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Omar, Senegal

Who doesn’t know him: Omar, the colorfully dressed and upbeat salesman of traditional West African clothes? He can be found at markets, at music festivals and on public holidays such as Leidens Ontzet. Behind this man hides a world of adventurous stories. “In Senegal, each tribe has its own trade. There are those who do woodworking, or those who sing, or drum, or leatherwork… My tribe is one of storytellers.” He starts off while showing me his collection of photos.

“I left my country when I was 24 years old. I wanted to do, see and mean something to the world. I got in my car and just went. I travelled through Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Algeria, Morocco and I ended up in Libya. There, I worked in a garage for two years. I had worked as a car mechanic before in my own country. I worked at the Dakar airport when I was younger. That is how I got that job in Libya.”

“After three years of wandering, I arrived in the Netherlands by plane via Guinea, Malta and Russia. I immediately started working, first at a company that replaced car windows and later as a paper folder at a printing company in Dordrecht. After that I went back to Africa for a few years. But I am an entrepreneur, so I started selling at the Leiden market in 2009. Now I am self-employed. I take care of myself and of my people back home in Senegal.”

“What not many people know about me is that I buy second-hand goods and sell them cheaply in my home country. I’m very busy with that. I send a container every year. That’s why my house is full of televisions, amplifiers, refrigerators and musical instruments. Of course, only good quality stuff. There is also a large bag of teddy bears. And a couple of boxes filled with shoes. To save space, I put those shoes in the fridges when I ship them.”

“On the way back, I pick up new clothes that I can sell here at the market. I ship them to Paris which is where I then pick them up with my van. A full container would be too much. Where should I store all that?”

“I was married to Dutch women twice, but now I’m with someone in Senegal. We have a two-year-old son. I go back every year to see them. It’s going well. What I do miss is making music. That was easier in Dordrecht, I had a band there. I can’t find a group here in Leiden that works for me. Deep in my heart I am a Rolling Stone, you know, because I’ve been through a lot.”


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