Thursday is laundry day here in Dakar. I have worn three pairs of pants and four shirts in the last seven days. Laundry day only comes once a week so you can trace everything that has happened to me in the past week through the stains on my clothing.
There are coca cola spills from a lunch at Sea Plaza, a modern shopping mall built in top of the seaside cliffs surrounding Dakar, and salt water spray from an impromptu adventure down the cliff to scramble out to a jetty of rocks that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean below the mall. The miraculously clear sea pounds against the stacked boulders like a great, wonderful, clean heartbeat pumping against the rancid pollution of greater Dakar.
My shirts are all potent with sweat. From a late night soccer game with the neighbourhood kids in Sicap Baobab. From the daily, constant, unbearable humidity of the late West African summer. From a spontaneous (and successful!) sprint to test the strength of my convalescing ACL.
The cuffs of my trousers are heavy with sand from a Sunday at the beach. That evening I watched the sun set magnificently over the horizon, sitting the closest to America I will ever get for the next seven months, with a group of people I didn’t know at all just over a month ago, but who I sat with that evening as good friends.
The one thing that I will be sad to see washed away this Thursday, on my last laundry day with my host family here in Dakar, is a puddle of tears on the leg of my green linen pants.
When I came home from visiting the artisanal market after wolof class, I greeted my host family with a cheerful “Bonsoir”. My host brothers Michael (12), Henri (12), and Patrick (5) all replied in kind and shook my hand as usual. Their aunt, Mamina, and her husband greeted me back with friendly “Ca va?”s. Michael, Patrick and their older brother Jean Claude (who left for university in Morocco last week) are all orphans, I discovered the day Jean Claude left. Their mom died a year ago and their dad died three years ago. Henri’s dad, Joel, is Mamina’s brother and lives in the bedroom to the left of mine but rarely interacts with Henri or the other children. Mamina sleeps in the room to the right of mine, attached to which is the only bathroom of the house. The shower is a nozzle protruding from the wall, the toilet is missing an essential part of the seat, the flushing mechanism has a 30% chance of actually working and in the mornings, if Mamina is still asleep or has already left for work… no peepee place. I get to run my ass all the way to the Baobab Center and pray that nobody is already using the toilet there.
Anywho, after saying hello to all the members of my family, I retired to my room to relax before dinner, when all of a sudden a heart wrenching scream pierced through the house. It only took a few more seconds of incessant whimpering and sobs to draw me back out to the living room.
There I found Patrick standing in front of his uncle, with tears in his big dark eyes and his right hand outstretched. As the television flashed clips from the Senegal women’s basketball game versus Egypt, little dude’s uncle was using the thick needle of a surgical syringe to lance an enormous blood blister that spanned the last three knuckles of Patrick’s palm. When his uncle squeezed the blood and pus out of the punctured flesh, Patrick screamed in probably the most pain he has felt in his short life.
After several minutes of lancing and draining the abscess, his uncle bandaged up his hand and Mamina wiped the streams of sweat from his dripping forehead and the snot from his sad little nose. Patrick shuffled slowly over to the couch where I lifted him up to sit beside me.
I rubbed his back in comfort and wished I knew how to speak French so that I could tell him it would be okay, that I of all people understood how much pain sucks. And while I was bemoaning my woeful lack of French vocabulary I felt a little weight settle in my lap. Patrick cried silently into my knee brace until it was time for dinner and only then did I notice the warm round pool of tears on the leg of my pants. If only I could wash away the salty tears and keep the love and trust that let him cry on me.
On Sunday morning at 7:00am I leave for my long-term host family in Ross Bethio. I am so overwhelmed with emotions ranging from sadness to excitement, to frustration and anxiety. So much has happened, and not happened, and changed in the five weeks that have passed since I said goodbye to my home in Southern Oregon. The greatest quote that is keeping me going right now is an excerpt from “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, the movie that was playing on the flight from JFK to Dakar a month ago:
“Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, then trust me, it is not the end”.