Hi everyone! Hard to believe that this is my first full day waking up in Senegal, Africa. After a long journey and a restless day in the hotel yesterday I was so excited to begin to explore my new home for the next four months. Although I already miss my family and friends (yes- I know it's only day two), today has really affirmed that this experience is the type that I have been yearning for since beginning my college career.
Most of our day consisted of a guided tour of the city. We started off only about 2 minutes from our hotel at a large monument built to symbolize and commemorate the country's independence from France in 1960. The statue is ginormous (we actually have a close up view from the balcony of our hotel room) and overlooks the ocean and has a wonderful view of the city. An interesting fact about the statue is that it was actually mainly funded and built by the North Korean government when it was under the reign of King Jong-il. Next we went into the city and saw a few more monuments that were placed in small "malls" that also serve as town squares of types. The tall tower with roman numerals and the lion (one of the symbols of Senegal) is a meeting spot during the Senegalese independence celebration in April.
Next up we visited a famous mosque as well as the biggest Catholic cathedral. The muslim religion actually makes up about 90% of the Senegalese population, while Christianity is only about 10%. The country has had both Muslim and Catholic presidents, and our tour guide stressed that there is absolutely no hatred towards differing religions in this country, a fact that really shocked most of our tour group considering past and even current religious divisions in the United States.
Our last two tourist destinations were a beautiful lookout point over the ocean and then to the Dakar "Plateau" which is the tip of the peninsula that the city rests on and is considered the wealthier part of town. You could definitely tell a difference between this part of the city and the lower income parts of Dakar. This is the location of the presidential palace, one of the most breathtaking buildings I have ever seen. It is also the home of the National Bank of West Africa. A few in the group attempted to take photos and were immediately stopped by the guards (who can be pretty intimidating since each is armed with a large gun).
To finish off our day we were taken to the West African Research Center (we call it WARC) which will serve as our school each day. It is a modest building but surrounded by the most magnificent and lucious gardens and flowers. We will get a tour of the center tomorrow, but for now we were taken to a pretty courtyard to meet our instructors as well as the students who are doing a whole year in Senegal and have been here since October. The first thing we did was sit down (literally, on mats on the floor) and share large bowls a traditional Senegalese meal. What was crazy was that there were around five people to one bowl, and you used to your hands to pick up the food, roll it into balls and eat it. It was basically what every U.S. parents tell their children NOT to do, but it was probably one of the most fun experiences so far. The food was more delicious than I could have asked for, and our teachers are incredibly hilarious and very kind. Today made me so eager to move in with our host families (which happens tomorrow!) and get to spend time with the rest of the group. I so look forward to getting to know the city better and making it feel more like home.