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It's a long climb, to get to the bottom of things

we go this way that, with french fries

SENEGAL | Thursday, 23 September 2004 | Views [460]

thank you all so much for your letters. it makes the whole day smiley when i open up my email and hear voices from home. so anyone who wants to feel the dakar experience with me, go get yourself a sandwich. then, stuff it with french fries the way you used to put chips in your sandwich as a kid. even the falafel here has french fries in it. hamburgers have a fried egg, ketchup, and french fries stuffed into the bun along with the patty. so when you want that exotic night out, with african fare...and while we are on the subject of eating, i don't know why we americans are so enthralled with restaurants. if i could eat at stalls for the rest of my life, i could be happy. me and a bench and the dude across the street selling sandwiches for $.50. not that i can place the exact part of what animal the meat comes from (here elder kitty, here elder kitty kitty...) but man it is good, and the company could not be better. i did not get to leave dakar as soon as i would have hoped. i went to dinner with my american friends and their bosses; one of which was sidy, the director for the u.s. department of international affairs. he told me that he would not advise me to go to the gambia without a visa. and that he would help me find the gambian embassy and help me get my visa quickly. so instead i stayed another few days (i think the proprietor of my hotel is going to pick me up in a bear hug and kiss my cheeks if i extend my stay again... he may be wearing solid gold by next week...). i went to the slave island of il goree. it was more relaxed than dakar. at the top of the hill is a bedouin compound of artists. i met a fellow who reminded me so much of my artist friends at home. we chatted and he let me take pictures of his art. the walls were expressions of liberty and freedom. his work was completely unique in design here, and quintessentially african. it was not paint alone, but the earth calling out to you; just as when you are walking through the woods you can be struck by the way the rocks fall into the shape of an angel, or a tree trunk has a knob in the shape of a heart. his art was pieces of fallen nature calling you to remember the signs that the world gives us to think and reflect. i wish i could have imported it all. but such things cannot fit into my one army bag, and so i took my leave . i went from the proud sisterhood of the women's museum to the melancholy echo of despair that was the maison du enclaves, house of the slaves. i respect that the museum did not pull out all the stops. no chains or doors with bars in every room, no pictures of how horrible it must have been. just the echoing footsteps of those treading of the floorboards above you, and a faint song of hopelessness and pain humming low in your ear. there was a room full of quotes by politicos- nelson mandela and such- dedicated to the joy of freedom and the need to remember the past. there was a wisened old man-the curator who compiled the entire history of the island and slavery. i adored his fatigue and brilliantly fiery eyes. and wanted to pet his soft wrinkles until they fell from his skin and he would spring back to youth and energetic passion again. i had my first attempt at public transit. whoo. i kept thinking with each one of the six buses i got on, wow, THIS is as full as this thing can possibly get. until i got on one where there were six kids on the roof, people standing on top of produce bags and hanging out the back of the door. An older man got on and started screaming at me in a mix of wolof and french. neither really matters, my french is not so great that i understand such complexities as what he was yelling at me. the guy next to me took pity and pointed at my hat, so i put it on and the yelling man quieted immediately and said pas de problem. this is odd to me because it seems only the attempt at covering is necessary, the african women do not cover all of their hair, sometimes only a little handkerchief perched precariously on top of a hairdo is fine. and their shawls, which is supposed to cover the entirety of their upper portions, are see through. what is the point of muslim modesty if i can see bras and boob right through the cover? but i suppose if you don't at least attempt such things, you are yelled at by old men, who are apparently the chief of the tiny village we were passing through at the time. well i went on this transport to Lac Rebta. I paid a kid from the village to show me the way. he asked me if i liked eminem and 50cent, and wasn't a pimp a big, great man? and then he proceeded to hum rap tunes the rest of the day. but the lake was really peaceful. and such a pretty pink color because of salt and mineral deposits. i looked, but the legs of the salt collectors aren't pink too...they guide out pirogues to break up the crystallized salt and ship it off to other countries. they work with babies on their backs and no water to drink, in the blazing sun. i wonder if they sometimes give their babies to someone to hold and just float off into the lake for an hour or so...that's what i would do. but after a wild night out with the frat party that is peace corps, i did finally get my visa and jeni, i got my senegalese name- Binta N'daiye. i was ready to go. so i woke up at 6am, piled in a station wagon (taxi-brousse) with 12 of my closest new friends. as the road wore on and the potholes reached numbers like rabbits in grant park, the woman next to me and her 9 mo. old baby fell gently asleep on my shoulder. it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. i was glad that i could shock the gambian border officials with my shiny visa stamp (they took me to a back room, it was a little scary). i got separated from my senegalese family, but thank the lord, i gained a gambian friend who helped me navigate the ferry to banjul. i would never have made it by myself. and i tried to use the bathroom in the terminal! those bathrooms get the brown star for being the worst bathrooms of my LIFE. think of that scene in indiana jones where he lights the match and the floor and walls are covered with bugs- only substitute the bugs with maggots, throw in a few huge spiders, about a hundred flies and you'll be there. for hours i could feel like they were crawling inside my shoes, the bottoms of my feet felt contaminated through my boots! ugh. so i made it to bakau. it's amazing to me the emotional toll that traveling has. a day that takes from 6am until 6pm to get me settled really drains everything i have. i got a little upset when a friendly gambian boy would not leave me alone no matter what i said or did, but once i got the the internet cafe and heard the voices of my friends, i was ready to face the world again. i can talk to everyone here because they all speak english. there are a ton of brits here, i see white people in cars all the time. and my hotel is great fun. i have no electricity half the time- but running water at least. they give me a couple of candles, i set up my mosquito net and it feels like camping in death valley. today i pet a few crocodiles at a pool called kachikaly where the locals sprinkle themselves with the water of a pond infested with about eighty crocodiles to cure all illness. they are some heat soaking, contented beasts let me tell you. and so tomorrow i leave for a week's retreat in tanji. hopefully it will live up to the name, Paradise Inn Lodge. i miss you all, emily .

Tags: banjul, dakar, lac rebta, salt lake, senegal



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