#4, (final) Senegal/Mali, Jan. 12, 1991

Dear Everybody,

It occurred to me that the Grand Bou-bou that I was having made at the market needed a couple more pieces to go with it. I had ordered just the tunic, but now I added a long wrap-around skirt and a piece for a headgear, copying the African women’s way of dressing.

In Bamako, I stopped in at the Catholic church with its crèche scene with an African-looking Baby Jesus. I visited the National Museum, which was very nice, but small. I walked further out of town to the zoo, but there wasn’t much to see. When I came out of the zoo onto the highway, a motorcycle went by with a siren wailing. A policeman standing there blew a whistle and motioned me to wait where I was, as the President of Mali was coming! Pretty soon a caravan of about four cars and another motorcycle came. The next to the last car was a big Mercedes with the Malian flag on the fender—the President! I had asked the policeman with if I could take a photo of the President when he came by. The policeman seemed horrified and said in English, “It is Not Possible!!” Then I could go.

A long walk back to town brought me to Le Barry Bar for a beer. What a relief—it was really hot that day. As I was drinking my beer, a young man asked if I were in Djenne with Mamadou last week, and I said that I was. He said that he just saw him—did I want to see him? I said, “Sure!” So he went to get him on his moped. There was Mamadou, who put on my hat—all smiles—his problem with my payment to him and his problem with his tooth all gone! An interesting thing about Mamadou was that, while he had been raised as a Muslim, he had rejected it in adulthood as too politically controlling. I suspect that was quite uncommon!

I asked him to help me find the Societe for the Blind as I understood from my guidebook that they sold handmade tablecloths. Unfortunately it was closed now, but Mamadou suggested that we go there the next morning. We agreed to meet at Le Barry Bar at 10:00. Then he pointed me to a shorter route to walk back to my hotel—still a long walk in the hot sun, but good exercise.

When I got back to the hotel there was a vendor on the porch selling beautiful masks. I made an offer on a mask and we bargained back and forth. We agreed on a price and I offered him a fairly big bill, which I didn’t let go of, and asked him if he could make change. He tried to take the bill but didn’t produce any change. His manner made me suspicious. I reviewed the price with him, and told him what the change should be from the bill that I was offering him and asked if he had that much. He hemmed and hawed, still not getting out any change and trying to take the bill from me. It finally began to get very tense as I insisted on my change, which he still wouldn’t produce. After several back and forths, I finally said that I didn’t want the mask and I ripped the bill from his hand. He got angry and we shouted at each other. Now he was insisting that I had bought the mask and must pay him. I told him that I didn’t want to do business with him since he had tried to cheat me. This kind of thing doesn’t happen often, thank goodness!

Sam had left a note. He and his family wouldcome at 7:00 to pick me up to go to dinner that evening. We dined at Le Relax—Sam, Letitia and their four young children. We had very good food and a lovely time. Their children were very well behaved!

The next morning Mamadou and I did go to the Societe for the Blind but the tablecloths were not what I wanted. We ate grilled poulet with pommes frits for lunch, then went to the market so I could pick up my Grand Bou-bou. I said goodbye to Mamadou, went to my hotel and then to the airport and flew to Dakar. Badou called me at my hotel and we made plans to go to a Catholic monastery the next day, which was Sunday.

The monastery was very interesting. Badou, a devout Muslim, waited in the car while I attended Mass with monks singing Gregorian chants accompanied by African harps and drums—it was sensational! The altarpiece was well worth seeing, too.

Next we went to Lac Rose. This is a lake with pinkish water because of all the salts dissolved in it. We went back to Dakar and to Badou’s house where I met his family. He lived with his mother and a couple of younger brothers; that day (and I think almost every day) several sisters and their children were visiting. For dinner Badou and I had beef with African peanut  sauce over rice mafe) at a tiny restaurant.

Monday Badou and I went to Almadies Beach, which was small but pretty. We mostly sat in a restaurant overlooking the beach and drank beer. When we left to go back to town, we got a ride in the back of a pickup truck for part of the way, then we took a taxi. Back in town we walked miles on the beach along the ocean. Badou suggested my having dinner with his family on Wednesday, which I was very interested in doing. Since I knew they were quite poor, I gave Badou some money to cover the cost of the groceries. He said he would arrange it and would let me know the next day what the particulars were. I had mafe for dinner, which is a lamb stew in peanut sauce, which I really love, although it’s very rich.

The next morning I went to Goree Island on the ferry, which was a 20-minute ride. This island is historically very interesting since it was the major collection point for slaves being put on the big slavers off shore, and being taken to the New World. The island is very beautiful and I enjoyed walking around, seeing many old houses, lots of kids playing in the streets, and beautiful blooming flower-trees.  I had a very good, but sad tour of the slave house with its dungeons where the slaves were kept in horrible conditions while the European slave traders slept upstairs in nice rooms. There was an African-American family of four there. When the museum curator was lecturing, he pointed to a door going out the back of the building at ocean level and said it was called the door of no return. All of the slaves went through this door; the healthy ones to get aboard small boats to be taken out to the big slavers and the sick ones were just cast into the ocean to die. The curator told the African-Americans that while it was the door of no return, they now had returned anyway!

