Saturday 2nd February 2013
Place Marietu, 11:52 am
Baby Astu rolls back, smacking her perky wet lips, and stares up at me over her mothers broad shoulder. She stretches out her long-nailed fingers toward the table standing directly in the center of a small shack walled by tin roofing slats. Its palm roof, supported by crossbeams of green limbs that couldn’t have come from anything but a glorified bush, shades the stall that has served her 30 year old mother, Marietu, as a restaurant ever since the town streets dried up from their deluged state when the monsoons of the rainy season stopped flooding Northern Senegal in early November. The table is set haphazardly with teetering coffee cups and silver metal pots containing a variety of sauces and fillings for the cheap bread sandwiches popular in this corner of West Africa. I came this morning for hard-boiled eggs and peas – a specialty that Marietu only prepares on the weekends for the influx of customers who swarm into Ross Bethio for the Sunday market. The other pots contain spaghetti, homemade mayonnaise, onion and MSG packet sauce, and baked beans.
Three male customers linger long after they have finished sipping their portions of Cafe Touba. They yatter and fidget, lips shifting from infantile pouts to pursed silence as they argue with Marietu about various town gossip. The current topic, I gather through snippets of rapid but translatable Wolof, concerns the exploits and various scandals of the resident Toubab in their midst. The baby sneezes. Clearly bored with the chatter of her elders, her little nostrils scrunch up as her lungs shoot out a spew of warm baby breath and milk spittle. Marietu hands her off to Margot, a cousin and resident babysitter. Astu gurgles and drools off lectures in her personal strain of baby Wolof language. Her pudgy pink palms wrap themselves around my index finger as she tries a new decoy strategy of wide, puppy-eyes to distract me from the fact that she is simultaneously pulling my finger into her toothless mouth for another slobbery gnawing session.
Marietu pulls an unlidded bowl into her lap and sorts through the mound of dried beans inside it. She flicks unsuspecting rejects into the folds of her pale, cream, less-than-clean skirt. A hoard of flies hover, buzzing, over this scene. They are swatted away only when their puke-stained feet tickle someone’s eyelids for a moment too long. An impressive number of the flock have displayed their mastery of water navigation in the dirty dishes bucket at Marietu’s feet. The arm of her yellow lawn chair flails back as she shifts in her seat. Detached from its decorative plastic latticework back, the movement is uncannily similar to the hopeless shudders of those unfortunate insect’s wings whose circular flutters are a testament to their success at learning to fly underwater. Lifeless bodies float slowly around the submerged rims of sticky glasses in the milky water.
It’s hot. Even in the mid-morning shade. An unusually bright February sun reflects off the whitewashed boutique across the street, the shine streaks on bald black heads walking towards the rice fields on the other side of town, and the occasional auto that rumbles briefly past the door. Left ajar to allow the weak breeze and weaker stream of customers into the shack, its tin frame opens onto a warm, sandy vision of the daily bustle of Ross Bethio. Steam rolls off the glittering stream of liquid as I pour myself another cup of sugary Cafe-Touba, smooth and sweet.