Dec 9, 21hr
I had a great trip to Mbour today. It didn’t start out great. In fact, I almost backed out of my plans. Everyone was concerned I was leaving late (15:30) and then, because everyone is headed to Touba (the religious city), there were few buses going the opposite direction, to Mbour. I needed to get the ornaments sent if there was any chance that they would arrive near Christmas. So I went.
Finally, I was on a bus, it was small, but not crammed; good thing, it was hot today. All was fine until the guy who had hollered at me near the garage about being pretty in my Senegalese clothes moves to sit across from me. He sits as if he owns the place, postured, he also seems to think he deserves my attention. Sunken on the bench, legs spread wide, both arms stretched across the backrest, head cocked.
Inevitably he starts in, “Blondes (which I am here, funny) are perfect.”
“Uh, thanks” I respond without taking my eyes off the window.
“Oh, blondes who speak French, very perfect”
I try to engage the woman next to me.
“And Wolof, woah, too perfect,” “You have a husband?”
I feel like that YouTube video in the movie theater, “Can I have your number?” Only not funny. I get off at the gas station instead of the garage; it’s sooner. I flag a taxi. I really have no idea where the Poste is, but I am in no mood to be taken advantage of by a male taxi driver.
“500cfa,” he says.
“Where is it, close to what?” I ask.
“Come, get in,” he answers.
I walk away.
I see a nicely dressed man standing near two other women down the road a bit, all waiting for a taxi. I make my way over. Greetings. I ask where the Poste is, the man answers. He says that there are two. Uh oh.
I try, “Le Grande Poste de Mbour.” No reaction. Okay, there are two. Um..
“Which one is closer?” I continue.
He responds, “what are you sending?”
“Envelopes about ye big,” I motion with my hands.
He tells me the one after the garage will be fine.
“Is it far?” “Can I walk?” I question. I still have no interest in dealing with a taxi.
“No, you should take a car,” he tells me
“Okay… thank you so much!” I thank him right as a car pulls up.
The two women get in, the man is the last to fit.
He instructs me through the window as the car starts to pull away, “100cfa, get off after the stadium, it’ll be on the left.”
“Thanks!” I wave. I can do this. I got this.
The car stops. Things start shifting, shuffling, the man who helped me gets out. Motions for me to come sit, I take his spot. The man who was seated in the front seat gets out. Then they both end up back in the front seat, half on top of each other to fit.
I am so surprised by this change of events, “Thank you so much!” I manage.
We pull back on the road.
I greet everyone, “Asalaam Malaikum.”
Shit. I payed the bus faire from Sandiara with my last coins…all I have is an 1000cfa bill. I do my best to always pay with near exact change, especially in situations like this, not wanting the power struggle or added hassle of getting money back.
I ask the driver if he has change, “I’m sorry, but all I have is a 1000cfa”
The guy who has helped me thus far says, “it’s not a big deal.”
Okay… I spend the rest of the car ride trying to figure out what he meant by that, deciding whether I should put my money away and memorizing the route we are taking. I mean, I really could be headed anywhere with a car full of random people. We pass the stadium, okay anytime now…the Poste should be close. We can stop now…we do eventually. I see it. A quaint establishment to the left of the main road.
“Amm,” I hand the driver my 1000cfa note.
He doesn’t accept it.
The man who helped me says, “don’t worry about it,” and waves my money away.
I am so surprised. I ask him his name. I want to thank him properly and have a name to put to the face of this kind stranger who helped me, and expected nothing in return. He just shrugs and laughs a bit. I thank him, I thank everyone in the car, more than once.
With “ba benneen yoon,” I shut the car door. Grateful.
I remember when in Dakar I had been on a bus downtown when I noticed an older woman searching for her faire in a knotted fabric piece, often used by older women to store money. The man working the bus door had yelled again for people to pay their place, banging a coin against the metal roof. The sharp sound had resonated throughout the hull, the woman’s face growing more anxious. I had slipped the man her faire. She had smiled at me, a smile of grateful surprise.
I cross the busy main road, a pro at it by now. Entering the Poste I still wear that same smile I had seen on the woman in Dakar. Grateful surprise. There are what I would call airport chairs in the shape of an L against the left hand corner. The room, not very large to start with, is cut in half, hamburger style, by a counter and glass. A woman sits behind the leftmost window at a computer. There are three men and a woman with a little girl seated waiting. I find a place to sit, following suit. Hoping I haven’t misread the situation like at the Poste De Sante, where I sat and waited, wrongfully, for two hours…
“Tata Mari! Tata Mari!” the little girl yells.
