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Keith goes to Africa is a short story written in third person. It is fiction based on real life events and historical facts, which takes place in Senegal, filled with colorful images of the journey. It starts off on an elementary level but as the story develops, it progressively becomes more complex.

Keith, an African American boy, born in Athens, Georgia, and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, but living in Madrid, Spain, gets a scholarship from yesyoucanENGLISH school to take part in a research project directed by Vicente, a well-known Spanish African historian. That year, Vicente was doing the first part of a longitudinal study, investigating what young children in Senegal wanted to be when they grew up.

Keith is very excited about the trip and is also looking forward to getting to know his roots, where part of his ancestors came from, Africa. They start their trip in Dakar and travel to Pink Lake, Gambia, Ziguinchor, and then making their way back to Dakar where they embark to their last destination, Goree Island, before returning to Madrid. As the adventure unravels, they talk about some of the people they meet, the food they eat, the things they buy, the places they visit and finally Keith’s impression of the House of Slaves.


Landing in Dakar

Vicente and Keith arrived at the airport just when the sun was going down and the sky was filled with grey clouds and it was extremely hot and humid. It was so hot that their shirts were completely soaked and wet with sweat, so wet that if you squeezed them water would come out. After they had passed through customs and made their way out of the doors of the airport, they were bombarded by the locals who were offering to take them to their hotel.

They wanted to take a bus but there weren’t any so they decided to go in a private taxi. This was Keith’s first time in the homeland, Africa, and he didn’t really know what to expect, but he didn’t think that he would be bombarded by so many people all at once, to the point where he wouldn’t even be able to move.

People were reaching for their backpacks and asking to take them to their hotel, which was not only quite overwhelming for Keith but somewhat frightening as well. But for Vicente, he acted as if it was the most normal situation in the world. He was calm, walked with ease, talked and negotiated with them.

Keith didn’t understand half of what they were saying because he knew very little French and no Wolof, the language of the locals. Vicente managed to strike up a deal with one of them and asked Keith his opinion before accepting the offer.

First, Keith had to figure out the cost because the currency was in Franco CFA which came to be about 20 euros. He thought it was pretty cheap, so they agreed and headed for the taxi with their backpacks.

To be honest, at first both of them were a little skeptical about going with the driver because the taxi had no windows and only one door on the passenger’s side, but in the end, they decided that it was all part of the adventure and at least that explained why it was so cheap, so they loaded their backpacks in the trunk and took off.

First night in Dakar

After they got settled in at the hotel, which wasn’t bad except for the air conditioning that didn’t work very well, they freshened up a little and ventured out into the city of Dakar, in hopes of finding a nice restaurant to dine.  As soon as they left the hotel, a group of boys approached them and of course Vicente and Keith stopped to find out what they wanted.

In French, one of the boys asked them if they needed any help or a tour guide. Vicente told them that they were looking for a restaurant and then one of the boys enquired about the watches that Vicente and Keith were wearing and how much money they were carrying in their pockets.

Once they started to reach for Vicente’s watch, Keith and Vicente knew that they were being robbed, so in a flash, they ran and started calling for the police and yelling for help.  Fortunately, the group of boys abated and the chase stopped, then Vicente and Keith turned around and started walking back to the hotel.

After that scare, they decided to have dinner at the hotel and get a good night’s sleep because the next day they had to wake up very early to go to Pink Lake.

Map of the journey

Pink Lake, Dakar, Senegal

The water is pink due to the Dunaliella salina *algae, that produces β-Carotene. A reddish-orange/pinkish pigment which protects them from intense sun light (*alga in singular).

One of the locals took them on a tour of the lake on a boat. During the tour, they saw some flamencos, algae and an old warehouse in ruins. After the tour, they stopped and had something to drink.

On the way to Ziguinchor, the largest city in Casamance, they visited small villages. They saw huts, animals and markets.


At the villages, they gave children balloons, pencils and paper. 
And the Senegalese little boys & girls were yelling “tubab” at Vicente, which means white in Wolof. The language of the land.


