Margaret and Dick   

     

    
September '08: The Senegal chronicles
FANS, A PHOTO HAS BEEN REMOVED BECAUSE IT WAS BEING USED BY A COMMERCIAL WEBSITE WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION.  BACK SOON -- WITH WATERMARK! 

Eight days in Senegal, our first trip to black Africa.  It's a country that is largely unknown to Americans, who tend to visit anglophone countries in east or south Africa if they visit Africa at all.  We had been told by our French friends to expect a warm welcome, both in temperature and temperament.  We were not disappointed.

From the capital Dakar to the crumbling colonial capital of St. Louis to an ecotourist campement in the Siné-Saloum delta, we were charmed.  On the Ile de Gorée we visited a house that served for 300 years as a launching pad for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  We had lots opportunities to test our limits.  We even had a chance to test the local medical system following a small scorpion sting in a desert tent.  Welcome to our Senegal Chronicles.

    Dakar
    Le desert de Lompoul
    Beyond hotel-and-restaurant touring:  Thiès
    Ecotouring at campement Essamaye
    

 Dakar

Hot.  Wow.  Dick and I arrived in Senegal late at night, and already I was running sweat.  Our friend Matilda jumped and waved from the crowd outside the airport gate.  Helpers converged as we walked through the gate.  “Non, non, I’m the taxi,” she told them.  Nice to have a familiar face greeting us for our first visit to black Africa.

 

Over breakfast I announced that I was going shopping for more appropriate clothes – cotton shifts like I saw at the airport.  Cool and modest, perfect for the heat and appropriate for a Muslim country during Ramadan.  I had read about Marché Sandaga in the Lonely Planet guide (“...plagued by hustlers offering to be your ‘guide’…you can buy just about anything here…buy any cloth you fancy and have the local tailors make something of your own design…”), and it started like a good place to begin.  Matilda and visiting Peace-Corp volunteer Elizabeth exchanged glances.  “Watch your bags,” they said.

 

Dick quickly figured out that you can navigate unimpeded through the streets by walking behind a local man who is going in your desired direction.  First, a local will travel at a pace that is appropriate to the heat.  Second and more importantly, the local ‘guides’ will assume that these toubabs (white people, or more generally tourists) already have an escort.

 

Our first stop was the local Trek bicycle store to exchange jerseys with the organizer of the Tour du Senegal bicycle race on behalf of president of the Metro Atlanta Cycling Club.  He was in meetings with government officials in preparation for the upcoming race, so we would need to return later.  I admired the batik shift and skirt that the shop assistant was wearing.  Where could I buy something like that?  “Oh, you can’t.  I told the batik artist exactly what I wanted, then I had the dress made.”  Would Marché Sandaga be a good place to shop?  “Yes, but watch your bags.”

 

The Marché Sandaga sprawls over many city blocks and is packed belly-to-butt with locals.  With no other toubabs in sight, we were instant magnets for the touts.  “No thanks…just looking…”  We located a warren of fabric and clothing stalls and began admiring the batiks, but all the dresses had elaborate machined brocade along the neckline.  Do you have something simpler, without brocade, perhaps in purple?

 

A voice boomed, “I will take you to the factory where the dresses are made.  You can tell them what you want.  Just around the corner.”  The man, big as the voice, was dressed in beautiful batik shirt and pants.  We followed and followed as he strutted toubabs-in-tow, winding down alleys, cutting through stalls, turning left and right.  We were wishing we had left a trail of crumbs, since the factory was clearly not just around the corner.  Finally Mr. Big stopped at a little shop, indistinguishable from a hundred we had just passed.  I was disgusted.  We turned around and made our way, as best we could, back to where we started. 

 

Several stalls later, a young man appeared before me, holding up a simple dress, no brocade, in purple.  “Madame, is this what you were looking for?”  Exactly!  He led us to a real factory and shop – stifling hot! – where we were warmly greeted by the manager.  I explained that I wanted a simple shift and skirt in batik.  At a wave of the hand, his “sister” disappeared and returned with stacks of batik fabric.  Saturated by the sales pressure, Dick left for air and photos.  He was tempted to join the local merchants for their post-prayer nap (photo) but decided his social distance was greater than theirs.

 

Back at the shop, I settled in for the duration. 

“First choose your fabric, then we will make your clothing.  We can make it for you in only 15 minutes.”

“First we talk price.”

“Oh, no!  That’s not how we do it in Senegal.  First you choose your fabric.”  The car-salesman’s gambit:  talk color first to see if the prospect’s brain is still engaged or if she has already decided to buy.

