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Thursday, April 12, 2012

PASSAGE TO AFRICA Chapter 12: Senegal at Last

Mykel's Africa Blog
Chapter 12: Arrival in Senegal.

It conformed to my idea of Africa and Africans, an obvious contrast to the growing isolation of American life... the insistent pleasure of other people's company, the joy of human warmth. --Barak Obama

I'm a prisoner of hospitality. Locked in a room, tortured by the culture. If I go out into the house, someone will ask me. Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? I would never say yes. But even with a no, it's We'll prepare something for you. Sit down. We'll make you une cafe, which is actually either some of that delicious mint tea I had in Morocco or a horrible cold drink (don't drink the water, remember?) made from the fruit of the Baobob tree...with great chunks of in it... a chocolaty smell... but a taste somewhere between sand and raw potato flakes. Never REAL COFFEE.

I can't even take a piss, because I need to pass through the living room to get to the bathroom. On my way, I'll be told sit down. What do you want to eat? No problem, I'll make it.

[Aside: this what do YOU want to..., is related to the however you want, that was so frustrating in Morocco. When I was with a Moroccan friend and tried a new dish, it often came with a variety of sauces and eating implements. I asked, How do you eat this? The answer was invariably however you want. That's no help at all. I don't KNOW the food. Someone needs to tell me what to do... which sauce goes with which food. I could wind up putting catsup on chocolate pudding.

The same here in Senegal. What do you want to do today, Mykel? I don't know what there IS to do!! I can't choose something if I don't know the choices...Aahrg! Ah, but that's travel: Frustrations you love to talk about! Much of the joy of travel.. like sex... is in the aftertalk rather than in the act itself. End of Aside]

Even if I just stay in the room... if I'm awake... every few minutes there's a knock on the door. Mykel, are you hungry? Mykel, do you want to drink a cafe? Mykel, prepare your dirty clothes my mother will wash them.

And if I decide to go outside... soak up some sun... take a walk in the village. PANIC! But you'll read about that in the next blog entry. Right now I on the bed in my room. Me and my computer. I have nothing to do but type.

Even then, I have only a few seconds/minutes to type, I think. My host has gone to get toilet paper... special for me. (The locals don't use it. It's an eat with the right hand culture. That leaves the left hand free. Paper is so unecological!) As soon as I said I needed to go to the toilet after a fine rice-and-fish lunch, Oseman jumped up to buy toilet paper.

I offered him money (about $4) ... much more, I think, than he needs to buy the toilet paper. He takes it all. But these people are poor. It's easy to see. They deserve it. I just hope my wallet holds out.

Flashback: The airport: Lisbon Portugal. Easter Sunday... nothing going on in town. At the airport, I've got six hours before my flight. I'll finish writing the Gibraltar chapter. I do. Nowhere to upload it, though. So it'll wait.... just as I'm now waiting to use the toilet until the paper shows up. Same feeling of NEED.

The plane leaves about 40 minutes late. TAP airlines... I hear it's got the least legroom of any airline... even RyanAir. When the guy in front of me leans back it's impossible to do anything on my little table. I have the window seat. There is a German girl in the aisle seat. We share computer space on the middle table. Her's is smaller than mine.

On the plane, about an hour before landing, the stewardess hands out immigration cards. Profession, passport number, length of stay, etc. In the space: local address (in Senegal), I write nothing. I've done the same for Europe, Japan, Morocco, everywhere. They think you'll find a hotel when you get to town. No problem.

It's a problem.

The plane is about an hour late. That means Oseman, my host, who was great enough to agree to meet me at the airport at 12:20AM... will now have to wait an extra hour. It's too much to ask, but I didn't ask. He just offered. I wouldn't blame him if he just left... I'll find a hotel and call him tomorrow.

The plane lands. I head for immigration.

It's an old rule I broke this time. I didn't notice. NEVER GO TO A FEMALE IMMIGRATION OFFICER... They're always the worst. Maybe they've got something to prove. I donno, but there's always trouble.

