Friday, July 21, 2006

While we were in Dakar, Allyson and I took the ferry out to Goree Island, which was one of the centers of the international slave trade from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. The maison des esclaves, a prison built by the Dutch in 1776 to hold kidnapped Africans before they were sold into slavery, still stands on Goree. Nobody knows precisely how many human beings set foot on the island on the appalling journey from freedom to bondage.

Goree Island is the kind of place that demands introspection. Unfortunately, introspection is impossible there, for visitors are constantly hounded and harassed by would-be "guides." Allyson and I were just hoping to walk the island’s narrow sand streets and quietly absorb the ambiance. Maybe take a few minutes to stare out at the vast, green-blue emptiness of the Atlantic, contemplating.

Instead, we were constantly approached by young men who offered their services as guides and chastised us when we told them we weren’t interested in “renting” them (kind of a weird concept, anyway, considering the locale). The vendors weren’t much better. The whole island is covered with shops selling African “art” and African “crafts” and African “jewelry,” much of which, I suspect, is made in China.

The experience was hugely disappointing. On the ferry back to the city, I wondered: Does Auschwitz have a gift shop?

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