“No, today we’ll talk price first.  How much for fabric and sewing?”

“90,000 CFAs.”  $180!  I burst out laughing.  I don’t mind being their best deal of the day, but this was ridiculous.

“10,000 CFAs.  I saw an outfit earlier today for the same price, and I liked it just fine.”

“50,000 CFAs is the lowest we can go.  It’s very complicated to sew.”

“15,000 CFAs is the most I will pay.  I have a sewing machine at home, and I'm asking for the simplest possible design.” 

“Okay, because you are such a nice lady, we can do it for 40,000.”

“20,000 is absolutely the most I will pay.”

“25,000.  Madame, please, it is so complicated to make.”

“20,000.  And no surprises at the end.  Or I’m leaving.”  I stood up.

And so we settled on $40 – a fabulous deal for them, a good deal for me.  I was escorted into the workshop and introduced to a tailor.  I paid a deposit of 10,000 CFAs and wrote our agreement into the tailor’s notebook:  10,000 CFAs to the manager now, 10,000 CFAs to the tailor at the end, total 20,000 CFAs all-inclusive, no surprises at the end.

 

My 90-minute wait in the workshop is a story in itself.  I’ll share just a few vignettes.

  • My tailor took meticulous measurements, with particular attention to my bust.  Again.  Again.  A fourth time, just to be sure.  I finally offered to write down the measurements for him so he could get started on the sewing.
  • Another tailor, seeing me sweat (photo), handed me a fan.
  • The tailors all own their sewing machines, and I’m guessing they pay rent to the shopkeeper.  Most, including my tailor, had foot-powered machines.  All ages were represented among the workers.
  • I noted that Mr. Big, our initial ‘guide’, had arrived on the scene and was strutting his alpha-male stuff around the shop.  He had exchanged shirts with another tout so that each was now wearing a beautiful batik specimen to lure his prey.
  • A salesman settled in next to me to chat about France, where we said we lived.  “In France everybody is rich, non?”  I looked around the workshop to understand the context of the question.  “Yes, in France everybody is rich,” I replied.  He pointed to my wedding ring.  “Is that gold?  How much would that cost in France?”
  • I bought the simple purple batik dress from the young man who brought us to this shop.  He and other salesmen had also settled in to sit with the toubab.

Finally my tailor finished and I gave him 10,000 CFAs.  Mr. Big, again wearing the full batik outfit, suddenly reappeared and snatched the money.    

“Plus 5,000 to the tailor for the sewing.”

“No, the deal was 20,000 CFAs, all included, with no surprises at the end.”

“He’s been sewing for over an hour and you haven’t paid him anything.  5,000 CFAs for the sewing.”

“I gave him 10,000 CFAs, which you took.  Our agreement is written in the notebook.”  I paged through the tailor’s notebook, but the page with our agreement had vanished.  These guys are really good.  “I want to talk to the manager.”

“I’M THE MANAGER AROUND HERE!”

“Look, there is no way I’m coming back here next week and absolutely no way I’m going to tell my friends in Dakar about this shop if you give surprises at the end.”

Hmm, okay, good point, fair enough, no further payment needed.  I slipped 2,000 CFAs to my tailor with a handshake.

 

I had brought a sack of swag, goodies collected from the Tour de France and various conferences.  I asked my tailor how many children he had (four) and decided not to ask how many wives (up to four, legally).  I pulled out four Tour-de-France caps for my tailor, then gave a couple of goodies to the tailor who had offered me a fan.  A feeding frenzy erupted among the salesmen (five? six?) who had installed themselves around me before the final payment.  Finally, all that remained in my swag bag was the cycling jersey for the organizer of the Tour du Senegal and our Lonely Planet guidebook.  “But I like books!” said one of the salesmen, genuinely disappointed that I was keeping the book.

 

We returned to Matilda’s, possessions intact, following a great initiation to our Senegal adventures.

 
 



 Le desert de Lompoul

“Camel?  You expect me to climb up on that thing?  They spit.  Or is that llamas?  I think they both spit.  There’s no safety belt.”

 

Matilda and Margaret were already mounted on their camels, which were kneeling on the sand, as I scrambled up the sand dune.  I had tried to offer the excuse of a queasy stomach from yesterday’s bout of Marabout’s revenge (sub Maharajah or Montezuma for other travel destinations).  But how often do I get the chance to ride a camel?  Never before, actually.

