When I was younger I dreamed of White Christmases with fields of snow, and pine trees of wood and leaf, not plastic and metal. I longed to build snowmen and mess about with sleighs. The films I saw about Christmas seemed to be saying that my Harmattan hazed Christmases in Lagos weren't Christmases at all. There was no Mistletoe or Mulled wine. Santa Claus wasn't a white grandfather with an unusual love for milk and cookies. He was a black man wearing a white cherry cheeked mask, and white gloves. We had the carols by Nat King Cole letting us know with every silky note that the Lagos Christmas was a poor substitute for the New York one.
It wasn't till much later that I realised that the White Christmases, with songs about Frosty the Snowman and Reindeer were the West's way of making the best of a terrible situation. Snow is only prettiest when seen from the luxury of a fireplace, and only when fresh. If I had known these things when I was younger, I would have loved my West African Christmases more for what they were. I would have loved them for their effortless heat, and their dusty skies. I would have loved them for their sunny interludes, and their bombastic celebrations. I wouldn't have filled my head with dreams of the British countryside, I would have dreamed instead of Senegal.
There are many beauties in Senegal. There are white beaches, the picturesque remnants of their French Colonial history, and natural marvels. As stunning as these things are, they pale in comparison to its people and their unique vibe. Dusty streets are invigorated with colours and sounds. Markets are a riot of noises and smells. The air carries the soundtrack of constant chatter, and Senegalese pop.
The Pink lake, lies just North of the Cape Verde peninsula, a few miles from the centre of Dakar, the country's capital. From November to June it is an improbable magenta, lapping against the bottom of boats, competing fiercely with the other pink lakes in the world. Even in its serenity it is not free from Dakar's buzz and trade. Salt collectors earn their living from the lake's high salt content. They scrape the salt from the lake's sandy waters at peace with the sheer unlikelihood that a lake should be pink.
One of the City's best views comes from Las Mamelles (breasts in French), twin hills that stand out in the otherwise flat landscape. From here you can see how the city sprawls; a combination of French colonial structures and villages; the Atlantic gentler than it is further East; and Le Renaissance Afriquainne, a monument that eclipses the statue of liberty, a man, woman and child point toward the horizon. It is a symbol of renewed African hope.
In Senegal, there is wildlife that you would imagine was confined to East Africa and South Africa. The Fathala Wildlife reserve boasts of 6000 hectares of protected forest and a landscape is dotted with Lions, Giraffes, Zebras, and Rhinoceroses. These are rare treasures of West Africa.
The pace of Dakar slows down considerably the further you go away from it. Ile de Goree lies 30 minutes offshore. It's a popular tourist destination as you will probably discover on the ferry over, but once there the streets are quiet and you can walk among its colonial buildings in near solitude. One of the stand out destinations on the island is the House of Slaves, which records the tragic history of the Slave Trade.
When your adventures are done, and it is time for you to retire and rest, there is little better than a nice hotel that overlooks the majestic Atlantic ocean.
So this winter, when you think of how you should spend Christmas or the wintry months that follow, think of Senegal, Ebola free since 2014.