"Western Africa 2012" story # 16

Dakar, Senegal           August 5, 2012

The muscular African men dressed as "false lions", in their fake animal skins and Zulu facial paint, didn't bring me to the middle of the drum circle and force me to lie down in water and sand. I was happy for this.
     I had on my best outfit today. Called a "yere wolof", it'd been a gift from Uncle Cheikh Oumar in central Senegal. The pants of this thin, cotton outfit flowed around my legs like cloud; I fastened the string which wrapped around my waist. The over-sized shirt had short, baggy sleeves and a velcro collar, giving me the look of a fake millionaire. My "yere wolof" had been made from a bright turquoise fabric that matched my eyes; only the velcro collar was a fancy, white-and-black checkerboard.
     Short Cheikh-Oumar strutted in his "yere wolof" made of brown fabric patterned with forest-green gems. A true West African king!
     As I spent more time in Senegal, I began to think the Senegalese were beautiful people who liked to laugh. Maybe these good qualities came from them being so hospitable?

"By giving away our food we become more beautiful." -- old saying (Jack Kerouac)

In the northern village of Bango, I wore my turquoise clothes and ate with families and admired the women for their beauty:
     A young lady named Mama Sen had first met me when she invited me to attend a Muslim drum circle / worshipping service. She wore long, red dresses that stiffly confined her petite body, and which opened above her chest to reveal very black skin. Her blood-red lips and pure white eyes squealed and laughed, like a baby bird waiting to be fed. She commanded the young men who gathered around her. She often called me to sit beside her in the stall where she sold mayonnaise sandwiches. But, her business was so popular that we never got to talk.
     My teenaged neighbor, Mary, covered her hair with long wraps. This pale gray girl, with rounded cheeks and plump lips, called me to eat with her family. One day, she stretched her juicy body into a two-piece dress, a faded red-and-yellow like the buildings of Sevilla. Even with her naive eyes, she looked long and powerful and womanly. We got in an argument, though, when she refused to join her siblings for a photo. Why was Mary was so timid?
     Mary's sister-in-law Aida, a hair-dresser for many Europeans in Dakar, and I got along better. One day, Aida clothed her coffee skin in a hat and shirt made of a light material that poofed around her like two pillow cases. They were the colors of a coffee field. Huge, hoop earrings (the kind loved by my Grandpa Breen) dangled from her ears. They seemed golden, yet Aida's gentle features shone brighter. This coffee princess said I could stay with her parents when I got to the southern town of Ziguinchor.
     On the day Mary and Aida were dressed up, I greeted them with: "Sindi indigallah." They replied, "Sindi sawallah." These expressions in Senegal's Wolof language were used to offer and accept condolences. An old man in their family had passed away.

