Hotel La Croix du Sud #550 (still)
The plan was that we would pick up our 4 wheel drive after meeting Alioune's mother but he made a serious error: he assumed that I knew how to get to his house on my own so he never showed up to take us there. I imagined that he waited the whole day, wondering why we never showed up, perhaps thinking that we had changed our minds.... and then, late in the evening it struck him what had happened. I know this because, long after Alan and I had turned in for the night, there was a timid knock on our door and there stood a red-eyed Alioune, confronting us with the necessity of actually getting back into our clothes and making the long trip to his house after 10pm. But, the fact was that I had committed to the importance of him coming if that was possible, and besides, I had already made the effort to come this far from Oakland, so what was another small expense of effort, if it meant a huge enhancement of the trip. That's how I feel about having him in my life. I may never have the blessing of being a father.... Although I have always said that the first step needed to be having a loving relationship.... This event, the meeting of this gifted child, was giving me a strong exposure to parenting, in a setting where my whole life has the potential of opening to new levels of expression. So, over Alan's peeved objections, we got into our clothes with the very contrite Alioune and made our way to his home.
There we were met by not only his mother this time but also his father, the one who was supposed to be out of the country. Most importantly, his beautiful, English speaking older sister was there and she and Alan talked for hours, just getting to know us the way any loving family would when faced with the possibility that your young child would be heading off into the wilderness with two weird strangers.
Luckily they asked all of the right questions, except for the one that they obviously took for granted of Americans: do you have the means to provide for yourselves on this trip?
The meeting with the family went well, our meeting with the car, and the realities of our finances did not go nearly so smoothly.
When we got to the car dealership yesterday they seemed prepared for us, except for the fact that someone had left the radio on in the car and it wouldn't start. Seeing the, obviously old and beat up car you are planning to travel with into the African bush, being pushed into the street did not give us confidence. Still, they did get it started and we committed to taking it on the condition that it started the next morning.
Even more interesting is the fact that, having to put down half of the cost of the car, and pay for some needed supplies, it appeared that we didn't have enough money to check out of the hotel! With the 7 hour time difference, there was no way that Susannah could wire us money before Western Union closed so... we were stuck in Lodi again. (Sorry).
So, here is how this day unfolded:
Alioune showed up with his clothes and one tiny bag to last him for nine days across Africa; the car didn't start and the dealer instantly agreed to replace the battery but that took time. With all of this, and given that we couldn't check out anyway, we decided to have one last supper (ugh) at the Mex... one last rendition of Abraham's songs and, since we were here with a car, once the battery was replaced, why not go see the Pink Lake that was supposed to be worth the trip nearby. Just as we left the hotel on our way to the restaurant, who drove by but Assane! He was shocked to still see us here but happy to have a meal with us and see if there were any other goods he could procure for us at a secretly inflated fee. I had decided that I needed a long sleeve shirt to ward off mosquitoes so, after the meal we did one last turn of the market and I ended up with two "Black Negro League" long sleeve tee-shirts and one extremely tacky but light and zippered long sleeve shirt. Alioune came away depressed after seeing me being cheated by his standards. I understand his point but getting what I need, more or less, for about $10 is not so bad. He'll just have to add this "softness" he's probably seeing to his mix of who I am.
The trip to Lac Rose was a gradual journey into paradise that is extraordinary. The roads are clogged with stopped cars and people and potholes.....slow jarring moves through roadside villages that are teeming with colorful life on all sides.
But once we made our way to the lake I could not believe my eyes.
The lake itself is wonder. Filled with pink salt, it stretches off into the distance with a dark rose color that laps onto the shore in pink wavelets. There are small thatched huts along the side of the lake where a community of wonderfully warm people live and work by gathering salt for their living. As if the look of the lake were not enough, it turns out that the bottom is so shallow that one can literally walk across its half mile width. If I had been wearing underwear I would have quickly taken off my pants and tried it, but I hadn't been in Africa long enough for that yet. Luckily a local who, in any other setting would have been typecast as a heavy, dangerous character because of his thick brows, wadded up his pants and, sure enough, walked far enough into the distance to be a very odd sight.
But, for those of you who know me well, it will be no surprise that, even given all of this, the most impressive thing about this phenomena is that, when the local men gather the salt from the lake, they carry it in buckets to the shore and pile it up to dry. When they decide that the pile is high enough, and this varies considerable from pile to pile, they top it off by turning over the full bucket and removing it carefully so that it leaves the shape of a perfect nipple on the top of a perfect breast-shaped pile of salt! About 200 yards of these large breasts, in different shades from pure white to ebony and browns, have waited there for me to come spend two hours taking photographs against the pink water, the gathering clouds and the setting sun. Madiop and Ndongo helped me gather tiny perfect shells to take home. All of the children found this amusing. And then we had a cup of tea and finally drove back to the city in the dark and rain. Powerful lightning lit the horizon and Alan had a stressful time driving the obstacle course of normal African roads, but what we both will remember is a conversation about how the creative processes within us had been stimulated profoundly by this day! I may also remember the drive back as the time when I felt the first traces of stomach distress of the trip... Perhaps the tea had not been boiled enough... but these things will pass....
As I sit here for one last time, (we leave early tomorrow morning to Western Union and beyond into the bush) I can see Alan in the mirror beginning to write his novel, Alioune is lying on my bed, fully dressed and very much asleep.
Creativity, spirituality, love and relationships, confrontations with the bright and dark sides of human character, Marie-Claire's eyes, Assane's shrewd mind and Africa's voices have all given this trip a start we could never have imagined or planned. We head off into other unplanned events at dawn. I have no idea if it will be possible to send messages but know that I am with you.