Tues., Jan. 2, 2007

South African Airways was pleasant.  Debra sat near the window with Bob next to her, and Sue sat across from Bob.  I sat behind Bob.  Next to me was a Princeton grad working for the U.N. in Dakar on nutrition for women and children.  I slept fitfully, even with an Ambien CR.  I had a lousy cold with a very runny nose.

It was easy going through customs.  Heather wasn't at the airport when we arrived.  Sue pointed to a young woman at an ATM machine, saying that she was Heather.  We called, but she didn't turn around.  I walked up to her and said, "Bonjour."  It wasn't Heather!  A man hung around me, telling me where to go and what to do.  Heather appeared, finally.  Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful holding her, kissing her, looking at her, touching her!!  She tried negotiating for a taxi; finally we got in for 10,000 CFA, probably too much.  I think Bob gave $5 to the man who was hanging around us.  The taxi was old and decrepit.  The road was unpaved for much of the way from the airport to Dakar, but it appears that workmen are working on it.  The drive was harrowing, especially for Sue, who sat in front and watched all the dangerous-appearing swerves.  The hotel, Hotel Farid, was fine--two beds, hot water, toilet paper, toilet.

We walked and walked.  The streets are filthy with dirt, sand, dust, trash.  People are hawking Orange phone cards, t-shirts, crafts, many other things.  We stopped at a nice pastry and sandwich shop.  We tried to find a specific restaurant that had been recommended to Heather but couldn't.  We finally ate lunch in a pizza, crepe, and salad coffee shop.  I couldn't eat much but wanted to have a full stomach for the malaria drug, Malerone, that I had to take daily.  At lunch Heather described her work for Bob, Sue, and Debra. 

We changed money at Western Union--480,000, the best rate found so far for the dollar (about $2 for every CFA [pronounced "say-fah"]).  Bob put $70 worth of CFA in his shirt pocket, and it was stolen.  Two men tugged on his pants.  As he pushed their hands away, maybe someone else reached into his pocket.  He didn't feel it at all.  That's exactly what was described in a three-year-old paper for U.S. government workers that Sue found online.  It happened on a street known for pickpockets.

People were delighted and surprised when Heather asked for help in Pulaar.  Men went out of their way to take us places and were very pleasant.  Did they want money?  We didn't know and didn't give.  Two men we spoke with said that they didn't like Dakar.

Cars just go forward, irregardless of pedestrians, and crossing streets is frightening.  Heather and I tried to follow locals as they crossed the street.  There are very few traffic signals.

We walked and walked and walked around Dakar.  I didn't care what we did, since I was with Heather.

At around 12:30 pm, we returned to the hotel room and slept for three hours.  I woke up with a fever, so Heather and I stayed in while Bob, Sue, and Debra went to an art museum.

Heather and I were about to go out together for some food (even though I felt that I wouldn't be able to eat; my stomach was upset, and my nose was terribly stuffed) when the Bob Coles knocked.  They were on their way to a restaurant, so Heather went with them.  I was pleased not to have to go out.  I felt lousy--migraine, maybe a little fever, stuffy nose.

Yet it was so good being with Heather.  She looked and sounded great and happy for the most part.

Wed., Jan. 3, 2007

We went to Goree Island by ferry, taking a taxi to the ferry.

Debra, Sue and Bob on the ferry to Goree Island

Goree Island was used as an exit point for slaves to Europe and America.  There was a door exiting to the rocks on the ocean shore through which people walked onto the dock and then onto the slave ships.  Very sad!  They were kept in small rooms for three to four months and then shipped off.

Heather with our English-speaking guide on Goree Island

About 1,300 people live on the lovely island.  There's an elementary school on the island, and thereafter children take the ferry to Dakar daily for school.  I suspect wealthy people live there.  I bought a necklace for myself, and Heather bought three necklaces as gifts.  I also bought postcards, stamps, and a t-shirt for Jim.

Bob and I sat near this baobob tree while the others were in the museum.

In the evening we walked to a lovely French restaurant, Oizo, for dinner.  There were mostly white people in the restaurant.  We sat for three hours, laughing, relaxing, and talking.

In the French restaurant.  Note Sue's new necklace, purchased on Goree Island.

Thurs., Jan. 4, 2007

5 am wakeup call.  Into the SUV and off by 6:20.  The driver hired was supposed to speak English but barely did.  Heather communicated with him in Pulaar.  We sat one in front, two in the middle, and two in back.  It was very cramped with no leg room in back, and the back door kept opening.  Finally we changed to three in the middle and one in back, and that worked much better.  We alternated sitting in front, the choice seat.  The back door banged and banged.  Poor Bob sat in the back a good deal of the way.

Trying to fix the back door, banging on it with a hammer

The country is dusty, windy, and looks very very poor.  The road is pitted with deep wide potholes.  The driver drove around them, between them, onto the shoulder, and into the left lane. 

