Banner heading with photo of African man
Friendly Friday,  People,  Senegal

Friendly Friday: meet Cheikh, a guide in Senegal

Welcome to a new departure for the Friendly Friday Challenge. Every six weeks when it’s my turn to host, I will be introducing you to a person or people I have met on my travels. People whom I have been inspired by, fascinated by or perhaps intrigued by. And I will be inviting you to do the same.

As much as the sights we see, it is the people we meet who make travel so rewarding and so memorable. Whether close to home or on the other side of the world, an interesting encounter can really bring a place to life.

And don’t worry if you don’t tend to travel far from home. There are interesting people everywhere, including your own neighbourhood, and I’d love to meet them too.

Today, for my first FFC ‘Meet …’ post I’d like to introduce you to someone I met on my travels a few years ago.

Meet Cheikh, a guide in Senegal

All too often when we travel we get to spend just a few hours with a local guide and never really get to know them properly. But from time to time we see rather more of them and learn about their lives. At Souimanga Lodge in Senegal the activities and tours on offer focus not on conventional sightseeing but on learning about local life in the Sine Saloum Delta region. We threw ourselves into these and went out every day, nearly always with the same local guide, Cheikh. Spending several hours together every day for a week meant that we got to know him a little; and now I’d like to introduce him to you.

African man standing by small pool surrounded by sand
Chiekh on the road to Djiffer

As well as our visits with Cheikh to the market in Nguéniène and to Fadiouth aka Shell Island, we had several other excursions that will no doubt feature in this blog in due course.

Meeting the family

In the course of one of those excursions, to Djiffer, we stopped briefly in a small village just to the north, Diakhanor. Like Fadiouth, Diakhanor is unusual among Senegalese communities in being 90% Catholic and just 10% Muslim. Cheikh is a Muslim, married to a Catholic from this village and was keen to introduce us to her parents, his in-laws. He showed us inside their simple home, from which he and his wife were married; and we met some of the neighbours too.

Like others we met in Senegal, Cheikh was proud of the fact that the two religions co-exist peacefully here. Mixed marriages such as his own are not uncommon, and the two faiths celebrate each other’s festivals. I asked about the religious upbringing of his three children and learned that the two boys are Muslim and his daughter a Catholic. He also told us that his sister had, like him, married a Catholic and in her case had converted. It all seems very easy-going and flexible – long may it continue thus.

In the Yayeme palm forest

On another occasion Cheikh stopped the car while crossing the Yayeme palm forest. This is an extensive forest of palms on the outskirts of Fimela, not far from Souimanga. The tall elegant trees are known locally as Ron palms but their Latin name is Borassus aethiopum.

Every part of the tree is used by the locals – the leaves to makes thatched roofs, baskets, mats, etc.; the trunk for timber to build houses; the leaf stem for fencing or for fibres; the fruit eaten. Cheikh taught us how to make a belt by weaving two strands together. He made it look very easy; but if you watch my brief video you’ll see that there’s definitely a knack that needs to be learned if you’re to produce a neat-looking belt!

Cheikh was a great companion on all these outings, looking after us well and ensuring we got the best out of our visit to his country. We really enjoyed spending time with him and learned a lot from him.

Sandy desert road with man standing
Chiekh on the road to Djiffer

Over to you

And now it’s over to you. Whom would you like us to meet? Perhaps, like Cheikh, someone from your travels, whether far from home or in your own country? A chance encounter or a planned meeting perhaps?

Or maybe someone from your own locality whom you think we will find interesting – an artist, a character, a local hero. Let’s celebrate the wonderful diversity of our world while also illustrating that important adage, that we have more in common than we often realise.

Please leave a comment and tag your post Friendly Friday (#friendlyfriday) if you want me to find it, as pingbacks tend not to work on my site – thank you.


    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you for joining in with my first Friendly Friday ‘Meet’ challenge Sofia 🙂 I really enjoyed your post and it brought back great memories of my own trip to Japan. I’m glad my post gave you the idea to share this experience!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much for joining in for a second week Sandy, I thoroughly enjoyed your post, both text and photos – it completely transported me to that small Cuban village 🙂

  • Manja Mexi Mexcessive

    I’m on my laptop in Slovenia and really upset with WordPress as it keeps signing me out of my own account and I can’t put a like on your post no matter how much I try. I hope I can at least leave this comment.

