Toubab Diallo, Senegal
I spent last week in Senegal, a country on the westernmost edge of Africa. My 23-year-old daughter and I were visiting her best friend from high school who has lived and worked in the capital city of Dakar for the last 15 months. Along with best friend's mom, we made the trip to see her second home. It was the first time any of the 3 of us had set foot on the African continent.
Below is a transcription of a sunrise journal entry from our first morning in Africa - in Toubab Diallo, a small beach-side village one hour south of Dakar. I was still experiencing a disorienting culture shock in a land of intense heat and humidity, with sights and smells and languages and customs that had my head spinning. By the end of the week, I had grown enchanted by the place and people of Senegal.
"I couldn't find my watch last night, but I needn't have worried about knowing when dawn was approaching. Here, like, perhaps, every place on Earth, when dawn is about 40 minutes away and that dark night turns toward a deep blue hue, the birds wake up and start to make a great noise.
Another thing that helped me feel at home in this very foreign-feeling land was looking from our balcony over the beach this morning and seeing four dogs romping around the sand with wagging tails.
A flock of large birds (I'd have guessed Canadian geese if I weren't in Africa) flew overhead in V-formation. A fisherman carried his boat motor over one shoulder, down to the beach where a couple of dozen long, narrow wooden boats were all lined up ("pirogues").
Women carrying what looked like laundry baskets on their heads made their way up a hillside walk. It was strange to see many women and girls carrying things on their heads that way yesterday. Somehow I thought it might just be some antiquated practice that no longer existed except in the imagination of American film-makers.
I'm trying to balance my caution (about parasites and mosquitos, about people who might want to pick my pocket, overcharge me, or steal my camera) with my open embracing of this whole place. It will take some time. Things are unfamiliar. We get warnings about holding tight to our purses if we get stopped in traffic, conditions appear less than immaculate, and you don't get the sense that there's much in the way of safety inspectors policing roads, restaurants, hotels, and shops.
I was friendly with a woman on the beach yesterday who was selling jewelry and trinkets from her handmade baskets, and learned that I need to exercise greater restraint. She proceeded to barrage us with patter to buy her things for a long time, even moving her whole operation onto the sand right at our feet where we were sitting in the shade. I want to be friendly and to meet people, but I guess I have to learn to be more selective.
The sun has risen. The sky and sea have changed their grays to blues. The birds are slowing the pace of their frenzied huntings, or callings. The air is gently soft on a moisture-laden breeze, but it portends the heat of day ahead of us.
My first night under mosquito netting is now behind me."