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DaiyyahFrom the moment we disembarked the bus and weaved beyond the huts and mango trees to enter the sanctuary that is Sobo Bade, I thought of it as the perfect space for a writing retreat.  It’s been years since that group of academics and I visited Senegal as part of a CIEE professional development cohort.  Yet today, as I tackle academia’s hectic first days of the fall semester, I think only of Sobo Bade, imagining myself at a table on the cliff of Petite Cote with my laptop, my folders, the sun, and the peace of being able to work without distraction and strife.

The inveiglement of Sobo Bade is not only its tranquility but also its aesthetic beckoning of the muse.  As an artist retreat, Sobo Bade’s situation upon a cliff overlooking the ocean thirty-one miles from the bustle of Dakar and its magical architecture inspires the creative juices of a diverse range of artists. 

It is quite difficult to find an expression to characterize Sobo Bade.  The tourist magazines call it a hotel; I have heard others who have visited through Unesco sponsored programs call it a center, and I call it an artist retreat.  The ambiguity of a classification for Sobo Bade rests in the various ways that visitors utilize the space.  While I was there, for example, a couple from Dakar found it a perfect space for a romantic weekend getaway, a small group of American high school students housed themselves at Sobo Bade while doing volunteer work in the nearby village of Toubab Diallao, an Australian gentleman on vacation with no particular agenda passed through because of the nearby off the beaten track snorkeling.  We came to examine its course offerings for study abroad opportunities for American college students interested in exploring fine, applied, and the performing arts, and each of us was required to sign up for at one of its courses in batik, drumming,  dance, or sculpture.  I chose African dance.

wtpAs our ferry approached the opposite shore of Senegal’s Soungrougrou River, the air began to throb with rhythmic drumming. Waving arms and brilliant smiles beckoned to us. The stunning village women, dressed in their dazzlingly colorful boubous, ran to us singing and clapping as we disembarked.

We were the five women who had traveled to Senegal with Women Travel for Peace. Our goal: to fund and help construct a sturdy, concrete well for the women’s farming collective. While this project had begun several months before our arrival with village meetings and discussion, on this, our last day in the village, we were all ready to inaugurate and celebrate our much needed contribution.

Women Travel for Peace’s community-based tourism enables women from the industrialized world to work side-by-side with women in the developing world in support of a community project improving the lives of women and children. The projects we contribute to are locally chosen. In this case, the women of this small farming collective had met several months earlier to determine what our contribution would be. After much discussion, they decided that of all the needs on their list, their most pressing was a well.

WTP-Well (Linda Rivero)Water is a precious commodity in this village, as in much of Africa. It feeds families and clothes children. But these farming women depend on a sprinkling of hand-dug wells that are spotty in their performance: they cave in during the rains, becoming unusable for 3-4 months a year. The women visiting with Women Travel for Peace would provide financing for the new concrete well in addition to some final physical labor. In the meantime, Women Travel for Peace colleagues in Senegal would work with village leaders to organize construction logistics.

In rural Senegal, the women are the field laborers—as well as the cooks, wood-carriers, nurturers of children, and housekeepers. They’re up at dawn; then off to the fields in early morning after feeding children and husband, cleaning house, and praying; and they return home at 7 or 8 in the evening. In other words, these women spend 10-12 hours each day hauling water and doing back-breaking field work to cultivate their crops.

In founding Women Travel for Peace, I held two objectives: 1) to create travel experiences for women that finance and physically support a community-based project chosen by and directly benefiting local women and their children, and 2) to nurture communication among all the women.

WTP-Women (Linda Rivero)This is the rationale behind the language and cultural training we offer our travelers before departure. Our goal is to create an atmosphere of mutual growth, learning and sharing so two disparate worlds may connect for the deep and lasting benefit of all. Those who join Women Travel for Peace give their hearts and minds in addition to their resources, and the local women give their strength, dignity, and spiritual depth.

There is something magical in the inherent connection among women. We may not speak the same language, but we communicate: we cook together, we work together, we adjust each other’s moussaur (headdress), we laugh. And how we dance and sing!

This natural connection and caring is the foundation of Women Travel for Peace. From this resonance come long lasting, measurable improvement in the lives of women and children and life-changing growth for all involved.


For more information on Women Travel for Peace, please visit the following site:

www.ganew-connect.com/

www.womentravelforpeace.org



The Dominican Republic — one part baseball mecca and one part beach colony, with a ton of Caribbean history and culture thrown in for added flavor.

Baiguate_waterfall

The island of Hispaniola sits in the eastern Caribbean between Cuba and Puerto Rico. The western third of Hispaniola is controlled by Haiti. The Dominican Republic  (DR) occupies the rest. The Dominican Republic sends a steady stream of talent to Major League Baseball. You’d be hard-pressed today to find a National or American League team that doesn’t have at least one Dominicano on its roster. One town, San Pedro de Macoris, practically specializes in producing infielders. The DR also is known for its all-inclusive beach resorts — more than 30 of them at last count. Lodging, meals and just about everything else are included in a single, sometimes staggeringly low price.