Heather is standing in one of the thousands of potholes.  Very many were deeper and larger.

We stopped at a little restaurant along the way.  Only Heather and I ate.  She told me later that she was proud of me for being willing to eat.

Lunchtime.  Heather, Sue, our driver, Bob.  We drank water only from the big water bottles.

We urinated along the roadside, squatting, but I didn't do it well.  The back of my skirt got quite wet.  Disgusting!

I'm so ashamed!

After 10-1/2 hours, we finally finally finally arrived at the hotel, just outside of Tambacounda, Relais de Tampa.  It was lovely with a pool, flowers, trees.  They all swam in the cold pool while I showered.  Heather, Sue, Debra, and I played Boggle, Debra by far the best, I by far the worst.


Fri., Jan. 5, 2007

Left the hotel about 8 am for Wassalou.  We picked up a man at the hotel we'd be staying at and drove to Nickolo Koba, the national park, for an all-day safari.  There we got on a truck in the back, sitting with two of us and the guide on one side facing out and three people on the other side.

Safari ride

The safari lasted about 7-1/2 hours.  We didn't see many animals (mongoose, crocodile, boar, an iguana in the road [Heather said it was a dinosaur], antelope, two types of monkeys, partridges, deer, birds, a hippo), but it was great fun anyway.


Periodically we saw termite mounds.

Bob next to a termite mound

Lunch was prepared for us.  We sat on mats and ate carrots, hard boiled eggs, bread, tuna fish, green beans, bananas, and water.  It was a light, delicious meal. 


After eating, we walked down to the Gambia River and saw many animals in it.  It was delightful.  There were soldiers where we stopped for lunch.  One, in English, told me that he went to school in Saint Louis, north of Dakar.  He's been in the army four years.  The soldiers work in the park, guarding it because people come in wanting to hunt.  They also count the animals and do work in the park, including setting fires near the roads to clear the brush so that people on safari can see the animals in the distance better.

Wherever we went, people were surprised and delighted that Heather spoke Pulaar.  It was fortunate for us that she did, because our guide, who was wonderful, didn't know English.  Heather couldn't understand everything he said, but she was able to translate enough for us to understand his explanations.

Our guide

Debra sat near our guide part of the trip and learned from him that he was planning to work another year as a guide and then get a truck and take his wife and three children away from the area.  She's amazing in the way she communicates!!

He told us that he grew up in the park.  There were many small villages, but when the government decided to turn the area into a park, the people were paid and forced to leave, even though they didn't want to go.  (Eminent domain in Senegal!)

There was a shaky narrow bridge high above the Gambia River.  We saw people walking across it, and Debra and Heather wanted to go.  I think Bob and Sue were willing to let them cross, but I was terrified and absolutely refused.  Bob walked a few steps onto it.

 Bob is standing on the bridge.

After 6 pm we went to Hotel Wassadou.  Dinner was pleasant in the hotel's outdoor restaurant.  Bob and Sue had one large round hut, Debra had one, and Heather and I had one.  It was charming with a straw pointy roof.  But no hot water!  Heather and I were talking--I was telling her about a TV story in which a canopy bed lowered to kill someone [the mosquito nets on our beds reminded me of it]--when the lights went out.  Up to that point we had been laughing and laughing.  Then she told me that she was terribly afraid.  At a beach in Senegal some months earlier, someone had removed the screen from the window where she and other Peace Corps volunteers had been staying.  In our hut, there was a large window with only a screen, no shutters or glass.  We talked for a time longer, and she felt better and went to sleep.  The key to the hut was attached to a flashlight, and Jim had packed one for me, so we each had one within reach inside our mosquito nets.

Dinner was pleasant in an outdoor restaurant at the hotel.

Sat., Jan. 6

 We stayed around the lovely hotel after breakfast, sitting over the Gambia River, walking around the grounds.






Heather, Debra, and Bob

We saw many of these ornamental plants.

Our driver, Ibrahami, wanted to leave at 6 am for Kolda.  We told him 11 am, and he seemed quite annoyed, but Heather cajoled him, and finally he agreed.  We left about 10:45.

The drive was horrible much of the way.  The potholes were so big and so many that we rode on the shoulder part of the way and were swerving left and right constantly to avoid the holes.  The driver was excellent.

We stopped at a school for the disabled in Dabo.  No one was there, but we walked around inside.  It's neat, clean, nice, cheerful.  On the blackboard in the classroom was a conjugation of a French verb, written in a clear beautiful handwriting.  The paths outdoors were lined with painted white rocks.  Debra explained that those would help people with no or low vision.  We saw a broken bicycle with hand pedals.

We arrived at Heather's compound, where she was greeted loudly and very warmly, "Dienabou!  Dienabaou!  Dienabou!"  [Pronounced Jennaba or Jennabou.  Her full name is Dienabou Ba.]  Her mother, Njoom, hugged her and made a fuss over her, as did many others.  Heather introduced us, and her mother put out her hand for me to shake, but I hugged her instead.  We spent a long time greeting people and then went into Heather's hut. 

