0252. Unplanned Couchsurfing in Thies (Sgl 04--revisit)

Thies Travel Blog

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I was thinking of trying to make it all the way to Kaolack today, but after all my wanderings around Saint-Louis, I have a bit of a late start getting out. It’s after dark when we get to Thies, so I figure I'll go ahead and look for a place to stay.

Thies is another town I visited in passing back in 2004--but didn't have any super remarkable experiences. It has a different feel than any other city I've visited in Africa with what I'd call a "modern colonial" influence.  The hub is a large and modern plaza "Place du France" with some shiny government buildings around it.  From there, wide, tree lined streets spoke out in eight directions.

  During the day, these trees provide welcome relief from the scorching heat Thies is famous for. Despite being so close to Dakar, it has a completely different climate.

Unfortunately for the pedestrian wanderer as myself, Thies really sprawls, with no real urban center. In fact, as I gaze down each of the spokes heading out from Place de France, there doesn't seem to but much sign of life down any of them.  So I just have to guess and head down one... it just gets quieter and quieter, so I head back to try another.

I come across a very royal-looking party with men and women wearing robes that were absolutely dazzling... A fellow approaches me and says that it’s the circumcision party for his son.

  We get to talking and he soon says he can hook me up with a place to stay... Leads me down an alley, around to the back of a house where a couple of fellows sit in the near darkness.  They show me a filthy little hole with no light and say that I can stay there for 30 Euros! I’m downright insulted by the offer--tell him that I'll look around a bit, and come back if I don't find anything better...  It’s a bit of an unnerving feeling to see someone who is apparently not too bad off still trying to milk me for all I’m worth.

Down another boulevard... to a neighborhood with some cheerful restaurants and bars... One of them is has a waiter who looks Lebanese—kind of a strange sight in these parts… I ask for suggestions but the all lead to dead ends... Finally do find a hotel, but it’s over 45 Euros a night.

...

Damn... that'll really blow my budget...
It's getting a bit late, but the streets are still active, and feel fairly safe overall, so I decide to keep wandering around, thinking over my options... One idea would be to try to find an honest looking citizen who might let me couchsurf--for a small donation, of course.  Hopefully not someone as greedy as that first guy.

Finally I see two fellows that look honest, so I go over to them to explain my predicament.  They tell me that a nearby church might provide me with lodging.  They offer to show me way...

We get to the church--no luck... but the neighborhood is cheerful and people are out and about still... then an older man comes over, asking what's going on... He's clearly been drinking..

.

"Oh, you can stay at my house" He quickly offers...

Have to make a quick decision... I say yes... And followed him down an alley an in through a gate. As we walk, he mentions that he's a gendarme police... I don't know if I’m supposed to feel relieved or even more worried...

My inebriated host leads me into a small and very crowded living room and begins to introduce me to his family. Whew! Family--that's always reassuring!  He has about 10 kids or so ranging from 14 to adult.  They seem to feel a bit uncomfortable with this dude their tipsy father and husband dragged in off the street.  His wife in particular doesn’t not seem at all humored.  Hopefully I'll be able to win them over.

One of the sons, Nicholas, eyes my guitar and mentions that he's a musician as well, in fact, he's got an album out.

.. Cool... a way to connect...

Gradually the family starts to warm up to me--they insist that I stay in a nice bedroom that belongs to a son who is working in Dakar.

As Nicholas and I hang out and play music late into the night, I start getting a fascinating glimpse into Senegalese family life... he explains how their family and neighborhood are completely religiously integrated--Muslims, Catholics, and Protestants intermarry and lived under the same roof and join each other in their religious festivals.  Unlike in Morocco, here Muslims and Christians intermarry without having to convert to the other’s religion, and they have a system all worked out for the education of their children that prevents potential conflict.  Nicholas tells me that several of his relatives have interfaith marriages, and it all works out quite well.

As I go to sleep to the sound of chanting of a nearby all night Muslim prayer vigil, I still can't believe my good fortune of being able to discover this heartwarming blend of the two Faith which seem have some much conflict with each other in other parts of the world…

Next morning, I get up to get a bit better feel of the surroundings.  The house is really a small, walled compound or several small homes surrounding a central patio. Different sons with their respective family live in each home.  The family also hosts the neighborhood well, so all morning there's a parade of neighbors coming in to draw water.  Nicholas says his grandfather dug the well, and lets everyone use it for free...

Despite the fact that several of the sons are employed and the father is a Gendarme, their living conditions are still quite basic.

  It makes me wonder what constitutes “middle class” here in Senegal...

I figure the least I can as a thank you is get something for breakfast for everybody... so I head out to explore the sprawling neighborhood.  Hundreds of kids are heading out to school down these very wide dirt streets that stretch out into the horizon stopping to buy bread at little stalls... I can't find any patisserie so I settle on bread and cheese...

When I get back, Nicholas's fathe is heading off to work--and his wife seems a bit more cheerful... I offer to take some pictures of the family and then send them by email--they seem to like the idea...

It’s been a short but rich experience with my impromptu host family here in Thies.

I meander through town a bit--I find an interesting market area to explore and even take a few discreet pictures.

..

...Head back to Place du France where I have my official parkbenching session... have a great discussion with a young law student about immigration to Europe etc... his feeling is that young, bright Senegalese should focus more on building up their own country, rather than always being obsessed with moving abroad...

...And that’s it... my very cool Thies adventure...

 

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Thies
photo by: jeannajumps