Last Saturday we booked the babysitter and escaped the clutches of twin parenting. A day of adult freedom. We decided to take a trip to Île de Gorée, a tiny island off the coast of Dakar and one of the region’s main tourist draws.
Leaving the girls in their banana and dribble covered vests, I skipped out of the house. And without the need for a day’s worth of nappies, child sustenance and entertainment, I dusted off a Gucci bamboo bag and carried the lightest load in months.
As we waited in the line to board the ferry, the husband admonished me for attempting a touch of sly cue jumping.
‘We all get on the ferry and reach our destination at the same time!’
Well that actually turned out NOT to be true. If the ferry reaches maximum capacity before your toes touch the deck, one has to wait a full hour and a half for it to return for the subsequent journey. While sitting in the terminal for 90 sweaty minutes, I of course took the higher ground and refrained from any sort of ‘I told you so’ diatribe. But if you too are planning a visit to Gorée in the future, I would suggest getting in line early.
Finally, we were sunning ourselves on the top deck and there was a lot of banter. A rap group had an onboard battle, while local vendors shouted over them and tried to secure our custom before we had set foot on the shore; it was an eventful crossing. Half an hour later, above the din and through the billowing black smoke pouring out of the engine room, the island came into view. What a beauty.
At just 900 metres long and 350 metre wide this lovely little oasis is fringed in beaches, boasts rustic French architecture and is completely car-free. We disembarked and wandered ashore, blinded by the colours and the midday sun. After just a few steps we were stopped by an ‘official’ and bemusedly ushered over to a desk to pay a ‘tourist tax’ – which is around 60 pence.
If you’re worried about the financial set back, let me reassure you. The island is well worth 60 pence. It is pure pantone perfection. The buildings are a sorbet of watermelon, lemon and mango and bougainvillea cling to them like sherbet. Goats skip about the cobbled lanes and locals sashay past in stylish wax-print clothing.
We strolled towards the heart of the Island and found a quiet courtyard for lunch. We ate a delicious dish of gambas grilled in traditional yassa spices, which would have been dreamy had it not been for a persistent breeze blowing goat BO in our direction. Yum.
However, beneath its picture-perfect facade, this place hides a dark history as the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast. From the 15th to the 19th century, African men, women and children were held and sold here before being loaded onto ships for America. The House of Slaves was built by the Dutch and, now a museum, is the last remaining slave house on the island. The building is renowned for its ‘door of no return’, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. This narrow exit leads to a pier, where slaves would be forced on ships, never to return to their home soil.
It’s hard to comprehend the atrocities that took place here; people were chained for months on end, in dark damp cells, awaiting their fate. Infants were torn from their mothers to die of starvation, and children were isolated in separate quarters. It has become a place of pilgrimage for the African diaspora worldwide, and also serves as a reminder to all who visit of the fragility of freedom. After standing in the courtyard for just a few seconds, I was jolted by how infinitely lucky I am to lead a life of liberty.
Our visit to the museum left me itching to get back to the twins. We didn’t want to miss another ferry and end up stranded overnight on Gorée, so this time the hubs was more than happy for me to gently navigate our way past queue dawdlers.
In under an hour we walked through our front door to find two smiling, sticky cherubs finishing their supper. They were quickly snatched in our arms for cuddles, sticky hands and all. And what a wonderfully simple privilege.
Wherever you are in the world today, if you’re free to laugh with friends, kiss your partner, hug your children, walk the dog, eat what you want and come and go as you please – count yourself very lucky.
Because you are.