Heather's hut.  The sign is for the upcoming presidential election.  The blue pieces on the roof are the remnants of the tarp that was put over the leaky roof during the rainy season.

The walls are painted blue, and the floor is cement except for some tiles in the living room and by the shower.  At one point Sue said, "Now I feel so much better about your living here," but I had to turn away because there were tears in my eyes.  I certainly didn't feel better.  It brought home to me how far Heather is from me.

Heather had hung on the walls of her hut pictures that children had made for her, colorful fabric, cuttings from seed packets, a star chart, magazine clippings, flowers, and other decorations.  Also on the wall are termite growths (which her mother scraped off with a knife [at my insistence to Heather] and I swept up), water streaks from the rainy season when water poured in, and places where paint came off.  The cement floor has cracks, chips, and hole.  A furniture maker made all her bamboo furniture to her specifications.

Chair in her living room.

We had a tour of the mother's house:  a front living space, a living room, a bedroom for herself and one for her daughter, and a warren of other bedrooms.  Her daughter, Nene, about 30 years old, is absolutely gorgeous and has a 12-year-old boy and a 3-week-old baby girl, Binta.  She nurses her, holds her, carries her wrapped on her back.  She has her greatly overdressed.  She has a nice net-covered sleeping holder for the baby.

Naynay (mother in Pulaar) offered us bissop juice, but we couldn't drink it because it must be boiled for us.  Heather can drink it.

Ibrahami kindly drove us to Heather's house and waited for us, so we didn't stay very long.  Heather picked up some clothing, and she discussed lunch for us the next day with Naynay (the mother).  We decided on yassa poulet with two chickens, and Heather paid her 10,000 CFA, most likely much much too much for the meal, but that's what Naynay asked for.  We were driven to the hotel and invited the driver to join us for lunch.

Hotel Hobbe is lovely with beautiful plantings, a swimming pool, and three large black gorgeous birds (somewhat like storks).

Birds at Hotel Hobbe

Our room had a single bed and a king-size bed.  We slept in the big bed together, and it was fine.  The air conditioning made us cold through the night.  There was one knob on the sink, so we knew there was only cold water.  However, there were two knobs in the tub, so we had hope for a hot shower.  When Heather had come to the hotel earlier to check it out, she had seen the two knobs and was sure that I would be happy.  Alas, nothing came out when the left knob was turned.  I had told Heather during the ride to the hotel that if there were no hot water, we would leave Kolda with the Coles in their car.  I had already had one cold shower, in Wassadou, and I had great trouble washing my upper body.  Yet we didn't leave with the Coles and stayed until Thursday morning.

We had dinner in the hotel, and then all the others went to an Internet cafe and to buy bottled water.  I went to the room and showered.  I couldn't put the shower head on the wall above me because there was no curtain.  Instead, I held the shower head and rubbed in on me.  The friction helped me tolerate the cold, and in fact the water wasn't horribly cold.  I washed my hair and rinsed it.  The soapsuds in the tub were colored reddish from the road, so I had to wash it again.  The rest of the shower wasn't so bad, and I felt great being clean!

Sun., Jan. 7

We had breakfast at the bean sandwich lady's stand--delicious bread (tappalappa), beans in sauce inside the bread to make the sandwich, and keenkillyba (a delicious hot pink milkshake made of boiled leaves, sugar, and powdered milk).  Bob was the only one who didn't order a sandwich.  We sat on benches in her stall.  The sandwich came wrapped in a sheet from an Arabic newspaper, and when we were finished, we crumpled up the paper and dropped it on the ground under the table.

Heather eats breakfast at her bean lady's stand two to three times a week.

Then we took two cabs to where Jenny lives.  It's simply amazing watching Heather bargain in Pulaar with the cabdrivers.

Jenny is a Peace Corps volunteer who's been in the country almost two years and will be finishing her service in April.  She and Heather have become very close, and Heather is extremely sad that Jenny will be leaving.  Jenny showed us around her garden, in which she uses different techniques.  We pulled up water from her well, which has a pulley to make it easier to use.  She explained that the water is relatively close to the surface, about eight meters down.  Her father, Alpha, a teacher in the elementary school, came to greet us.  We saw Jenny's compound, her small, neat building (rectangular with a tin roof [very very hot during the hot season]), and her bunnies.  She raises them for food and has slaughtered at least one herself.  Her father picked lots of oranges for us from the tree in his compound.

We walked into town, ran into Nick, who entered Peace Corps with Heather, and went through the market.  It's packed for about a block square with low tables filled with vegetables, fish, spices, grains, lard, soap, little plastic bags of garlic, ginger, peanut butter, oil, etc.

Peanut sauce is sold in small plastic bags.

There's a raised center area for spices, beans, and dried foods.  Around the center are the vegetable tables.

