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Published: June 18th 2007
Stepping out from Leopold Senghor airport in mid afternoon is like diving in a stock-pot in which stew of piranha is being prepared: if you survive the high temperature, then the taxi drivers/piranhas will eat you alive! Had I been on my own -a white man apparently at lost- I could have understood the furious onslaught from the eager taxi drivers, but that this could happen when accompanied by a local went beyond my darker fears. Hamsa, met in the short Praia-Dakar flight, negotiated in wolof with the crowd of taxi drivers while keeping an eye on the baggage and protecting me with an arm from the most audacious attackers. A scene of unparalleled mercantile fury to which I couldn’t wait to withdraw from.
Maybe in an attempt to compensate the country little edifying image given from such a welcome committee, Hamsa had invited me to his house in one of the residential suburbs of the capital, where local bourgeoisie lives. Hamsa's house, like most houses in that neighbourhood, is developed on what I finally decided to consider something like one store plus a butt. I mean, it’s not quite the idea of two storeys building we have but,
on the other hand, is not a single level house either. It’s a bit difficult to explain, is like if the houses, rather than to be planned and then built, grew -not much- as years go by like shrubs subject to a semi-desert climate. The ever present courtyards then, look like a collection of waste materials of various types half submerged by the seasonal sands rather than gardens. Only the powerful German and Japanese cars parked in the kerb seem to be out of tune with the rest.
Hamsa, prototype of the dynamic businessman up to his house threshold, turns into an archaic feudal lord as soon as crossed that same door. The passage from jacket and necktie worn on the plane to the djellabah
worn in the house epitomizes less obvious but more substantial changes of attitude. After the ablutions and the ritual prayers, one of his wives (he has three, two of which live in this house) silently enter the dining room to serve us a lunch of roast chicken and peanuts sauce. Hamsa doesn’t even look at her and talk to her the way a master would. She withdraws with the same modesty she had entered
and I burn with shame. I haven’t done anything nevertheless I feel like being accomplice of the oppressor. And this was the same open minded man I had met just a few hours before!
However, along with him I have travelled to Touba, holy city of Mouridism, the Senegalese version of Islam. It was a chance not to be missed to visit a place where I probably wouldn’t have gone alone. Rules similar (albeit more relaxed) to Mecca apply in Touba and the presence of godless toubabs
(white men in wolof), although not expressly forbidden, are not encouraged. Possession of alcohol and tobacco is strictly forbidden and that is the reason for a flourishing cigarette black market at the city gates. Cigarettes got bought from those pilgrims arriving and resold -at higher price- to those leaving Touba. Islam made in Senegal seems to be rather heterodox and the rigid iconoclasm of the Muslims doesn’t seem to be observed here. So it can happen to see, crushed between a stall selling counterfeit Real Madrid shirts and one selling mangoes and bananas, the one selling holy icons of Amadou Bamba, the founder of Mouridism.
After having enjoyed the wide range
of exotic Senegalese way of transport, after having eaten and slept in one of Hamsa countless relatives tent, after having chewed the bitter kola nuts along with my host and after having asked him why does he need three wives (in turn, he has asked me why do I need to travel without a goal) it was time for goodbyes. Time to go and discover Senegal with the eyes of the lone toubab
Unluckily, Dakar doesn’t seem to like poor travellers like me. And so, in the short turn of 24 hours, I had to pass from the freshness of a tent in the desert to the sticky filth of a dark room in a hotel/brothel downtown Dakar. After hard search, bargaining, threats and prayers, 20€ per night have been the cheapest room I’ve found. Let’s make a bit of math: being Senegal Gross Product per Person 1800$ per year and being 20€ equivalents to 27$, it turns out that a night in Dakar lousiest rathole requires the investment of 1,5%!o(MISSING)f one year incomes. In other worlds, if we compare these figures to -say- the American ones, than prices of hotel rooms in New York or Los Angeles
should start from 646$ per night. And we would not be parting from such a heap of cash to have the Hilton presidential super-suite but merely for a basic room with blackened walls, smashed window, toilets (urinals) shared with the customers of the prostitute next door and where cockroaches replace the complimentary strawberries and champagne.
Lodging apart, Dakar presents all the problems typical of European big cities without offering the services that those usually grant to their citizens. The noise is deafening and the humid heat surely does not help to endure it any better. Scams and hasslers are always in ambush and the chance of being robbed is never to be excluded. But then, to compensate such pains, there are those never fading smiles on pretty much everyone’s lips. And there is the island of Gorée, a true oasis where one can just take a tea with the rastafari far from the dakarian stress.
After having deserted the sad Hotel Provençal, I had moved at Lieke and Vanessa’s, two journalism students temporary living in Dakar who I had met in the previous days. The Libanese pension where had they rent a room was structured in a peculiar
way (to say the least). A building developed on 4 levels, not all of them -careful- pertaining to the pension itself. Their room was on the 4th level, while the other rooms, the kitchen and the only bathroom were on the second. The access door to the main part of the pension was usually open, which on one hand allowed me to go to the bathroom in underwear and on the other one didn’t force me to justify my (illicit) presence in the premises.
One day, one of those too many here in Africa with stomach problems, under the strain of unexpected and compulsory need, I fly down the stairs half-naked but I find the door locked. I haven’t got time enough to return to the room to dress more modestly, so I knock on the door in urgency while folding into the unmistakable fig position proper of those who must but cannot. A girl opens the door and looks inquisitively at me without uttering a word. I have never seen her before. Quickly, although not without kindness, I explain her that I’m the fourth floor renter and that I urgently need to use the toilet. The girl keeps
looking at me with mistrust and I curse my insufficient mastery of the french language. I can’t resist any longer, the need is tearing me apart. I decide to try my luck with corporal language. I make unmistakable signs miming with my right hand the falling of a some object from my posterior extremity while bending my knees to imitate the squatting position. She can’t having not understood, nevertheless she continues to look at me in amazement. Exasperated, I motion at her to just move out of the way that it is all OK and that I know where the bathroom is. And strange enough, maybe mesmerized by so much audacity, the girl pulls away and let me step in. I literally fly to the washroom where I can finally enjoy my two minutes of pure delight. Relaxed, partially recovered, still seated on the much longed for throne, I begin to observe small but very clear details indicating that the toilet where I find myself IS NOT the pension toilet! Fuck, in the urgency I must have carelessly stopped on the third level thinking it was the second, that's why I did not know the maid. I almost violently entered a private house and I’ve even shitted their toilet! A terrible state of embarrassment grows on me, I blush to the idea of the maid explaining to the police that a disowned, naturist, squatter toubab have enter the house with deceit and is now shitting at ease in the toilet. But then my eye falls on the bathtub, so much cleaner than the one at the pension. Well, after all the number of years in jail indicated in the Senegalese criminal code for illicit shitting
and for illicit shitting plus showering
must be the same. Ten minutes later, digested and cleaned up, I tiptoe towards the main door, the maid sitting now in the kitchen, along with three other girls. I smile to them, shyly wave them a salute with my hand and leave accompanied by the mute looks of four pair of eyes.
Moral of the story: never open the door to strangers but, most important, never keep your bathroom too clean. ITALIANO
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Link: Strane Notizie da un Altro Pianeta
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