J’ai un question

I still can’t get pictures to work on this. Very odd. The WiFi here is very idiosyncratic. 

The first sounds I hear in the morning are the birds piping up and the most comedy Donkey noises from two donkeys that live outside the hotel grounds. They sound like somebody blowing through a giant kazoo. Being a former French colony, the days start with a French style breakfast, although not a proper French breakfast, which is cigarettes and coffee. Les Cristaux Roses is a really pleasant hotel and things are taken at a nice and leisurely pace. Modou always greets me in the morning with an enthusiastic ‘Liam!’, which is great. He has a similar speaking voice to Youssou N’Dour, in that it seems to come from the back of the throat. Sort of like a French speaking African Kermit the Frog. There’s this mango marmalade that comes in a shot glass and some chocolate spread in another glass, that go perfectly on alternating bits of bread. And Lipton’s Yellow Label Tea is cracking! I’d like to know what a proper Senegalese breakfast is at some point but bread and spreads and tea is going down a storm. I sound like Rick Stein now.

Wearing a black t-shirt and some Yoruba trousers, and carrying my plastic bag of stuff cos my little backpack was nicked that time, I must have looked like a mixture between 1960s curtains and Angelos Epithemiou. I ventured in to Dakar on Saturday with the plan of being there the whole day – museum, bar, walks and music. I’ve always been somebody that really needs to mentally prepare myself for plans and I get in a bit of a tiz when I’ve prepared for one thing and another happens. Spectrum? It doesn’t happen always, but I’m a real visualiser and do it without even knowing I’m doing it, so when that’s compromised my brain goes off on one. It’s nice to be my own boss for a bit.

Abou took me in to town and dropped me off at the first plan for the day – Musèe Thèodore Monod. Recommended both by my friend and full time legend Sarah and my Lonely Planet guide, given to me by FaFTL (Friend and Full Time Legend -FaFTL works too well as a word) Poushali, it’s apparently got 9000 artefacts from all over West Africa. It also has a textile exhibition on at the moment, in the upstairs space. 

It has exhibits of masks and art and music and culture from Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso and plenty of other bits from the other countries. I wonder how they acquired it all. Obviously my favourite corner was the one with the musical instruments.

There was a sanza middle left and I’m hoping to find one to buy. They are small bits of metal, pitched differently, that you play by plucking it with your thumbs. Here’s a great example of a sanza used in a tune – Sanza Nocturne by Francis Bebey.

Some of the masks were gorgeous and were covered in cowrie shells.

I really like cowrie shells and they are used all over Africa. For many years they were used as currency so hold great significance, and they are so effective visually when used in art. A real symbol of Africanness. The museum is great and it’s a very good thing that this exists. So much stuff will have been taken out of Africa and exhibited elsewhere for a start, but also it’s such an oral culture, so not necessarily full of loads of things that can be displayed in a museum. That’s why you see a lot of masks, funeral items, patterned material and instruments. Both this and the museum in Ile-Ife are really great for showcasing African culture.

After that I went for a little walk to go for a pint. There’s a bar right near Place de L’Independence called the Viking, which could be any bar in Paris. It’s really still very French round that part of Dakar. You can smoke indoors there as well. After a Castel Lager I wanted to find the Nigerian Embassy to make early inroads on another Visa to go back for Calabar Carnival, and my flight to Ethiopia that leaves from Lagos on New Years Day. I mooched round and it wasn’t there; it had apparently moved to a few miles away. Given that the Senegalese Embassy in Lagos has also moved from where it says it is on Google Maps, I think they may be having a trade off. I’ll have to go another day. 

I had two venues I wanted to check out for music but it was only 4pm and being Africa, things don’t get going til after midnight. The first was about 50 minutes walk away, so off I went up the main road. I can walk around freely here without that much hassle. The only hassle is market sellers, but you just say ‘non merci’ and carry on and they leave you alone. Being over 90% Muslim, many people need to pray regularly during the day, so I saw a lot of men stopping what they were doing, kneeling down wherever it is they were and praying. Middle of the pavement, outside their shop, a doorway, just wherever they were at that point was good enough to do it. I don’t suppose it really matters where you are when it’s prayer time.