Heather buying okra in the market

On the inside perimeter are boutiques, little shops which sell rice, onions, potatoes, sanitary pads, clothing, shoes.  On the outside are boutiques with household supplies--buckets, rope, soap, bowls, bathroom and kitchen supplies, fabric.  Men walk around the market selling folded fabric that they carry on their heads.  The aisles are very very narrow, and people just slowly move forward; there's no waiting turns, and it somehow works.  Jenny led us through the market, and Heather was in the rear to be sure that the six of us stayed together.

After returning to the hotel for a short time, Ibrahami drove us to Heather's compound for lunch.  He refused to stay, even though he had been invited.  Bob played with the children, flipping coins, and they all gathered around him and adored him.

Lunch was an interesting experience.  Heather had given us an eating lesson, so we were somewhat prepared.  The family sat around one big bowl on a straw mat, and we sat around another one.  Before walking onto the mat, we took off our shoes, and Naynay gave us a bowl of water for rinsing our hands.  In the big metal food bowl was yassa poulet, consisting of onions, potatoes, chicken, and rice mixed with spices in a wonderful sauce.  It was delicious!  Even Bob, who expected to eat almost nothing, enjoyed it.  Of course we ate only with our right hands.  Scoop some food up with the fingers, roll it in the palm into a ball, and pop it in the mouth.  Naturally the hand is coated with rice and sauce.  I made a few balls, and then Heather brought me a spoon.  What relief!

Muslims eat only with their right hands.

After lunch Bob played ball with the boys in the street just outside the compound, and the others played card games (spit and another game) with the children inside the compound.  Heather supplied the cards.  Heather had taught the children to play spit and Uno using regular cards.  Debra taught Aliu, a cheerful boy of about 12 years old, how to do a card trick, and he caught on quickly.

Debra and Bob playing cards

Naynay gave us individual small plastic bags of bissop juice.  We couldn't drink it, although Heather can at this point in her stay in Senegal.  She boiled it for us, and it was delicious.  Naynay asked us if we wanted tea.  It was brought to us in small cups, one cup at a time--sweet, hot, strong tea.  A little later she told Heather to pay her 200 CFA (about 40 cents) for the tea.

We took turns drawing water from the well, not a difficult task.

The water comes up in the well in a heavy plastic bag.

After sitting around in the compound for a while, we got ready for Heather's women's group.  It's a group of about 40 women who meet every Sunday evening for socializing, a light meal, and a lottery in which everyone eventually wins.  Money is put into the pot every week.  One woman's name is drawn, and the next week she hosts the meeting, gets the money, and prepares the food.  No one can win twice until everyone has won once.  The president of the group collects the money and keeps the books.

Bob was loaned a top and pants to wear.  The women wore complet (Heather pronounces is "compolais"), skirts with matching tops and head scarves.  Heather laid out three of her own complet, and Sue chose one of them.  Naynay put out three, and Debra and I each chose one of hers.  Heather showed us how to wrap the skirts, and one of the girls spent a great deal of time with each of us wrapping our head scarves.



Bob and Sue

Debra and Heather

Me with the necklace that I bought on Goree Island and the sneakers that I wore for most of the trip

After many photos, we all walked to a nearby compound for the meeting of the women's group.  The women sat in one large circle.  Special chairs were brought for us, and we sat, smiled, and shook hands as Heather introduced us.  Heather brought the group photo from a previous special meeting when everyone wore the same complet.  The women loved seeing it and passed it around repeatedly.  There was a large tape player with lively music.  All of us visitors got up to dance along with many of the Senegalese women, and it was fun dancing in the middle.  Heather and I hooked elbows and swung around as though we were square dancing.

After a while a food bowl was placed at our feet.  There was one water bowl for rinsing hands.  I was the first one to put my hands into the water, so it wasn't dirty or greasy yet.  Heather got a spoon for me, so I didn't eat with my hand at all.  Ugh!  The food was awful.  We were served follari, which is made of boiled pounded leaves from the hibiscus plant served over rice.  Jenny and Nick sympathized with us when they heard what we had been served.  When it was clear that we were finished, others ate from our bowl.

Naynay told Heather as we were sitting there that she should have brought kola nuts for everyone because we visitors were there.  It's customary to bring a gift as a new person to the area.  Of course she hadn't suggested this to Heather earlier so that she would have had time to buy them.  She suggested that since Heather hadn't brought the nuts, she should give 2,000-3,000 CFA to the president for the group.  Heather gave Naynay 2,000 CFA because none of us had a 1,000 CFA to add to it.  After she handed the money to the president, while Heather was standing nearby, she said to Heather, "See, I'm not eating your money," meaning I'm not stealing.  Of course she is, just not in this instance!!