I need your address in Senegal,” she says.

I don't have one,” I tell her. “I hope to meet a friend here and he will find a hotel for me.”

It's a lie that sounds plausible enough, I think. It's certainly easier than explaining the couch-surfing system. Right? Yeah, right.

I need his name,” she says.

I fumble through my bags to find my address book. She waves me aside and takes other entrants.


[The toilet paper just showed up, but by now I've lost the urge. It'll hit again, I'm sure, at the most inconvenient time possible. Probably during a conversation with a pretty girl. There are a lot of 'em here. ]

FLASH AHEAD: It's 5:30 AM. I lie awake in bed. Hot, but covered... mosquitoes... malaria... you know The bugs already got me... twice, despite the DEET. As soon as I turn off the lights, bang! Attack! I can hear them buzz around my ears.

It's time for the morning prayer, the call from the local mosque. Loud, over the whole town. What did they do before electricity and loud speakers? There must've been Muslims before there was electronic amplification.

I don't think I've shat for 2 days... despite the toilet paper-- bought specially for me. No shower either... only cold water here... and once clean, I have to cover myself in DEET again. It's pretty miserable. Like the worst of camping... or being on tour with a band.

Though depressing, Senegal wins in the APM department. That's adventures per minute. There is a lot to write about and, as sleep seems to evade me, I can at least do that.

I fell asleep again. It's 9:45. I've got to take a piss again, but I dread passing though the livingroom and greeting the entire family. Where was I? Oh yeah customs,

I find the address book. Show the officer Oseman's name.

This is no good,” she says, “there is no address here. Only a phone number.”

He's going to find me a hotel,” I lie to her. “I don't have his address.”

I need an address,” she says.

She points to a phone number in my address book. “Call him,” she says. “and get his address.”

I pull out my trusty cellphone. There is no signal. It doesn't work.

My phone doesn't work here,” I tell the immigration officer.

She takes out her own cellphone. “I will call,” she says, “but you will pay me.”

She calls. There is no answer. No connect.

There is no answer,” she says. “No connect. I need an address.”

She motions for me to stand aside while she takes a few more passports. I'm the last one in the place.The others have gone through to collect their bags and go off into the Dakar night. I wonder if I'll be off to jail, or maybe sent back to Portugal on the next plane.

She motions for me to come over to her.

I will help you,” she whispers, “but you will pay me.”

I slip her a 5000 note... about $10. She shakes her head.

You will pay me 10000,” she says handing it back to me.

I take out my only 10,000 note and drop it on the desk next to my passport. She nods, writes HOTEL NOVATEL in the ADDRESS IN SENEGAL space, and voila! I'm through immigration.

There's no one waiting for me in the airport proper... when I get out of immigration. Just a bunch of guys with signs with names on them. The whole interior of the airport is fenced off...dark. Those traffic/police gates mark out a single path out into the parking lot and from the lot onto the sidewalk. It must've been the last plane of the night... they're closing up... and my phone won't work.

Mykel!” comes a shout from somewhere. It's Ouseman! Young and tall... still waiting for me. He follows me outside the gate, until there is a gap I can climb through. I give him a hug... relieved. He hails a cab, talks to the driver a bit, lets the cab go by and hails another. I've seen this in Thailand. It's bargaining for fare... a usual practice, best done by natives. We find a driver: beat up cab... smashed windshield... filthy as

I don't exactly live in the city,” says Ouseman. “I live in the ghetto.”

How can there be a ghetto in Dakar, let alone one not in the city? If 99% of the people are black... who lives in the ghetto? Jews? This guy does not look Jewish. The one on the left, I mean.

There are a lot of Jews in Ethiopia. But Senegal? It's hard to imagine some old white guy with a beard standing on the roof of an African house... singing IF I WERE A RICH MAN... YAH DEE DAH DEE DAH DEE DAH...

