Because I’m in NYC feeling reverse homesickness, if you will, here are the pix that I love the most from my time in Dakar.
The architecture I love combined with the car rapides that I love = a feast for the eyes.
On Tamkharit (or Tamxarit), a week after the Islamic new year, Muslim friends and relatives of the family I lived with brought around huge bowls of a spiced millet couscous and a sweet stew called thiere. The picture above represents perhaps half of the generosity shown to the Lo family by their Dakarois neighbors. On every holiday, I was touched by how many people stopped by to visit and drop off food.
And on my own holiday – Thanksgiving – I made an American feast for the family. It was a really fun night.
I went with Mamie and Tantie Lo to a fabric market to pick out material for a dress Mamie needed made before a wedding. She waded deep into the piles upon piles of fabric and I love the expression on her face as she listened to Tantie advising her from the street.
And I love this one of Tantie and Mamie and me. We were getting “sundowners,” as they call sunset drinks in Dakar (I could never figure out if this was a British or French expression), at a hotel bar overlooking the ocean.
One morning I came downstairs to catch everyone in the household in the same exact pose. I found it fairly adorable.
I loved living with the Lo’s. They were endlessly warm and welcoming, and through them I learned what daily life is really like in Dakar. (I also got incredible French practice.)
Seeing Youssou N’Dour from front row seats on the eve of Senegalese Independence Day was hands down my best night in Dakar.
One day many months into my stay in Dakar, I happened upon this baguette truck in my neighborhood. From then on I saw it everywhere, and I swooned every time. One of my last nights out was for a women’s association event hosted by the matriarch of the Lo family. A Tuareg man from Timbuktu, Mali was at the table next to mine, and until the “Parade of Nations” at like 2 in the morning, I didn’t realize that he was carrying a sword as part of his traditional dress for that parade. I thought he must trot it out for every special occasion, and I was in awe. Just goes to show: never draw conclusions based on observations of cultures that are unfamiliar to you.
My last month in Dakar, I raced my way through every spot left on my “to see” list. Yoff beach was one of those places, and once I saw it I regretted not having come earlier so that I could revisit. It is miles of beachfront, at one end of which is where many of Dakar’s fishers dock their boats. The line-up of brightly painted pirogues, the wandering sheep, the horse-drawn carts, and the fishermen and fish market saleswomen running to and fro creates a very picturesque tableau.
And now, I turn tearfully back to the reality of New York in the supposed Spring…
As I’ve mentioned before, my family moved from the suburbs of New Jersey to the London area when I was a kid. I spent a year and a half living an everyday little girl’s life while also soaking up mid-80s British pop culture in all of its splendor. I remember so much of my time in England, 32 years later. The layout of our various apartments and later our house; several traumatizing incidents from kindergarten and first grade; interactions with my brother and sister; key moments in the love story and breakup of my school-bus boyfriend; every friend’s birthday party; my toys; the walks we used to take; the food we used to eat; the dairy delivery we used to get. But the memories that hit me the hardest, on a visceral level that gives me chills, are almost entirely musical.
They are not even memories per se. When I hear a song that I first listened to in England, I usually don’t remember a particular moment associated with it. Instead, I am transported back to a general time and place, and I re-experience the feelings I had while listening to the song at the age of 5 and 6. That’s powerful emotional stuff.
These songs in particular really get me:
a-ha – Take On Me
Do They Know It’s Christmas? from Band Aid
The Bangles – Manic Monday
The theme to “Chariots of Fire.” I never saw the film but my music teacher would play the theme song for us on the piano at the end of every class, after my schoolmates would beg him to.
And perhaps more than any of the others: the theme song to “EastEnders,” a long-running British soap that first aired soon after my family arrived in London.
My mom loved it, and it seemed to be on all the time. I heard that song and saw the opening titles with the satellite photo of the Thames zooming out to reveal East London so much that it came to represent all of England for me. To this day, any time I hear the music, my heart clenches with nostalgia.
So, that’s how I know that the Senegal song that will stop me in my tracks and bring tears to my eyes years from now is none other than the theme song to “Wiri Wiri,” Senegal’s favorite soap. Like “EastEnders,” “Wiri Wiri” always seems to be on, and I have heard the opening and closing music countless times. It is quite catchy and stirring in much the same way that the “Eastenders” theme is.
