Familiar First Impressions

Gaya Morris - Senegal


October 3, 2009

(Here is a journal entry i wrote yesterday morning. The “quartier” we are in is in fact called “SICAP rue 10.” I am able to post this blog thanks to the amazing persistence of Ananda who managed to find a internet connection at about three feet off the ground in the doorway in between the hall and the sitting room…)

We are in an apartment somewhere in Dakar and it would make sense for it to be in SICAP Baobab because I know that to be the location of our language school. My body feels warm and kind of swollen, especially around my feet which felt way too big for my little pink sneakers after a total of twelve hours on a plane last night, which technically was this morning. At 5 am we arrived. “Cheerio” said the South African pilot over the microphone, and the windows fogged up ominously as we rolled into port. The humidity hit us like a block of thick, heavy air. We kept on grinning, shaking our heads and catching each other’s eyes, widened in amazement that wow, we really were in Africa.

But for me the heavy night air came with a wiff of something I had not expected to smell so soon. It was a faint, and yet distinct smell belonging to a small, black, plastic bundle I had stuffed in my closet back at home, containing random Senegalese souvenirs that I neither felt inclined to use or throw away – boxed tea, café tuba, peanuts, powered milk packets, all of which emanated a powerful, musky smell. And I swear this is what I smelled the moment I stepped off the plane.

The past seven hours or so ever since have been like deja-vue for me -various sounds and uncomfortable sensations that my body or some distant part of my sensual memory recognizes and pins to another time and place which was here in Senegal, but in 2008 and not in this strange house on this unfamiliar road. These feelings are attached to, belong to Mbouille’s basement and the time I spent there with the Where There Be Dragons Group, the nasty green plastic mat, the plastic cups and kenkeliba. The warmth in my body, the queasiness in my stomach, the dull morning light through barred windows, voices, scuffling and honking horns drifting up from the street below. And the breakfast, oh my goodness! Was so familiar – machine made baguettes, chocoleca, Nescafe with powdered milk and sugar cubes, apricot marmelade and fake butter. This house is certainly luxurious by Senegalese standards (and I guess mine as well) being equipped with china tea cups, table and chairs, a bath tub, many fans and white paper napkins. No cockroaches yet, but the sink is rather rusty with a peculiar yellow stain which I am afraid to touch.

It has been wonderful this morning to just hang out and let it sink in, here in this resting place, somewhere in Dakar, perhaps SICAP Baobab. It feels like vacation after our busy schedule at IONS but we are all in our own ways bracing ourselves: organizing our various pills and rationing our toilet paper. Rachel will arrive soon and then it will all start and we will have to venture out of these walls and greet the unfamiliar sounds.

Gaya Morris