The research begins: Interviews

They reached out to the children and met:

A group of three boys and a group of three girls. And asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up.
Ismael is seven years old and likes helping people.  When he grows up, he would like to be a doctor, and invent cures for deadly diseases
Fátima is eight. She enjoys singing, dancing and giving back to the community. She believes that music is the key to breaking cultural barriers.
Mustafa is giving his brother a piggyback  ride. He likes making and building things. When he grows up, he wants to be an engineer and build a big house for his mother and siblings.
These three guys were just hanging out. Karim, the tallest, wants to be a teacher. Yousef, the one looking at the camera, has dreams of becoming an actor. And Alyoub, the youngest, still doesn’t really know.
Adji Tamu is wearing small round silver earrings. She is with her  best friend Awa and baby sister Astel.  They want to be politicians and help stop political corruption in Africa. Adji Tamu spoke with conviction, pride and dignity about their future plans.
Pascal is eleven. He gave them some facts about the famous baobab tree, which is Senegal’s national symbol. They are used for building houses, to make glue, rope, fishnets and even soap. These trees live up to 2,000-6,000 years. Pascal wishes to become a conservation scientist and protect baobab trees from extinction.


The Region of Casamance

As they continued their journey towards Ziguinchor by car, bus and ferry, they were able to soak in the beautiful green tropical climate region of Casamance.

They made it to Gambia and crossed its river in a ferry. Gambia is in the southern part of Senegal, but some wouldn’t consider it to be an enclave country because the inhabitants are not culturally or ethnically distinct.

In Ziguinchor

At last, they arrived in Ziguinchor and decided to stay with a single parent mother, not only to help against social economic inequality, but also to reap the many benefits that living abroad with a family has to offer. 
Mame Dado and her three daughters, Mame Dene, Ndate and Mbouden, made them feel right at home. They prepared traditional Senegalese cuisine.
Thíebou Díenne
Bissap and Boulle Juice
And for dessert, almost always mango, which Keith loved.
Thíebon Díenne is made with rice, cabbage, carrots, eggplant, yucca (a tubular – shaped root vegetable that looks like a sweet potato) and a small piece of fish. It’s also spicy hot. 
Bissap juice
Bissap juice is made from dried Hibiscus sabdariffa flowers and tastes like fruit juice.
Hibiscus sabdariffa flower
The plant Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
Boulle juice is made from baobab fruit, which is especially good for stomachaches. It also contains a good amount of vitamin C, rich in potassium, carbohydrates and  phosphorus. It tastes like a vanilla smoothie with a slightly  bitter-sour twist.
Baobab fruit
Boulle juice
Baobab tree
Mangoes from Senegal are famous for their beautiful color and amazing taste. This fruit is grown on a tree, which also provides shade and is one of Senegal’s leading export products.  Yearly, more than 130,000 tons of mangoes are exported to many European countries.
Their three day stay went by very fast, leaving them with little time to do very much. They visited  another natural park, did a little shopping and had their clothes washed at a nearby laundromat.
While they were waiting to pick up their laundry, they ventured out into the village and  by chance, came across a wedding reception celebration.
At a carpentry shop, Vicente bought a handmade portable chair and Keith bought some wooden plates and a platter, like the ones food is served on in the country. This was significant for him because he had never eaten off wooden plates.

They got an early start to head back to Dakar where they embarked for Goree Island, which is opposite the city. Their last and final destination of their journey,  before returning to Madrid. Keith was very excited and interested in seeing the House of Slaves. The largest slave-trading center on the  Western African coast.

Although the Wolofs on the mainland cherished the island, which they called “Ber”,  they never settled there because it was very difficult to cultivate due to the waterless rocks. Nevertheless, in 1444 the Portuguese and Dutch arrived, and set up the slave trade that lasted from the 15th to 19th century. The Dutch gave it the name “geode reede”, which means “good roads”. Over time, the name contracted and converted to what we know today as Goree. 

Welcome to Goree island


There was nothing good about Goree island. In fact, it was the gate to misery, pain, suffering, torture, humiliation and death for the Africans who were shipped off into slavery, in chains, packed onto boats like sardines in a can. The entire Black Diaspora is connected to Goree island. 

The islanders acted as if they knew that Keith was coming to get in touch with his roots and were very delighted to see them. As they approached the shore, the islanders started swimming out towards the ferry to greet them.  
They had never seen black people swim so well and Keith had always heard that they couldn’t, but he quickly learned that this was a myth:  He saw many Senegalese swimming like fish, doing flips and diving off the ferry with ease.
While they were debarking the ferry, they could already hear the African drums welcoming them. People were singing and dancing to the rhythm of the beat, and everyone was eager to meet them.
They  didn’t indulge themselves that much at the welcoming celebration because they were a little rushed for time.   They still had to pick up a couple more of souvenirs and see the House of Slaves before taking the last ferry back to Dakar. 


