Men with fishing nets on colourfully painted wooden rowing boats
Culture & tradition,  Monday walks,  Senegal

Living on borrowed time in Djiffer

At the southern tip of a spit of land on the coast of Senegal, which separates the sea from the waters of the Saloum, lies the small village of Djiffer. Its narrow strip of houses is thus squeezed between the waters of the Atlantic to the west and the lagoons of the Sine Saloum delta to the east.

This is a major fishing village for this region; the activity relating to this is the main (probably only) draw for tourists. Let me show you around on a short Monday Walk.

By the time we arrived here it was late morning. The many colourful boats were all drawn up in front of the beach, anchored by rope to large tires or tree trunks. Each was surrounded by a throng of men waist-deep in water, heaving crates of fish on to their shoulders. Our guide Cheikh explained that they were paid ‘in kind’. For each nine crates that they brought ashore they would be given a tenth and could sell its contents themselves.

Men emptying crates from colourfully painted wooden rowing boats
Unloading the catch

Other boats had already been emptied. There, men were tidying their nets or hauling the boats up on to the beach. They were surrounded by discarded shells, with birds (mainly egrets) picking over the remains.

On the shore small market areas (little more than stone shelters) provide the focal point for the buying and selling that follows each landing. Some of the best fish are bought by hotels and restaurants, the remainder of the best go for export. The less good and the smaller fish are sold to locals.

Woman in a blue headscarf with a phone passing men and stone houses
Market area on the beach
On borrowed time

Standing here we could clearly see the challenge Djiffer faces due to its location on this narrow spit of land. The Atlantic Ocean to the west is continually nibbling at its sandy shores in an effort to meet up with the waters of the Saloum. Cheikh pointed out trees that were once on dry land, were now on the beach, and would soon be in the sea. People living here are doing so on borrowed time.

Men with fishing rods on a sandy beach
Fishing from the beach near the point where it dwindles into the sea

We strolled along to another area of the village, just to the south of where the fish are landed. Here are the fish-drying tables. Shark, conch, sea snails, cat-fish, and many more are laid out here to dry in the hot sun. They will then be packed for transport all over Senegal and abroad. Much of the fish is also salted before drying, to help with the preservation process.

Fish laid on wooden platforms on a beach
The fish drying tables
Fish laid on wooden platforms on a beach
The fish drying tables

We met a Ghanaian man stuffing large, almost rigid slabs of shark meat into sacks to be sent to his native country, and he explained how they cook it. They cut the slabs into pieces, soak them in water for at least an hour (but preferably overnight) to remove the salt, then stew them with tomatoes and onions.

This was a fascinating place to visit but the smell in this fish-drying area was pungent. I like fish but could only take a little of it. It was worth the smell however to learn about life in this precarious village.

I visited Senegal in 2016

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