterati.
This restaurant was my favorite spot for a Friday night. Tucked away in a quiet corner of Liberté 6, the small open-air courtyard restaurant hosts a live band every Friday. The other attendees are mostly Lusophones, or people who speak Portuguese, and I love watching elderly couples dance the night away to old favorites such as “Sodade” by Cesaria Evora. It’s a haunting, melancholic song about migration, nostalgia and saying goodbye to loved ones, and has been the soundtrack to much of my life.
Visiting Dakar? Find Sabrina’s recommendations mapped out here.