    Welcome as the Friendly Friday host, Sarah! I really love your Meet idea for a theme. You give great example with this post. I went with the first thought I had as I was reading yours, about a chance encounter almost ten years ago and yet all still so vivid. Only one photo of it exists though.

    I wish you many happy and friendly Fridays and many interesting meet-ups.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Hi Manja, and thanks so much for joining in even while in Slovenia and experiencing those problems. WordPress can be so frustrating at times – I have my own issue with these non-appearing pingbacks 🙁 It really frustrates me, so I do appreciate you including the link in this comment so that I was able to read your wonderful contribution!

  • rkrontheroad

    It’s a rare treat when someone shares their life and lifestyle with a traveler. I’m so impressed by the tolerance and acceptance in their culture. Cheikh seems like a patient, kind man.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, they’re right to be proud of how well the two religions live alongside each other. I think it may have something to do with the fact that they both share an underlying heritage of tribal beliefs, many of which are still quite strong, so that a) gives them some common ground, and b) dilutes the beliefs of the ‘imported’ religions so that they tend not to be very extremist in their beliefs. But that’s just me guessing! And I reckon patience is an essential quality for any tour guide, having seen how some tourists behave 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much for adding your post to the challenge – as you know, I really loved reading it! I’m glad you learned a little bit about Senegal here and enjoyed getting to know Cheikh 🙂

  • Natalie

    Sarah, An interesting and fun take for your Friendly Friday challenge. Thank you for sharing your story and beautiful photos. Most African travel destinations are far and expensive from Toronto so to date I’ve only been to Egypt and Morocco on that continent.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Natalie, I’m glad you enjoyed meeting Cheikh 🙂 Egypt and Morocco are both fascinating to visit. I hope you get to go to other countries in Africa too one day, it’s an amazing continent!

  • Rose

    This is such a valuable lesson for the world! “…religions co-exist peacefully…” What a wonderful example and such a kind guide.
    I find it interesting that your guides so freely share their lives with you. We’ve only had a few guides while group traveling. Those guides asked us not to take or post their photos, and announced at the beginning of the tour not to contact them once the tour was over. They had been placed in uncomfortable situations before with tourists becoming ‘too familiar’. I thought this was how all guides were, but your experiences show very different type of guide.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh dear, you do seem to have had unfortunate experiences with guides 🙁 I have a number of particular good ones I may share from time to time for this challenge. Quite often we are travelling on our own, not on a group tour, which obviously helps with getting to know each other better. But even on group tours I’ve never had a guide who explicitly deterred anyone from becoming too familiar, and almost always they’ve been happy to be in photos.

      The only slight exception would be our guides in North Korea. They were very friendly and didn’t mind us taking photos of them, but I’m not permitted to share those photos online nor to name them. That’s because if I post anything inappropriate, e.g. too political or over-critical of the regime there, and it was picked up by the authorities, the guides would be blamed for not doing their job properly. They could lose their jobs, and it would impact on their families too. Our lead guide there in particular was so friendly and lovely, but I can’t share the few photos I have of her!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you for joining in 🙂 But when I check your link, although the post title seems to fit (‘Meet Wilbur the Corgi: At Wahkeena Falls in Oregon’), the post itself seems to be your general ‘about me’ text. Am I missing something or is there an error on your site?

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you for the welcome Sandy, and for the opportunity to contribute to the challenge and introduce this new angle to it 🥰 This peaceful mix of the two religions is something that the Senegalese seem very proud of. In most places it’s about 90% Muslim and 10% Catholic, which is why Fadiouth and Diakhanor are rather unusual.

      And now I’m off to check out your contribution 🙂 I’m glad you included the link here in your comment because as we feared, the pingback didn’t work 🙁

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Alison 🙂 Yes, the bonus of having a local guide like Cheikh is that you usually get to see and/or hear about what it’s like to LIVE in a country, not just the obvious tourist sights.

      • Amanda

        I have learnt much from this post, Sarah, but that is not unusual as your posts are always educational and so very interesting and unique to read. Senegal is a place I knew nothing at all about other than that it is in Africa, presumably on the coast?
        What a role model is for other countries whet religious intolerance is rife? I also applaud how they are conscious of zero waste!
        And I have gotta love that belt. I have a penchant for hand weaving and if they were palms around here I would be making one now! Thanks for the video and nice to hear your wonderful guide.
        A big welcome to the team!
        You have inspired me to post!

Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you! And please include your name in case WP marks you 'anonymous' - thank you