After we changed back into our own clothing, Naynay, to Heather's shock, gave us the three complet, and we took two taxis to the Peace Corps house.  When Bob, Sue, and Debra first got into their taxi, the driver and the person sitting next to him jumped out, and a new driver got in and drove away.  Sue was sure that this was the end of them.  When we arrived, they were there, safe and sound.  Also there were Jenny and Nick.  Heather cooked okra and onions, and Jenny brought a watermelon.  We sat for a few hours outdoors talking and laughing.  It was so much fun!

Walking toward the road to get a taxi, I slipped and skinned my knee.  I was terrified that it would become infected, but it was fine.  (I couldn’t use the local water to wash it, but Heather had an antiseptic cream.)  We put the Coles in a taxi, and Heather, Jenny, and I got into another one with Jenny's bike in the trunk.  A police officer stopped the taxi for a time.  We took Jenny to her home--she can't bike home after dark (too deserted, too dark), and her host father came out to meet her with a large flashlight.  On our way to the hotel, Heather asked the taxi driver why the officer had stopped the taxi.  He said that it was because the bike was sticking out of the trunk and that he was fined 500 CFA.  Heather gave him a 500 CFA tip (no tipping in Senegal), and he told Heather that whenever she needs a taxi, she should get him.

It was a very busy wonderful day!

Mon., Jan. 8

After breakfast, included with the room, we went to Heather's garden and met Seck, who works there.  His plants look very good--lettuce, tomato, potato, eggplant, mint, cabbage, pepper, and more.  But he hadn't watered Heather's plants while she was away, and they weren’t doing well.  At one point she seemed puzzled and annoyed, and later she explained that he had almost discarded young plants that she's been planning to use.

We went to the bank to get money.  Bob's MasterCard didn't go through, but his Visa card, as mine, was fine.  When Heather told the man in the little office we were brought into that I wanted 300,000 CFA, he asked her three times if that's what I really wanted--a lot of money.  Our numbers were called at the teller area, and Bob and I stood together.  The teller was businesslike and distant with Bob as he dispensed the cash.  Then it was my turn, and Heather spoke Pulaar to him.  He smiled and chatted with her.  What a difference!

Then back to the hotel, and off Bob, Sue and Debra went in the car to Tamba, Dakar, and then South Africa.  I was afraid I’d feel somewhat abandoned, but Heather is so comfortable and sure of herself and able, that I was completely comfortable with her in a country where I understood no one and nothing was familiar.

We napped in the hotel for well over two hours, talked, laughed, went to Heather’s house to charge my camera battery, and then had dinner at the hotel, omelet and cooked vegetables for me, salad and spaghetti with tomato sauce for Heather.  We had the same dinner each night for the rest of our stay.

The first evening that Heather and I were having dinner at Hotel Hobbe, we saw a man walk in with a long flat case.  We speculated that it could be a keyboard and perhaps we would have live music.  I suppose the waiter heard us.  He’s a hunter, he explained.  Whatever he shoots, he brings to the hotel for cooking.  Would we like some?  No!!  Each evening we saw the men coming back from their hunts.  One morning we saw a hunter hurrying out to catch up with the others.  Heather sympathized with him, since she’s often in a similar position.  I called to him, “Bon chance,” and quietly added, “to the animals.”

Tues., Jan. 9

After breakfast at the hotel, we looked for tablecloth fabric at the market.  I saw that I wanted wax, a type of design, but I didn’t know how much to buy.  We bought large white radishes, okra, eggplant, and rice in the market.  Heather held my hand so that I could move along with her and not get separated.

We went to the post office to pick up Heather’s package—from the Bob Coles—and mail my postcards.  She wanted to pay for another year of use of the post office box, but there was many people waiting.

We took a taxi to her compound to get her laptop computer for Jenny to use in the Peace Corps house for writing her close of service (COS) report and then to the Peace Corps house.  Heather put the computer in a bag so that the people in the compound wouldn’t see it.  It’s not they don’t know that she has a computer, but she doesn’t want to remind them or flaunt it.

Heather and Jenny cooked lunch, and we had a delicious meal.  Soon Alexis came.  She lives in a village about an hour’s bike ride away.  The four of us sat for a few hours talking and laughing.  It was delightful!

Heather, Alexis, Jenny

Jenny left, and the three of us watched the West Side Story episodes of the TV program Brooklyn Bridge (which I brought) and chewed on dental sticks.

Then back to the hotel and dinner.

Wed., Jan. 10

Jenny stopped by the hotel to bring a large bag of her things for me to bring back and mail to her home in Maine.  She also brought envelopes to mail.  When she left the U.S., postage was 37 cents.  I assured her that I’d add the 2 cent stamps.  She sat with us through breakfast, and I said goodbye to her.

We paid our complete bill and seemed to get a discount—for what, we didn’t know.  Of course we paid in cash.  No one outside of Dakar accepts credit cards.  The bill came to around 140,000 CFA, about $280 for five nights and three meals.

