Letter home to say everything's okay

Dakar Travel Blog

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Abdoulaye's sweet wife Aida on the right

Here's what I wrote to family & friends the day after arriving in Dakar: "This is just a quick message to let you all know we've arrived safely in Dakar and will be staying one more night before taking the midnight bus to Tambacounda where we'll arrive hopefully mid Wednesday.  I'm going to keep this as brief as possible since this french keyboard slows me down a bit.  There is already so much to report just from the flight and our day in Casablanca but I'll have to save that for another time.  I will only say that it was an incredible experience.  Dakar is also pretty mind blowing and we stick out like a giant neon flashing sign.

She carries herself like a queen
  The funniest thing here is the mix of modern and traditional.  We walk through the sandy streets to get to the main ones and it seems very urban until you see a cow or a goat.  We changed some money today so now we can function somewhat even if the communication is difficult.  It makes you want to learn really fast whether or not that actually happens.  Anyway, we're staying with Abdoulaye's family at his house in Dakar and they are great and very hospitable.  The kids are adorable and run around playing soccer (football) and the little girl whose name I haven't gotten yet keeps coming up to me to shake or hold my hand.  She's the cutest little thing.  We had a nice African meal after sleeping really late to catch up from no sleep.  I had been running around so crazy that other than quick cat naps on the planes, I was going on no sleep for over 48 hours!  But I got through and the adventures have begun. It's HOT here so I'm sweating a bit but it feels way better than the 30 degree temps I left. Well, I'm going to close this now because even though I have an hour on this computer, I'm not sure how much time is left and don't want to lose everything I've written.  Note to Aunts or Cousin:  Please call my parents and tell them everything is good and I'm having a great time and amazing experiences already.  I love you all and look forward to sharing all the stories with you.  I'll write next when we reach Tamba.  Bye for now!"

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The first (and cutest) face I saw waking up my 1st morning in Dakar

At some unknown time in the dark hours of the morning, an eerie sound roused me from sleep.  It was a drawn out, wailing sound with almost a sad feel to it.  It was several minutes before I began to comprehend what I was hearing.  Then it occurred to me; it was chanting coming from one of the nearby mosques. The 'chanter' was singing verses, probably from the Koran, and it was drifting across the night air into the homes with partially open-air roofs.  The verses come in long stretches and then a very brief pause until the next long stretch of chanting.  Until you get accustomed to it, eerie truly is the best word I can find to describe it.  After being in Africa a while, it transitioned from eerie to comforting for me.

More of the kids and Nimbut
  It was as if someone was sending you blessings and protection as you slept.  It would wake you at first, and then you would drift back off to sleep as it continued for the next hour or so. However, on my first night, I had to put earplugs in or it would've kept me awake since I was so intent on listening to it. The earplugs also muffled the sound of bellowing goats and cattle at nearby neighbors' houses. Once I blocked out all sound, I was back to sleeping like the dead. 

It was late morning when I finally woke, feeling very rested but still groggy from the long journey the day before. I pulled out the earplugs and could hear the activity around the house: from Nimbut preparing lunch to the kids playing and Aida scolding whoever got into mischief.

Mamadou Coulibaly (front) & Mamadou Sarr (behind) jumping on the bed
I could also hear that Matt and Jesse were already up. I opened the door to my room and sat back down on the edge of the bed as I tried to wake up fully. As I sat, a tiny girl walked by the door and immediately noticed it was open. She looked at me, gave me a huge smile and walked in with her little hand extended.  We shook hands and I beamed at the sight of this adorable little person who was already very mindful of local customs. I thought it was so cute that she came to shake my hand, just like a big person! I was also instantly in love. She then went back into the hall and peered into the next room, announcing in Wolof in her itty bitty voice that the lady was awake. 

Within minutes, the woman who had greeted us (and who I later learned was our drum teacher's wife, Aida) upon our arrival at the house the night before came into my room and placed a tray on a table by the bed.

Caught her taking a bath
There was baguette bread, butter and a cup with hot water on the tray. She then scooped a couple spoonfuls of what turned out to be Nescafe into the cup along with some powdered cream and sugar. It was my first Nescafe ever and one of only a handful of cups of coffee I've ever drunk in my life. It was very soothing though and the bread with butter was a simple but satisfying start to the day. After fixing me up, she went back about her business and left me to my breakfast. Once I finished, I came out of my room to make acquaintance with the rest of the family and to find Jesse and Matt. They had been up a while and I found Matt reading his French dictionary in his room.  Jesse had gone out to run some sort of errand and would be back soon. We then hung out in the main living area where Nimbut (whose name I did not yet know at the time) was preparing lunch over a propane stove and the kids were running around playing soccer and goofing off on the djembe Jesse had just re-skinned. One of the first things I remember most vividly that morning aside from little girl Adama being the first to greet me is the kids playing and dancing around. As I learned names, I learned there were two Mamadous in the house. Mamadou Coulilbaly who is my drum teacher Abdoulaye's grandson and Mamadou Sarr who is Abdoulaye's son. The two of them are practically inseparable and you would think they were brothers instead of uncle and nephew. They are close to the same age - probably within a year - but it's funny that Mamadou Sarr is an uncle to someone older than him! Whenever Coulibaly starts picking on Sarr who is smaller and younger than him, Sarr tells him something like, "You can't treat me like that, I'm your uncle!" (in Wolof of course) and it brings much laughter every time.  Anyway, Mamadou Sarr was playing the djembe (only minimally influenced by his father, the master drummer) and Mamadou Coulibaly was singing, clapping and dancing around like a wild man in an almost stylish manner and we all watched and laughed at the entertainment. Soon after, they had turned their attention to an indoor soccer game that somehow, our cook Nimbut, was able to completely ignore as all seasoned mothers do. The kids were running back and forth, scrambling and kicking to gain control of the ball and it was quite chaotic. The ball was bouncing against walls and adults were ducking to avoid being smacked in the head or face with it but no one seemed to mind that it was happening.

Of course, houses are set up a bit different in Dakar and the common/ living area is the space used for congregating at times and eating. In the house we stayed at, while it's a totally enclosed house, this area had one section that was open to the sky while the rooms were almost dormitory style and shut off from this main area. There was an upstairs where more extended family lived and from the open ceiling you could see up to this second floor. The exposed area had clotheslines strung across between the walls and that's where laundry and drying was done. Off of this area was a door that led to the bathroom where the shower and toilets were. The best way to imagine it would be to imagine a ranch-style dwelling in the U.S. that has its separate rooms, living rooms and restroom, but to imagine a 'family room' that had no roof. The design is unique since it is set up to accommodate large families to where they can each have their own private space while at the same time living very communally. 

Please stay tuned....I'm writing more as you read this!

pdnolan says:
I get a real sense of Senegalese family life from your descriptions Leah. Thanks!
Posted on: Dec 06, 2007
Abdoulayes sweet wife Aida on the…
Abdoulaye's sweet wife Aida on th…
She carries herself like a queen
She carries herself like a queen
The first (and cutest) face I saw …
The first (and cutest) face I saw…
More of the kids and Nimbut
More of the kids and Nimbut
Mamadou Coulibaly (front) & Mamado…
Mamadou Coulibaly (front) & Mamad…
Caught her taking a bath
Caught her taking a bath