The broom riders
The military base
The game: Baziel, a fellow from Soucouta, Mariama, another guy from Soucouta, Youssoupha and Ansou
I knew that Mamadou and Youssoupha had invited me to watch them play basketball at 5:00 pm in Soucouta. Far earlier than that, I set off from Eddy’s bed-and-breakfast to explore the village just north of here. I knew the route: walk five minutes west and then turn north on the red road (Main Street). But something happened on the way to the plan. A narrow dirt stretch beckoned me to the right. I stopped. I felt my body tighten. And I turned.
It seemed to be the moment I was letting go of the tourist label. I could saunter aimlessly on the highways and biways, at ease with the heat, the dry earth and the goats. There were a few twists and turns, a few cement walls with voices behind, a few pedestrians and motos. The newness was letting go into usualness. There was an ease to my step as the dirt rose into dust.
Onto the red road and looking for the site of the wrestling competition that ended a few days ago. It wasn’t there, except for the power pole around which the competitors ran in their warmups, flexing and shining. The arena had been only netting and poles shoved into the ground. How brief our stays in the events of our lives.
I continued on, and soon saw the basketball court near the entrance to the military centre. I noted that there were cement bleachers. and that there were swatches of shade up there.
There was a cart of watermelons ahead on the left. Sitting in the shade nearby were three elderly men, rolling cigarettes. They all smiled widely at me, showing a lot of gaps in the teeth. I told them (as best I could) that I was going to the basketball game at 5:00. They nodded approval. I then made dribbling and slam dunk motions, threatening to do a demo with a melon. When I tried to convince them that I was playing in the game, they rolled over laughing. Hrumph! Guess they were having trouble sensing a professional athlete when they see one.
Off on a side street, past more cement walls and a couple made out of vertical sticks, I saw the opening to a dirt yard. Adults were sitting around talking and kids were jumping together. Then five of the young ones came at me. They seemed to be tied to something. The kids roared to a halt right beside me, and I saw they were riding a broom. Making pretty good speed on it too!
I started creating some dicey French phrases, and even though they didn’t know what I was talking about, they were happy to smile and stroll along with me. We had fun. Four blocks later, they scurried back home, with waves held high.
Ahh … the sound of the imam, calling the Muslim faithful to prayer at the mosque. I followed the wailing … left here, right there. In a little clearing behind houses, there it was – a tiny white and turquoise place of worship. Even from a distance, I could see kneeling worshippers in the shadows inside. I lingered. I felt into another religion, another way of being.
On the main road again, I headed towards the basketball court. But first the military centre. I gave it a wide berth, perhaps because of the two soldiers in camouflage, guarding the front gate. They looked severe so I was not ready to tell them a Canadian joke. Let’s go to the game.
Turns out it wasn’t a game at all … just six guys who wanted to play 3 on 3. The crowd was spectacular; Mariama, Lydia, Jo, Marie-paule, Gnima and me. We cheered a lot, especially for the Belgium guy. Actually we roared at each person’s great shots. Everybody played hard.
Sport, religion, broom riding, cigarette rolling, shuffling in the sand. Alone, with five kids, with worshippers, and with eleven basketball fanatics. Such a recipe for living.