After a day or two of “recovery” in Dakar, where I announced “salaam malekum” and “nanga def” at least more than a thousand times and had Katie explain why my Wolof was so bad to every passerby in order to protect my reputation as a seasoned ethnographic researcher (funny, that doesn’t impress anyone in Senegal, go figure), we ventured to the dreaded “garage” in Dakar – which by any definition is nothing more than a giant field of vehicles that wouldn’t pass inspection in Alabama (sorry Luke) AND, by Katie’s explanation, could be scarier than the airport. Not so, not scarier, but pretty interesting none the less.
We took a very expensive taxi – by Dakar standards (20 mil? Maybe? Which is equal to 10 American) – and were dropped off at the end of town in order to find a different type of taxi for 6 (I now forget what Katie called this clown-like station-wagon complete with smashed windshield, inoperable windows and a back seat where two 5’9” toubabs had to crouch hunched over our knees in the sweltering 116 degree Sahar heat for 4 hours). Basically, in a crazy, market-like situation filled with screaming girls selling nuts and Beignets and innocent, beautiful Talibe boys singing haunting prayers and pleading for one small morsel of food or low denomination coin, one must find a driver who is going to the town of your destination, bargain with him for trip, gas and luggage, and then sit in this teenage heap of rusted metal until it is filled with people also traveling to your destination. This can last a matter of minutes to a matter of HOURS and you CAN’T leave the car or you will lose your spot. Again, 116 degrees that day. But that wasn’t the most challenging part.
Tess Langan, of the Verona Cedar-Grove Times knows first hand what any American visiting Senegal for the first time experiences:
“DAKAR, Senegal — Thousands of children in Senegal are forced to beg on the streets under the pretext that they are receiving religious instruction, Human Rights Watch said in a report Thursday that urged the government to crack down on the long-established phenomenon… Beneath the staid, even words of the article my U.S. mom had sent me was the reality I had encountered back at the garage here of Mbour.
I am sitting in a taxi and trying, trying not to turn my head and look into the eyes of the three small talibe boys pressing themselves against my windowpane. They sing a harrowing, high-pitched, traditional song and leave the little traces of their noses and palms upon the glass. These three little boys, knobby-kneed, shoeless, one no older than six, have eyes powerful enough to bore into me and unhinge me. There is no evidence of any “crackdown” and from where I sit in my weather-worn seat, I feel angry and helpless. I know that the money they collect will most likely not feed their bellies but the coffers of their marabouts, often corrupt clerical leaders. But that fact could not abate the guilty quickening of my heart or the way my loose change seemed to turn cartwheels in my pockets.”
More on the Talibe later, let me just state that every time I saw these children in the villages I cried. Stupid American with no knowledge of the tradition or culture. Just felt like it was harsh and sad. So I cried.