Then it was visiting day for us.  First we visited with the bamboo furniture maker.  He has his furniture outside his shop and across the street along the road as well.  He showed me photographs of what he’s made.  So nice!  We stayed for about 45 minutes talking.

Heather with the bamboo furniture maker in front of his shop

Then it was on the Sorna’s house.  She’s about 19 years old and walks a long distance to school each day.  As we were sitting in her compound, in walked the sheep.  They were coming home to eat the leftovers from lunch, which had just ended.  The people in the compound had eaten on mats outdoors, and the sheep seemed to know exactly when it was time for them to clean up.

All the animals that we saw throughout the country were very thin.

We told Sorna that we had been to Goree Island, and she asked us if our ancestors had been involved in the slave trade.  She walked us partway to our next destination, a lovely Senegalese way of parting.

We arrived at Heather’s compound, and Naynay greeted us.  Greetings can go on and on in Senegal.  A typical greeting in Pulaar:

How are you doing?  Jam tan (Peace only)

Nothing is wrong?  Jam tan—or Al nun (It’s how it is)

How is your family?  Jam tan

How are the people of your house?  Jam tan

How are the children?  Jam tan

How is your spouse?  Jam tan

How is your body doing?  Jam tan

How are you doing with the mosquitoes?  Jam tan

How are you doing with the Heat?  Jam tan

Are you healthy?  Jam tan

How is your work?  Jam tan

The more you respect a person, the more greetings there will be.  They are said very quickly.  Naynay asked me many of these questions, as well as questions specific to me, such as how is America, and I responded “jam tan” to each one.  She was pleased that I made an effort to learn Pulaar.

Heather played beautiful music for me.  She found a perfect place for propping up her music, on one of the pieces of furniture that she had made for her.

Heather in her bedroom

I brought a mezuzah with a kosher scroll, and we pasted it to the inside entrance of Heather's hut.

Heather packed for our trip to Dakar while I sat outside and took pictures of the children using Heather’s hula-hoop.  We had picked it up at the bamboo maker’s shop.  Heather had asked him to make it, her second one, and again he didn’t charge her anything.  I also took pictures of Naynay and Nene.  They liked seeing the pictures of themselves in the camera.

Naynay, Heather's host mother

Nene, Naynay's daughter

We said a very long goodbye.  Naynay asked me to telephone her son in South Carolina and invite him to my home.  I said many lies about how pleased I was that Heather was with her.  She walked us partway to the next visit.

Next we visited Keenay, a pretty woman with a husband who speaks English and two pretty little girls.  She was wearing an ill-fitting wig that seemed to itch because she scratched often and moved the wig each time.  She may be related to Naynay, even her daughter.

Heather with Keenay and her two daughters

Heather’s tailor brought over a skirt that he had made for her, and she loved it.  It’s made of triangles of fabric left over from the covering of her couch cushions, a dress of Jenny’s, and fabric that the tailor supplied.  Heather had brought to him a skirt that she liked, and he copied the style.  He wouldn’t tell her a price, so she discussed it with Keenay and decided on 3,000 CFA ($6).  An English teacher stopped by for a short time, but he spoke very little, whether it was because he’s shy or doesn’t speak English very well, we didn’t know.

Keenay walked with us to the tailor shop, and Heather paid him.  The tailor shops I’ve seen have one or a few sewing machines, a few electric but mostly with treadles.  Fabric is bought and brought to the tailors for making clothing.  Complet are not bought off the rack; nor is traditional men’s wear.

On our way back to the hotel, we bought fabric for napkins and took it next door to the tailor for sewing.  Heather will pick up the napkins after I’ve left and mail them to me.  I’m not sure how many I’ll get or what size they’ll be.  It was difficult explaining what I wanted, even with a tape measure in inches, which, surprisingly, the tailor had.  The fabric is sold by the meter.

Then it was dinner at the hotel and packing.

The first night in the hotel I killed 17 cockroaches.  Each night thereafter it was fewer and fewer.  Our room had not been sprayed with bug spray, as the Coles’ was, so Heather got the spray can for us so that we could do it ourselves.  I sprayed in the area the cockroaches came from, and I’m sure I killed many.

Monday and Wednesday evenings we asked for hot water for baths.  The first time we asked, the man said, “For whom?”  Heather pointed to me.  Certainly someone who speaks Pulaar would not need such a luxury.  A huge plastic pail about one-quarter full of very hot water was brought to our room.  At first we couldn’t understand why we were brought so little but then realized that we had to fill it up with cold water to get the right temperature.  All we had was a small cup for scooping the water.  It was still easier to wash my hair with the showerhead and cold water on my scalp rather than with tiny cups of warm water.  Still, it was so nice having warm water, especially on my upper body.

Thurs., Jan. 11

We got up at 6 am, using Heather’s cell phone as an alarm clock, and were out of 7:00, stopping only to have bread and butter at the hotel.  We didn’t want to drink anything for fear of having to urinate during the long ride to Tamba in the sept-place a Peugeot station wagon with seven seats for passengers.

