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Monday, July 09, 2012

Mykel's Africa Blog Chapter 20: Beach Blanket Burrs



When you don't have any money, you might as well spend it.
--Jim Goad

I begin to write this at O'hare airport in Chicago. I've just returned from a 5½-day excursion... a 2-day visit to pal and poet, Sid Yiddish... and a 3 day visit to my undergraduate Alma Mater, Beloit College.

My flight to New York leaves in 3 hours. While I wait, I sit in the airport's Johnny Rockets, having just finished an awful chicken sandwich with more mayonnaise on the meat than bullshit on Fox News. Luckily, I've stocked up on Tums®.

[Note: You think I can get PRODUCT PLACEMENT money for these entries?]

When last we left me in Africa, I had returned to Sukuta and my host Malick. I'm in The Gambia. The day after tomorrow is the COUCH SURFER BEACH PARTY... my fault. A casual remark... I mentioned the couch-surfing group in Senegal. Bang! Malick is right on it.

I'm a promoter, you understand,” he says. “I know how to do this. I'll call. Send texts. Facebook. We'll have a hundred people... more.”

We don't need a hundred people,” I say. “This isn't a club date. It's for couch-surfing. Just a get together on the beach.”

Be yourself,” he says incongruously. “You want this to be a success, you understand. I'll make it a success.”

Uh oh, here it comes.

I know about promotion,” says Malick, “ I put the word out. I sent texts. So many people want to come, you understand. “

I don't think we need a big party. All we need is a few snacks on the beach. Landing (another couch-surfer, and my next host) can cook. He's a chef. There are only four or five couch-surfers here...”

There's this German girl,” he says. “She loves me. She won't stop calling, texting me. I don't get it. I text her back, but she can never meet me. Explain it to me, Mykel. If she likes me, she wouldn't she meet me. If she doesn't like me, she should stop texting. Can you explain it, Mykel?”

I don't get this non-sequetor... unless the woman is a couch-surfer. And how the hell am I supposed to explain it? It must be You're white. She's white. You should know.

I don't know,” I tell him.

Do you think it's because of her boyfriend?” he asks.

That may be a problem,” I say.

He adjusts his white baseball hat... puts it at a perfect angle... the brim exactly over the right eyebrow.

Maybe she'll come to the couch-surfer party. There was another guy, a Polish guy. He was a couch-surfer... then we found out he was a gay...”

I wait for the punchline. It comes, but it's for another joke.

To make this work, we need some money,” says Malick. “We have to buy food and drink for a lot of people. We need to have something to bring people together. So we can enjoy the beach, you understand.”

I have about 1000 Dalasi (about $35) left in my wallet. The bank machines are notoriously unstable in Africa. I may have to go a day or two before I find one that works.

In Senegal,” I tell him, “we just had a dinner. Everybody paid for themselves and we met and had a good time.”

I understand,” says Malick, “and it will be that way here too. But this is a first meeting, you understand. We have to make it nice so people will come back. Later, everyone will take care of himself. You understand. Be yourself!”

How much?” I ask, being direct,

Six-hundred dalasi,” he answers, being as direct.

That's more than half the money I have left.

I fork it over.

On the big day, we go shopping. My six-hundred buys a huge box of frozen chicken. It takes me and one of Malick's many friends to carry it. We go back to Malick's compound to pick up a grill... more like an aluminum box with holes in it and a metal bucket... also with holes. We carry all that plus two enormous jerry jugs of water, and some plastic bottles of red colored sweet drink to the main street. (They expected me to pay for the drink too. I didn't.) After that Malick flags down a pair of taxis. We load 'em up and head for the beach. Landing joins us in the beach parking lot as do assorted friends of Malick's.

I pay for the taxis.

Once out of our cabs, we pick up the meat, metal and assorted things with wires. We start walking.

I should be used to trudging through sand in my army boots. I've done it on the streets of Senegal and The Gambia. But this is BEACH sand... sink-down sand... not pat-down sand like on town streets. It isn't long before the sandaled crew is way ahead of me and my bucket of orange drink.

I spy a nice palm tree, making shade, perfect for a picnic.

Let's stop here!” I shout to the people ahead of me.

We can't,” shouts a young man wearing a MUSIC SAVES LIVES sweatshirt. “We're not there yet.”