I figure he means suburbs, rather than ghetto. I turns out to mean POOR suburbs, WAAAAY the fuck out. The cab speeds through a long highway stretch, then onto what I think at the time is a dirt road, then back to more dirt roads... and dirt roads connecting dirt roads. Are we still in Senegal? We arrive... someplace.

Dad is still up. Waiting for me. Wearing a beautiful green top thing matched by a beautiful green bottom thing. He has clearly stayed up to greet the guest.

The table is covered in a strange black material... shimmering as if moving gently under the light... when I reach to feel the texture... it takes off... flies into the air... splits into a thousand parts... flies... the table was covered in flies... Now they hover like I do... waiting for dinner.

Dad and I chat a bit. He teaches me some Wolof. I tell him about the flight and life in New York. He's a genial guy... laughs easily.

The next morning I get up and take a look outside. The dirt roads are not dirt at all, they're sand. It's a town built right into the desert. This is not dirt-poor.... this is sand-poor! Wow!

I'm awake about 9 the next morning. The rest of the family sleeps til noon. Here's me with the rest of them. Can you guess which one I am?

Ouseman and I don't get to Dakar until 4PM. No chance to see anything before sundown. It's the opposite problem I had in Casablanca. There, I was trapped by my host working all day. I had to fend for myself during his work hours. 9AM to 9PM.

In Dakar (or wherever this ghetto is, I don't have a sense of location), I'm trapped by an always accompanying host. I can't leave or do anything without him. I can't take a walk. There is nowhere to walk to. I can't have a coffee on the street, enjoy the whores. There are no street cafes and the whores all work in the city.

I can probably bargain my way to taxi into town, but how will I get back? There's no way in hell I could ever find his place again. I'm sure the streets here don't have names... you just have to know... I don't.

In the few hours of daylight, Ouseman takes me to the local park. It's large, and pretty-- if a bit worn around the edges... tons of joggers, a lake with water moccasins in it, a zoo, and a huge statue of a lion in front.

Do you want to go to the zoo?” Ouseman asks me.

I don't think so,” I tell him. “I didn't come to Africa to see lions in cages.”

He laughs

After the park, we find a cafe: internet access, some white people (always annoying), and $5 orange juice-- it goes with white people, I guess. The place would fit in New York or LA. I have some real coffee and a croissant. I treat Ouseman to a coffee.

Then it's a walk though town.

For some reason, Ouseman prefers unlit streets. No street lights, narrow sidewalks, shadows moving through the dark night. Most places are closed... shut up until tomorrow... not very sight-seeing, but a bit scary. We wind our way through the back streets to a corner... just a corner... better lit than the previous streets. We wait here. We are meeting Ouseman's femme.

She's a pretty gal, early 20s, nice and rounded... good shape... except for a slight belly... always suspicious in a girl.

She invites us up to her place. Just around here. In a slightly better building than Ouseman's. Up a flight of stone steps... another one... and another... and another. I think her name is M'Amy, but maybe he keep saying Ma amie. Her room is right off the stairs. It's just a room. No bathroom. No kitchen. No lights. Just a double mattress and a candle that flickers on the edge of going out.

I have to go get some water,” says Ouseman. “I'll be right back.”

As soon as he leaves M'ami gestures toward the bed. “Mykel,” she says, “lie down. Be comfortable.”

Uh oh! I've seen this movie before.

I lie at the very edge of the bed. M'ami moves over, presses both hands on my stomach. Then she walks to the edge of the bed takes an ankle (mine) in each hand. Lifts up both my legs and moves me toward the middle of the bed. Uh oh again.

Ouseman shows up with a bottle of water... whew!

He lies between us. Whew!

Mykel,” he says in a quiet whisper, “after we go to the soire, we will come back here. This is my girlfriend, you understand, right?”

I nod.

So when we come back,” he continues, “could you wait out on the balcony. Just for twenty minutes. You understand. Then we can go home.”

I tell him I understand... no problem.

He talks to the girl some more... in Wolof. Then he talks to me... in French.

We will go home after the bar,” he tells me in English, suddenly. “But could you go outside now. We'll be ready in twelve minutes.”