Someone from the hotel carried my suitcase the short distance to the gar (the garage, the bus depot).  Had I pulled the suitcase on the unpaved street, I’m sure the wheels would have broken off and the bottom of the suitcase would have rubbed away.

At first Heather told the driver that we would buy the three back seats for the two of us, but when she realized that we were the first two people there, she bought the front passenger seat for me and the seat behind me for herself.  In addition to paying for the seats, we had to pay a bit more to stow my suitcase in the back.

Soon the sept-place filled up, and by 8:30 we were on our way to Tamba.  The road was horrible, potholed and dusty.  We stopped in a small village and bought tappalappa with butter.  Much as I wanted the coffee that was being prepared for others, I was afraid to drink anything.  The driver led Heather to a toilet.

After a short time back in the car, I felt a large splash or water.  I turned around to see if perhaps the woman seated next to Heather, a new mother with a baby, had a bottle of water that had sprayed out.  No.  The woman had vomited on me, and a bit on Heather, and the driver.  He seemed quite angry with her.  Heather told me to get out, and someone gave her a cloth with which to wipe me.  With horror, she said, “What if Jim were here.”  As she was cleaning me, she was laughing and laughing, and I, too, laughed a bit at the ridiculousness of the situation.  C’est Senegal.

We arrived at the Niji Hotel in Tamba after over five hours in the car and had wonderful hot showers.  Although there was no hot tap water, the water was warmed by the hot afternoon sun.  Heather washed all her clothing, and I packed my dirty clothes into a thick plastic bag.  And then we napped with the fan blowing on us.

We ate dinner in the dining room of the hotel, walked to the corner boutique for bottles of water, and took a short walk.  When we got back to the hotel, we paid the bill and realized that we were charged for the room with just a fan, even though there was an air conditioner in the room.  Heather then paid a bit more so that we could turn on the air conditioner.  The room cost $38 for the night.  We wanted to eat the oranges that Jenny’s father had picked for us but discovered realized that we had left them in the sept-place.  Heather bought four small delicious ones.

Fri., Jan. 12

We woke up at 6 am and were out in the street by 7:15 hailing a taxi.  A man with the driver said that for 40,000 CFA ($80), the driver would take us to Kaolack.  No.  We went to the gar.  We paid $60 for six seats plus $3 for my suitcase.  A woman bought one seat and agreed to sit in the back.  I sat in front, and Heather sat in the middle row, and off we went.

The two other drivers we had, Ibrahami and the driver of the sept-place to Tamba, were masters at avoiding the potholes.  This driver hit many of them.  At times he drove some distances on the dirt road that parallels the highway.  After almost five hours, we arrived in Kaolack, a dirty crowded city.  The driver went to the gar to drop off the woman and then drove us to the hotel.  We arrived at the entrance of the hotel and then realized that the driver couldn’t read the sign.  Heather said that many people in Senegal can’t read.

The hotel, Relais de Kaolack, was lovely with a pool, beautiful plantings, charming paths on the property, more like a resort.  The room was very nice with two beds, air conditioning, and a wonderful hot shower!  It cost 27,200 CFA for the night.

Heather was very hungry (just bread and butter and a banana for Heather, just a banana for me), so at about 2:00 we had big meals, an oniony stew with vegetables over rice for Heather (delicious) and fried sole and green beans for me (quite good).  Then showers and napping until 6:00.

We sat outside near the pool writing in our journals, eating breakfast bars, drinking Ananas (a pineapple soda), and looking at the photos in my camera.


Sat., Jan. 13

Surprisingly, we got up at 6 am and were ready to leave by 6:40, so we went to the dining room for breakfast.  Much as I wanted coffee, I wouldn’t drink anything before the long car ride to Dakar.  We both had bread with butter and apricot jam.

We had asked the hotel to have a taxi for us by 7:00.  Heather asked the driver how much it would be to take us to Dakar instead of the gar, where we would then get the sept-place.  She negotiated him down to 35,000 CFA, and off we went.  I think the hotel calls only taxis in fairly good condition.  The seats weren’t completely flattened, as they had been in all the other taxis we’d been in.

The driver drove fast, and we thought we’d get to Dakar in good time.  But we hadn’t taken into consideration the ways of Senegal.  A police officer pulled us over, checked the driver’s papers, collected some small amount of money from him (he asked Heather for change of 1,000 CFA), and gave him a ticket.  We then went to the police station.  Heather and I sat in the car for about 15 minutes, and then we went back to the police officer with new papers.  Finally we were off again.

We listened to David Sedaris tapes in the car, as we had for a short time the day before.  It certainly helped the time pass more pleasantly.

