Ile de Gorée - Gorée Island

Pulling slowly into the harbour we disembarked, and arming myself with a welcome coffee at the nearby beach-side restaurant, I followed Patrick's instructions to ask anyone I saw to tell me where Patrick lived. The first person to approach  was a young lad who introduced himself as Alaghi.

In answer to my question he said "Yes, I know where Patrick is, do you want to look in his workshop or his shop ?" Quite an innocent and informative answer, you may assume .. but something made me a tad suspicious. Firstly he looked much too young to have been to the Haaj in Mecca and be entitled to call himself Alaghi, secondly Patrick had never mentioned having a shop. So I said I was very tired and would he be so kind as to go and find which location Patrick was at. He disappeared in entirely the opposite direction to where Patrick's house actually was, proved to my satisfaction by the sight of Patrick striding across the beach towards me. 

Telling him that I had just asked a young lad to try find him at his shop or workshop, produced a knowing smile.
"I don't have either, he's just one of the local bumpsters who all know exactly where I am, but always try to divert my visitors to their brothers' tourist shops, to make a sale whilst finding me.
Come on .. let me show you around the island."

Gorée Island is charming .. tiny streets with ramshackle buildings nestling amongst the carefully restored colonial mansions, a castle mound, a fort, the world famous slave museum and many other visitor attractions giving historical knowledge

Click on the*to see photographs of the Island

and education to all. An aura of peace and tranquility pervades the entire island .. with its colourful houses, beautiful flower gardens and varied landscape, all set against the backdrop of the azure blue sea and sky. An idyllic situation for any African historian or photographer.

It is only a small island, but we seemed to be walking for ages .. up to the fortified castle mound to look at the enormous guns .. long since decommissioned .. and the superb views over the whole island. Into the Estrées Fort which is now a museum and past the many tourist shops and open-air displays of garish modern African art, which seemed to me to intrude into the island's gently rustic character .. but mercifully were not absolutely everywhere.

Naturally, Patrick had seen all these sights a few million times before and preferred to wait outside the various museums and talk with his many local friends, whilst I happily browsed and took many scenic photographs.

This was working well to both our advantage, until we arrived at the Slave House. A party of solemn American tourists had arrived to see the sights of the museum. Some were evidently attempting to trace their roots and others were reverently asking about the Catholic church's involvement in the cruelty of the slave trade and how the local people had reacted to the Pope's visit, when he evidently apologised for past wrongs. All this was a bit too heavy for the local guides and Patrick, with his good knowledge of both English and the Slave House's history, was co-opted to be their guide.

He certainly knows his African history and fully answered every one of their questions .. in the almost overbearing atmosphere of sadness which must be ever-present in this former place of suffering. If ever he gets bored with his beads, the position of a guide at the Slave House Museum will surely be open to him ! His answer to the Pope question, was as I had expected : His Holiness's apology had been accepted ...
but the cruelty of the past, could and would never be forgotten.

Patrick had prepared a meal, and with both of very much in need of a cold beer in the blazing heat, he led the way to his house. Over a tasty meal, our conversation pleasantly passed the afternoon, ranging from the bead business in general, where we have many mutual friends all over the world, to specific bead types and their availability, prices etc. From his own collection, he showed me some fine examples of many of the types we were discussing. I wished I had similarly had his foresight and the opportunity to buy such treasures many years ago, when they would have been bought for much lower prices than at today's market values.

"Can I publish the photos I took of you?" I asked, not wishing to intrude upon his privacy. "Most of my bead friends have heard a lot about you, but few outside Africa know what you look like !"
"No problem," he said with a laugh, "Now they will !!"

The sun was setting as the last ferry of the day left Gorée harbour to take me back to Dakar.
Patrick waving from a balcony, thousands of large black African Kites ( known locally as Milan ) wheeling in the sky overhead and yet more subtle colours radiating from this magical island, made this a poignant scene of ethereal quality, which I have yet to experience anywhere else in the world.

Thank you for such an interesting day Patrick, I look forward to visiting you and your island again.I