I clambered aboard, held on to the primitive saddle, and the lanky beast lurched to its feet.  Our very young guide, who appeared to speak no French, gestured as if to say, “Hang on folks, we’re off!”  My perch felt as high as the cab of a semi-trailer truck.  The saddle rocked from side to side as the camel padded slowly along, its huge feet spreading like snowshoes in the soft sand.  The worst was going uphill or downhill:  I didn’t want to slide any closer to the camel’s rear end or to that potentially spitting mouth.  Galumph, galumph.  “It’s sort of fun,” I thought, and thankfully it was brief.  I had ridden a camel in the desert of Lompoul. 

 

Matilda's friends in Dakar strongly recommended a night in the Bedouin tents of Lompoul.  Senegal’s geography is not desert but sahel, the scrubby brushland that separates the Sahara to the north from the jungles of the south.  But in one area of 10 x 15 miles, the winds have stripped off the thin vegetation to reveal undulating dunes of soft multicolored sand, the advance guard of the Sahara as it marches south. 

We had just spent a pleasant afternoon and overnight in St. Louis on the north frontier near Mauritania.  In this former colonial capital, only decaying buildings remained of a grandiose little city.  Matilda and Margaret bargained successfully for two old wooden masks – the seller made a lot of money and the buyers got a bargain.  We stayed in a jewel of a hotel with palm-tree view of the salty estuary and walked the length of the island to dine in colonial splendor in the garden of the city’s best French restaurant.  We were nearly the only diners in this off-season (and Ramadan).  Two musicians entertained us royally, which compensated somewhat for the fact that the famous local jazz clubs were closed.  There are disadvantages to traveling off-season.

 

En route back south, we turned towards the Atlantic coast to reach Lompoul town.  The well-paved road to this backwater town was the best we’d seen in Senegal.  The president of Senegal comes from Lompoul, we were told.  Just outside of town, some enterprising locals have set up a life-in-the-desert experience for tourists:  an overnight in the traditional tents used in the desert of Mauritania just to the north.  “We’ll meet you in Lompoul town.  Do not try to drive into the dunes,” we were told.  Although Matilda is a fabulous driver in her trusty old Ford Explorer, only four-wheel-drive vehicles can navigate the sandy road over the hills.  We wasted a lot of time in Lompoul town calling for our pickup.  We remained locked in the Explorer surrounded by a horde of curious children.  (“Toubab – cadeau!”)  Finally the son of the village chief directed us to park inside the chief’s compound, where he would personally guard the car overnight.  Fortunately he also knew the cell phone number of our host Stan, who arrived shortly thereafter.  And soon we arrived at the Bedouin tents.

 

The local team of gentils organizateurs (to borrow the Club Med expression) made us feel well entertained in this admittedly touristic environment.  Complete with drumming (and lessons), dancing, and a full-service bar,  we dined on a flavorful couscous washed down with plenty of local beer.  We chatted with two guests at our table, young American women working as a reporter and a photographer for Associated Press in the region.  Pretty brave, I thought.  “Our work doesn’t make headlines.  Not much to attract world attention in this strip of democratic Africa.”  Since its independence from France, Senegal has had almost fifty years of peaceful electoral transitions  with only three presidents and not a single coup. 

 

We walked out onto the dunes after dinner to experience the stars on a moonless night.  (Ramadan would end in a few days, at the first sighting of the new moon.)  The Milky Way was as bright as we had ever seen, complete with the dark stripe of interstellar cloud that masks the central band.  All was quiet and peaceful, compared to the hustle of Dakar.

 

Each tent had its own private ‘bathroom’ – primitive shower and chemical toilet – with walls of straw open to the sky, numbered to match the tents.  We were surprised to find a couple of French guests in one of our bathrooms during the afternoon.  “We couldn’t find ours… actually the water wasn’t working in ours.”  So much for private bathrooms.  Even worse for this pitch-black night, the bathrooms were several football fields away on the next dune.  Several of us admitted to having used the sand behind the tent during the pitch-black night.  (Let’s bring a flashlight next trip, OK?)

 

Margaret was better behaved and waited until the early-morning light.  She slipped out of the mosquito net and walked barefoot around the bottom of the bed, then shrieked “Shit!” and fell back onto the bed, ripping the mosquito net in the process.  “Get me a Benadryl.  Get me a Benadryl.  I’m stung.  Get me a Benadryl.”  This went on for about ten minutes until I located the Benadryl in my medicine kit and the pain subsided.  Later in the light, we saw a tiny scorpion near the tent and decided that was probably what Margaret had stepped on.  Matilda and Margaret marched off over the dunes to watch the sunrise before our rendez-vous – and my courage vault – with the camels. 