The front windows were open the entire time, and at the outskirts of Dakar, a police officer again stopped the taxi and seemed to indicate that the rear tinted windows were not allowed.  (The windows had tinted, peeling paper pasted onto them.)  As we drove off, the driver reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a window crank.  He handed it to me, and I placed it on the little nub sticking out of the door, rolled down the window, and handed the crank to Heather so that she could do the same thing.  Then the crank went back into the glove compartment. 

As we got closer to Dakar, the traffic was awful, and, with the road construction going on, we rode on unpaved roads.  The driver had no idea where the hotel—or the Place de l’Independence, the center of Dakar,—was.  He asked person after person, and each directed him onward.  One fellow jumped into the car next to the driver and directed him the rest of the way.  Many had surged toward the taxi when the driver stopped for directions, but this one was the quickest to get in.  From the Place de l’Independence, Heather directed him to the hotel, Hotel Ganale, using the map that Bob had left for us.  She showed both men the map, but it was evident that neither could read.  The streets were one-way, and it was difficult getting to the hotel.  The driver wanted to drop us a few blocks away from it, but Heather was insistent that he take us to the hotel.  The fellow carried my suitcase into the hotel, and Heather gave him 1,000 CFA.

Our room wasn’t ready, so we had a big lunch in the hotel restaurant.  After going to our room and napping for over an hour, we walked around the neighborhood.  We arrived at an art market, stalls selling sculptures, jewelry, fabric, purses, cloth tote bags.  I bought two brass dull bracelets.  I could polish them but prefer them tarnished.

I'm sitting with the bracelet salesman in front of his stall.

Heather bought a batik with two elephants to hang in her hut.

Of course we had to bargain and kibbitz with each salesman.  Then we walked into Score, a very large supermarket.  I saw only a small part of it.—It looks similar to U.S. supermarkets.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a stall selling shirts and found two sundresses.  We liked them, but they were too big for Heather.  As we were talking with the salesman, in English, along came Justin, with whom we had made plans for dinner.

I went to the hotel room while the two of them talked with a friend of the salesman, a man from Colorado, a Baye Fall.  He’s a member of an ostracized controversial sect of Islam that believes in worshiping god through acts of kindness rather than prayer.

We took a taxi to a Thai restaurant, where the food was delicious.  The three of us sat for almost four hours.

Sun., Jan. 14

Most days were sunny and hot, probably in the high 80s, and the evenings were comfortable.  Some evenings and mornings I needed a light jacket.  Heather wears sunscreen daily, but perhaps she forgets to put it on her feet.  The vast majority of the women wear flipflops, but Heather prefers her Chocos.

Heather's feet showing her suntan except where there are straps on her sandals

We were told checkout from the hotel was noon, so at 11 am we went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast (croissant, machine bread [like soft Italian bread; we much prefer tappalappa, which is regarded as peasant bread], butter, strawberry jam, and coffee, and fresh-squeezed orange juice for Heather).  We then went to the hotel desk to ask the man to call South African Airways to confirm my flight.  He chastised me for not confirming 72 hours before my flight and tried calling but couldn’t reach anyone because offices are closed on Sunday.  He told us that we could stay in the room until 2:00.  I called Jim and woke him up, asking him to call SAA.  He called back to say SAA didn’t need me to confirm.

For the first time, I was able to use my American Express card to pay a hotel bill.  We talked at length with the kind man at the desk, a Jola (his tribe), who lives in Dakar.

Then we got cash from an ATM in Place de l’Independence and sat on the steps of the Chamber of Commerce building.  Many people tried to sell us pictures made of butterfly wings, necklaces, small cloth purses, bracelets, and dolls.  “I have something nice.  It’s pretty.  You should buy.  The price is like a gift.  I’ll give you a good price.”  They’re like flies buzzing in your ears.  From a particularly persistent woman, I bought ten cheap rubber bracelets.

I selected the rubber bracelets from the basket that the woman carried on her head.

Heather is reading my journal, wearing the skirt that her tailor made.

We walked leisurely to the country’s official offices, grand large white buildings, and then to a casual restaurant where we ate and talked for about two hours, until dusk.  We tried reaching Dan a few times to wish him a happy birthday but were able only to leave messages.

Back we walked to the hotel, where we were again greeted by a charming clothing salesman.  Heather finally purchased something from him, culottes with pockets, a treat for her, since most of her clothing is without pockets.

We sat outside on the hotel’s front steps for about three hours talking with newlyweds from Seattle.  It was interesting and delightful.  Heather told them about Senegal, invited them to Kolda but advised them that there were other towns to visit that would be easier to get to and interesting to see.

After retrieving our luggage from the hotel desk, we took a taxi to the airport, arriving over three hours before my flight.  Just a few feet from the entrance to the airport, Heather could no longer be with me.  Torture!!  I had expected her to be able to stay with me longer.  When I realized that she couldn’t, I felt panic at leaving her, and the tears started.  Yet she seems truly happy, even with the difficulties and frustrations, and that’s what I’ll have to hold onto, and that’s what will have to sustain me.