But is that all there is to the country? Not by a long shot. The capital city, Santo Domingo contains enough history of the Americas to make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of that history is packed into the Zona Colonial, where the age of almost everything except the residents is measured in centuries. For instance, the Pat’e Palo restaurant has been doing business on the same spot for 500 years, which makes it three centuries older than the United States! The Hotel Palacio, where I stayed on a baseball trip a few years back, is a mere 400 years old. The remains of Christopher Columbus are buried here. At least the natives here think so. There’s also a museum where you can see treasure from sunken Spanish galleons.

Even the thoroughfares have history; Calle de las Damas, so named because frilly ladies used to promenade there, is the oldest street in the Americas. It runs just below the perimeter wall of the old Ozama Fort, which is not your typical Caribbean bastion.

dr_cocomanMost colonial fortresses were erected to discourage pirates; Ozama was built to lure them in. Its buildings were designed to resemble a European church — from a distance. Only when they came into gun range did the pirates learn that the canons of this “church” were really cannons.

Americans still can’t legally visit Cuba because of the US embargo (although thousands skirt that ridiculous rule annually), but two stretches in the Zona Colonial can give you a sense of what Cuba is like. One is the seaside boulevard known as the Malecon. The other is El Conde.

The Malecon is lined with major hotels, casinos and restaurants overlooking the Caribbean. This is where we encountered a tasty liqueur known as Guavaberry. But don’t go looking for a bottle of this stuff to take home. It’s sold only on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. You can order it online, though.  When the sun goes down, lovers take over the concrete benches on the side of the street closest to the sea. On Sundays, the Malecon is closed to traffic. Kids play basketball and soccer and fly kites in the street, while vendors sell sweets, cold drinks and ice cream.

El Conde is a tree–shaded alleyway in the Zona Colonial lined with restos and shops. You’ll also find the Cubania cultural center, a good place for Cuba Libres, daiquiris, piña coladas and mojitos. This spot was used to simulate Havana in the film Godfather II. If you’re into jewelry, El Conde also is a good place to find larimar, a stone similar to turqoise — and found nowhere else in the world.

dominica_republic_palaciocourtAlong both the Malecon and El Conde, you’ll see folks selling pieces of art done in the style of the Taino people, the original inhabitants of Hispaniola. The one thing you won’t find is any trace of the Taino themselves. The Spanish colonizers — and the diseases they brought with them — pretty much wiped them out. The decimation of the Taino by the Spanish led to African slaves being brought to Hispaniola, a pattern that would be repeated by Europeans throughout the Americas, including in what eventually became the United States.

One of the must-sees in Santo Domingo is a restaurant called El Conuco. They specialize in traditional cooking known as criollo. The food is tasty, but that’s not why you go. What makes this place a command performance is the dance they call “bachata in a bottle.” Bachata is a traditional Dominican music and dance style. The dance is performed by a couple who take turns spinning on one foot, while balanced atop an empty bottle of Cointreau.

The weather is warm and the Presidente beers are always — and I do mean always — ice-cold. In fact, don’t be surprised if your beer arrives with little chunks of ice stuck to the bottle. If you’re inclined to rent an SUV and go exploring, the countryside is also tropically beautiful, especially in places like Baiguate, with its waterfalls.

But the most beautiful thing about the DR may be the people who call it home. Most are bright-eyed, quick to smile, warm and strong in spirit despite the poverty that makes life a struggle for many of them. Ultimately, they may be the nation’s best tourist attraction.

About the authorgreg_gross

Gregg Gross has been a writer and journalist for 41 years. He has worked for the San Francisco Examiner, the Associated Press and the San Diego Union-Tribune. An avid travel writer for a few years, one of his goals ia to dispel the myth that black people don't travel. His travel blog is "I'm Black & I Travel."(www.imblacknitravel.com)

 

Photos: Top, Photo-Dominican Republic’s Baiguate Waterfall
All photos courtesy by Greg Gross

bahia_streets

When I first went to, Salvador the capital of Bahia-whose official name is São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos-I was going to do some research on a book I was writing about Afro-Brazilians who, after obtaining their freedom from slavery, returned to West Africa in the 19th century. It was an impromptu decision, and my nephew and I chose the day of February 1 because it was the first date he could get away.

It turned out to be a good time because on the February 2, Salvador was celebrating the feast of Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea in Candomblé, and Rio Vermelho was where the celebrations took place. We got a hotel on the beach where we had a front view of the celebrations, which went on all night and all day. The experience gave me a taste of the zest for living that infuses Bahianos, the people from Bahia.

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