Re: Alioune
Hotel La Croix du Sud
Dakar, Senegal

The significant events of this day actually began yesterday when Alan and I were on our way home from the restaurant where we eat our only meal of each day (for some reason that's enough. We'll see if that and the running and swimming I'm doing have any noticeable effect on my all too conspicuous belly). We were almost at the hotel door when I felt a tug on my sleeve and there was Alioune, wearing a huge smile and a red tee shirt! He came into my arms with a hug of affection and I yelled to Alan to look at what had happened. I have no idea how he found us. I had assumed when he left us the night before, (after our extraordinarily encounter at the slave house), that I would never see him again. Instead he has been my constant companion: last night we walked hand-in-hand to the market where I awkwardly tried to find some thing that he would eat. (A coke and three potato chips are all he would accept). This morning he arrived at 10 am and hung around patiently while Alan and I did chores before our trip to the beach.

The trip along the shore behind the President's house took us past the roadside shanty village I'd been photographing on my runs, and swanky hotels where taxis pull up dispensing white people who had obviously been well advised.

The Atlantic water is warm and calm here. I wish I had discovered it earlier. Being Sunday it was fairly crowded with young men (VERY few girls and no women appeared and the few very sexy ones that did were not ogled at all). Just off shore there were two long fishing boats with cast nets, and further out La Goree Island sat like a grim reminder of the past.

But all of this was secondary to the realization that I had suddenly become a father of some sort to this mysterious and beautiful child. In some remarkable way it is now assumed that he and I will always do things together for as long as I am here. Later, on my run, I realized that he is simply acting out some strong feeling that fits right in with the spirit of this place. The ability to turn what you feel into actions sounds so simple when I put it that way. It will only be after I'm back in the United States (I hesitated to write "home") that I will remember how strange that is for us. I tried to imagine a child on the streets of San Francisco simply adopting a tourist and spending days and all meals with them as if he were their child. And all without saying more than a few words to them. His first language is Wolof and my French is hopeless for more than silly phrases. We communicate mainly by gestures and his smile. He will give me a wink and thumbs up when what I'm doing or offering is right for him. Lowering his eyes and imperceptibly shaking his head means no. That is basically it. And yet we are bonded and I am getting my first direct experience of parenting through this child. It's very hard to remember that he is 16 but his intelligence reminds me. The very few photographs of me that will appear in the pile when I get home will be taken by him. I've taught him how to use my camera and he naturally carries it around with him and loads and unloads in as well as I do.

He refuses to give me his address and phone number for some reason so, I worry about what will happen when Alan and I leave on Wednesday. It seems too heartbreaking to just leave him with no way to communicate with him; but this is something that he needs to do for some personal reason so I'll have to accept it, as will he.

Alan made a mistake and paid for a primitive Kora (a large traditional gourd and string instrument from this region) and quickly became daunted when he saw how difficult it is to tune all of it's many strings without pegs. He was close to quitting when the man he has hired to teach him offered to sell his own personal instrument to Alan for whatever he wants to pay. (He also said very sincerely that Alan and I were among the few blacks from America who are willing to touch the skins and lives of the people who live here).

I told Alan that I would match his offer just to make sure that this man gets enough for this amazing gesture, and then Alan agreed to give his old Kora to Alioune. He sheepishly agreed to accept this by of course shaking his head slightly and smiling with more charm than is imaginable.

During dinner I cut his meat for him just once before he took the knife from my hand and finished eating all three bites of it himself. I've still never seen him use a toilet, which just adds to the impression that he's descended from another world. He managed to fix the TV in this room and he and I have our own vocabulary of games that we play; the primary one being racing the glass-enclosed semi-circled elevator up and down from the fourth floor where our room is. It's easy to win if one is in the mood for a really swift stair chase, but it always leaves us doubled over with laughter when one or the other of us is there to open the door at the top or bottom.

All of this will end when we leave for Mali and the bush mid week. I am not looking forward to that now.