Subject: Je suis bien
Date: Saturday 13th November 1999
I can’t get enough of this place! I have just spent a lovely relaxing week on the petite cote of Senegal in various odd fishing villages and campements along the way. I met heaps of English-speaking people in Palmarin – most of whom are studying or working here, so we had a big chat.
Kind of necessary when all you meet are big confident Senegalese men who only want your money, cadeaux (gifts) or indeed your sweaty white body! One man yesterday, after five minutes of chatting said ‘If I know your hotel, I come visit you there!’ Not!!
Speaking of cadeaux, one lady at the campement in Palmarin was a classic. Satou would knock on the tourists’ doors every morning with a big grin on her face, asking for gifts. She carried a tiny baby on her back (Charlotte), who sniffled gorbies down her arm all day, she had a huge basket on her head full of cruddy necklaces and so on, and a really cool spiral-shaped hairstyle. And this is the killer – she had bright blue gums! Is this some sort of vitamin deficiency?? Anyway she was so charming I gave her my raincoat, in return for a wee beaded bracelet. X
Subject: The man with the most wildly swivelling hips since Tom Jones
Date: Sunday 7th November 1999
Imagine my surprise when I found 4 emails from your marvellous self awaiting my inspection. You are one funny female. I am shocked at your denial about receiving any lovin’ – who the fuck has been asking you that? The rudeness of some people. Believe me, I don’t want to know.
But I love the malaria thing. Funny as a circus. I have a friend who had it something like six times and he’s okay. But they build those Negroes differently, as my Grandmother would say. You’re becoming as intriguing around here as Carlos the Jackal. On a serious note however, please look after yourself. J
Letter to A, a chum
8th November, 1999
I am recovering from my o-so-mild case of malaria at a place called the Campement Pointe de Sangomar in Djifer – technically a hotel, but laid out like a little African village. My hut has a thatched pointy roof, reed walls and a thriving insect population that rustles ominously in the night.
It sounds clichéd, but everyone here constantly sings and drums – particularly at night, by firelight! And everyone I’ve heard sings and dances excellently – not a dud note or wallflower amongst them. Unfortunately I have not had anyone to yak to in a while, which is no fun when you are sick. Senegal is a great country, although I am a bit too dazed to appreciate it fully. The manager and his family are good people, and they respect my privacy. This is a real issue in Senegal, as people are so used to making money off tourists, it’s hard for me to differentiate between genuine friendliness and a desire to ‘show me around’.
In Joal-Fadiout I found a good hotel, alas swarming with guides out the front. One persistent chap called Norbert wouldn’t leave – so we made arrangements to meet the next morning for him to find a pirogue to sail to a good beach, drink some tea and laze around. The next day I dutifully perch out the front at 10am, only later remembering the concept of ‘Africa time’. He shoves me in the direction of the market with a relative called Cyril (I love these names) to buy food, and by 12:00 he comes back and we load up the pirogue (less a sturdy fishing boat, more a dug-out canoe with slats for sitting on). Norbert – who inexplicably asks me to call him Max – poles along like a gondolier with a big branch, singing loudly and standing on the edge of the boat.
We come to a place that is v. Blue Lagoon-ish – three deserted huts with falling down roofs, white sand and sparkling water. And even a few palm trees. We can see Fadiout Island in the distance – with the mosque on one end and the Catholic church on the other. Max himself is Catholic, and proudly tells me ‘they eat pig in my native village’. He fires up the little brazier for some tea and I am impressed by its simplicity – a wok-shaped bowl on the top, with a funnel underneath. Within moments the coals are glowing, and the tea brewing. I like all these little ceremonies! After some fruit we go in for a dip and it’s the coolest I’ve felt in days.
Max and I realise that our mothers share the same birthday, which is also the same month as Bob Marley’s birthday! Bob Marley is to Senegal as Cat Stevens is to Morocco. He is ecstatic – we have to do this elaborate hand clapping gesture and kiss the backs of each other’s hands. Finally I get some peace (after a trip to the north of the island to see some birds) by getting him to catch some fish. I have a blissful hour and a half reading Anna Karenina (which is jolly good!), and he comes back with three nameless fish, scales and guts them and chucks them straight onto a small fire on the beach! While waiting for them to cook, Max strides energetically up and down the beach in his little yellow Speedos, and does push-ups.
With bread, oranges, peanuts and bikkies the fish is excellent. I get an impromptu lesson in drumming (on the table), and Max is so enthusiastic that all the fruit and peanuts clatter to the floor. During all of this we forget about the pirogue, which has submerged in the incoming tide. We bail out frantically for 20 mins, to no avail. I do my back in trying to pull it onshore and can’t go on any more. I regret to admit that my sense of humour completely deserted me at that moment – my fever flooded back and I gazed at the darkening sky thinking ‘why me?’ Luckily a passing boatload of French fishermen helped us out, looking at me askance as though I was acting like a princess.
Max in his exertions fell flat on his face in the water, his cap sailing away. Instead of laughing uproariously (as it seems very funny, now!) I just sloshed off to get it, too weary to say anything. We poled off into the darkness and Max tried to jolly me along. In the pitch black outside my hotel I accidentally gave him 500 CFA instead of 5000. But he was keenly present the next morning at breakfast, so I could remedy my mistake.
The manager here has very kindly produced a copy of Cosmo from god knows where. I am speechless with gratitude, and must shog off to read it. But first I must brave the mosquito-infested showers – I am scared as they don’t buzz (the worst kind) – and swarm out to meet me when I open the door UGH. On another note, apparently there is an enormous party in Timbuktu on New Years Eve. Everyone is sailing, driving, riding camels donkeys and everything to get there. Sounds interesting! And it would be a good story to tell!! X
Subject: greeting from Bamako
Date: Saturday 13th November 1999
You have mentioned that you want to go to Timboctou for the year 2000….there is a large group of us going up there on the 26th December… the trip shall leave from Mopti and arrive to Timboctou after 3 days, inshallah! (god willing). Tomorrow shall be the last day for the sign-up so I am going to sign up your name and mine for the trip. It costs 20,000 CFA ($40 US) it includes food and some small facilities (not much) let me know if that is OK for you. Q