Another month has passed..
..and every day I walk through a hazy cloud of diesel, burning goat flesh, canal sewage and flaming trash. The trees have been butchered clean to help them regrow in the rainy season, so there goes my shade.. but there is some relief.. the dry Harmattan wind blows south from the Sahara, the soothing waves of the ocean are never too far.
A few stories.
A while back, our group (the canadian toubabnation) bused to Lac Rose to see the Dakar Rally finish line. We passed ourselves off as residents at the posh lakeside hotel (our beds were over a mile away on the main village road) smoked hash behind huts, floated through a djembe concert and stumbled in moonlit darkness back to our three huts. There was an incredible party that night near the road. Back in our rooms, one was empty (overtaken by spiders) and the other filled with sleepy souls. In the third I drank myself into a monsieur Bronson gin oblivion (40oz for $8) with two strange Brits, the sleeping spider refugees, and even stranger lizards- three people to three tiny beds. That's about the only time I've been noticeably drunk here so far. The hotel manager came knockin' at 0700, yelling,
"Le Rally! Le Rally c'est la! Le Rally vient!" and shaking me out of slumber. Avec une guele de bois and no press pass, I left the unshakeable bodies and wandered into the chaos with village children and an unfazed will to slip past the Senegalese gens d'armes to launch myself into the frenzied hordes of rally-fanatics. None of this went as planned. I chatted with officials, offered them small bribes, eventually got inside, waited only to learn the moto-racers were making their way across the beach a few miles north. Unfazed but thirsty, I returned to the nice hotel and had free peanuts and cheap beer for breakfast, hypnotised by the same drummers from last night. I said goodbye to some kids. My friends did see the Rally, but it finished yesterday. The ride home was 11 people sandwiched into a 4x4 swerving past thousands of waving singing villageois who lined the streets and took us for french rallyers.There was a fat middle-aged Australian beside me who hitched a ride. He took up space, talking incessantly about the evils of the World Bank.
The last day of january- tamxarit, ashûra, the muslim new year. Suma beer fes na, with a belly full of cous-cous I hit the streets and found my liquid love, attaya (strong and minty) tea, flowing at every corner. I will try to bring this black gunpowder back to Canada. Diallo, a friendly toothless mason, was pouring la mousse (there is a complicated ritual) from a broken silver kettle, so I sat beside their safara fire with members of the Tidiane brotherhood. [There are a number of Sufi brotherhoods in Dakar- Mourides and Tidianes are the big two but there are also the Baye Fall). We fumble with words- exchanging sayings, stories, songs.. Diallo bolts up to greet a customer- his cart sells cigarettes, candy, phone cards. What else do you need, really? There are so many marchands ambulants and informal baolbaol work because there is nothing
else.. what can you do when your country literally produces peanuts? The smoke is in my eyes.. waawaw, jeere jef, mangi dem, I must be going. Conversations about religion and existence that I have never ever had with a stranger, and here, it's completely normal.
-Why are you leaving? When will you return? Remember my name..
This reminds me in a mangled sort of way of last time when I said everything I know is across the ocean and I want it to stay that way... yungi suma xarit bu baax nga, you are my very good friends, I love you and miss you, don't misunderstand me.
I will not forget the random kindness of strangers. One night I'm lost in Liberté 5 and my foot gnashes against some raised concrete. I think nothing of it until I feel my toes sliding in blood. I hit the nearest shop (a shoe store) and it's disinfected and bandaged without any hesitation. I proceed to bank on my good luck and wander into Derkle where lots of stimulants are offered to me. The only one I accept is cafe Touba (on the street it costs about 10 cents, a sharp jolt of sugar, salt, and strong coffee) and I talk in broken wolof about how Senegalese have this ability to age better than anyone. Along with every drug I am offered a free scooter ride home, but I decline these treats and find my own way..
