You may know that Dakar is a peninsula surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean in the north, west and south, which gives the city much needed winds from the sea. The winds bring advantages: they keep the air clean for breathing and they also keep the mosquitoes at bay outside of the rainy season, or at least they used to. There also used to be an easy access to the sea but these days it is more and more difficult to even catch a glimpse of the ocean because the land has been taken over by private companies, ex-ministers and judges.
I would be curious to meet city planners and environmentalists and learn to understand if there are real mechanisms in place that could still save the coastline from being further exploited for private gain. Who do the coastline and the beaches belong to? Are they not a national treasure and heritage to be guarded and included in sustainable urban planning as such? Every time I am in Dakar I wonder: What will this city look like in 50 years from now and who will then have access to the sea?
Moctar Bâ,* architect and president of PERL (Plateforme pour l’Environnement et la Réappropriation du Littoral) has some answers. He is saying that the land grabbing by the private sector is destroying the coastline in Dakar and that filling the coastline with buildings will imperatively make the inland air more polluted when the winds cannot clear the air any more. He also asserts that national politics with a vision is needed urgently, with a stipulation that the land that has already been lost to private sector should be heavily taxed. Other practical measures introduced by Bâ and his associates suggest that Senegal should adapt a coastline management system similar to the Canadian and Australian models to exercise urban planning with sustainable solutions for the coastline.
One of the many posters that have been sprinkled by the roadside in Mamelles advertize: Vivez le rêve ! But whose dream are they talking about?
What will Dakar look like in 50 years from now and who will then have access to the sea? This and some other thoughts about the situation with coastline in Dakar will feature in my next documentary film that I am starting to work on. For reference, here is a cross post called Corniche – Live Your Dream from my other blog with a couple of photos from Les Mamelles, and another link to a 59 seconds long trailer for Afropolis 2021 Dakar, the film-to-come. Stay tuned!
I made a documentary about my hometown recently. In the film I am asking people to tell me about their relationship to their town, Saint-Louis, in the north of Senegal by the Mauritanian border. In its final stages of post production I came to realize that I may have chosen to shoot with mini-DV quite subconsciously: it creates a rather rough but at the same time soft view of the footage.
Truth to be told, this town is dirty.
If you have been to Saint-Louis, a town that still carries the Unesco World Heritage label, you may have wondered how it is possible that the river has become a dumping site for domestic waste. In the old days people used to give food as offerings to the river spirits but these days it is just trash, and more trash that finds its way into the river. Ngagne Dabo Ndiaye, who has traveled extensively in his life and who returned to Saint-Louis, had enough of this and has transformed the river side into a small oasis, right next to the bridge and opposite to Hotel Sunu Keur. Now there are plants, tables and chairs and benches for anyone to have a break. He took the initiative to clean this area and planted trees and set up a place where you can have a coffee and snacks and just sit back and relax.
Ngagne Dabo Ndiaye’s dream is that he will find collaborators with whom he could create more activities for everybody with canoes, paddling boats, games for children and so on. He has been running Chez Relax now for a year without any support and any small gain from selling coffee goes to keeping this place running. If you are in town, please do visit him and stop for a chat and coffee and maybe a sandwich! In case you show up there in the hot hours of the afternoon and he is nowhere to be seen, check under the bridge: he might me having his siesta down there in the cool river bank.
My thoughts today: even when confined to our homes, we remain part of nature. I’ve seen some wild images of how nature takes over fast in areas where humans ceased to interfere. When you live in the tropics you see in a concrete way that despite the fact that we create our habitats at the expense of nature, it’s still here! Now at the time when it is very quiet in the house, small birds are looking at me as if I were some sort of an intruder. They constantly check out good nesting spots in the interior terrace and bring in small sticks and tufts of hair and all sorts of things they consider useful for a nest. They have also understood that they can drink in the house because I water our small trees and other house plants regularly. Lezards have also become much less shy and run around in the house even in the daytime and while I am in the room.
Today I would normally be eating Ngalax, a sweet porridge-like dish based on millet, peanut and baobab fruit, that the Senegalese Christians share with everyone in Easter. I cycled to one local small supermarket on the mainland and bought a jar of strawberry jam instead, and I’m going to make pancakes. When I got back home I read that according to some recent research that was carried out in Belgium and Holland, you should keep a much longer distance from others, especially if you are running or cycling behind someone. Even when walking behind another person their recommendation of a safe distance is 4-5 metres, and when cycling, at least 10 meters. How would that even be possible here? Leaving a two-metre-distance means that someone – usually a taxi or a moped – is going to squeeze in to that empty spot immediately.
Right next to Diama on the Mauritanian border there is a small and picturesque village called Maka-Diama. We had a ride to the village today and visited a project that makes paper out of a weed called typha that grows by the Senegal river. This plant can be used for thatched roofs or cooking fuel, or even paper. In order to create better working conditions for the women who make paper out of typha, the NGO behind the initiative has build a house out of local materials. The building project started in April 2019 and the house is now proudly standing and almost ready to be used. Before operating fully as a work space and a show room, some finishing touches and interior decoration is now all it takes. In the future this beautiful house will serve also as a meeting point for people interested in local crafts, ecological architecture and design.
Momordica sharantia known as mbeurbof, here used for making soap
Hot outside, cool inside
The reddish earth that has been used for the bricks has been brought here from near Dakar and we witnessed how the construction technique with silt provides an amazing cooling effect inside the house: when we entered the building we could immediately feel it. Next to the main building there is a separate lavatory in which the waste water is collected and processed to irrigate a garden of aromatic plants. So the workshops will not produce just paper but also soaps and aromatic oils. If you are on your way to or coming from Diama and crossing the Mauretanian border, do drop by in this beautiful small village. The village women can make you a delicious yassa poulet for lunch in no time at all and while waiting for your meal, you can visit the workshop and cool down in this beautiful house and perhaps buy some handmade paper and fragrant oils and soaps.