I glance around. She is talking to me. I wave timidly. I must resemble someone she knows.
The woman with her, maybe mom, maybe not, corrects the girl, “that’s not Tata Mari, Awa.”
The little girl is unfazed. I play Tata Mari and she plays adorable three year old until I am called up to the counter.
I greet the woman behind the computer. Then I conveniently decide to let her know, “I would like to send some envelopes please.”
Blink. blink. She looks at me.
Right, DUH Olivia. I pull the ten thick “AirMail” envelopes out of my backpack. She asks for them. I hand them one by one thorough the small half circle opening at the bottom of the glass division, well it is actually plastic. She takes them roughly. I cringe. If she notices, she does not care.
I try going for sympathy, “they are little presents I made for my family, for Christmas. I won’t be home this year.”
She gives a brisk smile, I think. She weighs them, pulls out a calculator wrapped inside a clear plastic bag.
“5500cfa,” she tells me.
Okay. I get my money out as my smile sinks a bit. She gives me my change and then I just stand there, awkwardly. She says nothing. I go sit down.
Wait, am I done? I mean last time I sent something I had to put a gazillion stamps on myself… I stand back up. She’s helping someone else. I loiter a bit, tipping my head in I try to politely ask if that was all she needed from me. Hand signals are involved. Oh you tubaab. She points to a chair. Yes, ma’am, I sit again. I still don’t know if I’m done or not.
I check the time. 16:26, wait, math, 12pm +1, +2, +3, +4, 16, 4pm. 4:26pm. This 24 hr time thing is rough. Maths are hard. I still am fine on time. I was wanting to be back at the garage by 6, so 12+6, 18hr at the latest. It’s darkish by 7pm…12+7, 19hr.
I take back up my role as Tata Mari.
Oh right, me. She has stamps in her hand, this is what I expected. Good thing I hadn’t left. I wonder if she would of let me leave. Would she of put the stamps on for me? Would my envelopes of become waste?
“Amm,”she hands them to me.
Stamps, two kinds. My envelopes come back to me, one by one through the half circle window. The stamps aren’t peel off backs and I’ve already had typhoid. I look at her, gesture, where is the sticky stamp thingy? She makes a non-discreet eye movement. A sticky stamp thingy appears. I start to separate the stamps, ugh, wait…
“Excuse me,” I get her attention, ” how do they go on? Is there a certain way, one on top the other, stacked? Side by side?”
Response, “however you want.”
Well okay then. I get to work. Poor envelopes, I had to use glue to seal them closed and then again when I had to put them back together after the bottom seams ceased to hold. FYI, the envelopes the shop keeper finds in the back corner at the local botikba in Kawsara, Sandiara, are not the highest quality product on the market. What was that I learned about monopolies in Econ… I finish putting the stamps on eventually. She notices, head nod. They need to go back through the half circle now; with lots of love and strong “not falling apart” thoughts I put them through one last time. She nods acknowledgement. I decide to stack them on the other side of the window into two piles, so it is easier and more organized, obviously. One falls over the counter onto the floor on her side of the window. Oops.
“Uh Miss…one fell.. ” I alert her as if she hadn’t heard it hit the ground in the silent room.
She slowly raises her eyes to me… right, I’m just leaving.
“Thanks so much for all your help,” I manage as I quickly gather my belongings and head out the door.
I’m back on the main road. Not up for the haggle, I start to walk. The garage isn’t too far and it isn’t that hot. Hey look, a big Santa! Wait, what, oh a Supermarch̩, French people. Yes, raisins, Koumba mentioned this. Ah, aisles. Woah, tubaabs. Overwhelmed, same as anytime I am put in a more western feeling situation. I don’t greet the other foreigners (called tubaabs here), as I do the Senegalese employees, micro-aggression probably. There are so many things I want, could buy, would enjoy, but what do I really need? Nothing. I buy the raisins. Healthy snacks are not easy to get. Chips and other packaged things from botikbas are in no way sustaining or sans carcinogens or those p things, parables? Parabens? parabolas? There is an old French man and young western dressed Senegalese woman in front of me in line. I saw that dynamic quite a bit in Saly when I used to visit for internet. I look around. Christmas decorations are going up. There are trees, ball ornaments, garland. Nostalgia hits.
