Hotel La Croix du Sud
.... a man with no hands and feet is singing his prayers under the arcade, out of the warm light rain across the street.....
We plan to finally leave Dakar tomorrow at some point for what everyone calls the African "Bush". To say that we are prepared would be to overstate things quite a bit but we do have what should be a reliable vehicle. In fact one highlight of yesterday's adventures was the negotiation we conducted with the owner of the car dealership that's renting us the small 4x4 we plan to drive across Senegal.
If you were looking at a map of the country you would see Dakar on the peninsula near the Westernmost point of Africa. Up the coast from there is the old colonial town of St. Louis, also famous for jazz by the way, where we plan to spend the first two nights. From there you can see where the Senegal River arcs across the northern edge of the country bordering the Sahara in Mauritania.
There's a town there named Podor where we should have our first encounters with traditional people. From there we take dirt roads directly South to Linguere and further down to Touba which is famous for being the burial site of Amadou Bamba, the charismatic Islamic evangelist who the guide book says "..emphasized the importance of physical labor (ideally working on Bamba's own plantation) as a path to spiritual salvation."
The next stop should be Kaolak which I have a particular interest in because I've been told that "my people" are from that area. Of course the source for this was a man working for the car dealer and he only had my cheekbones to go by but, what the hell.
From there we head due west to Tambacounda where there is a major National Park with large game that we are told must be seen. Supposedly we can follow tour buses in and go from there. We'll see.
That is essentially the end point. At Tambacounba we turn around and head back to Dakar along the same road we came in on. When we leave there I'm going to feel as if every step I take is really heading for Oakland, Specifically our little house on the hill that, from what I hear, I may not recognize at first for all of the renovations Susannah is making. I feel at this moment at if I really have two major destinations that I'm longing for: Tambacoumba and El Monte Ave.
One reason that our first stop is St Louis is that it's a small city and there is bound to be a Western Union office there. We are desperate for money. It turns out that Alan's company lost an invoice and he is totally out of money, and he has no credit left on his card. I have what's left from what Susannah sent me on Friday but there is very little chance that that would keep us until the 22nd. And there is still much to do before we leave.
I forgot my Polaroid on the way to our meal and had to come back to the hotel. Good thing because there was Assane waiting with his motorbike to see if I have any last minute needs. (I'm beginning appreciate the coincidence of his name. He obviously has more sense than I do about things here). We do actually. It occurred to me in the middle of the night that it might be nice to have something to sleep on while we are out there. He agreed that that might be a good idea and for the small fee of 20,000 CFA he motored off to get us grass mats and cloths, just in case.... He dropped them off at the hotel while we were gone. I may never see him again.
Something happened at the restaurant yesterday that I will never forget. The day before Abraham the singer saw us on the street and broke into the Hallelujah Chorus, much to my delight. When we sat down to eat he came over and Alan told him about my robbery. As we watched his head dropped very slowly and his eyes filled with tears and he slowly walked away. Yesterday he came to our table with an unusual look on his face. He placed two tiny wrapped presents before us and sang out loud his splendid medley. Alan and I were stunned. This man who has nothing had gone out of his way to try and make us feel that Dakar loved us despite what had happened. The thought flashed through my mind that it had all been worth it.
There may only be three of us on this trip because for the first time in more than a week Alioune never showed up our room this morning. The issue of getting permission from someone in his family had been hanging over us for days. He offered a copy of his mother's passport as proof that he could go but I told him that I needed to at least have his older brother affirm in writing that his family knew of our plans. He had been a bit sullen all day but when we got back after dark from dinner he suddenly became very animated and wanted me to follow him out again into the night. Alan translated that he expected me to leave that minute to go to his home. This was amazing in itself because he had been so secretive about his personal life, but I needed to call my friend Julio right then so he sat on the bed and waited patiently for the hour it took for me to get through to Brooklyn.
By now it was very late and I was tired, but I really wanted him to come with us if that was possible so I put my sandals back on and off we went into Dakar's dark streets. He hailed a taxi and negotiated what he felt was a fair price and we pulled away. I watched his face in the passenger side mirror from my seat in the back to see how he was reacting to all of this. He seemed calm as we drove for miles out of town. At first it tried to keep track of where were going but it quickly became impossible. I could smell the sea after the 30 minute trip and the driver finally pulled over near some buildings in what looked like a neighborhood just off the highway. Alioune's mood and manner changed radically when he stepped out of the car. Suddenly he was lively and spirited, taking my hand as we almost got run over by a motor scooter. By this time I was intensely curious to meet his older brother and talk to him about Alioune and the trip. I knew that his mother was out of town but at least I could get some information about this amazing young man.
The building where he lives is in the middle of what must be a housing complex with children everywhere smiling and playing and wondering who this new guy is. As he turned into a doorway he high-fived a tiny girl and I tried to imagine what I would think if I saw a stairway as poor looking as this anywhere in the United States. And yet, once again, I found myself feeling relaxed and interested, not frightened or put off in any way. At the top of the stairs there was a long hallway with an opening on the right that looked out on a light well where the open windows of many apartments could be seen. It was impossible to tell if these were all private spaces or if it was one large dormitory-like dwelling. the sense was that these people all lived together. I didn't consciously realize it then but on the way home it finally occurred to me that if you took Badou's home and stacked it on itself a few times you would have what I had seen at Alioune's place. The grid is not their system of organization and to my eye the combinations of surfaces and openings formed more of something like a texture of human spaces filled with life.
Suddenly, at the end of a hallway filled with beaded doorways, there sat an older woman with her breasts exposed over a light piece of cloth. Alioune moved directly to her an introduced me to his mother! We were both stunned, but we also both instantly understood what this was about... and just as quickly we understood that we couldn't say one word to each other and that there was no one around who could translate. Still, the point was that we were there to get to know each other and humans obviously never need words to begin to do that. I spent about an hour there projecting good will to his older brother and tiny sister while his mother changed into a stunning green swathing of cloth.
It turned out that the only person in the building who spoke any English at all was Alioune himself! That sly character had been caught and his mother knew this very well. I listened and watched the body language debate between them and could tell that, although she liked me, the fact that we couldn't communicate meant that there was no way she was going to consent to his coming. At that, I proposed that I return tomorrow with Alan and his French to help this process move forward. After a short visit to the roof, where the further textures of this community were visible under the almost full moon, I walked with Alioune back to the road and I got a cab to the hotel.
I assumed that things were moving forward towards our departure for the bush, ... but life had other plans it seems....