It was interesting to note that the curator was dressed very poorly while the African-Americans were obviously affluent and were dressed in spiffy casual clothes. I thought about Badou, who perhaps was thankful that his ancestors had not been captured into slavery, or was he? If he had seen this family, how could he not have thought that it would have been luckier for him if his ancestors had been enslaved!? A disturbing thought—. I took the ferry back to the city, went to the Sandaga Market and ate a shawarma—lamb rolled into a pita bread with fries and yoghurt—mmm, good.

Wednesday I went to Badou’s house for dinner. The house had about five rooms in a row in an L shape around a courtyard, where his older sister and her children were getting things ready for dinner. I met his mother, who was all dressed up as she was going to a funeral and wouldn’t be having dinner with us. Another sister came, also, and another younger sister lived at the house. The family was very warm to me but I was left sitting in the living room quite a bit of the time. It was hard for me to know the social customs to know what to do. None of the women could speak English so it was difficult to communicate with them. Anyway, by the time we ate, there were about 10 adults and a dozen children in attendance. The older sister that seemed most ‘in charge’ had a daughter that looked just like her!

Badou and I were served our dinner in the living room. His sister brought in a large bowl of rice (way too much for the two of us!) and a large bowl of mafe. Following Badou’s lead, I used a soupspoon to spoon some of the mafe on my side of the rice bowl as Badou had done. We then used the soup spoons to eat each on our side of the bowl. The living room had a davenport, a couple of chairs and a coffee table on which our food was placed. There was a picture of an important person (holy man?) on the wall and a TV in a corner. The house was quite nice, given their financial constraints (Badou’s father had died some years ago) and clearly they were a close family. Interestingly, they obviously employed a hired girl who was busy getting things ready and doing errands.

After we finished eating, we went out into the courtyard where the family was all eating. All of the adults were grouped around a big tub of rice with mafe, eating with their right hands. All the children were doing the same nearby. I kind of wished that I had been included in this way of eating. When they were finished and had washed their hands, I distributed some little ‘gifts’ that I had brought from home. I gave the women lipsticks, the children got chewing gum, and I gave the men some ballpoint pens. They all seemed to like their ‘gifts.’ A couple of the younger brothers could speak some English and expressed their appreciation for my coming and for the pens.

It was kind of an exhausting day, mainly because it was difficult to know what was proper ‘guest behavior.’ In any case, I enjoyed it very much, and they seemed to like having me there. One of his little nieces said something to Badou, obviously about me, which made him laugh self-consciously. When I asked what she said, he sidestepped the issue—I wonder what she said!

Badou and I left at dark and after taking a taxi back to the Plaza, had a beer. When we were walking back to the hotel we heard some music. Badou reacted with great enthusiasm, saying that there obviously was a concert at the University, which was nearby and we should go. We did and found a performer named Youssou N’Dour playing with his band. Badou was more than excited and said that this star was the best singer in Senegal and perhaps in all of Africa! Badou, who was quite big, grabbed my hand, pushed through the crowd and hauled me up a stairway to a balcony, which was almost on the same level and very close to the stage on which the musicians were performing. We had a wonderful view of it all—Youssou N’Dour was wearing a yellow satin jumpsuit and matching long coat; the courtyard was plumb full of young Africans, standing, swaying to the music and raising their hands to keep the beat; and there were searchlights sweeping the crowd and the musicians. It really was thrilling! I bought a cassette of the singer to enjoy when I go home.

The next day Badou had proposed that we go out of town to Touba, the largest and most important mosque in Senegal. We took a taxi brousse for the three-hour ride. We were obligated to have a guide to show us around. I wore my blue new Grand Bou-bou, which pleased and impressed Badou. My guidebook was very critical of Westerners that tried to dress in the African manner since, it said, the locals would be offended. Boy, that certainly wasn’t my experience. Not only Badou, but many people I met that day were clearly pleased about what I was wearing. I could tell by their nods and smiles. The mosque was a huge complex and very beautiful. There were many people chanting, praying and talking. In one room there were scholars studying old religious manuscripts. Badou said many prayers in many places in the mosque, and at one place we were given a metal cup of water to drink as a special blessing. I put the cup to my lips but did not actually drink any of the water, which seemed to be acceptable. It really was a stunning and beautiful mosque and certainly it was BIG!

Coming home, we took a ‘car rapide,’ which was kind of a shared taxi. The car had no windows that would close. At first it was kind of a ‘good wind’ since the day had been quite hot, but as dusk fell it got very cold. I was wearing my Grand Bou-bou, which had a scooped neck, making me very cold during the three-hour ride.

My last day in Senegal Badou and I went to N’Gor Island. The island was pretty and quite deserted; unfortunately the sky was overcast. We had a nice day on the island and returned to Dakar to eat mafe for dinner, and to say goodbye, as I flew home the next day.

Senegal and Mali were very exotic and enjoyable, made more so by the two ‘guides,’ Badou and Mamadou. It was fun to meet their families as well as to see the tourist sites. But it’s also good to be home. I shall try to cook mafe soon!


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