Perched on the edge of West Africa, jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, Senegal has long gone quietly about its business while its neighbors get into all sorts of trouble. Quietly, of course, is a misleading word in the context of Dakar, the sultry capital city and dust-ridden domain of all-night music clubs, infamous traffic, relentless hustlers, and nonstop construction, where the dead silence of night is regularly punctured by soaring muezzin calls to mosque. But even when things feel crazy here, there seems to remain an underlying coolness, a sense of people doing their thing, on their own time. Maybe it’s the ocean, pressing in on three sides, that’s responsible for that subtle calm…or maybe it’s those limitless horizons that fuel Dakar’s vast creative energy. 

Senegal was a French colony until 1960—French remains the official language, and the grand architecture and occasional wide boulevards might feel familiar—but the capital’s “Paris of Africa” descriptor is misleading (not to mention grossly overused). Dakar is its own animal, sometimes messy, sometimes sublime. In general it’s good to expect the unexpected. As the classic refrain goes—and it’s invariably used to explain everything from littering to government corruption—this is Africa.

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