 

After the camel ride we returned to Lompoul town and Matilda’s car, safely parked in the chief’s compound.  We thanked and paid the chief’s son for taking care of it.  Then Margaret pulled out another swag bag for the assembled kids.  Hats, pens, harmonicas, model cars, balls, and keychains...lots and lots of Tour-de-France keychains.  We looked around the compound at the thatched-roof huts, with walls of sticks and open doorways, and wondered:  how do we explain to these kids the concept of a keychain?
 
 




 Beyond hotel-and-restaurant touring:  Thiès

The morning was already heavily booked, and now there was my foot to deal with.  Upon waking I noticed that it itched like crazy, and it was swollen.  The scariest part was the loss of feeling in a one-inch circle around what we had decided was a scorpion sting.  We were scheduled to drive into an isolated area of the country that afternoon, but for the moment we were in Thiès, the second largest city of Senegal.  We asked the hotel manager to direct us to a clinic.  Matilda groaned.  “This could take a long time.”

When we arrived at the Clinique Sagesse (Wisdom Clinic) just after 8:00 am, the night-duty doctor had just left.  I could see a doctor without an appointment when regular day-shift doctors arrived, but many people were already in line ahead of me.  “But if you pay 15,000 CFAs ($30), I can have a doctor here in five minutes.”  Sometimes money can buy happiness, or at least save you several hours of vacation time.  As we waited in the doctor's office, two stickers on the office wall showed us that sex and food preoccupy the Senegalese just as they do Americans.  The face of a man smiling slyly:  "Sexual malfunction?  Procomil!"  A half-peeled banana:  "Trimetabol - when increased appetite is the most important way to fight fatigue."  (Note that the Senegalese food issue is eating enough, not eating too much.)

Dr. Thiam was amused by the somewhat panicked toubab who had called him away from breakfast.
“What do you think I stepped on?”
“Madame, I am not the good Lord who knows everything that happens under the sun.  I have no earthly idea what you stepped on.  But the skin was penetrated, so you need an antibiotic.  And your foot is inflamed, so you need a corticoid. It’s a good thing you came in before going to out into the bush, but I can assure you that this is a very, very minor inflammation.”
After writing the prescription, he crossed the street to return to his house and breakfast. 

We had noticed, just around the corner from our hotel, the Thiès office of Plan International.  We’ve been sponsoring children through Plan for over twenty years, and Plan has been the partner of two of our (Mundito) Foundation’s programs (a health center in Guatemala and a youth center for ragpicker children in Delhi).  Of course we had to visit.  The sponsor relations manager and regional director gave me a crash course in Senegalese sociology and the challenges of development.  In the course of our visit, we all became convinced that this was a meeting that was meant to take place, and I left with a notebook full of ideas for Mundito’s consideration.

The typical hotel-and-restaurant tour provides no real contact with locals, and I look for ways of making a trip something beyond sightseeing.  Our jersey-exchange at the Trek bicycle store in Dakar provided a very pleasant hour of sports talk.  Our visit to the doctor was an inadvertent “beyond” experience.  The visit to Plan International was a bit of serendipity.  But our major “beyond” activity was scheduled for this morning. 

Several months earlier I had made microcredit loans through Kiva to several entrepreneurs in Thiès, including two in the central market area.  (Visit Kiva to learn how you can provide working capital to small businesses all over the world.  These aren’t donations – you usually get all of your money back.)  I had been in email contact with the local Thiès microcredit bank that partners with Kiva.  “Please tell us the best time to visit the marché central.  We have the entrepreneurs’ names, and we’re very self-reliant travelers, so we do not anticipate needing any further assistance.”  They must have had a good laugh over that one.  Fortunately they provided a guide to help us navigate the marché central, even more crowded and confusing than Marché Sandaga in Dakar.  The market streets had potholes the size of truck tires, with tires conveniently placed in the holes to prevent breaking vehicles’ axles.  Our trusty driver Matilda was already fried by the time she parked the car.  We all averted panic attacks by trying to hang on to each other’s hands as we weaved through the crowded market, trying to keep our guide in visual range.

A former US president was lampooned for donating and tax-deducting his used underwear.  (“Gross!  Who would want used underwear?”)  At the booth of Maty Fall, in the used-clothing section of the marché central, we realized that unless people in the developed world donate their gently-used underwear, most people in the developing world can’t afford any.  I looked around at the stacks of clothing and understood why I never see my used tee-shirts on the homeless around Atlanta:  most used clothing finds its way to the developing world.   

