Re: The Other Side
Hotel La Croix du Sud
First let me say that I'm fine and that from the beginning I sensed that what happened last night would turn out to be a meaningful part of this whole experience.
That said, I have to report that I was robbed on the street by skilled thugs.. My wallet and all of my money, checks and credit cards were gone in a well-planned instant.
The event itself was extraordinary and will forever make it clear to me how vulnerable we all are to this kind of thing. My wallet was in my traveling pouch, resting zippered up tight across my belly. Alan and I were on our way to our favorite restaurant and I remember that I was thinking about how interesting it was that Timbuktu is in Mali, at the edge of the Sahara Desert and how challenging it would be to make that a destination as a part of this trip. We had just passed the cyber cafe, one of the most active places at night here. Alan was approached by a tall Rasta beggar who gave him a fist-to-fist salute that I suppose means that we are all tough brother black guys. He offered the same to me and I thought that it would be rude to refuse when suddenly I felt a strong hand squeezing my left shoulder and, closer than I wanted, there was a man pushing a handful of watches in my face and saying something strident in a language I couldn't understand. This immediately felt like a semi-assault and I told him "No" and tried to walk away but he kept close and squeezed and shook my shoulder even harder. This pushed me too far, which, I can see now, was the idea, and for a split second he had my undivided attention. I yelled in his face "Get away from me" in a language he probably did understand, and I would have punched or pushed him bodily away but just as suddenly as it began, he was gone in the darkness.
As I tried to regain my bearings and find Alan I heard the Rasta man telling him to watch his back, probably to assuage his guilt for probably having played a role in all of this. At that moment I noticed that my pouch was open and I knew what had happened. With a helpless wish, I reached into my pouch and discovered that someone had magically managed to find my wallet and remove it without taking my passport, the Palm Pilot or the red travel journal that were in there also. When Alan came over all I could say was "They got my wallet". He was of course alarmed and wanted to do something but there was clearly no point. The city just teemed around us as it always had, it just had all of my money now.
As we moved away from the scene I observed my feelings and discovered that I felt calm but alert. The fact that I still had my passport and still had the journal where I've been collecting thoughts and Polaroids; and the fact that I was not hurt, all became very real to me and I actually felt good. I knew that I needed to think and plan clearly and I have to admit that it amused me that Alan was so surprised that I didn't share his alarm. As we made our way back the few blocks to the hotel I also realized that it could easily have been much worse a financial loss. I had run low on money that morning and had spent an hour trying to get more. After experiencing the bureaucratic side of Senegalese culture in various banks, I found myself standing in an ATM booth that had an armed guard outside. It had been my intention to get perhaps $600 from the bank but the machine would only give me $140 for some reason. After I bought a small Kodak camera for Alioune, I actually had to go back and get another small dose so that, after buying groceries that day, I only had a total of perhaps $200 in various currencies in that wallet; but of course there were also my credit cards, drivers license, and checkbook to account for. The sad thing is that I would have given some percentage of that money to the poor on the street. But then, in a perverse way, it now is in the hands of some of Dakar's poor... and such is life.
Back at the hotel, Alan helped me begin to plan a recovery. Clearly the next step was to get some money as quickly as I could. Susannah back in California was the key and I realized that this was the first time I have ever traveled when there was someone I loved waiting at the other end who could help me if need be. I thought that she might actually be at "my" house so I tried calling her there. Sure enough, she immediately picked up and gave me her usual greeting that defies description with my humble words; but I'll try: The actual words uttered are "It's you. Hi", but to get something of the feeling you have to hear a rich musical female voice with more air in the words than normal speech usually carries. There is also.... passion and love and joy and a surprised giggle that are all blended perfectly together in genuine expression.
With that on the other end I couldn't possibly begin with anything like bad news. In fact I didn't really feel as if I had bad news. What I had was Susannah on the line and we talked about her being there and other blissful things until I had to mention what had happened. She was of course upset a bit, but it was obvious from my mood that there was no crisis, just three hours of logistics and waiting on the line with banks and credit lenders who are up in the middle of the night across the ocean from here waiting to help me. And they did. I plan to go down to Western Union and get money that Visa is sending me and the only real consequence is that my trip to Timbuktu may be forfeit because I no longer have a drivers license, but then, I just read that perhaps the train into Mali and a bus or boat may be the only sane ways to get there anyway.
The point is that I have had a deep and revealing experience of "third worldness" here in Dakar, and I love it and it's taught me important things. But there are something like "Real African People" not far from here and I HAVE to see and experience that! How is not certain now but I have to make that effort as a part of this.
But there is something else; as Susannah and I talked I could hear the sound of hammers hitting walls in "my" little house on the hill back in Oakland. Every time she and I talk, the extent of her wonderful transformation of that space increases. I have lived through so much in those walls! The whole Iris episode and its aftermath took place in rooms, in front of windows and walls that Susannah is happily remaking in her image. She mentioned in passing that we needed to account for the money necessary for when "the sink" arrives. "The sink" I said with some pleasant surprise. "Oh" she said, "Remember that we're putting in a pedestal sink in the bathroom?" "Right" I said, as if that had only been a momentary lapse of memory on my part. The truth is that I had completely forgotten that and frankly was worried about the only remaining relic from one of the previous owners: On the wall, back under the sink I had left a small section of wallpaper when I originally painted the bathroom ten years ago. It's a drawing of naked nymphs frolicking in hippy abandon. I figured that was the appropriate place to preserve that slightly erotic indulgence. I had to mention it to Sus, a bit embarrassed, but, here is the woman I'm marrying: she got down on her knees with the portable phone to see what I was talking about and when she finally found it said "Oh, this is great. Let's frame it!". What can I say. I'm approaching the other side of something here. Something permanent and transformative.