Between Projects: A True Vacation in Dakar

By Anca Giurgiulescu, MPH ’12 in Sociomedical Sciences

School ended for the semester sometime mid-May, but it never did feel like vacation for the month and a half after classes were over and the start of my global health internship in Senegal. I continued to work 20 hours a week for my neighborhood transportation, safety, and health survey project at Transportation Alternatives, wrapping up a four-month research project, while also taking care of logistics for the trip to Senegal, finding a new apartment and other things.

Dakar from up high

Dakar from up high

Coming to Senegal would thus encompass a summer vacation and another public health work experience for me. Before heading to my internship site in Louga, north of Dakar, I spent almost an entire week with friends in the capital on the beautiful West African Coast. I was extremely warmly hosted by my friend Amina and her family in the Mermoz neighborhood of Dakar – a very centrally located, well connected neighborhood. Their house is beautiful, with well-aired rooms, and up-to-date amenities like wireless internet and a most-needed power generator for when the electricity goes out – every day and for hours at a time! The house is also located right off the central autoroute called the VDN. The VDN bisects the city through its center and has easy access to public transportation.

The Diaw Family are extremely accommodating and careful hosts. Every meal is planned with care and creativity, so that I was able to enjoy both my favorite traditional Senegalese dishes and equally delicious non-Senegalese dishes such as Chinese soup and egg rolls. Fresh mango slices were always served at the table after lunch and dinner. If you haven’t eaten Senegalese mangoes before, you’ve been missing out: sweet and fragrant beyond what I’ve ever tasted in the States. I also had the uniquely Senegalese fruit madd, currently in season: an oval, hard-shelled fruit with soft gooey meat enveloping hard pits. The top of the hard shell is sliced open, and sugar and salt and sometimes spice are added and mixed with the gooey inside. You then scoop out spoonfuls of the hard pits and suck on the sour-sweet taste until you’ve sucked out the meaty coating around the pit. It’s a tangy, semi-sweet taste that leaves the tip of your tongue wanting more.

The gooeyness called madd

The gooeyness called madd

My stay in Dakar was truly a vacation filled with good eating, good sleeping, and great hanging out. I made it to the beach for tanning and swimming, and to throw a Frisbee around with Amina’s younger cousins.

I also visited with the family that hosted me when I first came to Dakar in 2007 to work on my undergraduate thesis on HIV/AIDS in Senegal. I visited my African “sister” Rokhaya in her new apartment by the North Foire and then met her for lunch near her workplace at the USAID office by the Ngor beach. For lunch we had the famous Senegalese hamburgers, still among some of the best (and greasiest!) I’ve ever had. A greasy meat patty covered by a fried sunnyside up egg, fries, mayo and ketchup, all sandwiched between a brioche bun. I saw a live concert of Daara J, the premier Senegalese hip hop group, at the Centre Culturel Francais.

I also got to re-see the Goree Island, which I hadn’t visited since 2007. A 20 minute boat ride from the port of Dakar, it used to be one of the sending points of African slaves to the European and American continents. The Maison des Esclaves on the island speaks to the story of this dreadful past.

Colors on Goree streets

Colors on Goree streets

View of Dakar from Goree

View of Dakar from Goree

All in all, my almost one week in Dakar was a great start to my Senegalese voyage this summer, and a valuable chance to slow down and allow time to pass me by at its own rhythm. Last Sunday morning I said good bye to my generous hosts and headed to my internship location in Louga. Louga is a small city and a region, about 200 km away from Dakar to the North and bit to the East. I will be working with the health team at the Millennium Villages Program (MVP) on an adolescent sexual health education program. There are 14 MVP sites in 10 countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, and the projects are jointly coordinated by the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the United Nations.

In my next post, I’ll tell you more about my project (as I learn about it myself!) and about my new home in Senegal. Until then, ba beneen (“see you soon” in Wolof).

View Anca’s personal blog to read more about her adventures.


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