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.
The research begins: Interviews
They reached out to the children and met:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.