Streets of Medina, and a Pearly White Polygamist

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I’m back in Dakar, and signed up for classes at the French institute. I’m staying in a spacious air BnB inside the university campus with a varrying crowd of young Europeans distributed over their 5 rooms, hosted by one of these phenomenons that puzzles my mind:  a pearly white German academic who is married to a beautiful, younger, smarter (my personal evaluation and I stand by it) Senegalese woman, and eager to take a second wife. 

My second air BnB is in Medina, on the 5th floor, with view of sunsets over the fruit vendors, coffee carts, electronics shops, kiosks, sheep markets, boulangeries, wood workshops, tailors and chique couture boutiques. Its a real bustly big city feeling, and for me that means a reasonable degree of anonymity, feeling confident and at home, and quickly knowing my way around (It also means amazing baguettes and fist sized ripe avocados to smush on them.)

The neighbourhood is deeply religious, and my sleep is interrupted with the morning call to prayer from the mosque down the street, and religious chanting floats in through my window in the evening. Sometimes I meditate at those times, the energy is conducive and beckoning. There is quite a lot of cat calling in the street (more so in Medina than elsewhere I’ve been strolling) though it eases a little after I change my jeans for a long, lose skirt and lose pants. 

Friendship offers are easy to come buy, more often than not though it will be from a guy – and most often he will be into you, though there are obviously many exceptions. Generally people are, true to the rumour, sweet and warm like summer days and have loads of humour. Always up for a chat, sometimes a walk to give directions, teaching you a new word in Wollof, its incredibly easy to find a smile or crack a laugh with someone, even as I arrive with a 37 word vocabulary and have to guess most of what’s going on. In stark contrast to Paris,  people in Dakar have eons of patience to let me try to remember the words I need. 

Ending here with the massive, and massively controversial, monument for the African Renescaince.

​Toubab, toubab! ….Toubacouta!

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Me and my companion check into what our guidebook tells us is the cheapest sleep in Toubacouta: Keur Yossou, and I ask the guy who shows us our room his name “I’m Youssou! This is my place, I’m married with two kids.. I’m not a reggae boy!” oh my “what’s a reggae boy?” “You know, the guys who hang around waiting to pick up young girls” young toubab specifically I guess so no joke, but Youssou is hillarious, even though I only understand a solid third of what he is saying (French challenge).

 
Everything else in town is mellow as honey, the mangrove is home to an astounding little island made entirely of sea shells, perforated by Baobab roots – this is a well trodden tourist path, but justly so, its magical. The dark waters of the delta are salty and swimable, floatable, splashable… The dry forrest around are home to baboons, monkeys, hyenas and colourful birds. A little village nearby turned touristic when they got a woman elder for chief, she welcomes us with a smacking kiss on each cheek (again, missed my photo opt because it was too amazing). We splurge and spend two days sailing around with a guide in pirogue, dreamy and totally worth it.



Dousemente Saint Louis

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It takes me five long impatient days until my manic insecurity dies down, during this time I revisit every single angle and crook of low self esteem, self doubt, and bunches of other guck that surface on the edge of aloneness, unemployment, stillness. Withdrawal symptoms from the constant purposefully, meaninglessly busy of the last three years.

Saint Louis is a perfect place to recover from the multiple neurosis of western big city life. The town in chaotic and serene, lined with trash, and sweeping water views of river and ocean. The historic town has beautiful large houses with bourganvillas spilling over the sides, restful eateries, boulangeries and bars, a mosque lined with praying men along the wall towards the river, art and craft galleries, an antique cruise ship, and loads of sweet, sweet nothing to do. It is an incredibly historic place which used to be capital, when the wind blows a certain way, I can almost think I am in Salvador for a second. There is a similar sense of dignity and place in the world, slow liveliness and communion with the sea. 
The historical town is attached to the town on the mainland on one side and to the hydrobase island on the other side. 

 I stay in hydrobase, with ocean view and a 45 minutes​ walk into town through bustling streets with everything for sale, weaving through children who want to touch your hand, horse carts, taxis, busses, women in wax print dresses, men in squeaky white shirts contrasting ebony skin, motos, lots and lots of goats, kittens and dogs napping in the shade, laundry drying on lines, a myriad of shops and street vendors selling mangos, mobile credit, electronics, jewelry, milk, baguette, spices, horse food, construction material, and anything else ur heart may desire (no photos from town, too much to take in without whipping out the camera)

 I hang around in town with Babacar who arranged a pirogue tour for me the first day, and get to know duzins of people in the span of a few hours and two coffees. Taranga, hospitality, means stories and smiles. There are also a few puppy eyed disbelievers when I return an unfortunate answer​ to the question ‘madam ou mademoiselle?’

