Wild goats seem to be everywhere
Mariama on the edge of Soucouta
Soucouta is a small village only a kilometre away from Toubacouta. Mamadou, Youssoupha and Mariama wanted me to see it. Since it was during the biggest heat of the day, they insisted I ride on the back of a moto, rather than walking.
The people don’t speak any English. French, Warlof and Serai are the words I hear. (I don’t know how to spell the last two.)
Mamadou took me into his home and I met his grandmother. She was old and pretty in her flowered blue dress and head wrap. She smiled softly and extended her hand.
Folks young and old called out greetings to my friends as we walked the land and the streets. Kids ran and jumped in the 37 degree Celsius sun (98 Fahrenheit). I slogged with the young ones to the edge of the sea, which felt like a narrow river. Mud lay exposed in the low tide and we walked the less gooey parts. Ahead of us hundreds of crabs scurried away to their wetter holes in the sand. Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of this migration.
I stood on the moist earth and talked to the water in puddles to my left: “De l’eau … vient ici tout de suite! Je t’attends.” (Water … come here right away! I’m waiting for you.) I stood still with my arms crossed. The young Senegalese gaped at me, then burst out laughing. Dumb white guy, expecting the tide to come in since he told it to. It was great fun.
How incredibly dry Senegal is. The wind blows the sand. The sun bakes the earth. But at least there’s the river and the sea. And through it all the folks of Soucouta and Toubacouta adorn themselves with smiles and splashes of colour.
Before the wrestling competition – drummers on the left and the two female singers on the right
Wrestlers warming up and showing off their bods before the fights begin
Youssoupha, Mamadou, Mariama and Bruce
And then there’s the night, when I can breathe easy again and lounge around in t-shirt and shorts. The Senegalese, however, need longsleeved shirts and jeans to ward off the chill. I’ve even seen a down jacket or two.
It turns out that last night was the final session of the Soucouta wrestling competition. I’d thought it would continue to New Year’s Eve. Singing and drumming were scheduled to happen pretty much uninterrupted from 10:00 pm until 2:00 am. Towards midnight, the wrestling would start.
I wanted to go. The four of us walked to Soucouta in the dark, drawn by two female voices beaming from the sound system. They alternated lines of music … seemingly forever. The drums smashed out their beat as we approached the glare of the stadium lights. It was actually a very small space. Only about two hundred of us went inside to witness the spectacle, one white guy included.
Hypnotic … the rise and fall of the singing and the frenzied rhythms of the drumming. The spotlights shone into the darkness, and all around eyes in dark bodies turned towards me. There was no feeling of animosity, merely curiosity.
I sat in a chair at the edge of the wrestling ground. In a flash, Mamadou was at my side, telling me I couldn’t sit there because I hadn’t paid an extra fee. At least that’s what I thought he said, as the music blared and I tried to pick out French words from his quiet sentences. I moved to another side of the arena and sat down in the dirt. Worked for me.
Wrestlers were strutting their stuff in the middle of the open space. Some would pour water over their torsos – naked or clothed – and keep running (dancing?) in a circle. One fellow tossed dirt over himself. All this while the two female singers kept up the drone of the song, while the drummers pounded the skins. The event flowed out from loudspeakers to the world of Toubacouta and I suspect far beyond.
Around 11:30, the first two wrestlers stripped down to loincloths and came to the centre of the field. Judges gave instructions. They crouched towards each other as the drums started up again. Soft touches on each other, reaches to the ground to get dust on their hands, feet moving left and right … then the fierce grabbing, the hips engaged in a supreme effort to throw the other, feet pounding into the sand as the dance moved twenty feet from the centre point. One fellow flipped backwards and fell to the earth, his opponent pressing down. Somewhere a whistle sounded and the match was over. The victor stood above the vanquished, who clutched his knee in agony.
Woh … intense or what. Now I wanted my bed … 2:00 am was a bridge too far. The four of us returned on the black roads towards Toubacouta, with vague human shapes passing us by. Mariama and I walked. Youssoupha and Mamadou shared the moto. I wanted them to stay and enjoy more matches but they would have none of it. Jo had made it very clear to them beforehand: take care of Bruce.
Yes, indeed, I am being cared for in this country, and in this life. I’m in the middle of something big.