Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Senegal and back again

Pre-boarding Maty. Near midnight, Halloween night. Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport
Just back, last night. Sixty-two hundred miles and change. Between the tearful parting on Rue de Impasse, Senghor City, Thiés, and our determined stumble up the stairs back home, 35 hours.

Myself, contemporaneously
A grueling passage, with layovers in Paris and Salt Lake City, and, in our case, an incident with an aggressive Senegali during the exhausted shuffle from the plane to gate in pre-dawn Charles de Gaulle. The f-bomb was involved. But my woman is a strong woman and our teamwork in the moment proved itself admirably. Even if I do say so myself. It gets better all the time.

What have I learned?

Maty and Mor, admiring the monkey-bread fruit, under the baobob tree, the day we went to Gorée.
Senegalese are a courteous and respectful people. An extended hand is always taken. An as-salamu alaikum is always returned. Guests are always met with an offer of food or a glass of minty sweet, strong ataaya.

We met some North American college women in the restaurant on Gorée. Mama Nene's is an open-air venue, with a thatched roof, blessed by the breezes that come up off the water. Skinny cats prowl under the tables, alert for morsels.

The women were curious about Maty and me. How had we met? One of them said she hoped to marry a Senegalese man. I understood. Egalitarian Americans are swept away by Senegalese respect and courtesy.

It comes from their religion.  

The Great Mosque in Touba. (Construction continues, evidenced by the scaffolding.)
We went to Touba, where they're building the Great Mosque. Italian and Portuguese marble. Five minarets. Three domes. In the Moroccan style.

Within the Mosque
As we drove to Touba, Senegal revealed herself. Heat-soaked countryside. Cattle. Baobob trees. Trash.

On the road to Touba
Thiés street scene
 Thiés is where we spent most time.

Thiés is a cacophony of noise and activity. Cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and horse-drawn carts clog the streets. Engines roar, people shout and laugh, livestock bleats, cocks crow, and at intervals throughout the day, the local mosques broadcast the haunting call to prayer over public address systems. The ululating voice serves as reminder that order encompasses chaos.

Thiés grafitti
Every third or fourth car that rambled down the street was a taxi: a dilapidated economy sedan with a cracked windshield, dented fenders and windows that, as often as not, would not roll up or down. A ride downtown cost 500 CFA or about 80 cents.

Thiés, from the taxi
For dinner, Khoumba prepared chicken or fish with yams and eggplants and carrots, which she served on beds of rice or couscous. We sat cross-legged on the carpet around the platter and ate with our right hands. 

My welcoming meal on Mama Diop's patio in Sanghor City. Sengalese-spiced chicken, yassa onion sauce, and french fries.
Some afternoons, a boy appeared at the entry to Mama's courtyard with an empty coffee can. Maty or Khoumba would give him food. Whatever we had eaten or were going to eat. A drumstick. Yassa and couscous. Rice and fish curry.

One day I stepped outside Mama's gate and stood watching the people go by. Suddenly, a voice in English boomed out: "You! Come here!" I looked. Khadim was sat on a plastic chair in the street, in front of his wife's coiffure shop. "You! Come here!" He jabbed both fingers into the ground in front of him.

I called to Maty, in the courtyard behind me. "Honey, someone is yelling at me." She came to the gate and looked. "Ah, it's Khadim. He wants you to come talk to him."

Which I did. Our talk was very limited due to the language barrier. But he shook my hand and taught me some Wolof words and introduced me to the neighbors. His wife served me tea. We were friends instantly.

Some of Mama Diop's neighbors
Senegal. An immense experience. Made all the more momentous because of the love I have developed for my Senegalese family.

I had not seen Mama nor Mor since 2007, when I visited Ouagadougou in the year after Maty and I were married. Since that time, Papa Diop has passed. And my brother-in-law Pape.

Mama, plucking a chicken for dinner
Mama's limp has become more pronounced over time. Arthritis is not kind. Mor is now married to Khoumba, and they have a daughter, Khoudia, whom I loved in the first moment I saw her. My nephews, Omar and Abo, complete the household.

Mor and Khoumbah, with Khoudia
I'm humbled at the graciousness and hospitality I received while a guest in their home. And, sitting here now, in my living room in southeast Portland, I'm missing Mama's kindness and wisdom, and Mor's friendliness, and Khoumba's shy smile, and little Khoudia's sweetness and her face when she smiled. And I loved to carry her in my arms, when Maty and I went to the bodega for water or juice.

We're home. But I'm thinking about Senegal. And I'm missing my family.

My family in Senegal. Omar, Khoumba, Maty, Mama, Khoudia (on my lap), and Tonton Modou
Some more photos...

Roadside cattle.
Rolling down the highway.
Baobob tree.
On the Gorée beach
Garbage pickup service in Dakar.

Mama's courtyard
Fishermen off Gorée.
Rue de Impasse in Sanghor City

Roadside fruit stand

Neighborhood kids
Holy man

Maty, Khoudia, and Mor on the road to Touba

Inside the Grand Mosque


Swimming not advised, in Bandia reserve
Maty and Khoudia
Au revoir, Senegal!

No comments: