Friday, June 23, 2006

Mon dernier plat du ceeb

In a world I'd only slipped into here and there during my stay in Senegal, I'd suddenly became apart of it, even if only for a few moments on a Sunday afternoon, it was my glimpse at the life of a Senegalese woman. With the help of the women in my family -- my host sisters, Lala and Matou, maman and the maid Khady -- I prepared my first plate of ceebujen. There are many dishes in Senegal, but ceebujen (fish and rice and oh so much more) is the main one that comes to mind and considered the national plat. Every student who comes through Senegal eats their fair share -- and some of us have come to love it while others are content to never eat it again. It's definitely become my soul food and I'll miss it when I'm gone.

Someday I'll write an ode to ceebujen, but today I'm too emotional as is thinking of leaving Senegal. I fly late tonight, early this morning. My family here is planning my send off and my family at home is awaiting my arrival, it's the 17 hours in between, switching between the two worlds, doing it alone, I haven't been alone since I left for Senegal. And now somewhere between these two continents I will be forever stretched no matter
à quelle côté. That's my pleasure and my burden, it just doesn't make the comings and goings very easy.

Senegal has seeped into every part of my life it's hard to know how to unweave it, how to extract myself, and come home. I see myself at home with my family, having coffee with friends, reveling in the conveniences of America and not being stared at, eating burritos and ice cream and sushi. All this I see and taste and feel, yet it still all feels unreal that in a matter of eight hours I can quitte Dakar, the doors will open, and I can be in
America -- taf-taf.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Maangi dem - Leaving

Saturday night, my last in Dakar, I finally went to see Youssou N'dour. He's Senegal's most famous celebrity and singer, revered with the top African musicians, has toured everywhere, released plusiers best-selling albums, and when he's at home he plays every weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) at his Club Thiossane (meaning roots in wolof) in Amities 2 in Dakar. I'd found a CD of his at the library before I came to Senegal. I remember thinking he had an amazing voice, but I couldn't really get into his music. Now after hearing it played in my ear in so many taxis and dancing to it at Dakar night clubs it 's comfort food.

The thing about Youssou N'dour is he spearheaded a whole genre of popular music in Senegal, so now if you're not hearing his music, you're hearing a pretty good rip off of it. His music also fits hand-in-hand with a particular style of dance here called mbalax,
which arguably Senegalese could mbalax to anything it doesn't necessarily have to be Youssou N'Dour or anyone like him. It's a dance mostly done with the knees and the occasional hip bump thrown in there to varying degrees depending on if you're male or female.

Unfortunately I'd waited until my last weekend to see him because I would love to go back for more nights at his club or even catching him at the various other places he plays around Senegal. He's an incredible performer and I did my best to sway and dance and
mbalax with the best of them just until 4 a.m. and I barely walked out of the club.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Raising sail to Saint Louis

There's something about setting out on the open road that's liberating -- the starting anew, the getting out, the leaving well what's left behind. Though lately I've been more in the mindset of frequenting my old haunts, sticking with the familiar, and above all not stepping foot out of Dakar -- my dominion, mon fief. But this weekend we took to the road for Saint Louis for the annual (inshallah -- when god wills it) jazz fest. I've spoken of Saint Louis before, at the northern tip of Senegal where river meets ocean and the Mauritanian border lurks over the next bend. It was the capital of West Africa before Dakar, so the old colonial architecture still stands, making a beautiful and appropriate backdrop for listening to good music and being with friends.

Saint Louis has a bit of a complicated geography as the center of the city is an island divided by a fork in the river. As you cross over the first bridge onto the island you find the centre ville and all its UNESCO-protected colonial architecture. Once you leave and cross over the bridge on the other side you'll end up on the "tongue" or the Langue de Berberie and this is where you drive through the fishing areas, the women drying and dicing fish, the pirogues (boats) in various forms of construction lining the road running alongside the river. So basically one side of the Langue is river and the other is ocean, so once at the tongue's end the two merge in a heep of sand erosion and beached jelly fish and other sea fish which can't survive the fresh water.

The side of the Langue with the ocean is an incredible stretch of sandy beach and waves that just keep coming and folding and unfolding. Some of my favorite visits to Saint Louis have been to this beach and just walking with no end in sight.

We rented out the top of the Harmattan, a hotel run by an old spinster French woman named Rene
. She could pass for an Elizabeth Taylor in her appearance. Her walls are crowded with photos of her on horses and sensual sketches of her in her younger days, and she had pets in varying degrees of disguise -- cats, parrots, dogs, horses, birds. She let half her apartment since all the hotel rooms we're already occupied by the time we got in. It was our luck since it's a beautiful apartment comfortably decorated leaving plenty of nooks to read and write plus it gave us the freedom to spread out our own meals and come and go as if it were our weekend home.

We passed the evenings staying out late going in and out of various bars and clubs listening to a few moments of music and dancing a few songs just to leave and do the same at the next place. I got to reconnect with my Mauritanian friends (peace corps!) almost getting stepped on by a skinny Senegalese man on stilts kicking my chair to move so he could dance the mbalax. But at least getting the chance to share a beer with those who appreciate Gazelle far too much and especially staring into a Desperado trying to work through questions of happiness with Caleb.

And especially the short, stolen moments with Samba trying to figure out how this person so cleverly and quickly came into my life. Sitting by the river, taking pictures of the bridge, listening to good acoustic music, feeling safe and charmed and right. Taking a just before sunset walk on that long stretch of beach I love throwing stories and explanations into the windy waves and jumping over bits of jelly fish. And our final day, the surprise bike ride around the island -- when did I bike last...? Maybe last summer. But it's true about never forgetting how.

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