Our next stop was to be at the business of Fatou Gueye. 
“But which Fatou Gueye?” our guide asked.  “There are three working in Thiès.” 
“We want the one who imports dried chili peppers from Mali.”  I showed him the picture that I had printed from the Kiva website.  

“I went to elementary school with her!  I haven’t seen her in years.  She was a tomboy and always played soccer with the boys.”  And today she’s a savvy businesswoman, running a food importing business out of her home.  She had left for Mali the day before, but we visited with her sister and proud mama, who posed with me next to sacks of onions.

Finally we were taken to the microcredit mutual bank that arranges these loans.  The director of the Thiès branch explained that these credit unions bring entrepreneurs together to create sources of capital.  The strong community structure of the mutual banks helps ensure that businesses succeed and loans are paid back.  Before leaving the director’s office, I asked how many children he had.  “Just one boy, five years old.”  I pulled out a very special piece of swag:  a clear acrylic ball that lights up and flashes different colors when bounced.  I also pulled out a cap from the Tour de France and asked if his son would like it as well.  “No, that’s for his papa!” he laughed. 

The visit was a terrific experience that left us even more dedicated to the microcredit concept.  Recently Kiva won $300,000 as the third-place winner in the American Express Members Project a real coup for this young enterprise!

I’ve started making microcredit loans in Managua, Nicaragua, on the off chance that I can talk Dick into a trip there.   

 

 



 Ecotouring at campement Essamaye

In planning our trip to Senegal, we had no idea what the place would feel like and, as a result, how daring we wanted to be in our itinerary.  Stick close to the safety and sophistication of Dakar or head out to the bush?  Margaret’s hairdresser in Limoux knows Senegal and had useful advice:  pick up a tour catalog at the travel agency, see where the French tourists go, then don’t go there.  “Trust me, I know you,” she said.  “You would hate it.”  The US State Department is currently discouraging travel to the Casamance region, which is famous for its rustic ecotourist campements.  After hours of surfing the excellent site www.au-senegal.com, we decided that a campement in the closer Siné-Saloum region would be just the ticket.  

 

The word campement in French simply means a camp, but in Senegal it has come to mean accommodations set up by locals to help tourists sample traditional village life, the very antithesis of Club Med.  Margaret found the Essamaye website www.senegalia.com and was captivated by the photos and description.  Their ability to provide transportation from our hotel in Thiès and then back to Dakar simplified logistics tremendously.  We booked for two nights towards the end of our Senegal visit, and it provided a perfect counterpoint to our time spent in bustling Dakar, decaying St. Louis, and busy Thiès.  It would be a crime to visit Senegal without experiencing simple village life.

 

What might we expect from Essamaye?  The Siné-Saloum delta is relatively unpopulated, with no cities or even large towns among the swampy islands.  Access to the island of Mar Lodj is strictly by pirogue.  The island has no electricity other than solar, limited amounts of water are pumped from wells, and island transportation is by foot, horse, or horsecart.  The Essamaye campement itself is profoundly ecotourist, with structures of pounded earth and policies of conservation and respect for the environment.  Tourists help the local economy while enjoying fishing, swimming, or birdwatching.  What finally closed the deal for me?  Cooking lessons.  Let’s go!

 

Owner-host Francois Xavier Diatta picked us up at our hotel in Thiès for the slow drive south.  We had spent the previous night at the best hotel in town to break our stays in two campements, the first a Mauritanian tent and next at Essamaye.  Xavier found us finishing a lush French lunch in the hotel’s garden restaurant.  As he told us later, he spent the next half-hour fretting as he waited for us in his car.  “I found you at this fancy European-style hotel and eating fancy food.  I thought by your accent and your name Graff that you were Swiss/French.  I was afraid you wouldn’t be comfortable in my campement.  You might be difficult to please.”  Au contraire!  Xavier’s warm hospitality, the (relatively) comfortable quarters, and the charming village kids of Mar Fafako were major highlights of our Senegal adventures.

