Toubab Dialaw

[a very detailed (long) slice of life ahead]:
Saturday 8/15
Greenery. Baobabs! Pregnant donkeys. Houses on stilts. Greenery. Such a contrast to polluted Dakar.
It takes us over an hour to just leave the city. There is only one road that leads out of it, and two of the three lanes are blocked for construction.

I see a man on the meridian with a spinal deformity that has him crawling on his hands and feet. Stop and actually think about this. He is crawling not on his knees, but on his feet. I’ve seen a woman get around here using her fists and a peg under her waist, but this man’s condition was truly shocking. Out of respect I refrain from taking a picture but I am horrified to think of what kind of life he has to lead.

Of course we have to go off-roading to get to our accomodation. The day is sunny but one minute after we get off of the bus, we find ourselves in a torrential downpour. This is the fastest I’ve ever seen the rain come in, even in Dakar. Imagine clear skies and 60 seconds later, the thickest rain you’ve ever seen.
The auberge/hostel/campement/artist colony/etc itself is exquisite. I feel like I am in a fancy resort in Southeast Asia. As with many of the buildings on the coast of Toubab Dialaw, seashells are integrated all over the cobbled arches. You can go straight from the central area down to the beach.


After lunch, I scramble up and down some rocks by the beach. Aimee finds some shells with natural holes in them, and we go shelling for a couple hours by the tide pools, which are home to a multitude of crabs, hermit and otherwise. There are sea urchins further out, and tiny darting fish in the calmer waters. The craggy rocks are great for barefoot rock climbing but there is a moment when one of my hands is full of shells, and my feet and other hand are slipping and I know that if my next move isn’t perfect, my body will be broken.


None of the Senegalese beaches I’ve seen have been clean. There are dead fish on this one, either thrown out from the fishermen’s catch or from being washed onto the shore.
The pirogues parked on the beach are the actual boats fishermen use for their catches. The littoral zone is shallow and I can go quite far to jump in the tall unbroken waves.

I am overcome by the music to which we dance. We are in an amphitheater with several drummers, and some of the aiding Senegalese dancers begin singing a traditional song, so I am enveloped in live surround sound underneath the blue sky.
It feels good to be dancing, and though a mirror would have been nice to see how I look, it is also good to not have one – I am free to focus on emulating our choreographer as best as I can.

African dance is fun. It’s a crazy cardio workout, with fast, high footwork, and loose, confident, natural upper body movement. To do it right, you have to throw yourself into it and not care how you look (hence, no mirrors are a plus). I’ve just taken a shower to clean off from the beach, but I have to take another one when this one-hour class is over because I am soaked through. I definitely want to continue African drumming or dancing when I return.

At the end, the instructor has us hold hands and close our eyes. My left hand holds the hand of a Senegalese woman; my right the slightly rougher hand of a Senegalese man. I take in everything to hold the moment, even the body odor that surrounds. The music of a one-stringed African violin. The frantic chirping of the yellow weaver birds. The breath and the heartbeat of the ocean.

The drummers come out first. They make me want to be in a band: one can see they are having an intensely good time playing back and forth, and soon they’re covered in a solid layer of sweat. At the least I want to dance. I’m in luck – the dance class is pulled onto stage for a performance. There is so much energy in the amphitheater. Watching the drummers and dancers makes me think about the tragedy of all of the traditions of the world that have been irreversibly erased by dominant culture.

Dinner is three courses!
Sitting right up against the beach is “romantic” in that it makes one very aware of his or her surroundings. As the midnight blue infiltrates the orange in the sky, I sit in a reclining chair right on the ocean and listen to Annelise and Juanita talk about idealism and inspiration in “fixing” Africa and compare our experience of studying abroad in a “nontraditional” location versus Juanita’s experience of being an international student coming from a nontraditional location studying in the US. Juanita grew up in Nigeria and explains that studying in the US wasn’t too shocking because Western culture is forced down the rest of the world’s throats.

When the sky darkens further, a group of us sits by the roaring water and we talk about Neruda and The Little Prince. Glenn, a native Spanish speaker, shares a bottle of 2005 La Rioja wine and a Spanish poem. He has a harmonica. The sea breezes are cooling. The ocean is too loud.

