And We Laughed at the Bullets

Jabari Gambrel - Senegal


April 27, 2017

And We Laughed at the Bullets 
We laughed at the bullets. Thought if our mouths opened wide enough, if our eyes lingered long enough, if our hips danced wild enough, if our shorts stopped fast enough we might find danger. The danger of being illegal. We laughed at the bullets, but we were also laughing at possibility, our own fear, and the things, which were unknown. 
I remember sitting on the beach in Dakar, with other Americans. Their English tongues, and pale skin against Wolof voice and color, the way we felt like islands at the edge of the Atlantic ocean, made me comfortable. I let myself slip. I felt my voice curving into my smile, my steps grooving without concern for context, I began being me. They cried bullets. The joke we had shared, the joke which I had used to hide my fear of what “me” meant in this new place. The joke didn't seem funny anymore. I stiffened, closed, quieted; my voice dropped to appropriately manly, my hands fell from my hips and to my sides (just as father had said). The bullet could have been real, the result was the same. 
A habit from boyhood, that ability to suppress and conceal at a word, for the first time felt painful to me. I to this day do not understand why it was that day on that beach in Dakar, but I couldn't do it. I decided I liked the way my legs fell, and my mouth curved, and my hands felt resting upon my hips. I decided I didn't need to pretend. And so I didn’t. 
I later thought this is my manhood, and my freedom. But manhood is boyhood, with longer legs and more body hair. And freedom is like the wind, restless and lost yet ever present. 
I carried on in myself. Feeling that I was a rebel, feeling power from the height of my voice, feeling power in my afro puff, feeling for the first time that I was brave, but manhood is boyhood with long legs. 
I remember the first day I realized I was wrong. I was greeted by a friend of family with the ever nearby Senegalese handshake. As I completed my part of the ritual, the center of my palm was scratched twice. I looked the man in the eye, surprised by this action, and he looked back. Puzzled I continued my walk with him, joking and laughing at the shortness of the cows, or the abnormal size of a person’s head. It was my laughter, my walk, I felt I was hiding nothing and I wasn’t. And he watched me, looking at me with an intensity reserved for lovers and close family. I taking to common opinion mistook illegality as impossibility. But I felt that his eyes we familiar. 
Later learned the meaning of those eyes and hands from my American friends. I laughed once again at the bullets. You cannot hit what you cannot see. 
What happens when we say that a manifestation of the human spirit is not real? What happens when we marginalize a people to the point of invisibility? What happens when we forget another's humanity? What happens when we quiet voices into silence?
I found safety. Safety in that dark. A quiet sort of love that finds people in between their hands. Love that isn't loud or revolutionary, rather love that is self assured in its quiet. Love that doesn't have paper or money but love that begets love. I found love that protects. Love that is safe. 
 Others find their graves. 
And yes homosexuality is illegal in Senegal, and people are not safe, and things NEED to change, legislation NEEDS to protect all citizens and manifestations of “we” with dignity. But on some Senegalese mornings as I watched the sunrise over the breath of sleep, foot beds, blended browns and pinks, made mountains of sheets to thin to keep out the cold, and in that quiet I didn't feel illegal at all. 
Fin.

Jabari Gambrel