I can list a bunch of other songs – hit singles from Youssou and other top Senegalese artists – that I know will similarly make me emotional. But I am guessing “Wiri Wiri” will be the one to effortlessly transport my heart to a time and a place that will forever stand out from other times and places, and that I will wish I could return to just once more.
[P.S. The actors’ expressions on “Wiri Wiri” are so amazing that I enjoy watching it even without knowing what anyone is saying. I like guessing the storyline and getting Mamie or Tantie to tell me how close I’ve come. Try it – it’s quite entertaining.]
[P.P.S. Remember how yesterday I said that even annoying things are making me preemptively homesick for Senegal? Well, this morning I peed in a squat toilet that had gone un-emptied for too long. As mosquitos swarmed and bit me everywhere that I couldn’t swat fast enough, my pee – and everyone else’s – splashed back from the nearly overflowing hole in the ground onto my exposed ankles. It was a good reminder that there are some things no amount of sentimentality could make me miss.]
I don’t know why I keep writing about the new year since I am possibly less enthused about it than anyone else on the planet. But, I did do two fun things to ring in 2017:
On New Year’s Eve a friend hosted dinner at his house and then we went up to the roof to count down to midnight. The annual official fireworks display was cancelled this year due to security concerns but the Dakarois took it upon themselves to pick up the slack. For at least a half hour, fireworks popped off every few seconds, every which way you turned. My photographic evidence, unfortunately, is not much proof at all… I managed to capture exactly one remotely-in-focus firework on my iphone.
I asked the people I was with to forgive my Eeyore-ness but to please help me come up with something, anything, to make me hopeful about 2017. Here’s the best we could do: a highly effective ebola vaccine has just been cleared for use in case of another outbreak, and the recent Chinese ivory ban means fewer elephants will die. (I would welcome your additions to this rather sad “list.”)
The next day, I went with Mamie, Tantie, their cousin, and a couple of friends to see Youssou N’Dour’s annual New Year’s concert. Mamie insisted that we get there before 10pm because she was sure the show would start early, it being a work night. I have been in Senegal less than a year, yet found myself setting straight someone who’s lived here her whole life. I told her, “If this show starts before 1am, 2017 really is bringing the end times with it.” And like clockwork, Youssou came onstage at 1:03 am. At 4:03 am, he was still running up and down the catwalks like a man half his age, and I had decided that third time’s the charm and I am done seeing him in Senegal. It’s a constant battle between enjoying the music and wanting desperately to be in bed, and with each show the old lady in me tugs a little harder towards the latter.
Speaking of being an old lady: at 12:30 after standing in the suffocating and pushy crowd near the stage for two hours, I had had enough and abandoned my group to go hang out at the periphery. There, I could breathe, but I also felt rather hopeless and adrift. This was a really bad omen for the year ahead. Then a man who had lugged over a plastic chair for himself offered it to me to stand on instead, so that I could see the stage. And then the woman on the chair next to mine put her arm around my shoulder, commanded sweetly, “Il faut dancer!” and led me in a distinctly Senegalese dance move with her arm around me the whole time. Normally I’m all about personal space but the woman’s generosity of spirit – bringing me into her joyful fold when she saw I was deflated and alone – changed my mind about 2017. I decided that the omen before had been a false one, and that this was in fact the real sign. We are never as isolated as we feel, and things are never as bad as they seem.
Here’s the concert, if you’d like to watch. It was so good, as always.
(I love the first song in the video above, and the one at 57:57 is my all-time favorite.)
(Another one of my favorites is at 26:27.)
On Saturday we went to see Youssou in a very different venue than last time. It was a concert space en plein air, as they say, and it was packed with a generally younger, more casual, and much more energetic crowd than at the Grand Theatre gala.
I almost skipped this show because of the fear it could never live up to the first one, but then I realized that would be incredibly silly. And in the end, the two shows had such different vibes that they were like apples and oranges.
One thing remained constant, however: the ungodly hours. Youssou is nearing 60 years old and yet he came onstage at 1:15 and finished performing at 3:49am. (I know the precise time because by that point I was checking my phone every five seconds.) He and his band kept asking the crowd, “Est-ce que vous êtes fatigues?” and my whimpered “Yes”es were completely drowned out by the delirious “Non!!!!”s.