Eventually we have to go back to our hot, smelly rooms. I toss and turn for over an hour and feel the sweat trickle down my body. Later everyone wakes up with many mosquito/bed bug bites.

Sunday 8/16
I wake up around 5 or 6, still sweating. I know it will be impossible to go back to sleep, so I go outside for a run. I cannot see anything. I learn it is too dark to run before sunrise in a rural area, so I wait for some light and then head off towards the village. I dead-end almost immediately into the ocean and meet a man who is taking his goats out. He is still wearing his morning underwear. Though he has a strong Senegalese accent, he says he was born and raised in London. He is very nice, pointing out his seaside yoga spot and a good route to go running, and introduces to me his twin goats, whom he loves very much.

I turn around and run on red dirt roads that snake through verdant hillsides. A flight of dragonflies dives above my head. A pack of seven dogs lays in the middle of a crossroads. From their resting spots on stone walls, goats follow me with their heads.
The village is waking up. A child waves excitedly. In the courtyards, the women begin their household tasks. I slip down rocks to the water. I slip off my shoes and leave them by a pirogue far from the still-high tide. I run on the brown sand. The fishermen come down to their boats and pull them out to sea. I run through slimy wet clay that molds onto my feet.

You know what’s nice? Exercising in the sea and watching the sweat drip off of your face into the salt water, like it’s coming home.

I pick up my shoes and wander around the village barefoot. I meet Jimmy the tailor (who of course invites me to his shop, but at least after breakfast and not Right Now), and get slightly lost while wandering, but it is nice exploring when “home” is right on the water and I know can always find my way back to it eventually.
Even in night-loving Senegal, the morning is the best.

Breakfast is hot, toasted 15% whole wheat bread with chunky mango spread and real butter!

I watch the ocean for a long time and see Kevin returning from a swim in open ocean. I am awed. I die in the ocean. I want to one day be able to navigate the water as confidently as I feel about going long distances on land.

I sit overlooking the beach with my delicious breakfast and gifted journal and I feel that Perfect Peace – I haven’t felt that calm, perfect happiness since I’ve come to Senegal. I’m dry, I smell the ocean, feel the breezes, see the sunny sky through my closed eyelids, I’m listening to crunchy guitars (Sway by The Kooks) through my good-quality headphones.

I am climbing on the rocks and a little boy keeps yelling “chinois.” After a while I realize he is trying to get my attention. The correct term would have been “chinoise,” with a soft French “sh” at the beginning, and I do not appreciate being called “chinois,” but we just talk innocently about swimming in the ocean.

While walking through the market, I hear a guitar and see a man leaning against a stall with a black guitar. I haven’t played a guitar in weeks and though I know this interaction will end with him asking me for money, I go over, explaining that I do not have money (this is true). I tune the guitar for him, afraid that I’ll break a string, and teach him how to do it himself. We jam, to a Wolof song that he wrote and to Ellie Goulding’s Starry Eyed. He smiles when he catches on to the “Whoa-oh-oh” in the chorus. The guitar is not well-made and keeps going out of tune. He is wearing beautiful patchwork pants and he explains he is a follower of the Bay Fall. I am simultaneously enjoying the language transcendence and fearing when I’ll have to end the experience with excuses that sound like “No.” Eventually he asks for my phone number and e-mail for “future collaborations.” He says he is playing in Dakar next weekend and that I should come see him. He also shows me his binder-paper wrapped CD. It has four tracks and costs 10,000CFA. I do not find his musicianship is worthy of that price. The point is moot because I do not have 10,000CFA.

I say that I’m going to be late for lunch.

Aimee and Gina heard the music and joined in. Photo Credit Aimee Cunningham.

I’m convinced what when we go back from the weekend we’ll be going back home to the US. We’ve had good food and all the physical exercise and swimming has made me tired. Surely I’ll be going back home where I’ll make my own food and sleep in my own cool sheets. Not back to hot, dusty, polluted Dakar! I don’t want to go back to Dakar. I’ll wither away there! It’s so beautiful here..

I take a thorough shower and wash my filthy clothing. I do not wither away.


3 responses to “Toubab Dialaw

  1. What a great photo! Accompanied by a story with an interesting perspective. Your simultaneous enjoyment of the moment and anxiety about the immediate future is unique, I think. Can’t wait to see more photos from this beach trip!

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