DeGannes, Nehassaiu, Kola
We descended into Africa, Becki and I, like birds from the sky, guided by the moon, swooping, turning downwards. When the Air Afrique Boeing 707 landed on the asphalt runway at the airport in Dakar, Senegal, we were glad to be there. I had been to Africa before, to Kenya and Zimbabwe, but this time I felt different.
We walked through the African night air towards the modest airport terminal and then waited in the long customs and immigration line while the Black men in uniform took their sweet time, reading, stamping and sending us through. so typical of third world countries. I couldn't help thinking how good it was to be home! How many other times had l stood in lines like this arriving in Saudi for Christmas vacation or in the West Indies for one vacation or another.
Then there was the crowd waiting patiently and not so patiently in front of the luggage belt. The crowd, mostly while French tourists bound for Club Med et I'experience Afrique seemed obscure here. In fact they had seemed obscure from the moment we had boarded the plane in Paris. They weren't coming to Africa to experience it; they were coming to see what they could lake from it: sunshine, sand and souvenirs. Yet, the Air Afrique bird had welcomed them aboard, served them dark-lipped smiles. high cheekbones and almond eyes and fed them exotically, it had brought them here safely to Africa. These were strange creatures, pink-skinned and plain-faced.
Finally, there was Tidiane hugging me and his brother and sister. We had collected our luggage and left the tourists behind. I was to see them again on the streets of Dakar laden with sunscreen and African carvings and was to smile at them amused, from the other side. On the way home to Farm's residence, driving along the corniche, hearing the sea in the dark, I knew I was in love. "Wait until you see Dakar in the daylight!" They warned me.
And so I did, the next day. The sun shining steadily overhead and the strange sights and sounds did nothing to diminish my new found love. In fact, Dakar reminded me of a thousand places I had been to before, but not particularly like anyone of them. Like the colourful sarongs the women wrapped themselves in and the flowing bou-bous of the men, Dakar wore its many histories in a proud and unique way.
I was in Africa! All around me, everywhere, everyone was Black. From the man begging on the street, to the woman selling Senegalese cloth in the market, to the bank manager, to the president, everyone was Black. Beauty surrounded me.
Along with the African there was the Islamic influence. No veils as there had been in Saudi, just Salam Alekoum, and the men and women praying together at dusk, prostrate on the ground, heads turned towards Mecca.
And there was the French. Not like in Paris, but a warm and inviting French. The little shacks on the corner that sold stale biscuits and soft drinks were called 'boutiques' and the streets in the city centre ran in directions that could only be the result of French planning. But, the Senegalese had not forgotten themselves. Many of the streets were named after prominent African leaders, Aime Cesaire and Leopold Senghor. There was also a Soweto place reminding us that Africa was not a thing of the past.
But, where was I to find myself in all of this? I was there in all of it: The three years spent in Saudi Arabia with my family, my western upbringing and long time romance with the French language and all things French, it was all there offered up to me in a neat little package, gift--wrapped!
There were also the little things like tins of milk and Nescafe instant coffee that reminded me of visiting my grandmother in the West Indies, remnants of colonial days. The landscape of Senegal, the tastes and sounds were also very much like the Caribbean. These are little things, but whereas Maya Angelou and her friends found themselves craving American spicy pork sausages, hot dogs and hamburgers while in Ghana, I would sit laughing with Sohkna and Amy, Tidiane's sisters, sharing our different names for the same thing, one Senegalese and the other West Indian. …