I trekked along to an area called Medina on my way to Thiossane, the Discotheque owned by the aforementioned Monsieur N’Dour, in which Lonely Planet says has concerts every night. On the way I heard some drums so ducked down the side street and found a performance. There were loads of Senegalese girls in traditional clothes who got up and danced one at a time to the music. It was all drummers, apart from the extroverted leader of the group who played a tin bowl. 

The music was great and I wish I knew what it was and what tribe they were from. Senegalese drumming that I’ve heard so far, and the native mbalax music played on the radio, is up tempo and consists of really quick, regular bursts of rhythm, a little like how Squarepusher or Aphex Twin or numerous Junglists cut up the Amen Break. 5 or so notes at a time played really fast with little gaps in between. This tune doesn’t quite have that, but is the one I heard in the taxi on the first night – it was actually by Pape Diouf. It’s well bon.

After a cracking long walk, turns out I’d got the wrong road completely for Thiossane. It’s on Rue 10, except there are two Rue 10s in Dakar. There was a supermarket nearby so I got myself a new phone charger and some shampoo, so by no means a wasted mission. I hopped in a taxi and went to the other Rue 10. At the actual Thiossane they were loading speakers, so it looked good for some live music. It was still too early so I walked back along the road, almost the entire way back I’d just come from, cos I heard some music elsewhere. But that was a wedding of some sort. There was also some noise halfway back up so off I went back again. I must have been up to about 8 or 9 miles now but I love walking so was well happy. I found the noise, and what do I stumble across? A Yoruba Conference. It had just got dark and was 7pm.

“We were supposed to start at 4pm, so apologies, but we are Nigerians and it’s our nature. The only instance we are ever on time is when we go to the Embassy”. And there I was, back in Lagos again. This was a conference for Yoruba people living in Senegal, organised by the Oodua Progressive Union, and sponsored by, of course, a bank (FBN). It had a compere and some guest speakers from Yoruba and Senegalese societies. I was fuming at Lagos when I left as it had completely exhausted me but when the first speaker on stage launched in to a Yoruba song and everybody joined in, all was forgiven. I got my Yoruba out to the delight of the natives. That was until he went on and on and on about FBN Bank. We must have had to do 20 rounds of applause for them by the end, and every speaker thanked them at length. Man do Nigerians love their money! It was like a church service at times, worshipping the God of Moolah. He also said “this is for the Nigerian women – you are all cheating on your husbands. I pray that God will catch you”, before the compere stepped in to cut him off and thank the bank again. I decided that Nigeria is a bit like your best mate that does your head in when you spend too much time with them.

A Yoruba band played and were pretty good. The talking drum player was great. I was joined by two people, a Moroccan named Taha and a Spaniard named Aroa, who both had dreadlocks, were both paper thin and both wore those loose fitting clothes that seem to be common for people like that. He looked Greek and she looked French and they each spoke at least 3 languages fluently. They’d been in Senegal for 8 months and had been living in the forest until they got really ill, and now they are based in the Traditional Hospital at Keur Massar, which is halfway between Lac Rose and Dakar. They met in Morocco and their plan was to travel from West Africa, across to Ethiopia and then to India in the pursuit of learning about traditional medicine. It’s only ever when you travel that you meet people like this. 