 

If Senegal had 10,000 with Xavier’s energy, ambition, and charm, its GDP growth would rival the USA.  After several years working for others in tourism, he struck out on his own several years ago with a partner in France to build a campement just like where he grew up.  He’s found that sharing the simple village life with tourists has its challenges.  He tells the story of a French tourist:  “No, Madame, you can’t use your blow-dryer.  It will blow the circuit breakers every time you turn it on.”  Right you are, Xavier – her hair dryer takes more power than fifty of their low-energy light bulbs.  When he’s not helping his team accommodate tourists at the campement, he runs small-group tours of Senegal.  We wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to trust him to organize a tour.  Meanwhile, he’s training a small army of locals to run Essamaye, at the appropriate level of service, in his absence. 

 

Xavier filled the drive – three hours over increasingly potholed roads – with stories of his life and his hopes for the campement.  We reached the riverside town of Ndangane, greeted by Xavier’s piroguier, and putted off to the island of Mar Lodj.

 

As advertised, the campement was a round building of terre battue – pounded-earth walls with a thatched roof.  Ten guest rooms circle the perimeter, opening in to a dirt floor corridor with sunlit garden at the center.  There are shining tile floors and walls in the spotlessly clean 3-stall shower room and 3-sink toilet/washroom with (surprise!) flush toilets.  But please don’t flush except for, um, major events – just use a cup of rinsewater – as water is scarce.  And please, absolutely no toilet paper down the drain, as it clogs the septic system.  There is a simple kitchen:  stove with gas canister; the fridge, open and unplugged, serving as a storage cabinet until the tourist season begins in earnest in October.  The dining room is a separate thatched-roof terrace by the shore.

 

Our bedroom had a comfortable mattress on a raised concrete frame, with a mosquito net above and a electric fan on the wall.  The mosquitoes (yes, malarial) come out between dark and dawn so we were glad to have the fan’s breeze to discourage them and also to cool Margaret, who was still (and always) sweating like a champion.  This worked until the power went out middle of the second night, as rain on the previous day had prevented the solar power from fully recharging the batteries. 

 

The ambiance was peaceful.  Margaret enjoyed sitting in the courtyard reading, doing Sudoku puzzles, and collecting wandering frogs from our room and the courtyard to deposit into the central garden so they could hop out again, when she wasn’t following the financial markets on the solar-powered computer.

 

Xavier’s wife Marie-Hélène remained quietly in the background doing the cooking.  Sweet and charming, she is an accomplished tourist-hotel host in her own career.  She and Xavier have a young son Philippe, who at age one is already strutting around acting like a guy. 

 

She was Dick’s chef-instructor in a morning dedicated to making Yassa Chicken, a Senegalese classic.  The chicken had been running around in the village that very morning.   Stew it, then fry it, then sweat the onions (yassa) in the same oil until it makes a sauce.  Don’t forget the Maggi seasoning cube ever-present in Senegalese cuisine.  Serve with rice, plenty of the onion sauce, and – why not? – a good local beer.  On mange bien au Sénégal!  The recipe will appear soon in Dick's cookbook.

 

A visit to the village – two miles by horsecart – was perhaps the highlight of the whole trip.  Mar Fafako is home to around 5,000 people:  dirt roads, neat but simple homes, a good central water supply, and yes, solar-powered street lamps!  But the main attraction was the kids – unspoiled, friendly, charming.  If we stopped for a moment walking through the village, one, then two, next four, then eight kids would cluster around, excited to see the toubabs and ask (politely) for a little gift.  We told them that our gifts would be their photos.  Our guide, Essamaye helper Djigane, promised to distribute photos if we sent some back.  Even the mamas wanted to get in on the act.  We suspect that some of their willingness to pose was due to Djigane’s status as a very eligible bachelor.

 

The mamas and the aunties were on every street corner selling their vegetables and basic needs.  There’s no lack of entrepreneurial spirit in Senegal, especially among the women.  In the shelters of the aptly-named casas palabras, the older guys were chatting for hours on end, elegantly dressed and proud of their dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fasting, due to end the next day.

 

At breakfast I realized we were not difficult guests.  We admired as Xavier trotted out the local jams and French butter.  (“The French have got to have their butter, I’ve learned.”)  We couldn’t have made a better choice of campement.  From the shade of our thatched patio we watched a boatload of tourists from a more upscale campement pass by in a pirogue in the full sun.  Toubabs rotis, we thought – roasted white folks.  We were happy to be chatting instead with Xavier and his team. 

 

When it came time to return to the real world, we were somewhat sad to leave.  Back in Dakar in Matilda’s apartment we had a surprise souvenir upon opening our suitcase, when out jumped a stowaway Essamaye frog.  Margaret made a special trip to the garden of the French cultural center to give froggie a new home.

 

 

 

 

 

Limoux stories index


On to 2009:  Hissy fit