But earlier in the night, when I was not yet falling asleep on my feet… here’s the moment that gave me chills. (That’s my beautiful and charming “host sister,” Cecile aka Mamie, at the end.)
I’ve now heard this song, “New Africa,” live three times. The first time was in New York and I got baby chills. In Senegal, the baby chills turned into enormous adult chills, and I felt a bit like a sucker for cheap thrills. But can you blame me?
It was an awesome night. There’s a longer video here (including amazing drumming and dancing) if you want to see more.
Be forewarned: This is going to be a long one, and a little overwrought… Continue reading
Tickets in hand for Youssou N’Dour on Sunday. I’m so excited about this show that I would pay good money just to fast forward the clock a couple of days.
Acquiring concert tickets here is quite a different beast than in the United States. It’s quite a bigger beast, I should say. Whatever, bygones. We have tickets and all is right with the world.
I don’t have any weekend reads to share this week except for this one, which makes me want to seriously dial back my encouragement to get to Cuba. I hadn’t considered how an influx of visitors could further deprive Cubans who have very little to begin with. 😦
Passez un bon week-end, tout le monde!
Tonight I was planning to check out an acoustic set at a restaurant only two blocks from my house… but then I got lazy. I literally haven’t been out once past 8pm since arriving in Dakar so it’s high time I get my nightlife on. Tomorrow! I’m going with someone I met at the language center to see a popular Senegalese band, Pape et Cheikh, at a club called Villa Krystal. Or we might change our minds and go to see a reggae band, Tiken Jah, at Just4U, which is apparently a very cool place in spite of its ridiculous name.
I also just found out that Youssou N’dour, whose music is half the reason I’m in love with Senegal, is playing a benefit concert at the fanciest hotel in town next Saturday. The unfortunate thing is that tickets are $100. I don’t think I’ve paid that much for a concert anywhere, ever. $100 is a small fortune here… though it’s worth a small fortune to see Youssou in his home country. Then again I’ve heard he plays here often, and I’ve also just heard about another great show the same night, so I might go to that one instead.
Anyway, it’s nice to be spoiled for choice. I hope your weekends are similarly filled to the brim with amazing options.
Here are some weekend reads, provided your internet access is not, like mine, virtually nonexistent.
This article about straightening out croissants is not from The Onion, but it could be.
“How scared or not you are is an emotion, not a statistic.” How to make rational safety decisions when it comes to travel (and many other things).
Language learning has made me more open to try new things, but unfortunately not in the way illustrated in this cute cartoon.
Two dishes tied for France’s favorite. For some reason neither of them are choucroute garnie (which came in third).
This documentary about an Afro-Cuban community’s links to Sierra Leone is on my to-see list – for the next time streaming video becomes a remote possibility.
An alfajores recipe (alfajores = best cookies on earth)
Passez un bon week-end!
[Photo: boys playing soccer one street from my host family’s house.]
Over the weekend I saw Youssou N’Dour perform in Brooklyn. I don’t say this lightly: it was transportive. The music is so overwhelmingly life-affirming, and I’m chomping at the bit to go to Senegal. So I spent the entire show alternately blissing out in the moment and imagining myself living in Dakar in the near future, making a weekend routine of going out to dance to West African music.
The band kept announcing him as the “minister of the people” but I would more aptly call N’Dour the minister of tourism because within minutes of his arrival onstage I was ready to pack up and go.* Lo and behold, I just looked up his discography and he is indeed Senegal’s minister of tourism and culture as of 2012! That is both hilarious and entirely appropriate.
Sometimes I think I’m going to wimp out on my language sabbatical but then a night like Saturday’s reminds me of how much fun I will have and eradicates the fear. In fact, I spent a good part of the show wallowing in fantasy-land “logistics” planning: I’d move to Senegal next November and spend the winter months learning French eight hours a day, then visit every country in West Africa after becoming proficient, next head south to Zimbabwe and South Africa just because, then cut back up to Rwanda, then turn east into Tanzania and Kenya, and finally somehow end up in the south of France in time for summer. Oh, and there’d also magically be time and money for Mozambique and Madagascar. And then I’d move to South America for Spanish immersion.
It’s good to dream… And eventually, when the time is ripe, I will become a bit more realistic about my dreams and turn them into reality. (With God as my witness.)
I leave you with a clip from the show, taken by someone with a much better seat than mine!