Two weekends ago was Toubab Diallo- an old fishing village about 60km south on la petite côte. A perfect beach with a killer undertow.. the sun beats the others into a deep slumber and I make friends with Baye Fall, djembe drummers for the local disco. We share knowledge and smoke and they invite me back to their place on the beach the next day to make ceboudjen. I sleep at 4 on a hotel floor and in the morning they take me to the village and their families. They took me to their unfinished concrete castle and here ended my 40 day break from drugs. The Baye Fall are soldiers of peace who wear dreads, smoke a lot of yamba, and pray to Allah and their prophet, Ibrahim Fall. A skinny young Belgian lady who was married to one of them lent me her bodyboard, and I got raped by 12 foot waves and wobbled back, all stirred up from the current. An image of their camouflaged terrace is locked in my head.. they invited me to make the pilgrimage with millions of other Soufis to Touba in three weeks.. we shall see. It might be too hot for me. I left at sunset, tired and happy. For the canucks who left earlier, it took 4 hours to get home. That gives you an idea of the trafic insanity here.. you don't want to be stuck in les banlieus.
There is a lot of poverty here that you cannot ignore- people with severe leprosy, the talibe children, les sans domicile fixe (homeless), old Sereer women from the countryside plunk down at streetcorners, faces cracked from the years in the sun, they grill peanuts and sell tomatoes and wash clothes. We lose power every few days for hours, everything is under construction, nothing is finished.. but this is not the point.
I am learning lots of things in school, but I learn a lot more from the people. I disagree with my professors quite a bit.. even rented La Haine to spice up our urban sociology class. Gloria is Nigerian but despite her 'broken' english she teaches me a lot.. everything is going well with us but, even though she's coming to Canada in a few years, it's a drag to know it cannot last. Last friday we ate yaboy (bony fish) on the beach, from the water to the grill to my shrinking belly. For some reason I've lost almost ten pounds here. Maybe parasites are the key to staying thin. Xadim has been teaching me Arabic. The old man who calls himself the child of the island of Ngor (Dakar is surrounded three villages called Yoff, Ouakam and Ngor) told me hilarious and depressing stories about Senegalese politics- he was strangely poetic when he recalled days when, if things did not change, people would be forced to eat sand. I play soccer and cache-cache (hide and seek) with the cap-verdian kids in our neighborhood, leap over walls and hide behind cars as old people give me funny looks. There was a marriage that closed off our street and lasted all weekend, and be it funeral or marriage you get to see a thousand people in hundreds of colours come together in unity to make good rhythms that push the evil spirits away. A walk to the essencerie (gas stations are local grocery stores) is an adventure, with drumming and dancing or chanting that suddenly appear out of the neighborhoods full of walls and sandy paths.
Both in the city and at home there is no privacy of space or noise. Parks are unheard of. It makes writing and thinking difficult. Families consider it strange not to sit around the TV from 8 until midnight. Dated Portugese soap operas translated into French are enjoyed here. Dallas and 24 are watched every week. Aissatou and Fatou laugh, Ramatoulaye is quiet. The domestiques take more than their share of abuse. Everyone else in my family is great, but when my grandmother isn't coughing up phlegm or shouting orders at everyone she sometimes lets out a beautiful hoarse cackle that make me smile. But she can be a disrespectful ogre, treating everyone like garbage and her personal slave, but you have to bite your tongue and respect the elders, because they're not all like that. Besides, the griot chants des anciens are so voodoo they can steal your soul.
Campaigning is reaching a crest now as national elections are in five days. Forget the ten independent parties, it's a race between the socialists and incumbent democrats led by 80 year old Abdoulaye Wade-- fueled by the Mouride brotherhood which dominates the informal economy and all transportation. Every night candidates make prepared speeches or elaborately staged rallies with caravans of music, dance, and insanity-- once on my way home a mammoth tractor blew past hauling nothing but a billboard and amps, cranking out mbalax,
trailed by cars towing rollerskaters. Mbalax is a style on its own.. a fusion of latin, reggae, jazz, funk.. but none of those do it justice.. crazy rhythms, drumming, and chants.
I'm sure there is a lot I left out.. but you can't share everything in these scattered rants. I'm heading down to the Dakar port tomorrow to hopefully pick up some vile palm wine and a brick of hash from Casamance. [This failed miserably- another story] Aparently the Diola tribes from there live in an egalitarian society, the man and woman share time for all domestic duties. I would like to visit, but last month the rebel MFDC declared open season on foreigners! I'm hoping to do some election coverage as well but that depends on the violence. Nothing will happen, but today, like most other days, we were barred from going to the university because of student riots.
I am healthy, happy, hoping to hear from you all..