I went to paradise, or rather the island of Niodior in Sine-Saloum, last week. As a part of my study abroad program, students spend one week outside of the city of Dakar to experience a different way of life. I went to Niodior with another student from my program and observed how people live there versus Dakar. I had a wonderful experience and I know that Niodior is a place that I want to visit again. Before I talk about my experience, I will provide some background information about the island.
As aforementioned, Niodior is one of the islands located in the Sine-Saloum area in southern Senegal. It’s so close to Gambia that anyone could take a boat and be there in five hours. There are about 20,000 inhabitants and they are mostly Sereer speaking. Sereer has many different dialects but most people on the island spoke the same dialect. To get from Dakar to Niodior took about five to six hours with included taking a taxi, two sept places (equivalent to Megabus or Greyhound), and a pirogue (a colorful boat).
My experience was wonderful for a multitude of reasons but the tranquility of the island tops the rest. The rhythm of life there is slow and the days melt and flow into each other. I was only there for a week but it felt so much longer. Each day was a new day to explore and observe what the island had to offer. There were no exhaust fumes from car rapides, jingling sounds from the hooves of horses carrying goods in the streets, or crowds of people walking or waiting for buses. There were the sounds of donkeys, roosters, children playing, and women talking as they carried water from the various wells to their homes. I enjoyed doing whatever activities sprang up that day or just relaxing or walking around.
The beauty of the island was also another aspect that contributed to my experience.
The first night, I sat out and talked to a few people who were making Senegalese tea or attaya. I looked up and could see the stars and the outlines of the palm trees. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen in my life and I thought to myself, “This is regular for the people who live here. To see this any night of the week that they want.” There were also fields of mango trees, mangroves, palm trees, coconut trees, and a little river. Although there was trash scattered throughout the island, I still found the place beautiful.
Aside from experiencing the beauty of the island, I learned a little bit about how they sustain their local economy.
Many of the residents work in fishing or preparing seafood (mussels, crabs, shrimp, etc). Some people have gardens where they grow food for themselves. However, some people have enough land to sell some of the food that they grow. Most surprising, I learned that a large number of men (ages 18-30ish) actually leave Niodior and take a large pirogue to Spain to work. A neighbor who was a sort of “tour guide” explained that a lot of young men will go to Spain and work five to ten years and come back to the island. Sometimes if they cannot find work in Spain then they will go into other countries such as France or Germany in order to find work. Travelling in the pirogue usually takes about two days but it’s a dangerous journey. When the neighbor explained this to me I was taken aback mainly because he said it nonchalantly since this happens often. Learning about this helped me put faces and a location to the stories I’ve read around illegal immigration from Senegal to Spain. And, taking a pirogue to get to Niodior helped me realize how difficult the journey must be because taking a pirogue for even thirty to forty-five minutes tired me.
In-between learning about the island and exploring and visiting the two schools (there is a French school and an Arabic school), I ate some delicious food. Since we were on an island, I ate fish and mussels, drank coconut water straight from the coconut, and enjoyed ripe mangoes. If I was ever hungry for a snack, I ate dita (unsure of the spelling) but it is a small fruit with a green inside. It has a sweet and sour taste but it was delicious and my host mom was kind enough to let me take some back to Dakar.
When the end of the week arrived, I was ready to leave only because I had trouble sleeping at night without a fan. However, now that I’m back in Dakar, I really miss Niodior and I’m thinking of spending my fall break there or staying at a nearby island and visiting there.
To leave you all, here’s a picture of me with my host mom and her friend after we had come back from a traditional wedding.
Ba beneen yoon,