Host Country Day: Experiencing Destination Senegal

30 May

Delegates enjoying Host Country Day

What has come to be known as a favorite day of the Congress, the Host Country day was hotly anticipated by all delegates. Senegal’s Host County day was a full day of cultural programming and fun.

We began the day with a trip to the famed African Renaissance Monument. Speaking to our tour guides and Senegalese delegates, we learned that the Monument means much more to the country, the region and the continent than simply being a beautiful statue. The symbolism has deep implications. The Monument shows a strong African man, woman and child, highlighting the importance and strength of the African family unit. The child is pointing out into the distance. When I asked the tour guide “What direction is he pointing?” he simply answered “ the future”. This symbol shows that African children are the future of African development, progress and greatness and that the best is yet to come for Africa. Also, you will notice that the woman is reaching her hand behind her. This represents the fact that African families must not only invest in their own families’ success and well-being, but bring their communities with them.

The African Renaissance Monument

After visiting the monument, we went to a Sand Painting Gallery for an experience none of us expected. As we walked past a beautiful Baobab tree and into the gallery, we heard a Senegalese musician playing the saxophone and saw various stands selling African crafts and souvenirs. We gathered around the table for a demonstration of an artist creating a Sand Painting. The artist took a blank canvas and began to paint with glue that we learned is the gum from the Baobab Tree. Then, after creating what looked like a vague figure of a woman in the glue, he began to work with about 10 different bowls of natural Senegalese sand from different regions of the country. The artist delicately took a little sand from this bowl and a little sand from that bowl and sprinkled it on the glue in what seemed to be a rather nonchalant manner. After a few minutes, the artist picked up the canvas, slammed it on the table to get rid of all of the extra sand and all of the delegates literally gasped at the beautiful painting we had before us! I can confidently say that none of us were expecting to be that wowed by the end product. Many delegates bought 2, 3 or even 4 paintings from this gallery and my 2 paintings are among my favorite art pieces I have ever bought on the continent.

The Artist at Work

The final product!

After the Sand painting gallery, it was time for shopping at the Soumbediome Market. Delegates got the opportunity to meet local artists and merchants and purchase souvenirs such as handbags, jewlery, sculptures and art.

Perhaps the most anticipated part of the day was the trip to Goree Island. We boarded the ferry and enjoyed the 20 minute boat ride with a beautiful breeze. Many delegates didn’t know what to expect…of course, we all knew that it was a heritage site with old slave quarters and that the island represented the exit point of many African slaves the new world. I, for one, was expecting a solemn, dark and very serious place. Upon arrival, we saw about 100 African children jubilantly playing around in the ocean together and heard some beautiful traditional music…the mood was festive, not sad! We immediately walked to the restaurant to sit down for lunch which included fish stew, sweet potato, cabbage, and wonderfully spiced rice. After lunch we began to explore the island. Many markets, art stands and restaurants (including a pizza place) lined the dirt paths. The architecture reminded me of an Mediterranean town and we were having a beautiful day.

Our view upon arrival at Goree Island

But then we went to the House of Slaves (La Maison des Esclaves), the famous site where many slaves were held, mistreated, and eventually shipped to The New World for a life of slavery. As we gathered for a guide to give us the history of the site, the mood got noticeably more somber as people realized the significance of the site. Learn more about the House of Slaves here.

The House of Slaves

Then, we had a chance to explore the island ourselves. We went into the house where we saw the rooms where men, women and children were separated and held in harsh conditions. There was a room where thousands of people from around the world had signed their name or written messages in different languages. I wrote my name on the wall and looked around as other delates did the same.

Cicely Bland was signing her name on the wall with Assistant Minister of Tourism and Culture of Liberia, Aissa Bright and I noticed they were both having a special moment. Tears welled up in Ceiely’s eyes as she hugged Minister bright and looked at me and said “That was Deep”. Then, we walked to the back of the Slave House and saw the famous “Door of No Return”. The door from which Africans exited, never to return to their homeland. I was still standing next to Cicely at this point and I asked her: “What are you feeling right now?” and she paused and then said “We’re looking at the door of no return…and I feel like I returned…like my ancestors returned”. I realized then that this site was incredibly personal and emotional to many of the delegates and took some time to reflect on the meaning of the site myself.

Cicely signing her name

I continued to walk around the island, and came to a platform with a beautiful view. The tour guide told me that below us was a Private school for gifted girls in Senegal. That’s when it hit me…the meaning of Goree Island. What was once a miserable place, symbolizing the enslavement of African people was now a thriving community. What is the significance of the brightest girls in Senegal getting educated on the same Island on which their ancestors were shipped into slavery? Well, I think it means different things to different people…but to me it symbolizes progress, hope and the Renaissance spirit depicted by the Monumnet from earlier in the day.

After returning on the ferry, we were all tired, but went to the University of Senegal for a Tree-Planting ceremony. The ceremony is a follow up to the Gambia’s efforts to plant trees in order to make our 35th Annual Congress in The Gambia carbon neutral. After the success of this effort, the Board of Directors added this to the Constitution of ATA as a responsibility of the host country. We planted 20 ATA trees: we planted trees for each ATA chapter, for the Board of Directors, for the ATA management team, for the Young Professionals, for New York University, for the National Tour Association and for the media. My colleague Julia Firestone will share the details of this event in an upcoming blog.

That night, we participated in the TICAA Closing Gala Dinner where ATA Executive Director Edward Bergman presented ATA Awards and we enjoyed cultural entertainment including music, fashion and painting.

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