First impressions

Dakar is nothing at all like I had expected. My image of West Africa comes from two holidays: a total of nine weeks backpacking around Mali and Mauritania on a shoestring budget - sleeping on rooftops or sand dunes and showering out of buckets. In Dakar I have seen suburb after suburb of huge, gleaming white villas, an olympic-sized swimming pool, theatres, banks with marble frontages... I suppose on a backpacking holiday I might miss these things, and both Mali and Mauritania may have wealthy enclaves, but still I am amazed, having never realised that such a level of development existed in West Africa.

It is, however, all made a little more 'African' for me by the sheep. Tabaski (Eid-el-Adha) is coming soon, when each Muslim family will slaughter a sheep, commemorating the story of Abraham, who was on the verge of sacrificing his son to obey God's command when God interceded by substituting a sheep in the child's place. Outside my office is a fairly big road - a dual carriageway, with a wide strip of land between the two sides of the road, and smart buildings along the roadside. Under the trees in the central strip of land a few sheep started to appear, then more, and now they are there in their hundreds, being carefully fed and washed to bring them into peak condition for the great slaughter. Travelling around, it seems every bit of land now holds a small flock of sheep, and even on the roads the herdsmen are driving yet more sheep into the city. It will all look very empty and lifeless next week when they are gone.

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