I am on the main road walking again. Wonder what time it is? Not worth the effort, keep walking. I come up behind two women dressed in Senegalese clothing, both pink. Greetings. We get along, chat all the way to the garage, the walk goes quickly. They are headed to Touba. “No, I don’t have a husband,” “Okay, I’ll keep my eye out for your younger brother, I’m sure we’d be great together.” We cross the now packed main road. Them and “tout le monde” are headed to Touba. We part ways. Into the dreaded male-packed garage I head. I don’t hate the entire male gender, but the garage is overwhelming and not a fun place for a female “white” woman to traverse.
“Yow, maima xaalis”
“Eh, mon cherie”
“am nga jeker?”
“Eh, Fo dem? Taxi”
“Don moi un cadeaux”
I make it to my bus, which I know exactly where to get. I do some price talking. We agree, and I get in line to board. I take a breath. The garage is extra busy today; Touba. The air is thick with exhaust and smoke; it burns my eyes and nose. There is the crisp smell of urine. Lots of women surround the back of the bus selling various foods and water off trays carried on their heads. I have never bought from one of them, but not for lack of their trying; I’m still a little overwhelmed by the swarm. I also know once my money comes out I’d feel the need to buy from all of them. I do play with their babies though, worn in wrappers on their backs. Everyone enjoys laughing babies.
I hear a peep. Another. A soft rustle, sounds like feathers… The man in front of me in line shifts. Oh. He is holding two chickens by the feet. They dangle at his side. One blinks. They aren’t dead, but they sure aren’t very alive either. The line moves into the bus. I find a seat in the back corner where we enter. I sit on the left hand side, parallel to the side of the bus, my back and side against the cool and rusted metal bus walls. Not a bad seat; I won’t have to get up every time someone from the inside, nearer to the front, has to get out. Except there are three of us on a bench made for maybe two. I’ve got the last person spot, which means wedged, half on the lady next to me, half on the bench. Not the most comfortable position. I hear another peep. I look at the entrance door next to me. An older woman holding a baby in her arms is trying to make the big step up into the bus. A blanket falls. She sees me reach out to grab at it instinctually. The baby is thrust into my outstretched arms. The woman walks away. Umm… I bounce the clearly infantile child. Was I just given a kid? I look around as the bus full of people stare at me. Hey, hi, yea. I guess it does warrant staring, more even than me just alone usually does. Eventually the lady returns, this time with a young woman, my age I would guess. They are holding bags and the young woman a pair of baby bloomers. Ah, she must be the baby’s mom, and daughter of the woman who put the child in my arms. He is fussy by now. I shift, repositioning him. They squeeze into the bus. Facing me, the grandmother and I layer knees, locking her in the bus. She holds on with the outside hand to the top. The back door will not shut. I give the baby back to his mom once they are settled. She feeds him. He stares at me, wide eyed. The ride home revolves around this little child. Dust starts to come in the back, we as a group of interlocked four, the mom, the grandma, me and my new BFF neighbor who I have been half sitting on, shift to lower the baby to avoid it. The sunset shines through the open back, I hold my hand up to shield his gazing eyes. Grass from the feed bags on the roof filters in the back, I set up my backpack as a shield. Grandma and I hold it in place. I learn he is almost two months old, and they are headed home to Thiadiaye. I play with him and watch him as we make our way down the road, through all the village and gendarmerie stops (lots of money to be made off Touba bus bribes). I slowly fall in love with his inquisitive eyes and firm little grip. We get to the Sandiara garage. The two women look sad to see me go. They thank me repeatedly and laud kindness. I respond with, “niokobok” (Wolof for you are welcome, but literally, we are in it together). They wave his little hand at me as I hop out the back and head home.
I lock the gate behind me as I get home, thinking of my day. I never even learned the little boys name. The beautiful child I was bestowed on the bus from Mbour. I think of how my trip had begun and the nameless man who took me to the post office and paid my faire.
Touched by kindness and hopefully doled out some myself too, today’s trip to Mbour needed to be written, it happened like a story. Days here aren’t good or bad. Days are full of moments and people. Positive moments and negative ones. Kind people, and others who I caught on an off day. I am here and this is my life. My purpose? Now, it’s to make people smile. To make friends and laugh. To be kind and share in connections with fellow humans. That is what I can offer. That is what I need. And that is how I can change the world. It’s what makes it all worth it.
**reread this page when feeling low**”