Sundays in Dakar

Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip the horses’ hooves made echoing noises on the pavement as the thin man with his tired nag trotted smartly forward, pulling a simple wooden platform piled high with cement bricks. The horse-drawn cart was more audible than usual because the neighbourhood was quieter than usual, but that’s because it was Sunday. The most wonderful day of the week.

Practically every day is a day of the sun in Senegal, but Sundays in Dakar in particular were her favourite days. All week long the Senegalese and the expats battled laziness and the heat to move projects forward. For things did move forward here even if they moved forward slowly and sluggishly and with great attention to salutations, politeness and gentle speech. Things moved forward diplomatically, and there was great pride in the local people for their great skill of peaceful, unhurried living.

«You have wrist watches, and we have time» Africans were quick to chide Westerners. And yet the dark continent is far from immune to the capitalistic drums of progress. All week long offices filled, countless emails were sent and the relentless traffic expounded fumes and frustration. Civilization always felt like an improvised dance in Senegal; haphazard beige buildings reflected neither good architecture or Arab aesthetics but attempted to imitate both, with no more than square cement bricks and sweating, thin black bodies to erect them. The too narrow roads were shared by lorries, horse-drawn carts, motorcycles and cars alike with the occasional herd of cattle passing through. Dakar was like a village. Actually, it was like multiple villages that happened to come together and call themselves a city. Once the French administration brought in their language, bureaucracy and paperwork they then began to call it a capital.

Sundays in Dakar felt to her like a respite from the pretense of looking busy. The sheep bleeted as they always do, and at this time of the year, approaching a major Muslim holiday, there were several living on her neighbour’s rooftop terrace. The stupid, helpless «baaaahhh» sounds they coughed up carried therefore even better on the gentle breeze. She wondered how long they had to live before their throats were deftly slit and the meat divided among family and friends. They did this at the shore by times and little rivers of blood would merge with the waves.

The ocean was only a few hundred feet away, in fact, they were surrounded by it on many sides. It gave her the sensation that she too was like one of the many falcons soaring above and come to perch for a rest just inside the shore. She had come to stay for a while, to find refuge in the warmth, the sand and the easy-going smiles there. She ruffled her feathers and sank a little deeper into her perch with a gentle sigh.

«Kraawww, krawww» huge ravens circled together with the ravens on the terrace just one story above. From where she was sitting on her balcony, her feet on a small wooden table and her knees curled up to her chest she admired the scene. The clip-clop of the horse going by was a regular addition to the symphony of sound. Only two stories separated her from the music. Men and women, but mostly women, moved up and down the street this morning, heading towards one of the small boutiques perhaps to buy some bread slathered with a bit of mayonnaise from a huge container or some Kinkeliba herbal drink doused with sugar, or both. They called «Salam Aleekum»s and «Na nga def»s to each other as was custom here. With amusement she would perk up her ears and observe two people walking towards each other on the street below. They would begin with the preliminary hellos as mentioned while still across from each other, and then they would pass, without missing a beat in their conversation, and continue walking forward, away from each other while asking more questions and sharing greetings «Naka waa ker gi» (how are things at home) and «Yann gi si jamm» («are you in peace» translating to another way of saying «how are you») with replies of «jamm rekk» («only peace» essentially meaning «I am fine»). The distance now grew greater between these friendly exchanges, their voices slightly rising. This seamless action of moving, flowing, speaking and greeting was unhurried and uninterrupted. There was a satisfaction in speaking, in making sound, in adding ones voice to the ambient noises already present. It was a confirmation that one was, one was present, one had risen, one had been reborn from sleep to see another day. Alhamdoulillah! As the falcons screeched, the sheep bleeted, and the horses clip-clopped, the people added their own throaty Wolof to the mix. A car engine brought a punctuation as the vehicle turned into the pavement in a cloud of sand. A man below had begun to chant Muslim prayers and his strong voice carried far. This was the unhurried babble of a Sunday morning.

Her other senses thus nourished, a sumptuous breakfast added now to the satisfaction of her stomach. Fried eggs, fresh baguette and a tomato salad were rounded off with a big cup of coffee and a pain au chocolat. She had fetched the pastry for herself in the morning glad as always to slip on her sandals and take a walk in the warm, sandy streets and admire the blooming flowers and bougainvilles. Stray cats and dogs meandered about the low-rise buildings and small villas in a detached, friendly fashion. She took the side ways which meant little to no honks from passing taxis trying to catch a fare and no begging children approaching her with outstretched hands. That, in itself, was respite.

Her breakfast finished, she checked the time. It was a little past 10:00am and the neighbourhood was slowly waking up around her. She wondered with satisfaction if indeed all that was needed for a moment of happiness was a full belly and warmth in her body. Reaching for a good book and the cup of coffee she thought to herself that life really was quite comfortable, quite enjoyable, and that clichés about people and places were very silly. «We certainly have the good life here» she thought to herself and settled into her chair just an inch deeper. «But best we not spread the word about it too far and wide» she added to herself with a playful half-smile.. «otherwise they’ll flood this place with tourists and we’ll have no more peace on a Sunday.»

Clip-clop, clip-clop another horse trotted up the street once again, this time with more oomph and purpose to her step. The people were up and the day had begun.


Image courtesy of Talk Foreign to Me.

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