I said bye to Aida and Mary and Mama Sen, too.
     Just to be safe, I stepped on a "green brain" before traveling south from Bango. I'd once seen Mary's small brother, while climbing the "green brain" tree, hang backwards and upside-down from a branch then fall on his head. He didn't break his neck nor even hurt himself. I knew from this crazy kid that those green brains truly made one invincible.
     Even so, I doubted they'd make hitchhiking in Senegal possible. I had three options for getting myself to Ziguinchor:
     1. Travel through the long, narrow country of Gambia which practically cut Senegal in half. I'd have to pay a (small?) bribe to be allowed in without a visa, though.
     2. Travel around Gambia. This, however, would double the length of my trip.
     3. Take the ferry from Dakar to Ziguinchor. Reports from the internet and from locals testified that the ticket should cost about 10,000 Francs ($20).
     Choosing the third option, I headed to Dakar. A guy named Papu would be my host and help me catch the ferry. We arrived at the port.
     What was this!? Different prices were posted for residents of Senegal and non-residents. Residents paid 10,500 Francs. I was meant to pay 15,900.
     "How unjust!" (And that was coming from a man whose name meant: Justice.)
     I would pay 10,500. Or I wouldn't go!
     My budget was in poor shape, anyways. I'd left my jobs in the Czech Republic, with $1020. After traveling for three-and-a-half months, I now had $180. I could use my parents' credit card to buy a flight out of Africa. (That's right; I was a wimp. My parents should've named me "Titan". Or "Rich".) But, if I paid $30 to take the ferry, I doubted I could make it to my destination of Guinea-Bissau and back to Dakar to catch a flight.
     A round woman sold tickets. In her sky-blue-and-pink dress and bandana, and matching pink lipstick, she was a cute round woman. She wasn't cute enough to sell me a ticket for 10,500 Francs, though. I asked to speak to her boss. She gave me his name: Mousou Ndiaye. He wasn't in his office, though. He'd be back at three p.m. It was just after noon.
     The boat would leave at eight.
     Papu, the younger brother of Momadou Ndiaye who'd driven me across the desert, sat down to wait with me. This surprisingly mellow West African rarely showed animation. He enjoyed rap and hip-hop music.
     He was fascinated by "marabous" (Senegalese spiritual leaders who could read the future in the Koran). The marabous sold various mystical services to the common people and often became rich. Papu hadn't studied Islam for decades to become a marabou, yet he considered himself a "byfal" (a man who dedicated his life to the service of marabous). The byfals often wore dreadlocks and could be seen begging for rice and change. Senegal's favorite historical figures, Akhmadou Cheikh Mbamba and Byfal Jones, were the first marabou and byfal. Cheikh Mbamba was depicted as a hazy, dark figure with a towel wrapped around his head. He'd refused to deny Islam to the French colonizers, been exiled to Gabon, and prayed on the ocean.
     Three p.m. arrived, and Mousou Ndiaye returned to his office. He refused to meet with me, though. The price stood: 15,900 Francs.
     As the great bargainer, Pansyckas, would've said in responding to this:
     Dozens and dozens of Africans and toubabs bought their tickets for the boat.
     Incidentally ... ferries from this port also carried passengers to nearby Goree Island. This island had once served as the main trading post for slaves going from Africa to the Americas. A museum on the island reminded visitors today of the cruel injustices those Africans had been victim to. Today, non-residents of Senegal paid three times as much as Senegalese residents to visit the island.
     Though my situation was hopeless, I continued to wait.
     Traveling in Senegal was difficult. (Details in the next MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!!) I was tired. If I didn't get on this ferry, I would probably give up on trying to reach Guinea-Bissau. Seeing as how I had nearly four months invested in this trip, I waited.
     Papu valiantly waited with me. The heat reached 39 degrees Celsius (102 Fahrenheit). I felt uncomfortable, even though I drank water and ate. Papu, however, was observing the holy month of Ramadan. He and other Muslims would neither eat nor drink as long as it was daytime. But, Papu had great faith in this act, and he handled the heat well. He sat and listened to marabous' speeches on his cell phone.
     Port security said I might catch Mousou Ndiaye (the jerk) when he stepped out of his office. The security guards said they'd pay the extra 5400 Francs for me if they had the money. But, I didn't want that. I wanted to be given a fair price.
     Standing near the ticket counter, I watched a TV monitor which displayed the prices. It said (mistakenly) that non-residents of Senegal should pay 10,500 Francs. I pointed this out to the round ticket-lady. She said it didn't matter what the TV monitor said, the price was 15,900.
     She compassionately asked why I didn't want to pay that much. I told her my story. I asked her to justify the difference in prices. Surprisingly, she did:
     "Vous, les blancs, avez fondu le bateau. Vous l'avez fondu cher. Le prix, c'est 15,900 CFA. C'est notre president, Abdoulaye Wade, qu'a fait le prix moins cher pour les Senegalais." (It was you, the whites, who financed the boat. You financed it at a costly rate. The price is 15,900 Francs. It was our president, Abdoulaye Wade, who gave a cheaper price to the Senegalese.)
     Soon afterwards, it was six p.m.
     The security guards informed me Mousou Ndiaye had gone home. All hope was lost. I gave up. I wouldn't make it to Guinea-Bissau. I'd look for a flight out of Africa. My trip was a failure.
     Papu and I collected my bags and got up to leave.
     I went inside the port one last time to use the toilet. Returning from the bathroom, a bespectacled ticket-lady - whom I'd once asked, "Vouz aimez l'injustice?" (Do you love injustice?) - told me to report to the ticket counter. It's a good thing I was drinking water this day! It looked like I was going to Ziguinchor ...
     The round ticket-lady said she and her fellow ticket-ladies had decided to pay the 5400 Francs for me. "Un cadeau," she said. (A gift.) At this point in the day, I couldn't turn her down. Man, she was cute!
     For 10,500 Francs, I had the ticket.
     Papu was happy. He'd once told me, upon hearing of the way I travel, "T'est un vrai byfal." (You're a true byfal.)
     Now, he called me a "revolutionaire" (revolutionary). "C'etait un bataille," I said. (That was a battle.) Papu understood me well. I thanked him for his help.
     I was on my way to southern Senegal!
     How much would my nemesis, Pansyckas, have paid?

until next time,
Justin the Just

Thanks for the "cadeau"!
Much thanks to Madou Dieye, again; and Papu, Awa, Mr. Mbengue, Malik, Ablai, Soga, & others for places to stay!

go to the previous story                                                                                go to the next story

J. Breen's modern-o.com