After a few days the hostel fills up. I spend one day roaming around with and translating between two guys who met on bicycle in Morocco and joined paths to cross all the way through Mauritania without having a common language. Another girl is planning for adventures in the Sine Saloum delta and I decide to tag along for a few days before heading back to Dakar. On my last day I can’t shake the melancholy of saying goodbye, there is something tender, thick and sweet in the air, that molasses that makes up the feeling of home.

Landing in Dakar

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“You will feel the the wave of heat when you exit the plane. Ahh and also the smell” my friend’s eyes glaze over with a pleasurable wholeness “when someone goes and comes back and they open the suitcase you can still smell it, all their clothes smell like Senegal”. I smile and bite into my burger. “just make sure if you eat meat that its properly properly cooked all the way through” “definitely”. This is my last social and also last good advice before leaving for a month to Senegal.

 
I arrive midday in Dakar, and as I exit the air-conditioned zone of the airplane I feel enveloped by soft, warm, humid air. No visa is required and the boarder officer does not ask me my return date, just where I’m staying and laughs at my poor pronunciation. Then captures fingerprints electronically, snaps a photo and stamps my passport. All luggage is scanned by a customs officer before exit and then I’m out!

 
The smell. It smells of sunlight on stones, light incense, salt water, moto exhaust, flowers and spice. Its faint but ever present, the same way a house smells like the people who live there, and I get the pleasure my friend showed me describing it.

 
After checking in at the hostel I get a taxi for the centre, he drops me off at the wrong place, but at this point I am too starving to think. I go into the first place I see and order a grilled dourada and a coke, then ask for directions to the french institute so I can figure out language classes. The woman is either not sure where it is or what I need, hard to know since I only understand a few sentences. She doesn’t give up though, but tells her colleague she will go out and then finds a guy to whom she explains what I want, possibly, he doesn’t seem to understand either, so calls on a third person, who says he will show me the way, and then actually walks me 15 minutes to the place. Hospitality factor confirmed!

 
On my second day am already ready to crawl out of my skin, am alone and in serious doubt about the whole project, craving a full fledged hour long, bouncy conversation with someone. Why did I want to do this solo explorer thing in the first place? When does it get awesome? Gah! Another Afro-European friend comes to the rescue:
“Take your time. Slow down. Coming from London you still have that hectic rhythm. This is Senegal baby, pasito a pasito. You don’t need to talk to anybody…Eat something new, build up your confidence and then try your French”

 
By the mentioning of London I feel a manic impatience rising like a drumroll in my body, I inhale deeply and… let it go. I’ll come back to that soon enough.

Sunday Brixton Snapshot

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Can the sound of a road turn into a riverlike comfort? I fall asleep to it now, contemplating with my ears, the swooshing by of cars, waves, coming and going.

A guy cat called me today, the English way. I was walking back from yoga and a young guy in hoodie crossed the road to say “Excuse me, good morning! Do you have a boyfriend?”

My South African neighbour with the two kids hugs me when we meet on the stairs, then tells me to have some children of my own. Maybe I will.

The Merman takes me to central to meet his friend for icecream, we have vegan pistachios and black as night chocolates. Then wander around in dizzying crowds until we’re drained.

Back home is the sound of the river road, and a dear friend’s voice from far away, like small silver bells.

Liquid nights

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Some places are sweeter to

drink in

than others

Mont Martre

Paris, Lapa, Rio

always with no roof

so the stars can freely

dust you dreamy

while spirits melt the city

and turn you liquid too

to sway into the night

to transmute energies

of the Wonder who

rips apart

artists

and other

receptive souls

Pigneto 

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“Come oooon, let’s go to bed already!”

“Babe, just go ahead, I’ll be in in a bit”

“No, but I wanna lay down with you”

He smacks me on the bum. He’s the man. Men are soft when their hearts are on fire. Lone boats sail around looking for home, for earth, some turn pirates from salt water and desperation and start robbing. Others pilgrims, striders, or even lovers of the big sea keeping them afloat and the stars that lead them.

But even the lovers look for earth, and when they spot it on the horizon they tremble with longing, hope, and the most crushing of fears.

I kiss the ocean-heart of my merman  husband, full of stars and space. I can wrap myself in his arms at night and float around in universes in infinity. Until he starts kicking me in his sleep and I slip into another bed to dream. Who do you run from, in your sleep, my love? 

Tenderness makes my skin sweat honey, where he doesn’t drink it, it evaporates to perfume to air.