As somewhat of a travel writer, I think it’s important to provide the finer, day-to-day details of what life in Dakar is like during this time of year: Ramadan.
If it is your first time traveling to Dakar, particularly if you are coordinating a study abroad program, I do not recommend coming during the month of Ramadan. Many businesses have odd hours to accommodate religious and family obligations, and obtaining food in the middle of the day is incredibly difficult for a couple of reasons:
1) If you are in a homestay environment, your family will not be eating between approximately 6am – 9:30pm. They will make you food midday if you request it, but it puts an additional strain on an already fatigued household.
2) Places that would normally be open for food services during lunchtime such as the West Africa Research Center are closed at odd hours and do not provide lunch service during the month of Ramadan. When I was here in January of last year, purchasing lunch at the WARC was an indispensible part of learning about Senegalese cuisine and culture, as well as maintaining a proper level of nutrition during my stay.
3) Even if you are not in a homestay environment, the energy in Dakar is completely different during Ramadan. Between religious obligations, early prayers, the heat, and fasting, many people spend as much time at home as possible to reduce fatigue. And while each family engages with Ramadan differently based on which brotherhood they belong to, it should also be noted that most people do not drink water during the month of Ramadan during the daily fasting period.
With that in mind, I would like to share some funny tidbits about my time here, thus far:
I have not had a towel during my time here. In my previous homestay, I was provided a towel but that is not the case with my current homestay. I have been using some Senegalese fabric I bought last year to dry off and wrap my hair after showers.
Luckily, Victor, one of the guys studying French at the Baobab Center, obtained a towel for me and brought it in yesterday morning. It’s the little things…
Street food in the Baobab neighborhood (Sicap Baobab) comes in the form of what I now call “newspaper sandwiches.” When I arrived here in the middle of last week, the ladies from Lawrence University pointed out there there was an “egg man” nearby who made baguette sandwiches with eggs for a small fee (~500CFA). Now, I do not really like eggs, but my diet currently lacks protein and I am unable to get food from my homestay during lunch right now, so I decided to visit one of these food stalls to get a Senegalese egg sandwich.
The food stall itself is no bigger than a table, enclosed, and has one man with a gas burner (like those things people go camping with) and several other wares for sale. He cooks the eggs on a frying pan over the small gas burner, and then loads up the sandwich and wraps it in two pieces of newspaper. While we were waiting, a Senegalese man wearing a kaftaan (traditional men’s clothing) walked up and said in English, “This is for you!” and held out his mobile, which was playing a song by Dolly Parton.