Light and darkness on a Senegal island

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The World

GOREE ISLAND, Senegal — Poking around some of Africa's more troubled corners can sometimes be a taxing occupation, but one thing about working as a journalist on this continent is that there is always something good to counter the bad.

Being based in the sleepy Senegalese capital Dakar provides a welcome respite and is a good place to come home to after assignments to countries gripped by conflict such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad or Sudan.

The city, situated on a peninsula, is surrounded by beaches and consistent swell — perfect for year-round surfing. It's also ringed by several picturesque islands, including Isle de Goree, a personal favorite for spending a relaxing afternoon with my camera.

Formerly a Dutch and then French outpost, the island is a United Nations World Heritage Site and is graced with faded colonial glory — pastel pink and yellow walls lining cobblestone roads fringed with purple bougainvillea.

The island boasts a vibrant artist community, an old fort, rusted World War II gun placements, a sandy communal football pitch with a large, centuries-old baobab tree planted smack in the middle, a cathedral, and shadowy past as a former hub of the African slave trade.

The island's most famous building is the Slave House, which holds a small museum and cold, dank rooms of stone buried beneath the fine architecture of the building, with its curling sweep of staircase. Millions of Africans were shipped from places like this and from the whitewashed fort in Elmina, Ghana, to lives of slavery in Brazil, the Caribbean and America. Only a few hundred slaves a year — a relatively small number compared to elsewhere — were shipped from Goree, but it has become a symbolic touchstone, drawing visits from U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, among many others.

I'm more drawn to how the afternoon light plays against the island's colorful backdrop, casting sharp shadows along cracked or graffitied walls, illuminating a place with a dark history, no longer a stain on the continent, but rather a distraction from some of its current woes.

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