When I came to Africa, I read that it’s best to tune your daily life to the African daily life. Up with the roosters, to bed with the sun. Whoever wrote that had the right idea but the wrong continent.
In Africa—at least the Africa I’ve been living in—it is so oppressively hot during the day that people stay inside and sleep. They work a bit in the morning. Those who work the markets stay out all day. Others siesta from 10AM to 6PM. Stay inside, and if you’re rich, you may have a fan to help with the heat. Actual LIVING starts at 7PM (some offices first open at 6PM). You go out to enjoy yourself at midnight and stay out until sunrise, like New York in the 70s-80s.
I used to love fish. Now, it’ll take me a month before I can put another piece of our fine finned friends into my mouth.
In Senegal: for food it’s rice and fish. Rice and grilled fish… every meal…with or without bread…with mint tea or “green” (actually brown…but green out of the box) tea. Fish in the morning, fish in the evening, fish at suppertime.
In Senegal, men can have up to four wives. They usually have at least two. Everyone is a brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, stepfather, stepmother, cousin, brother’s second wife.
One of the people here in my friend Ouseman’s house is the maid. Even the poorest people have someone to clean and cook for them. She’s originally from Gambia. Early 20s, pretty with a kind of sly haughtiness that…er…excites me. She’s here every day, preparing the meals, sweeping the floor, burying wood to make charcoal. She’s the shvartze.
Ouseman wants to take me to meet his grandfrere, older brother. Like in Japan, brothers and sisters in Senegal are always older or younger brothers and sisters.
GrandBro lives in the countryside near the beach. We’ll go to the beach, have a peaceful time and enjoy life in the countryside away from “the ghetto.”
Getting there takes taking several taxis to Way-the-Fuck Out in Senegal coming from Way-the-Fuck-Out-the-Other-Way. Ouseman’s grandfrere lives with his (the grandfrere‘s) extended family in a half-completed house near Mbour south of Dakar. Yeah, I pay for all the transportation.
After saying hello to everyone, I’m invited to eat with the whole extended family.
Guess what smell wafts out of the house?
I don’t want to minimize the hospitality of the Senegalese. Though poor, they’d share their last meal with you. All guests are honored… though being a WHITE guest may involve other customs. One of the frustrating things is that I can never find out.
Every twenty seconds someone asks: You feel bad? You tired? You hungry? Maybe it’s the only English they know. Satan help me if I ever say yes!
Actually, what gets to me most here is the lack of a warm shower—or hot water at all. When my bike-tripping friends in Strasbourg told me of their travels, they mentioned a website: www.warmshowers.com. I laughed, thinking the name sounded more pornographic than hospitable. Now I wish I could find one.
In New York, I complain because my shower turns cold after 10 minutes. Until now, I’ve never realized how precious those ten minutes are. I can’t shave here either. I’m starting to look like the dirty old man of my reputation.
In the bathroom is a sink and a toilet, neither connected to any water, just porcelain pieces stuck over holes in the floor. BYOW.
About six, I do something like throat clearing and mention the beach.
“Of course, Mykel,” says Ouseman. “Let’s go.”
So we go off to the beach. It’s a nice beach, uncrowded…pretty cool. I take off my shirt, shoes, and socks. The locals laugh.
“Il veut bronzer,” says Ouseman’s older brother.
“To be like you guys,” says I.
We walk for an hour. The other guys don’t seem so thrilled by the sand or the water. They’re bronze enough, I guess.
After an hour, it’s back to the concrete house. We sleep there until late next morning. (As is usual, other people share a bed so that I can have my own.) Before I know it, it’s breakfast time.
Guess what’s for breakfast?