"My African Pilgrimage, Part I"
Alberto N. Jones
May 14, 2011
On Saturday April 23rd, I began a lifetime dream at the Miami International Airport, as I departed on a long journey to Africa from where our ancestors were forcefully kidnapped five centuries ago.
Kept in bondage for over three hundred years in their newly acquired country in the new world, they were never compensated for their sweat, tears, blood and deaths, building everything visible and invisible around us and finally released into racism, segregation and ignorance 150 years ago.
Our seven-man delegation arrived at 5:00 AM at the Leopold S. Senghor International Airport in Dakar, Senegal after an 11 hour flight, where we were warmly greeted with a Welcome Home!! by an efficient and friendly immigration and customs personnel.
After picking up our bags, we got our first taste of the country financial ills, as a number of people struggled to carry our bags, begged for money and the general environment was in urgent need of upkeep.Before arriving at our hotel, we stopped at the enormous, 27 million dollar, 170 foot-tall bronze statute on a hill top with three superimposed figures representing the fresh start African countries made when they declared independence 50 years ago, which have drawn criticism from every sector, especially for not evoking African themes and for having outsourced this entire project to a Korean construction firm, in a country with 50% unemployment.
The hotel was nice with a number of amenities, but once you stepped out beyond its boundaries, there were tens of thousands of people huddled against buildings walls with huge assortment of handcrafts, garments, food, supplies, parts or equipment for sale, where potential customers negotiated, bargained, coerced or left, pressuring for better prices.
Some basic statistics:
Independence April 4, 1960
Area 198,840 Km2
Population 12.3 Million
Without reliable drinking water 31%
Longevity 59 years%
Infant mortality 58%
Secondary school enrollment 11%
GDP 12.6 Billion
Annual Per Capita 1,900 dollars
Employment, primarily in service 56%
Below poverty line ($1.25/day) 34%
USAID 2009 119.9 Millions
Socio-economic world standing 144 among 169 nations
As dramatic as these numbers are, they represent a national average. If these were applied solely to the countryside or the periphery of Dakar, which are overflowing with crowded huts without running water, sewer, electricity, open drainage filled with rotting, stagnating water, garbage and every hazardous microorganism, these stats would be far worse.
A visit to a Fulani village in the desert, took us back in time to the X century. Scattered thatched huts in a barren terrain headed by a chief, while most adults are engaged in survival agriculture, fishing or worst, working at the Pink Lake, the most horrendous job on earth.This shallow body of water takes a pink hue under bright sun light in which, hundreds of wooden boats with 2-3 men on board, armed with long shovels, digs up a very salty sand which is deposited into their boats and when they are full, are rowed to the shoreline.