Vicente interviewed Fatou, a seven year old girl, and asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She told them that she loved fashion and would like to pursue a career in fashion design.  They left her a small hand mirror which she held in her hands, so that she could always see how pretty she looks in her outfits.  
Keith met Jof, a little boy who looked like he could have been his son, and who was building sand castles using a plastic bottle. They gave him a bucket with tools, so that he could get a head start in engineering.
Finally, they had got rid of all the school supplies and gifts, and interviewed their last participant to complete the survey.  They cordially thanked everyone and started walking towards the House of Slaves, stopping along the way to purchase  some African masks and to have personalized djembes made.
Vicente is not only  interested in African art and culture, but also is savvy and a connoisseur in the field, so he had a field day when he came across these masks.
African masks have spiritual meaning and represent the spirits of animals, our ancestors or mythological heroes.


African culture uses them in ceremonies, celebrations and funerals. They can also be used for home décor.
The djembe is goblet-shaped and carved from a single piece of African wood. The top, known as the drumhead,  is covered with animal skin. 

It is said that the drum consists of  three spirits. One from the tree, one from the animal and another one from the craftsman. In addition, each djembe is different and has its own personality like a human being. 


Furthermore, it is recommended that you should first consult a craftsman before purchasing  one. If he knows your height and the qualities that make up your haecceitas, even better. It’s easier for him to craft the perfect djembe that fits you, which synchronizes not only with your body, but with all spirits including yours.


When the djembe is played correctly, and everything is in tune and harmony, it will send out good vibrations and release positive energy into the universe: It becomes you and you become it.

The House of Slaves

Keith was more than honored to have been part of Vicente’s investigation team. Vicente, is an African historian and has had two books published related to slavery: “ La Diaspora Africana” (The African Diaspora) and “Los últimos esclavos de Cuba” (The last slaves from Cuba). He had many details to share with Keith, which made the trip even more intriguing.

yesyoucanENGLISH rewards scholarships annually, usually in summer, to the most outstanding pupils. Merits are not only based on academic performance, but attitude, creativity and motivation are also qualities highly valued.

Although Keith wasn’t a strait A student, he blossomed and flourished in the other categories, which made him a prime candidate  for acceptance into the program.


Vicente and Keith carried on walking and ran into more locals. To make sure they weren’t getting lost, they asked them if they were heading in the right direction, and the locals assured them that they were. The House of Slaves was just at the end of the road.
They were right! At last, they saw the House of Slaves from a distance. Keith began to get shivers down his spine and goose bumps  as he thought to himself: what on earth was so exciting and  thrilling about seeing a place where horrendous atrocities were carried out for centuries. 

As they got closer to the entrance, he couldn’t quite understand why he was feeling weak at the knees. Was he psychologically prepared for this experience?

Vicente lead the way, entering the House of Slaves with no problem, like a pioneer in search for new terrain, in this case, for knowledge. Although Keith continued to linger back, he knew that “the show must go on”. He had to be strong, grow up fast and face up to the truth “once and for all”.
Keith had read many books and seen movies about slavery and the Holocaust, which had always touched him, but it wasn’t anything compared to actually seeing it with his own eyes. This definitely was “an eye opening experience”.  He wasn’t expecting for the cells to be so small and the living conditions so terrible.  He didn’t know that his ancestors had to endure such brutal and harsh treatment.
Vicente instructed Keith to examine the walls very closely, and as he did, he saw holes from where the victims had been chained.  No wonder so many died even before being shipped off.
Although Keith tried with all his might not to visualize what it was really like for human beings to have been in such awful conditions, he couldn’t help but to feel all the pain and suffering that took place there. He could hear cries of pain and voices of plea from his ancestors begging on their hands and knees, in tears, in shackles chained up to the walls, willing to do anything in the world to be able to stay in their homeland rather than to be shipped off on a boat, having no idea where they were going to, or if they would be coming back.
As Keith stood in the back door of the cell where the Africans were directly dumped into the sea when they died from heat exhaustion, dehydration,or were killed before their boat came to ship them off to the Americas. From so much emotional stress, he broke down and started crying and puking like a baby.

He knew that it was  crucial to release the negative energy that he had absorbed from the site, so while he was looking at the sea, he took a few minutes to meditate and to “pull himself together”. He left thinking: The spirits of many Africans who perished at the House of Slaves still remain, not only so that people can feel the hurt and pain that this inhumane act has caused. But also so  that history doesn’t ever repeat itself again.



He felt that he had spiritually connected with his lost ancestors, who suffered immensely and who literally “paid the price” for who he is today and his freedom. His ancestors had been stolen from Africa and sold into slavery in America.