Saint Louis

A Memorable Trip to Saint Louis

We are all safely back in Thiés and on this cool, Saturday morning thinking of all the things we experienced on this trip.  Saint Louis, located right on the Mauritanian border to the north, was the capital of French West Africa (1895) and the area from which French influence and control expanded since 1673. Saint Louis was one of the four communes whose inhabitants had French citizenship and representation in Paris.  A mixed race Catholic métis community ran the largest trade houses led by powerful African “Signares” women while Muslim traders made connections to the outlying trade networks. Together they managed to protect their interests and define some autonomy within a colonial framework.  Saint Louis reflects its colonial heritage in architecture of the old city, including the grand mosque with a bell on its tower for the call to prayer! The city is an island at the mouth of the Senegal River reaching deep into the interior to Guinea as the historical conduit of trade in rice, peanuts, gum arabic, slaves and other goods. Today a thriving fishing business of family groups export fish (on ice, dried and salted) throughout the region and abroad.

Our itinerary in Saint Louis included staying at a Christian guesthouse that generates money for training boys in auto mechanics and other skills on the same site. They even had a rooftop soccer field that our students enjoyed! The first day we visited Gaston Berger University for a lecture on post-independence politics. We were presented with a picture and and a stole commemorating the university’s history and marking its 25th anniversary.  We then enjoyed the evening in Saint Louis exploring the city and taking in what we could of the Jazz Festival. It was a beautiful evening and the students in groups of four got to choose places to eat (more of their photos in another post). We gathered at the bus to return to our guesthouse at 11pm.  We old people went to bed, but many students returned to the rooftop to talk under the stars.

Friday morning we had breakfast and then had a tour of Saint Louis in horse-drawn carriages that allowed us a great opportunity to observed (and photograph) at a leisurely pace. We crossed the bridge to another island on the ocean side of Saint Louis that supports a thriving fishing community. On the trip back to Thies we had some problem finding a restaurant along the road that could feed all 19 of us at once. But we found a very small place where they divided the chicken and rice they had among us Senegalese style in a large bowl for communal eating and it was enough for all!

Here are some pictures that show not only our sst group, but this time we will take an opportunity to share some of the life and people around us.  This is an amazing and always interesting place with wonderful people that share with us their homes and their lives and their thoughts.