Bienvenue o Senegal—one of the formerly French countries buried in western Africa somewhere between Mali, Mauritania and Guinea (have a look).

Destination: village. My dear friend Tatiana is serving in the Peace Corps for two years in one of the most remote Peace Corps sites in the country. When we spoke about my visit before coming, Tatiana mentioned meeting me in Dakar (the capital) when I arrived.

“You don’t have to do that, Tatiana…I’m sure I can figure it out,” I said with the false confidence of a seasoned traveler.

“Ummm…no. I’m meeting you,” she asserted.

Now I know why.

Heading Out

I landed in Dakar before sunrise where Tatiana met me and led me out into the city. She expertly haggled taxi prices in French with a swarm of drivers outside of the airport before landing on a price underneath the toubab—or white person—fare. I was already lost.

Throughout the day, Tatiana repeated this bargaining ritual with drivers in French or occasionally Pulaar (a local language she’s learning). But sometimes they spoke neither, so she resorted to arm waving and figure counting until we received the correct price. I quickly realized it takes quite a few languages to maneuver around Senegal.

Outside of the major cities, many Senegalese people live in villages and rely on subsistence farming

We boarded an overnight bus for the region of Kedougou that stopped on and off in confusing “breaks,” that were just long enough to disembark and try to find a spot to relieve yourself before the driver started honking and rolling away. After 10 hours, we reached the regional capital of Kedougou.

Getting Closer

There yet? Not quite.

The next step is a nefplas, a low-riding station wagon with nine people (or sheep…) crammed in. The car doesn’t leave until it’s full, which takes anywhere from one to seven hours. But we decided to take a break for a couple of days—in part to rest, and in part because the funeral of a local dignitary diverted the passenger cars away from transport service.

Two days later, we bought our tickets and sat down to wait.

Ethiolo is just starting to dry up this time of year, but some of the green is leftover from the rainy season

Eventually, Tatiana and I hopped in the back of the vehicle with our knees squished to our chests for the 86 km ride over the dirt road to the town of Salemata, still not our destination. We stopped in the town briefly to eat some rice and mafe, a sauce made from peanuts, and hit the road on foot.

“We’re almost there,” Tatiana assured me, “we just have to walk 10 kilometers that way.”

On Foot

Ok. So I would probably not have found this place on my own. It felt like we were journeying to the ends of the earth. And so far, we had not found a single road or transport vehicle by any demarcated sign or schedule (not that I would understand it anyway, given it would be in French…).

How does anyone get to these places? I kept thinking.

The dirt road through the center of Ethiolo with some residents!

Tatiana and I walked 10 kilometers towards the border of Guinea, passing the occasional man on a bicycle or woman sauntering with a basket balancing on her head. Each would stop, extend a hand and begin the back and forth greeting ritual in Pullo futa, the regional dialect of Pulaar:

Tanaa alaa? (Are you without the devil?)

Jam tung. (Peace only)

Sometimes the greeting continued…are you healthy? How are the kids? How did you sleep? As we neared Tatiana’s village, the greeting changed to Bassari:

Kamara? (Are you ready to fight?)

Ba (Yes, I’m ready to fight)

Mochande? (Did you come out of your hut in peace?)

Mochaneme (Yes, I came out in peace)

Families in Ethiolo construct their own huts out of local materials

Though the translations are a little strange, these greetings passed back and forth naturally between us and every traveler we passed. Greeting is essential in these parts.

Off the Beaten Path

After four days of travel, Tatiana and I traversed one final hill, dusty and exhausted, into the Bassari village of Ethiolo.

Meet Tatiana’s neighbors, Hellen and Arno

We walked past the first few mud huts with thatched roofs towards the sparse village center where a group of kids were all gathered around a recently killed goat.

“Ugh. Sorry, Laura,” Tatiana said, looking at the goat before yelling an enthusiastic, “Kamara!?!?” at the kids. They diverted their attention from the spectacle to Tatiana and me and shouted, “Taki! TAKI!” (Tatiana’s village name) followed by the rest of the greetings.

Finally there. Oh, and did I mention Ethiolo is actually only about 500 miles from Dakar? Not usually a trip worthy of four days. Needless to say, Ethiolo remains far from the beaten path. The occasional visitor or cultural tourist makes the trek, but things like running water, cell phone service and electricity still haven’t found their way out to these parts…save one solar panel with questionable functionality.

Even though it took a little time to get here, it should be well worth the strain. These two weeks, I’ll be pulling water and sleeping in a hut like the rest of the Bassari villagers and getting a taste of what it means to be really—I mean, really—out in the bush.

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Next Steps
    • Take a few minutes to look at a map of West Africa—geography is important! Who knows when you’ll meet somebody from one of these countries? At least you’ll know where it is…
    • Have you ever used public transport (or walked) somewhere in your city? Try taking the bus one day. You may look at your city differently, or meet people you wouldn’t otherwise cross paths with.
    • Read more about Ethiolo, coming soon to this site.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.

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  1. Jim.M said... 


    January 6th, 2012 at 10:39 pm  

    Laura…you are incredible, God has called you to the ends of the earth and you answered yes. We can not wait to see through your eyes, and experience through your heart and soul what He has to show you!

  2. Dave Rodriguez said... 


    January 7th, 2012 at 10:00 am  

    Wow, Laura! It doesn’t feel like your are much in the “World Next Door”.But that’s what makes this so exciting to see and hear what God is doing way the heck out there. Can’t wait to follow the journey. And thanks for the encouragment to look at a map. Now I see where you are…kinda!

  3. Jessica said... 


    January 7th, 2012 at 10:26 am  

    Ahh I’ve been eagerly expecting Senegal stories! Can’t wait to hear about all you did and experienced:) The nefplas brought back memories, though, I think I only attempted a septplas…a seven-seater. Blessings to you!

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