Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Gecko (Dakar 2013)

My host has been keeping me out all hours of the night. The other morning, about 3AM, we quietly walk in to the house, up the stairs, and down the hallway. I’m leading through the dark with the light of my cellphone, and flip the switch to turn on the light in the hall. I turn to my bedroom door and unlock it, but I notice that at the other end of the hallway, my host is frozen in his tracks. I whisper, “What’s up?” and he motions to the ceiling where I see a small gecko, perhaps 4 inches max.

Ah, cool! I think; I see lizards everywhere, but they’re always running and I can never get a picture. I duck into the bedroom for my camera, pop off a few shots, and then motion to my host, “I’m done, come on.” Then I realize, this big brawny former-goalkeeper of a man is petrified, and I don’t know why. The guy who laughed as I firmly gripped the back of his motorcycle through the streets of Dakar is now afraid to walk past this gecko. “Is it…dangerous?” I ask. “Yep,” he nods. “Does it…jump?” I ask, confused about how it could be a threat from the ceiling. “Yep,” he repeats. Okay, I need more information. “Is it poisonous? Is it lethal?” “No it’s not lethal,” but before he can finish his thought he dives into my bedroom for shelter. The gecko scurries across the ceiling, and startles my host. “Okay, what does it do?” I ask, snapping photos and getting a little too close to the gecko for my host’s comfort.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dear Obama: A Short Guide to Dakar

Dear Mr. President,

I hear you’re coming to town at the end of the month, and I understand that it will be your first trip to Dakar, “The Gateway to Africa.” I’d just like to suggest some things that might make your stay a little easier.

1. Eat some ceeb u jen at least once. It’s great food, but it gets a little old rather quick, but I should warn you: eat small bites slowly because there are a lot of bones. Bonus points if you do it like the Senegalese: Sit with your family on the floor, eating from a single large plate with your hands.

2. Drink ataaya. It’s Chinese tea, mint, and sugar, but it’s some of the best stuff in the world. The trick is, you have to find someone that you can sit with while they make it, because it really is better with friends. Where I live, we have the tea every night, making the tea in a kettle over a portable gas burner. Three glasses is the standard serving amount, and sometimes it can take 30 minutes or more to prepare the tea between those glasses! But that’s okay, because it’s not actually about the tea; it’s about the circle of friends.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"T'as peur?" (Dakar 2013)

The time I was on a motorcycle, I was maybe 13 and I dropped it. When I was a kid, my dad took a spill on his motorcycle and never looked back. So when my Senegalese friend wanted to take me on a ride through the streets of Dakar to see the celebrations of Balla Gaye's victory, I was torn. "T'as peur  (You scared)?" he asked. "Non, je n'ai pas peur (Nah, I'm not scared)," I said against my better judgement. My hands have never sweat so much. Despite the fact that it was probably one of the dumbest things I've ever done (i.e. riding on the back of a motorcycle through Dakar with few or no street lamps, no helmet, and a borrowed Nikon), it was absolutely amazing. At the end of the night, I turned to my friend and said, "C'etait formidable, hain? Mais plus jamais ca (That was great! But never again)."