Having no idea where THERE is, I trudge gamely behind everyon else. We pass a restaurant shack, with a signs that say FISH and BARBECUE. Outside stands a man wearing all white. Tall and strong in his middle age, the man calls out to us. He says something in Mandinka. The young guy in the sweatshirt goes over to him. They converse. This gives me a chance to catch up with everybody.

In a few minutes the young guy comes back. “He said we don't have to walk more,” he tells us... while looking at me. “If we give him a hundred dalasi, we can cook on his stove and use the tables and chairs at his restaurant.”

No,” I say, “this is a beach party, not a restaurant party. We don't need him.”

I can see the disappointed look on their faces. We pick up our burdens and walk. Here's a nice little grove of palm tress.

Let's stop here,” I suggest.

No,” comes the answer, “not here.”
Finally we get to what looks like the shell of a bombed out building. And not a very spectacular building at that. On the front, in blue lettering is the word BAR. Then, scratched into the brick behind is PARADISE BEACH BAR, and beneath that, a difficult-to-make-out word that looks something like FART.



I figure we'll set up inside the bar area, using the concrete as a firewall to keep in the barbecue and save the palmtrees outside. I figure wrong.
Instead of actually entering the concrete structure, we set up next door to it, amidst the leaves and trees, on sand covered in leaves, and very tiny burrs that find their way into the most embarrassing and uncomfortable body nooks.
 
The guys set to assembling the grill, loading it with local wood-- and palm tree leaves-- pouring cold water from the jerry cans over the frozen chickens... and again... and again.

The boy with the MUSIC SAVES LIVES t-shirt takes some speakers and a car battery from the stuff we brought. He climbs over the low wall to the BAR, and sets the speakers on what must have been the actual bar in the BAR. Then he hooks something to the speakers, and that something to the car battery. Nothing happens, but he seems satisfied, and leaving the speakers there, climbs back over the wall to join us.

Around now, the girls show up. At least I can see them in the distance. A troop... a gang... a parade. All kinds of girls. Little girlsd, barefoot, walking with their little hands in their mother's bigger hands. Teenage girls, developed in just the right spots. Young mothers, some with babes in arms... and THEIR mothers. They carry things on their heads. Pots, food in wrappers, things with wires. They're marching... the same way we did... along the ocean to just this spot. They turn... maybe to join us.

It's about time! For such a homophobic society, except for schoolrooms-- which are 100% integrated, Gambian (and Senegalese) societies have more separation of genders than I've seen anywhere. Unmarried folks do EVERYTHING separately. Heterosexual? How do they ever get close enough to sex any hetero?

The girls on the beach do not join us. Instead, they go INSIDE the old walls of the bar, and set up camp NEXT to us. They have their own party. Playing music and dancing to the speakers MUSIC SAVES LIVES set up. They don't talk to us. They don't eat our food. They hardly acknowledge our existence. One of my life's weirdest experiences... and painful because some of them are so beautiful.
The guys set to assembling the grill, loading it with local wood-- and palm tree leaves-- pouring cold water from the jerry cans over the frozen chickens... and again... and again.

The boy with the MUSIC SAVES LIVES t-shirt takes some speakers and a car battery from the stuff we brought. He climbs over the low wall to the BAR, and sets the speakers on what must have been the actual bar in the BAR. Then he hooks something to the speakers, and that something to the car battery. Nothing happens, but he seems satisfied, and leaving the speakers there, climbs back over the wall to join us.

Around now, the girls show up. At least I can see them in the distance. A troop... a gang... a parade. All kinds of girls. Little girlsd, barefoot, walking with their little hands in their mother's bigger hands. Teenage girls, developed in just the right spots. Young mothers, some with babes in arms... and THEIR mothers. They carry things on their heads. Pots, food in wrappers, things with wires. They're marching... the same way we did... along the ocean to just this spot. They turn... maybe to join us.

It's about time! For such a homophobic society, except for schoolrooms-- which are 100% integrated, Gambian (and Senegalese) societies have more separation of genders than I've seen anywhere. Unmarried folks do EVERYTHING separately. Heterosexual? How do they ever get close enough to sex any hetero?

The girls on the beach do not join us. Instead, they go INSIDE the old walls of the bar, and set up camp NEXT to us. They have their own party. Playing music and dancing to the speakers MUSIC SAVES LIVES set up. They don't talk to us. They don't eat our food. They hardly acknowledge our existence. One of my life's weirdest experiences... and painful because some of them are so beautiful.

