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Dakar and New Orleans -- "beaucoup en commun"

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, Commentary//Video, Words//Photos//Video: Pendarvis Harshaw Posted: Aug 08, 2008

Editor's Note: There are two major events that have origins in this region of West Africa that directly affect the Gulf Coast of the United States -- slavery and hurricane formation. Pendarvis Harshaw, 21, is a contributing content producer for YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia and a freelance journalist.

WASHINGTON D.C. -- I spent my spring break 2007 helping to rebuild New Orleans. This year I traveled to Senegal and its capital city, Dakar. The similarities between the two cities were beautifully and devastatingly obvious.

Author interviews Fatou Gueye, Maty Dieng, Diamalou Dini Gueye, Abou Niass, Lamine Ndiaye who are all Students at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal.

Lead by Dr. Gregory Jenkins, Howard University's physics department chair, a group of Howard University's brightest, including myself, and one student from the University of Michigan, spent spring break rebuilding homes, studying the effects government, capitalism, and global warming had on New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.

This summer Jenkins took us to the origin of everything -- Africa. Across water where the mighty Atlantic Ocean crashes into the iron- laden red rocks of the Senegalese coast, lies a coastal environment eerily similar to Louisiana.

Video: Goree Islands in Senegal produced by the author.

Dakar is a low lying, bowl shaped, peninsula city which shares its boot shape with the Crescent City and it's vunerability to tidal waves and tsunamis. It has been growing at warp speed since becoming Senegal's capital, a title which was once held by a city just up the coast by the name of Saint Louis. There is a St. Louis in North Louisiana as well.

Dakar is a city under construction -- high rise business buildings, casinos, and hotel resorts are being built along the coast line. One day, very soon, the Cornish strip will be just as famous as Bourbon Street. But just like The Big Easy, the flourishing tourist industry contrasts with thousands of displaced individuals -- many homeless, impoverished, and mentally ill people have come from the surrounding villages, forced from their homes due to famine and lack of resources, only to come to the big city to find more of the same.

Teenage men duck in and out the organized chaos of the big city traffic in order to sell passersby phone cards, peanuts, or anything else that can be held by hand.

The streets these "jaiykats" hustle on are hectic enough during the day, but only grow more treacherous at night as the city has constant rolling blackouts. Many street hustlers and students alike only come to the city to make a living, and then return to the rural areas at the end of the day. Much like New Orleans, options for evacuation are scarce -- in order to get out the city, all roads converge into one main two-lane highway that is usually decorated with an aerial ribbon of exhaust diesel fumes.

There are two major events that have origins in this region of West Africa that directly affect the Gulf Coast of the United States -- slavery and hurricane formation. The origins of both can be found on the Island of Goree, once a French slave dungeon where people from the Wolof, Fulani, and Serer nations, among others, were held captive until they were shipped off to the new world.

Door of no return: On the island of Goree, Author is at the "Door of No Return," once inslaved Africans reached this point, they never saw their homeland again. It is symbolic for African Americans to return through this door.

The French ships would leave the southern port and use the trade winds to guide them to one of their colonies -- such as Haiti or New Orleans. It is these same trade winds, which once guided slave ships, that are now becoming more brutal because of climate change, and are more readily turning common tropical storms into high category hurricanes.

The Island of Goree, once the epitome of disregard for human life in Senegal, has been revitalized to an aesthetically pleasing tourist attraction complete with colorful buildings, fine dining, and French men riding Jet Ski's while throwing coins into the beautiful blue water so Senegalese children can risk their lives diving for change.

On the Island of Goree, there is graffiti that says "Thug Life" and "Cash Money"- obviously due to the influence American Rap music.

It is obvious these two cities have a lot in common, or as they say in French, beaucoup en commun; in seeing this connection, my greatest fear is that the growing metropolitan area of Dakar is setting itself up for a water born disaster on the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina and that the money hungry city of New Orleans is setting itself up for a disaster on the magnitude of the Island of Goree -- people forcibly displaced never to return.

Related Articles:

Will the Next War for Oil Be in Africa?

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