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Shining domes in a sandy village

When walking through Dene, a small religious community full of beige cement homes, it was difficult not to notice the large, blue and white domed building sitting right in the middle of the town. The house, which is at least double the size of every other structure in the area, stands out with its architecture that was described as mosque-like, but reminds me, personally, more of a Disneyland replica of a Santorini beachfront home. Once we walked inside, we saw a floor lined with shells, which although we were close to the ocean, seemed odd in contrast to the barren, desert-like landscape of Dene. The building, which we soon learned was a bed and breakfast and a home, was beautiful yet slightly extravagant, and the walls were all lined with colorful tiles.

As we talked to the owner, Jack, we learned that the building was constructed in the “Super Adobe” style, which was adopted from indigenous North American architecture. This building method involved using no wood at all and simply stacking sacks of cement, Jacques explained that he had chosen this style of building because of its lack of environmental impact. Along with removing the need to cut down trees, the Adobe is able to self-insulate, essentially eliminating the need for air conditioning. We learned that this method of construction is less expensive to use, and takes less time and manpower to finish.

But despite its advantages and aesthetic, we were forced to consider the implications of a construction like this. Jacques, a white, seemingly wealthy man from the land of Senegal’s colonizers, came into a community which undoubtedly welcomed him with the traditional Senegalese “taranga”. After arriving, he chose to build a home that unarguably stands out from the buildings around it. We were forced to wonder how the villagers felt about it; whether they were happy to have a beautiful new building in their home, or if they felt imposed upon by what might be considered an eyesore.

At first glance, I was taken aback by the contrast between this house and the others around it. When I learned that it was owned by essentially the only white person in the village, I definitely was concerned about the village sentiment around hosting Jacques. But as we spoke more to Jacques and I learned that he was married to a woman from Dene, I started to think more positively about his place there. The environmental advantages were numerous, and the house attracted tourists to Dene, which generated profit for the village. Jacques was incredibly kind and welcoming, and embodied the idea of taranga himself; we were grateful to be able to swim in his pool and have delicious crepes for breakfast. According to Jacques, the Dene community members were thrilled to have him there, and did not consider his home to be out of place, aesthetically or culturally.

This experience reminded me that as a guest in Senegal, I need to consider my position, or imposition, in whatever community I may be visiting. In the early days of this trip, don’t think I understood that in most places we visited, we gained more than we gave. I continue to appreciate the hospitality that I experience in Senegal and know that I will move forward in my life and travels with this experience in mind. Visiting Dene was an invaluable experience that allowed me to think critically about my place in Senegal, my own communities, and the world.