The last four days have been so full and crazy that I don't even know where to start...although that's pretty much how I've been feeling every time I sit down and try and describe this place and how I fit into it. But, as they say in Wolof--slowly, slowly, that is how you catch the monkey in the bush, which, not taken literally, means tackle something impossible bit by bit. Friday morning we took the ferry out to Ile de Goree, an island off the coast of Dakar. It was, for many slaves, their last stop in Africa--but for all its tragic history, Goree is beautiful! It was a sublime mix of sun, sand, colorful houses and above all, leafy green trees, something that Dakar is sorely lacking. A Baobab every now and then does not a pretty landscape make. After we visited the Maison des Esclavages, or house of slaves, which was eerie but not as ominous or moving as I expected it to be (this could be also because I really only understood about a third of what the Curator was saying, so that definitely lessened the impact--and I also politely declined an invitation into the cell under stairs where the rebellious slaves were kept, so I also missed that particular trauma), we went to the women's museum and to a museum in one of the colonial ports, and then we went onto the beach! The harbor was beautiful--it was like looking at a postcard. There were hundreds of pirogues out, the brightly colored, long traditional fishing boats and the water was the most gorgeous shade of aqua. Later we wandered up through the neighborhood on the island and to the highest point, where we stopped at a restaurant and ate freshly picked mangoes and drank bouye, and that's when I started thinking maybe Africa might not be so bad! But then I remembered that there were thirty thousand flies surrounding us and I had come to the conclusion not twenty minutes earlier that my body was without a doubt creating a scent that I had never smelled on myself before coming here, and so maybe this wasn't such a walk in the park after all. But you know. A really great view can change your outlook on life.
So can going clubbing in the heart of Africa's craziest city, accompanied by your host brother and 12 other Toubab girls--that's where I found myself Friday night. Going dancing reaffirmed my belief that black people have intrinsically better rythm than white people--call me racist, but I'm not making this up. And more than ryhthm, they just know how to move in ways that I can't even begin to compare to. As an added bonus, going out with Dogo (my bro) and his friends subdued to an incredible extent the amount of unwanted male attention and (at least most) of the marriage offers. This is probably because most men there thought that myself and the other ladies were already the wives of Dogo & Co., but hey, whatever works.
On Sunday I continued my tour of the fabulous beaches of Senegal and visited, with SIT, Mbour--because, as they put it, we needed a break from the hustle and bustle of Dakar. I'm not disagreeing, but I do know that if this were Tulane I would not be laying out at a seaside resort for the day because New Orleans was "overwhelming". Either way, Resort Ndaali was gorgeous--more leafy green, flowers everywhere, secret tiled pathways that lead to the garden, yassa poulet for lunch at a big long table, and of course, that salty, salty sea--the Atlantic. One downside of the beach is how much attention we garner, especially the girls. Senegal is pretty progressive, so bikinis are commonplace, but young, white female skin is not. So while we laid out and faced the ocean, a crowd of at least 20 boys, from 7 to 19, laid out and faced us. They chatter loudly in Wolof, which none of us speak very well, but it's easy to tell by tone what they're saying--and of course, rafete, or pretty, is said constantly. Talk about developing an ego. They also clap everytime anyone stands up and walks to the ocean, and then the crowd shifts to hovering at a close distance in the water. I think this must be what it's like to be a celebrity--I however, am not ready to shave my head just yet. Speaking of hair, everyone plays with mine. They love it. It's sweaty, tangled, and gross and it's like it has it's own magnetic pull.
After we hit the beach, our bus took us into the town of Mbour because we had gotten word that they were having a masking ceremony. It was the first time I've ever felt threatened here. We didn't understand what was happening, at first--I don't think anyone did, not even our directors, because when the bus got into town and closer to the ceremony, probably 50 or so kids started swarming the bus, screaming in Wolof and waving sticks and these short little whip things. They were banging the sides, climbing up the ladder on the back, gesturing wildly in the windows--it was insane. There were a few people in our group who argued that we shouldn't be there, that we shouldn't get off the bus. But I wasn't afraid of them, necessarily--I have enough faith in humanity to believe that if confronted with a person, and not a big, obvious, intrusive vehicle, there wouldn't be any violence. Luckily I was right, because they did make us get off. It turned out that the children were protecting the Kankouran, the spirit at the heart of the masking ceremony. Basically, there are four or five people in the village chosen to put on the mask and embody the spirit of the Kankouran, a protective force for the animiste people of Mbour. Every Sunday in September, when Islamic boys are traditionally circumcised, they don the masks and become an otherworldly spirit who chases away the evil spirits in the village so they don't posess or harm the boys while they are weakened by their transition into manhood. The Kankouran is covered in golden bark and a fierce, scary mask, and while he dances wildly with two long machetes, he is ringed by the elders of the village. They are then surrounded by boys who have already been circumcised, they're the ones with sticks and whips, and they keep the villagers from getting too close to the Kankouran. It's a sacred ceremony and no one is supposed to know who the Kankouran is--the boys were worried, mostly, that we would be taking photos of Kankouran, as Toubab tourists are apt to do. We got the message loud and clear and didn't take any photos.
Once we got off the bus, we were caught up in thousands of people following the Kankouran, trying to get closer. Mostly it's a day for children, because it's like a game--they see how close they can get before they're chased off viciously by the protecting boys. Then they run, as hard and as fast as they can, because they will hit you. I will never forget how this felt--we didn't know what was happening when we got off the bus and started following the people, and we definitely didn't know what was happening when they all started to run. I just know that I started to turn, lost and confused, and a little girl grabbed my hand and pulled me hard down the street, and her little hand and my instinct was the only thing keeping my legs in motion, and when we stopped a crowd of little kids gathered and started laughing everytime we asked them their names in Wolof. I saw the Kankouran once--I just barely glimpsed the wild motion of the bark on his arms, flashing in the sun, and I could hear the tamana (talking drum) following him, and the collective scream of the kids when they ran. It was an adrenaline rush. It was exhilariting. I was scoping out large objects to hide behind in case of a stampede.
Monday night, after school, Dogo brought myself and two other friends to a soccer match--apparently every neighborhood has a soccer team, and that night his best friend's neighborhood, Almadie Trois, was playing, so we all went together. The best part? The traditional African rythm section as the back up music--nothing like some djembe music to get you into the sporting mood. Everyone also knew a song that I didn't know, but it was haunting and beautiful and was punctuated with Ahhhh! everytime something happened in the game. The stadium itself wasn't pretty, really, but it was very functional--we sat on thick, tiered concrete steps that was ringed by a cememt path all the way around, where vendors sat and made sugared peanuts and bread and corn. When we left, Dogo got us corn, which for some reason is delicious and they get it to taste like popcorn, and we walked back to Mermoz in the dark. But I like Dakar at night, because it's quiet and calmer, and no one can tell exactly how white I am, and I can see the stars--the power goes out so often that it's always black enough to see billions of stars. And sometimes I think about what my Mom told me, that when I look at the moon in Senegal, it's the same moon she's looking at in Oregon, and I think about what my host brother told me when I tried to explain that the stars looked different here, he told me that it's the same sky, it never changes. It makes me laugh that two wildly different people can be telling me the same thing, and maybe it isn't so different here after all.
There's always something noteworthy happening and I'm trying to remember it all, but I know I never will, so that makes me try and soak it all in as much as possible while it's happening. I'm tired, and I'm sweaty, and I'm hungry, but I'm happy. Tomorrow we go to our villages--wish me luck and electricity.