We headed off from the Yoruba Conference, Aroa taking leftover food to give to people that needed it, and up to Thiossane to see if it was starting. We went via this workshop space owned by a musical instrument builder but he wasn’t in. Maybe I can head back next week and see if he makes sanzas. A mate of mine wants a Talking Drum too. We were so deep in conversation that we walked straight past Thiossane and too far up the road. Taha and I were talking about the usual guff of frequencies and mysticism and vibrations and energies and all that. I love all that stuff, think it’s true and have had many conversations about it over the years, but I can switch it off. I like balance. These are two people who had completely rejected modern life and were just going with the wind, following their path. They knew they no longer wanted to be in Morocco, and so were just moving by how and what they felt. I like that a lot; they’d listened to themselves and acted. Taha’s points of reference were heavily about how things made him feel, and thoughts he had had whilst in meditations. He and Aroa also spoke a lot about food and what poisons are used in the process and how mobile phones cause cancer and all that stuff you read about. But as I said, I like a balance, and a Richie Benaud quote occured to me when talking to them: “always try your best, but don’t take yourself too seriously”. These two are on a different planet entirely. People are born and as they grow up, some individuals realise that they are in the wrong body. They don’t identify with their form. I think those two should have been a tree or something because being human didn’t suit them at all. It’s a very good thing that they have each other though because they were the same person really. 

We found Thiossane and a local bloke said it had been shut for over a year. I imagine N’Dour hasn’t been able to look after it now he is Minister for Culture. I didn’t get to see any live music in the end. Pinky and Perky had bumped in to a bloke who was part of this collective they were talking about earlier. They are called Sufi and are this mystical extension of Islam. It looked to me a bit like an Islamic Yoruba. They have houses that welcome people to stay there that are in need, so Terry and June were going to stay there for the night. As I hadn’t seen the music I’d come for, I had a break in routine, so I said a thanks and goodbye to Richard and Judy and scarpered to find a taxi. I hope it didn’t look rude but I wanted the safety of my hotel room I’d paid for rather than a random Sufi Commune.

More French breakfast yesterday morning and the staff were all engrossed in the Tekken film on the telly. It says a lot about the film industry that they now make films about games. The 4 staff were all completely engrossed in it. Yesterday’s plan was to stay at Lac Rose and see how far round the lake I could walk. It’s big but not huge so I hoped I could trek round it. 

There’s a market right outside the hotel selling tat. It’s African tat so quite good but still the shabbily made little instruments and industrial wooden figures. I got more hassle there than in the whole of Dakar the day before. They always say they have a question for me. I don’t know what is more effective – completely ignoring them or opening a dialogue to say no thanks. The jury is out. They all spoke to me in French apart from one bloke who just said ‘wassup Playboy!’. I won’t tell him the truth.

Lac Rose, in the sunlight, really is pink. 

It has 10x the salt content than normal water so turns pink when the sun shines on it. There’s a whole salt industry with great piles of it lining the sides of the lake. I got all the way to the top of the lake in about an hour and a half. It had dried out a fair bit at the top so I tried to cut across to the other side to head back. 

It was bouncey underfoot in places but seemed alright cos there were footprints everywhere. As I headed in, I realised that it was only dry in the middle and still wet round the edges, so I had to walk all the way back to the top to get to the grass at the side. I tried to get across to the grass a couple of times but it wasn’t walkable. Then I thought I saw a dry bit and cut in, and my left foot sunk in by about 10 inches and bompf! – down I went in to the boggy, salty mud. A Senegalese pratfall. I had a really muddy and salty left arm and my red jeans were covered in mud. I thought I’d best head back the way I came. I was passed by some Quad Bikers – there are lots of touristic excursions like that round the lake – and a couple of them had proper ‘yeah I’m cool on my Quad Bike’ poses that first time riders have.

It’s ‘sel iode’, the industry, and there were men and women carrying baskets of salt on their heads and making piles of it on the edge of the lake. All in all I walked for about 3 and a bit hours, save for the moments to take photos and fall over. It’s nice to be left to my own devices and walk long distances again – it’s something I’ve missed a lot. Although I need to be careful because I like my own company a little too much and can retreat in to my shell a bit without a pal around. I’ve downloaded Duolingo to crash learn some more French.

When I got some dinner in the restaurant opposite the hotel that evening, the young Russian Violinist who had the dog problem at Lagos airport walked past, hand in hand with an old bloke. Fumin.

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