Join the League and see the world! On October 14th, I left Moncton, New Brunswick for my trip to attend the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO) quadrennial conference in Dakar, Senegal, the most westerly country in Africa (or as a cottager on the eastern coast of New Brunswick would say, on the far side of Parlee Beach). I joined National President-elect Fran Lucas, and Honourary Life Member Betty Anne Brown Davidson, in Toronto for the journey, which took us overnight to Brussels, followed by a four to five hour layover, then a day flight of about six hours to Dakar. Executive Director Kim Scammell and her daughter, Rebekah, met us at the luggage carousel, and we awaited the transportation to the Palm Beach Resort hotel in Saly, an approximately 1½ hour drive from the airport. Warm humid weather conditions awaited our arrival but a spirit of excitement reigned in the lobby and registration area, which was assisted by National Past President Margaret Ann Jacobs. Hugs and smiles all around, as WUCWO North American Board Member Velma Harasen, was there to greet us. The WUCWO staff moved things along quickly. After getting our room assignment and arm bands so we could make use of all the amenities, we settled into our room, unpacked, and prepared for our first meal in Africa.
Being admonished to have breakfast at 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday in order to be at the door to for the buses to Dakar at 6:30 a.m. to attend the opening mass at the cathedral at 9:00 a.m., the Canadians dutifully followed instructions and were on time. The buses began to assemble around 8:30 a.m. and we managed to squeeze onto one of the last ones. We learned a little. We got to see the city in slow motion as we moved about in heavy traffic. The drivers were amazing and obviously accustomed to it. Sixteen buses for the approximately more than 600 registrants, traveling as a convoy must have presented quite a site wherever we went. Imagine how people gazed when we had a police escort (two gendarmerie on motorcycles) just about everywhere we went outside the resort. More amazing of course was the sisterhood of the world of Catholic women from Latin America and Caribbean, Asia-Pacific and Middle East, Europe, Africa, and North America that presented themselves in the celebration of the Eucharist.
Study Days on Tuesday late afternoon until late Wednesday afternoon when working groups made their final presentation, began with women panelists who set the stage for discerning the focus for the next four years which would be determined during the Statutory Days Thursday until Saturday evening. Holiness was chosen as the focus.
Friday afternoon, another convoy traveled to the port of Dakar to ferry to Gorée Island, anticipated to be a very moving experience. While we got a short tour of the stark concrete buildings and rooms where about 20 million Africans were sold from 1632-1848 all over the world, we were also inundated with street sellers everywhere. Scheduled to return in time for dinner at 8:00 p.m., instead we were severed from the convoy due to a late returnee (who never did return!), and crawled out of Dakar on Friday night. Fortunately, the other buses awaited us at the toll booth. I’m not sure how, but the hotel managed to hold dinner for all of us (about 400) and we began our meal around 10:30 p.m. Suffice it to say we went to bed shortly after dinner.
Following dinner at 8:00 p.m. Saturday evening, a culture night (which began a little late, around 9:45 p.m.) was held in the meeting room, decorated appropriately for the occasion with colourful streamers and hosted by Cuban WUCWO board member Edelma, top hat, boa and all. Following a spirited Senegalese dance, several of the Canadian contingent (Velma, Margaret Ann, Fran, Betty Anne and I) proudly waved our small Canadian flags as we sang a medley of Canadian tunes, which received a rousing (dare I say polite) applause. We retired to our rooms about 11:00 p.m. but the entertainment was still in full swing.
Sunday’s closing mass was held at the Marian Shrine of Popenguine, presented by the African Region, which meant beautiful liturgical dance and song as the scriptures were introduced. We would say there may have been 5000-10000 in attendance. We again had a police escort which got us to the site for the weekly regular 10:00 a.m. scheduled time. The beautiful celebration concluded at noon after which there were several presentations, but interrupted at 1:30 p.m. by an announcement that the hotel had called to say we had to return if we wanted to be on time for lunch. The buses filled in about a half hour, and arrived back at the hotel in time for approximately 400 women to descend upon the dining room en masse. The staff was polite and accommodating; the registrants perhaps a little too eager to get their meals, but all concluded with conviviality.
Finally, we had some time to enjoy the facilities – lovely pool and the ocean. National Secretary-Treasurer Janet McLean actually swam in the ocean at least twice; I walked in to my waist in order to secure photos! The weather ranged from 35 degrees Celsius and upward with high humidity all days, but the hotel had air conditioning. While many areas including the dining room were open to the outside, we managed to remain comfortable.
Sunday night, as our first free evening since arriving, we made reservations to eat at a restaurant about 200 meters from our hotel in Saly. It was delightful. We remained and listened to the local entertainment before strolling slowly “home”.
Monday saw a fully free day except for trying to complete packing while enjoying the beautiful pool area and knowing we had to be out of our rooms by noon. We rented a room until three p.m., put our luggage there, and roamed the hotel recreation areas before our luggage went onto the top of the bus this time, assisted by hotel staff, for our drive back to the airport. We watched closely to ensure all our pieces were securely tied to the roof! And away we went. Upon arrival, the one gentleman on our bus had to assist the driver to lower all the luggage before we proceeded through security areas, awaited our overnight flight to Brussels, layover in Brussels again, then a flight back in time to Toronto and soon home.
What stress prior to the beginning, but what an adventure, in retrospect! My, my, what an opportunity! God is good- all the time!