Today I set foot upon African soil for the first time since our Wednesday arrival. SENEGAL, from the port where Mercy Ships is docked, suffers tremendous aesthetic appeal. To exit the port, I trekked through an asphalt jungle and concrete conclave of urban blight that sent two messages: you are definitely not in Kansas anymore, and no, this not the Lion King set. There were no gazelle’s leaping mid-air with grace, nor was there the thundering beat of a djembe that beckoned a funky body bounce. There was no Simba, no Nala, but I did see a forlorn AFRIcat.
Armed with eucalyptus and lemon oil on my limbs to thwart mosquitos and dressed in the mandated “below the knee with no shoulders exposed” attire to respect the 95% Muslim country, me and my required “minimum one other” set foot apace to find the Africa of my cliche expectancy. It didn’t take long. I scurried through an industrial row of street peddlers whose daily mission was deemed complete if they sold a single wrench, two feet of coiled rubber, or a few hard hats to dusty men who heavily sweat under a disrespectful sun to construct buildings, and even more buildings, in support of improved infrastructure and commercial saturation.
I can’t remember if I turned left or bee-lined straight, but, Behold! The vibrant colors of Africa were unveiled, and the Francais/Wolof language deficit that I feared would plague me, quickly advanced with a boldness to bargain.
At the mouth of the market, I embraced my much anticipated African cliche as though I were still turning pages in an eighth grade sociology text book. I had anticipated the game that would ensue for years and without delay, commenced to quick-slick my culture. It was innate. A beautiful dress for $20,000 CFA (See-fah) became mine for a meager $10,000 when I knew all too well the fabric quality, buttons, and pleated craftsmanship was worth more. My “across the sea” countrymen, too, swindled me in a rich blend of linguistic haggling, and so it went. From a rich fabric dress to a bucket hat to two magnets and four mangoes: bargain, slick, swindle haggle, sold!
The indoor African market stank. It was a natural aroma to them, but transferred foul and odorous to my spoiled familiarity. This, too, is Africa. An eager man forced pass us with a wheelbarrow that hauled carelessly layered, dead chickens. At least temporarily, they existed as a carnage-feast for flies.
Fresh vegetables, void of preservatives or insecticides, were stacked in perfect layers to form triangles, some, while others were just horizontal vegetation, remnant of a crayola box.
Dried beans were presented in massive baskets, and more raw shrimp in varied species than I knew existed were spread across flat surfaces, wet with water and inviting more swarms of flies.
But the shrimp I was served for lunch was perfect: popping with flavor, succulent, and of course, fresh! A continual stream of “Bonjours” were intimately united with the pride of some merchants who had mastered “Welcome.”
Locals and tourists rubbed shoulders without obvious irritibility.
All of us: one roof, many tongues.
This population of Africans are a beautiful class of people who have simply decided that poverty means Saturday, and poverty is today, but she is not an inhibiting pain.
My firsthand impressions are that they are rich in ritual, resilient, and seemingly, they are content. A two-apple sale and a bag of spice is worthy of gratitude, while shamefully, I suffer a mini-stroke when ice cubes aren’t available.
This is but one of many markets in Africa and a small representation of Senegal’s beauty yet to be viewed or shared during my off-days as a writer in Dakar for Mercy Ships Africa Mercy. Their life’s lens owns a spiritual clarity. It is special, and this is market. They smile, they sell, they live.
Penny Dickerson 2019