My new life as settler in Senegal
My new life as settler in Senegal
Text and photos: Erik Pontoppidan
Copyright: Erik Pontoppidan, Denmark
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Click or push HERE to check out some of my favourite photos from Casamance in southern Senegal.
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In March 2021, we bought a plot of land in Diannah Badala near the village Abene in the Casamanche province of southern Senegal, where we are building a small Bed and Breakfast lodge with an attached restaurant and bar. The name of our B & B will be "Chez Fatou et Saladin". My wife is muslim, and if you marry a muslim girl in Senegal, you must have a muslim name. So Saladin is me!
Inshallah, our place will open in winter 2022.
Our first lovely, private circular house was ready in December 2021.
It is wildly fascinating how much chance can control your life course. The important persons and experiences during your life are completely unpredictable.
After a divorce in autumn 2018, I needed to travel somewhere with the possibility of exotic experiences in a culture totally different from Denmark, so I decided to settle down for a month in the village Abene in southern Senegal in January-February 2019. And it was here I met my wife Fatou "by a beautiful coincidence", quoted from the Danish musician Kim Larsen from his great song "Perron Gare du Nord". At that time, Fatou was the chief cook in the kitchen at the small beach lodge where I stayed in Abene. To my great astonishment, she visited my straw hut every day after work for a conversation. Initially, I didn't pay any particular notice to that, but on Christmas Eve 2020, we got married in the town Ziguinchor, where we had a wedding party at her family's house with app. 100 guests. In the middle of a corona time, when Denmark was completely closed down.
In februar 2019, I met my wife Fatou "by a beautiful coincidence", and on Christmas Eve 2020, we got married in the town Ziguinchor.
I want to mention, that I did not in my wildest imagination had any plans of getting married when I visited Senegal the first time, but that only confirms, how much one's life course is governed by chance. But why not try to experience something nice and exciting during the last part of your life with an attractive and intelligent girl?!
My wife Fatou is professional cook, and she makes excellent food.
Our new place in Casamanche
And now I have become a land-owner in Senegal! In March 2021, we bought a plot of land in Diannah Badala near the village Abene in the Casamanche province in southern Senegal, where we are building a small Bed and Breakfast lodge with an attached restaurant and bar. Inshallah, our place will open in winter 2022.
Our place is app. 110 kilometers north of the town Ziguinchor. In spring 2021, our plot of 50 by 100 meters was pure jungle, with dense scrub everywhere. We started by clearing the area, and afterwards, a well was very important. Initially, the water was only used for the production of hand-made bricks for house building, but our project is in progress. Our first lovely, private circular house was ready in December 2021, and right now, the building of the restaurant and a guest house with three double rooms with private bath and toilet is under construction.
The surroundings are very scenic. We live 400 meters from a perfect sandy beach on the Atlantic Ocean, where you have a greater chance to meet a cow than a tourist. There is a rich birdlife, after sunset the cicadas are singing, and it’s a perfect "dark sky" - place for star gazing. At sunrise, we are waked up by the song of exotic birds, which I recognize by their song but not by their names.
The area has an enormous potential for tourism, but the infrastructure is missing. There are no paved roads at a distance of kilometers, and the existing overnight places for visitors have a standard not suitable for mainstream tourism. The average daily temperature from November to February between 20 and 30 centigrades.
And we use almost pure fusion energy! Like the core processes in the center of the Sun, where hydrogen fuses to helium! Apart from gas bottles for cooking, solar panels supply all the energy for the house: Fridge, lights, TV, Wi-fi, batteries. And finally, but very important: In the well, an electric water pump raise the water to our water tower, from where it runs underground to the kitchen and bathroom and to the taps for irrigation, following the rule of connected vessels.
And I am wildly impressed at my wife's organizational talent. Without her, I would not have been able to buy a large plot of land and build a house with all the accessories, and definitely not with the appropriate prices. She is also an excellent cook. And very important: Despite our very different cultures, we are a great match. Fatou is an intelligent girl with an optimistic mind, with plenty of humor. The official language in Senegal is French, which I am now speaking at an acceptable level after having known her for almost four years. It‘s the first time my wife has stayed in her own house, and she enjoys our place, planting papayas, lemons, oranges, avocados, cucumbers and much more.
Shopping trips to Gambia along “The smuggling route”
Sometimes, Fatou travels to Gambia to buy different important goods, which are significantly cheaper there: Solar panels, batteries, refrigerators, bicycles, you name it. She crosses the border at Kartong, which is a kind of back door to Gambia. From Abene, she drives about ten kilometers along a very sandy road to a border river, where she is paddled to Gambia in a small pirogue boat. Further by taxi to Serekunda in Gambia, where she goes shopping. The route of her return trip route is the same. If you cross the border at Kartong, you don't have to pay customs duty for the purchased goods! Thought-provoking! No doubt, the government knows the loophole, which has existed for many years.
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A perfect place for hiking
There are no mountains in Senegal, but our house is surrounded by a maze of small paths, perfect for short and long walks. One of my favorite walks is to the small lodge Diannah Bolong - a perfect destination after half an hour’s walk on small sandy paths. Great location, slightly set back from the sea, where you can enjoy a drink (e.g. a cold beer or a Gin & Tonic) and have a chat with the locals. The return walk along the beach takes about 45 minutes, where you have a good chance to watch fantastic sunsets.
Sunset at the Atlantic Sea close to our place.
West Africa live in Casamanche
The distance from Abene to Ziguinchor, the residence of Fatou's family, is app. 110 kilometers, but it’s not a boring transport. You pass small villages with plenty of people. The women are dressed in colorful cotton clothes, and they carry their luggage in the African way: On their heads. There are plenty of outdoor markets on the road with fruits and vegetables, and between the villages, you pass large areas of “jungle”. In Casamanche, the road standard is bad compared to the Senegalese areas north of Gambia, but Casamanche is more exciting regarding culture and nature. I like Ziguinchor much more than the capital Dakar in the north. Ziguinchor has no stress, and the town is close to the banks of the Casamanche River with its maze of tributaries, mangrove forests and rich bird life. And deep inside the mangrove swamps there are small fishing villages only accessible by boat.
Every year, in the beginning of January, The Abene Festival is performed, with song, dance and a great atmosphere.
You may hire a private taxi at very reasonable prices, but the most common transport in Casamanche is shared taxis. You turn up at one of the common stopping places, and when you have found a car for your destination, you enter the taxi, waiting for other passengers. It usually get packed with passengers and luggage, and there are no laws of general car checks in Senegal. That's why the taxis are often old, rusty carriages with worn-out tyres, punctured seats and rattling gearboxes. It might seem scary to some, but normally, I relax completely during the drive. For me, the biggest stress factor of travels is the modern airports, with their endless controls and security checks.
Although I feel like a new settler in Senegal, I have no plans to stay there permanently, but my travel plans for the future are fairly fixed. The winter months are high season for tourism in Casamanche, and I will stay there every December, January and February in order to be close to my wife and help to run our place, organize walks and other excursions, guided tours in the sky at night, you name it. And hopefully, Fatou will succeed in getting a tourist visa for Denmark for a few months during the summer. Inshallah!
Ziguinchor has no stress, and the town is close to the banks of the Casamanche River with its maze of tributaries, mangrove forests and rich bird life. And deep inside the mangrove swamps there are small fishing villages, only accessible by boat.
Pelicans in the Casamanche delta.
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