This co-meeting must've been planned. (The speakers were ready and waiting.) The girls listen to music on the speakers we bought. They dance to the music... with each other.

Around this time Malick shows up. He's complaining about the location.

Why did you come all the way here?” he asks MUSIC SAVES LIVES.

The restaurant man offered his place for 100 dalasi,” the young man says, and glances back at me. “But we said no.”

Malick shakes his head. I look away

Suddenly, I'm in a hurry to get to the water. I take off my army boots and socks. I slip my bathing suit on under the robe/towel I brought with me.

The sand is HOT against my bare feet. I don't mean warm. I don't mean unpleasantly sun-baked. I mean hot. Fiery hot. Scalding hot. Indian fire-walker fakir hot.

Mykel,” says Malick, “You need sandals.”

The day you catch me in sandals will be the day I convert to Baptism,” I don't tell him. He wouldn't get it.

It's not bad,” I lie... running from the BAR to the sea. On the way, I step on one of those little burrs along the beach. It embeds itself into the bottom of my naked sand-baked foot. I stifle a scream...

Finally: the water. Aaaaah!

I'm an awful swimmer but I love the ocean. Some of our crew go for a more traditional bury-me-in-the-sand, beach experience. That's not for me.

Mykel! Lie down! We'll do you too!” Usually, that isn't a suggestion I turn down, but in this case....
I'd rather hit the water.

It's colder than I expect.

Okay, I'll just throw myself into a wave, get washed up on shore. Do it again.

Chit chit chit, SPLAAAAT! FOOOSH!

Fuck! One of those little burrs has edged it's way into my bathing suit. Slipped down. Right where you can't scratch in public.

Enough! I'm through with swimming. Landing has been cooking the chicken I bought, so it's time to EAT!! Nothing like having a chef in the crew!

I'd really like to invite the girls to join us in chicken, but no one is talking to them. They're dancing on the other side of the wall. Having a grand old party. The moms, kids, older sisters, younger sisters, all there... kicking up their legs, partying like there's no tomorrow. One of the girls, sits on the wall, her back facing me. She wears what may be the best t-shirt motto this side of I Voted for Obama, and Didn't Even Get This Lousy T-shirt.

After lunch it's photo ops.
 
Then, as it gets dark: THE BONFIRE:
By now, the girls have gone home. We're just starting to pack up. I've still got that nasty burr in a nasty place inside my bathing suit. I reach in to fish it out.

Did you lose something Mykel?” asks Malick.

Wiseguy.

We pick up the grill, empty water cans, car battery. MUSIC SAVES LIVES climbs over the wall to retrieve the sound system.

Then it's back to the beach entrance where I pay for taxis for everyone to return to their respective houses. Malick and I ride together.

That was a pretty good couch-surfer meeting,” he says. “It's a good start for us.”

Couch-surfers? Were there any couch-surfers there?” I ask.

Sure,” he said. “There were. We exchanged phone numbers. It's a good start.”

When we get back I want to stop in a restaurant for a beer. FIRST, I have to get out of this damn bathing suit... and find that burr. THEN, we go out, sit at a table, and enjoy some REAL beach food. It will be the LAST of my money. Leave my wallet empty.

No problem, I think. I can just go to an ATM and get some more.

I'm wrong.

It's always nice to get comments to these entries. Please leave one. You can also contact me on Facebook or at me@mykelboard.com. If I'm traveling, however, I may not be able to answer your email very quickly.

This is the 20th entry of my travel blog for this trip. Here are links to 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 (Strasbourg Party Time)

Episode 7 here (Ryan Air)

Episode 8 here (Back to Paris)

Episode 9 here (Death in Tangier)

Episode 10 here (Resurrection in Tangier)

Episode 11 here (Monkey Business in Gibraltar)

Episode 12 here (Entering Senegal from the rear)

Episode 13 here (Killing Me Softly)

Episode 14 here (The Road to Dakar)

Episode 15 here (Rags to Riches)

Episode 16 here (Behind Nirvana)

Episode 17 here (The Road to The Gambia)

Episode 18 here (Malick)

Episode 19 here (A Day In The Capital)

Look for me on Facebook and if you're in New York on a Thursday join my friends and me at Drink Club.

--Abaraka!



 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.