How to Pretend You’re in Dakar Today


While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.

There is a bar in the Senegalese capital of Dakar that you can only find if someone has pointed the way. It sits on a thin strip of beach, with a wide view of the Atlantic Ocean and the young surfers who chase waves as the sun sets in the distance. It sits below the Mamelles Lighthouse, which offers tours during the day and turns into a nightclub after dark. None of the furniture in the open-air bar matches. The five-minute walk to the cove, down a thin dirt path that snakes from a chaotic intersection — horse-drawn carts and shiny S.U.V.s competing for space on packed roads — feels like passing through a portal between worlds.

Dakar has an aura that seeps into your soul. The sensations — the smell of grilled fish and spiced coffee, the feeling of an impending downpour, the bone-rattling vibrations from a dozen drums — stay with you long after you leave. When I visited this West African city, as part of my journey around the world as the 52 Places Traveler, I often caught myself thinking of my future. As I walked through markets that seemingly went on forever or sat on the deck of a ferry as it floated away from the mainland to one of the outlying islands, I thought, “I could live here.” And while it is impossible to fully experience without making the trip, there are ways to capture at least a sliver of the magic.

In between the rumble of traffic and the shouts of street vendors, there is always music in Dakar. It blares from cellphones, transistor radios and nightclubs. Shows start at midnight and last until sunrise. On a single day in the city, you will hear politically charged hip-hop; the dizzying pulse of mbalax, a dance music that combines traditional percussion with global influences; the vintage sounds of Cuban rumba put through a West African blender; and much more.

If it is transportive words you are after, there is a wide range of translated fiction and nonfiction out of Senegal to choose from. Ms. Searcey says that she often returns to the words of Boubacar Boris Diop, “who pours his soul into his work,” in “Africa Beyond the Mirror.” The Senegalese scholar, Dr. Souleymane Bachir Diagne, director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University in New York, recommends starting with Aminata Sow Fall’s “The Beggars’ Strike,” which tells the story of a conflict between an unnamed African city’s poor and the government administrators trying to “clean up” the streets. “The story does not name the city but it is Dakar seen from the perspective of the ‘little people,’” Dr. Diagne said. The classic, “So Long a Letter,” by Mariama Bâ, does a great job capturing another slice of Dakar life, said Dr. Marame Gueye, an associate professor of African literature at East Carolina University in North Carolina. The short book takes the form of a letter from a widow to her lifelong friend and reveals a slice of Senegalese life during a moment in history. “The novel shows Dakar after independence and how the educated elite Senegalese negotiate tradition and sprouting modernity,” Dr. Gueye said. When I asked her for Dakar-based literature recommendations, she couldn’t help but share her own feelings about the beguiling city.

“Dakar is one of my favorite cities in the world,” said Dr. Gueye, who grew up more than 100 miles away in the town of Kaolack. “There is something about it that hugs you and does not want to let go.”



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