I sweat salt and the Earth sweats heat

Victoria Tran-Trinh - Senegal


October 24, 2009

There are few times in my life when I can honestly say that I was drenched in sweat. Today was one of those times. Not once before today have I been drenched in sweat without some kind of physical exertion behind it, be it a strenuous martial arts practice, a long run or even dancing at prom with 500 other sweaty people. Actually, now that I think about it, I guess there was a different kind of physical exertion today. Here’s what it looked like:

8:57 AM: Wake up. Realize I am late. Jump out of bed to wash my face and brush my teeth.

9:06 AM: Arrive at Baobab Center. All the other Fellows are already there, watching a French-dubbed version of the cinematic masterpiece known as Paycheck.

9:25 AM: Ananda calls Samba, our guide for the day, who was supposed to meet us at 9. He says he’ll be there in 5 minutes.

9:45 AM: Samba arrives. After handshakes we leave with another guide. Ben Wallace.

9:52 AM: We all pile into an infamous car-rapide. Normally, this is where the sweating would begin, but I got some prime real estate next to a giant window. The ride is very enjoyable, and I am in high spirits.

10:11 AM: Arrive at our stop and start walking to the Marche HLM, our destination to buy fabric for traditional Senegalese outfits. We want to make outfits for the huge holiday coming up, Tabaski.

10:26 AM: After being rushed through a maze of stalls with many beautiful fabrics and not being allowed to stop at any, we finally enter one. Samba’s sister works here. We now understand. The sweating has also begun.

10:38 AM: Hot, sweaty, and confused by all the friendly advice (from Samba, Ben Wallace, Samba‘s sister, and various vendors), Hilary, Alec and I start exploring the fabric haven by ourselves. There are gorgeous selections at every turn and we begin to peruse.

10:43 AM: We are hunted down by Ben Wallace and herded into a 4×8 ft. hallway of cloth where we are told that THIS and ONLY THIS is the fabric to wear on Tabaski. There are four men plus the four of us in this tiny oven of a shop. We all buy some in different shades. I did not really want this fabric. Also, Hilary and I feel overcharged, since we didn’t get to bargain. Our instructions were to just hand over 10,000 CFA and await change.

11:08 AM: I find some adorable elephant-printed fabric and want a meter of it to make a miniskirt back in the US. The man won’t sell me a meter. I now have two meters of elephant-printed fabric. Perhaps I can use the extra to mop up my sweat.

11:16 AM: Learn that Ananda paid considerably less for her fabric and was also allowed to bargain. Hilary and I are upset. Anger makes us sweatier.

11:35 AM: We all squash ourselves onto a bus going to Sandaga, the biggest market in Dakar. It is absolutely packed with sweaty people. Ananda and I watch in utter amazement as a woman squeezes herself on, finds she has to stand and so HANDS HER BABY to a man sitting down. For safekeeping, I guess.

11:52 AM: Arrive at Sandaga. Begin walking at a frenzied pace, all the while harassed by vendors. By “harassed,” I mean we are hissed at, shouted at, followed for great lengths and have necklaces, stuffed animals or clothing shaken in our faces. (At the same time, Samba is shouting instructions to us in French that I cannot understand, or even really hear.) We do our best to ignore the vendors and the sweat and continue our frenzied walk.

12:07 PM: We realize nobody knows the destination of the frenzied walk. We also realize that we have somehow become two groups. Hilary, Alec and I thank Ben Wallace and head off, extremely sweaty but blissfully and peacefully alone.

12:37 PM: Avoiding constant stream of people trying to latch themselves onto us as guides, deal-giving vendors or long-lost friends. Run into Samba, Gaya and Ananda. Begin another frenzied walk, this time in search of more fabric, now with 2 new guides in tow.

1:05 PM: I have learned not to point out any fabrics that I think are pretty, because that fabric is immediately unfolded and shoved at me with loud announcements of price. “Non, merci” is merely seen as a bargaining tactic and ignored completely. We are all dripping in sweat and enormously happy that everyone has finally purchased their cloth.

1:35 PM: Get on another bus, headed for home. The entire back row is open so the five of us (Ananda, me, Hilary, Alec, Gaya) sit down, gulp water and immediately sweat it all out again.

All in all, it has been a fun and exciting day. I’m really excited to see everyone in their Senegalese wear. However, I’m very happy to be home and fed. Hilary is coming over to play Bananagrams (in French!) with my host brother and I, so I’m off to take yet another shower before she arrives.

Victoria Tran-Trinh