Day Ten: Chez Boum

Monsieur Boum is an institution in Toubacouta. His restaurant on a dirt street in the centre of the village draws many locals, a sure sign for tourists like me. Boum is a jolly fellow and remembered me with a big smile when I walked into his place yesterday afternoon. Last December, I believe I surprised the chef when I opted for snake rather than pasta. Delicious … just like chicken!

Jo, Moustapha and I were planning to have dinner at Chez Boum last night since the woman who cooks for them and Lydia was travelling to nearby Gambia for a funeral. Earlier in the day, I was at the house when Fatou heard the news about her beloved great grandmother. Moustapha told his wife in very fast French and I didn’t catch on right away. Seconds later, tears were rolling down Fatou’s cheeks.

At last year’s dinner, I sat on Boum’s patio and watched a young girl in a colourful patterned dress playing across the street. A wall of cement blocks framed her in the twilight. As I took in the same sight yesterday with a bottle of Coca-Cola Zero in my hand, there was only the wall. I missed the young one.

Refreshed, I strolled on in the heat. Hours later I returned to find Moustapha and Jo enjoying their beverages. They shone in the light of the patio. Against the wall there were voices in the dark, ghostly figures reclining in ghostly chairs.

Jo and I launched into some topic in English. Oh, I remember … it was the adventures of Baziel (his son), Olivia (his friends’ daughter) and Bruce in Canada last August. Jo and I flowed. He can flow in Flemish, English, French and German! After a few minutes, I actually noticed that we were speaking English, and remembered that Moustapha knew very few of those words. It made me happy to tell Jo that we should switch to French. Down deep, I knew that I’d soon be in the place where Moustapha currently was, and that was okay. I’m on a journey towards speaking the language well and there’s a long way to go.

Jo and Moustapha kept at it for at least twenty minutes. So fast, so expressive, so incomprehensible. I smiled while imagining me as one of those smooth “gens de français”.

Jo went for the steak, Moustapha for the chicken, and I for the very local fish. Our meals arrived beautifully displayed and the tastes were a perfect match for the sights. To be savoured.

Along came two Belgian fellows to the next table. They lit up. I coughed. They and I kept going with the activities of the moment. I looked at Jo and said “Je vais” (I’m going). And I meant it – delicious flavours or not. There was no place far enough from the smoke. The gentlemen got the hint and moved to the end table. Thank God. I whipped out my puffer and did the deed. Who knows why my lungs are so sensitive but they are. So be it.

Another glowing was Boum’s face as we oohed and ahhed through the meal. We were pleased, he doubly so. At the end we waved goodbye to our chef and walked off into the tropical night. Day was done, and our tummies were happy.


It was towards the end of French class this morning.  Many kids had completed the assignment and free time beckoned.  A girl came up to me and suggested that I start up Duolingo, the French app on my phone which is helping me prepare for Senegal, where I’ll be with children who only speak French.  Duolingo is très cool, announcing my successes with a little trumpet blast.

I sat on the edge of a table with a girl on each side.  They often chimed in with the correct answer to a question, and sometimes pressed the screen to make my word choices for me.  A little bit of me thought “Wait a minute.  It’s my app. I’m the one who has to learn this stuff.”  But that melted away like the first snowfall of the season.

The three of us were together.  It didn’t really matter what the topic was – studying French would do nicely.  Beyond the task, we were simply having fun, and enjoying each other’s presence.  Other than a few comments about the French terms, not a word was spoken.  Words weren’t needed.

The girls were eleven.  I’m sixty-nine.  No problem.  Just human beings wanting to share a few moments with other human beings.



I’m sure excited about going to Africa to visit Lydia and Jo’s foster kids.  I e-mailed her last week with some questions, such as the ages of the children and whether coffee will be available in Senegal.  If the answer to that last one was no, I’d have to start weaning myself off the stuff.

Almost as an afterthought, I asked if the kids speak English.  Here was Lydia’s response:

“In Senegal, French is the most spoken language, though a few people speak English due to the nearness of Gambia.”


A few days ago, I’d seen a video of one of the kids.  He was speaking French.  And soon I will too.  I have the remnants of high school French but the rust is huge.

Jody and I went to Quebec City in 2008 to enjoy the music, the food and the ancient buildings.  The vacation, however, came to be about local people and my efforts to communicate in their language.  I had a marvelous time, and virtually every Quebeçois was kind to us, throwing in some good natured laughter as I decimated the grammar and vocabulary.  Senegal can be the same!

Yesterday, in French class, I told Madame and the kids about my dilemma: I have three weeks and a few days to get good at French.  Any ideas?

As the students got back to work, a girl approached me.  “Have you heard of Duolingo, Mr. Kerr?” > “Nope” > “It’ll teach you French.” > “All right, I’ll give it a try.”

I downloaded the app on my phone, did some registering things, and was faced with a choice: either I don’t know any French or I know some.  Okay, “some”.  The program would do a pretest with me, to see where they should start my studies.  As I pondered question number one, a few kids gathered around me, watching for my success or lack thereof.  Actually they were cheering me on.

“Translate ‘a man and a boy’ into French.”  I got to work, with lots of coaching coming from the left and right.  “Un homme et un garçon”  >  “You are correct” flashed on the screen.  Muted cheering from the peanut gallery (and from me).  We were off … question after question appeared and I (we) did pretty well.

The whole darn thing was fun, especially the kid participation part.

Okay.  That’s enough for today.  Now back to my French homework.  I sense bilingualism hanging out just beyond the horizon.