Twelve minutes? That's pretty exact timing. Know thyself. Okay, but knowing it takes twelve minutes is pretty detailed self-knowledge. Maybe he meant twenty minutes. I get fifty and five hundred mixed up in French. It's easy to mix up the numbers.

What isn't easy to do is wait on the balcony. It's cold... windy... there are mosquitoes... there is malaria.

[ASIDE: I bought the insect repellent recommended by the clinic where I got my travel shots. It's the strongest stuff available. I feel creepy that I have to have it always in contact with my skin... but it's better than the alternative.

It has a huge warning label... under the regular label... you have to peel it back to read it. It says, among a lot of other things: DO NOT USE ON CLOTHES... then later WILL NOT HARM COTTON OR WOOL. Huh? It says: DO NOT USE NEAR EYES OR MOUTH... then later: TO APPLY TO FACE RUB ON HANDS AND THEN ON FACE. It says DO NOT INJEST. But HAY This is Senegal. People eat with their hands here. If I have to cover my exposed skin, then I have to eat the stuff. Shit.]

People who live in M'Amy's building pass me, looking at me strangely. It's as if I'm the colored guy lurking on the balcony of an all-white building in Kentucky. It's a lesson I need, but don't like.

Actually, I only have to wait 15 minutes. M'Ami has changed into her evening clothes. Ouseman whispers to me, in French. “I love her,” he says. “She loves me too. But she also loves money.”

We're on our way to a soire... in a bar... me, Ouseman and M'Amy. Ouseman doesn't drink. M'Amy does. Of course we have to take a taxi to the bar. (Between the taxi to get in and out of the ghetto, and the various taxis in town... transportation is more costly in Dakar than in New York... much more... almost $30 a day) The rich uncle from America pays for it all.

I expected live music and a lounge... people sitting at tables, served by elegant waiters in bowties, carrying drinks on trays, surrounded by beautiful women. Well, one out of four isn't bad, though the beautiful women seem to be professionally beautiful, if you know what I mean.

I get up to get rid of my first beer and prepare for the second. I return to the booth. Ouseman gets up to use the same facility. (Most boys don't like to go together like girls do.) When he leaves, M'Amy pulls me closer to her.

You stay at my place tonight?” she says in French... her lips very close to my ear.

I can't,” I tell her. “I have to go back with Ouseman. I don't know how to return without him. I can't find his house. I'm sorry.”

Okay,” she says, still in French, “I understand.”

Ouseman returns. The DJ (no live music) pumps it up a bit. I recognize an Yussou N'Dour song. The girls get up to dance together. I adjust my pants. I buy 2 more beers, one for M'Amy and one for me. Ouseman isn't drinking, but he is eating a hamburger. I buy that too. My wallet thins. Ouseman and I take a taxi all the way home. Of course, I pay. He's my guide. There is no question I'm doing the right thing. I only have to keep telling it to myself.

At home, Mom is awake and has dinner ready for us... of course. It's rice and fish.

I'm awakened around 5:30 the next day. It's a cacophonous combination. The morning call to prayers, the roosters in the backyard doing their morning vocal exercises, the goats in the backyard, maaing for their breakfast, and somewhere in the distance what sounds like a choir of cows, but-- I'm later told-- is a flock of sheep.

I waddle off to the bathroom, toilet paper in hand, I don't need it. (I haven't for days!)

Well, it'll be a quiet day today, right? Yeah right.  
This is the 12th entry of my travel blog for this trip. Here are the past entries:

Episode 1 here (Before leaving New York 1)

Episode 2 here (Before leaving New York 2)

Episode 3 here (Before leaving New York 3)

Episode 4 here. (Before leaving New York 4)

Episode 5 here (New York to Paris)

Episode 6 here (Strassbourg Party Time)

Episode 7 here (Ryan Air)

Episode 8 here (Paris)

Episode 9 here (Death in Tangier)

Episode 10 here (Resurrection in Tangier)

Episode 11 here (Monkey Business in Gibraltar)

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