I sleep late and wake up to breakfast being delivered. What is not to love about that? Ahmadou got croissants today, and they were every bit as good as in Paris. We don't leave the house until early afternoon - a combo of the heat, the traffic, and needing to finalize the teacher training plan we are working on. Today, we left at about 1:30 for the Museum of Black Civilization. Doga, Ahmadou's cousin, came with us. It was impressive; very large - maybe as large as the High Museum in Atlanta or 1/2 the size of the MFA in Boston. The exhibits were really good, including a fantastic contemporary art collection - the work would have been right at home in Mass MoCA. Wonderful history of the discovery of early homo erectus and pre homo erectus, and the evolution of humans and how early humans started making tools and how the tools got better and better over time. No museum store. No way to buy tickets with a credit card. Maybe 25 people in the museum. The admission was 2000 CFA each…or about $1.
Across from the museum is the National Grand Theatre. It took awhile to find a door that was open, and when we went in we found a single piece of paper tacked to a board with the monthly schedule. There were about 5 events, one of which is not a performance, but a festival of Cote d’Ivoire culture - mostly selling things. No website. This place is HUGE - think Lincoln Center. And modern. Ahmadou was disgusted that it is not booked with something everyday. There is a huge plaza connecting these two buildings, that is mostly concrete and tile, and kind of falling apart. A large outdoor stage, but no events - at least none that we could learn about.
These large, modern buildings are mostly empty of people. It doesn't seem to add up. Why make the investment?
We walked to a restaurant, and hit the jackpot. We were looking for local food, and found this broken down looking restaurant that turned out to be fabulous. Ahmadou and I had a great time talking to the owner, a young woman named Brita. She spent most of her life in France, and bought that restaurant 6 months ago to try to make a go of it. We shared a bunch of ideas with her about how she might increase traffic. She was fun - and at the end of our conversation, I learned that she spoke Spanish! I gave her my email and phone number. She asked if I wanted to stay and work there since I am looking for a job. Ha! That really would be a change, wouldn't it? Slinging coffee and doing business development for a cafe in Dakar? Maybe not this year.
Then we walked to the Plaza de Independence. Wow, this was one run-down plaza. Homeless people sleeping on the ground. Many flagpoles, but no flags. Scrubby ground, bits of grass, no water in the fountain. (No water in any fountains. Big fountains at the Sea Plaza, and Plaza de Independence - no water. Maybe because of a shortage?) This was another thing that really surprised Ahmadou. It is clearly the center of downtown. It is opposite a beautiful and gleaming building for the Chamber of Commerce. And has been left to deteriorate. So weird. I started thinking of the Monument of African Renaissance, the Musee de Civilization et Le Grand Theatre differently. Were these monuments to the former president’s ego more than they were contributing to building the culture and fabric of the country? Why not keep this downtown, central plaza - in honor of Senegal’s break from being a colony - beautiful? I have not yet seen a public space that is beautiful.
The museum and theater were huge, beautiful, empty, and on the edge of town. The Plaza de Independence was run-down, full of people, and a central place in downtown. My western mind, my need for efficiency getting turned upside down.
We walked around downtown a little bit - lots of hustle-bustle. Then caught a cab back to the house. Rather than go inside, I walked up to the main road to watch pick-up soccer games. My first time out on my own. I watched for 45 minutes or so. Very fun to watch. There are three soccer "fields" in a row; the games are divided by age. The men play really hard. They run hard, move the game along as quickly as possible with every throw-in or corner kick, and go after the ball with their whole bodies. They play in sand. This space is played on all day, every day (I think...) - and there is trash surrounding it. They don’t see the trash? They just don’t care about it? It isn’t ugly or a sign of neglect? That is a difficult one to understand.
The traffic also. Fucking nuts. And the cars and buses are so smelly. A 4-lane highway is adjacent to the soccer fields, and I saw men and boys run into the road multiple times to retrieve errant soccer balls.
Lots of beautiful parts! The food - yum. All of it. Everything I have had at home or in restaurants has been wonderful. I have had Yassa twice now, both times with chicken. It is with cooked and spiced onions that are served in a side bowl and rice. The onions are almost like those you find in French onion soup - soft, cooked for a long time, a little sweet. I don’t know what the spices are, but the food is delicious. I also like buye - a drink made from Baobaob tree (fruit? Have no idea how they get this juice out of that tree). It is sweet, but not too sweet. Kind of gooey. For breakfast and snacks, we have a sweet porridge, usually it is served cold. I have had it with two different kinds of grains; it is kind of like rice pudding. Yummy. And fresh mangoes, which are amazingly plump and delicious.
The safety - wow, I have not once felt ill at ease. Completely amazing. I don’t know how these people aren’t robbing each other and/or on drugs like in so many other parts of the world...like Boston. It is more pleasant to walk around here than Downtown Crossing. There is plenty of poverty; people clearly barely scraping out a living. But I don’t see anger or aggression. The only anger flare up I have seen between two people was today, at the boys’ soccer game, when the ref called a shot beyond the goal (too high; the goal is just two posts parallel to one another without a crossbar). The kids freaked out. Lots of yelling, getting in his face, jabbing their fingers in his face to make their point. Side note: totally interesting that there even was a ref! This had all the markings of pick-up soccer, but I watched a shoot-out when the game was over. The ref carefully drew a scoreboard in the sand, and there was much cheering and moaning for making or missing shots. The rules were not in question.
What accounts for this ease? Is it Islam? There isn’t much drinking; maybe that is why there aren’t drugs? Is there public assistance that keeps people floating just above desperation?
A few other observations: People’s teeth are beautiful. This is a huge change from the people coming from Central America, where the tooth decay was intense. There are lots of people here who are too skinny. They are not lean; they are not eating enough (is my guess). Everyone has shoes - many are flip flops, but I literally have not seen anyone without shoes. They don’t greet each other on the street or exchange pleasantries. Though Ahmadou flags anyone down for a question, and people respond as if this is perfectly normal. “Mon frere!” he shouts (even when we are in the middle of a street, crossing amid traffic). So, it is a combination of not acknowledging much when you walk down the street, but if someone asks you something, there is instant response and conversation.
Some of you have reached out to me about the mass shooting in El Paso. I think of how many times I was in Walmart while in Los Fresnos and Brownsville. I think of a time when I was serving dinner in the bus station, and some asshole had his daughter or little sister ask for food and then whispered something to her when I said the food was for immigrants. I think of our completely insane elected officials for not making us safer from these weapons. I think of El Pastor and how he forges ahead with a broken heart, and how he continues to believe so clearly in the face of such terror.
Love and light to you; I can't wait to figure out how to share photos. So many colors and shapes.