Lydia promised us something special yesterday morning. We would go by bus or moto to an authentic Senegalese market, in a village that rarely sees white people. Bring it on … give me the real deal.
We gathered at Lydia’s house. I sat across from Aziz in the open air, both of us in living room chairs with wooden arms. He did a bit of drumming and I repeated his rhythm. Then I started a new one, and the young fellow followed my lead. Soon we set up a frantic pace. I leaned across the coffee table to him, reaching with my arms. Our hands touched and then released. And on we went – Aziz forward and me back, Aziz back and me forward … a dance.
We were off. Some of us in a little bus and six of us on motos. I was on the back of Curd’s bike. We rolled through the streets of Toubacouta and then onto the highway. Way ahead a monkey scampered across the road, but I wanted more. I scanned left and right for the big red fellows. And I thought back almost fifty years, when I worked at a hotel in the Canadian Rockies. Deer were everywhere in the townsite and we employees loved laughing at the tourists who got all giddy when they saw one. Now I was the tourist and I wondered what my new Senegalese friends thought about the Canadian who went ga-ga over monkeys. Ha! What a good lesson.
Curd and I turned off the highway onto a sand road, which often narrowed to a strip of beach between two tracks. Lydia had told me that I needed to stay very still on the back because balance was essential. We could fall if the front tire dug deep into the sand.
I let go. I trusted the universe to care for me. I trusted Curd to be the best moto driver. It was one big exhale as we streamed through villages and across dry flats. I told myself not to look ahead, to just focus on the back of Curd’s ball cap, but I’ve never been good at following my own advice. So I watched the ruts ahead, the sidehill dips, the imaginary sand castles looming high. And the universe said “Thank you.”
In the little villages, kids would come rocketing out from behind walls made of branches or concrete blocks. They all seemed to be waving and screaming “Bonjour!” Occasionally I heard the word that sounds like “hallal”, which means money, but mostly the kids seemed to be waving just for the fun of it.
The market was completely, radically, new to me. Imagine a very narrow dirt street packed with human beings, with the women wearing outrageously colourful dresses. Donkey masters sat on top of loaded carts urging their beasts on with whips, and motioning wildly to get us out of the way. Live chickens, vegetables, jewelry, brightly coloured fabric, Islamic books, clothing – all were on offer.
I took three photos, two of a family and one of the street scene. Then Lydia came over and told me not to take pictures. The people don’t like it. So I put my phone away.
Everyone was black except us. Some responded to my “Bonjour”s with a smile and a “Ça va?” (How’s it going?) Others stared. People were jostling into me. Suddenly Yo stopped and Iced Tea was beside him in a flash. Someone had picked Jo’s pocket and his wallet was gone. Red alert zapped through our group and I moved my backpack over my chest, with cell phone and wallet inside. Iced Tea confronted the thief. The fellow dropped the wallet and ran. Nothing was missing except a few hundred heartbeats.
We slowed again as life for us in the street turned gentle once more. I went into a stall with Lydia and a few others to purchase some fabric for a tablecloth. I found an explosion of red and green circles on a blue background that shouted “Senegal!” to me. Eva coached me on being vigilant at every moment as I dipped inside the backpack for some francs CFAs. Bill out of wallet while wallet is inside backpack. Wallet stuffed back in. Bill out of backpack in a closed hand. Other hand zips up the pack. Piece of cake.
Now we were in a long line through tiny passages, ducking under hanging clothes and passing close by hanging carcasses. I hardly noticed for awhile but our friends Yusefa and Mamadou were always bringing up the rear, watching for thieves and making sure none of us got separated from the group. I told Louisa that I loved being in massive crowds. She smiled and said she felt the same.
The energy of the market was intense. All those voices crying out in languages I didn’t understand. Local folks moving fast when there was space – on foot or on donkey carts. The squeal of chickens who were tight together in large mesh bags. The tooting of moto horns. The braying of donkeys. The dust blowing over our faces. The sun doing its job. Wow! A world beyond my life, and yet I was a vital part of it all.
I rode home in the bus so that others could experience the wind on the bikes. I sat beside Yusefa. “Merci pour me protéger dans le marché.” (Thank you for protecting me in the market) He smiled. It was a fine moment of communion.
More to come …