It is about 7:30 at night, and the street that is normally lit by the lights of shops and open house doors is now only visible because of the feeble streetlights. I walk past yet another closed boutique. Through the open rafters in the house next door I see the inhabitants fused to the furniture, following the fight on the television: Joal’s very own King of the Arenas, the great ‘lutteur’ with his eighteen victories and one loss, taking on another worthy opponent.
I’m working on college apps tonight. I stare at the supplement that I will be working on and begin writing. Part of me wishes that I could just magically be done, so I can watch the fight and immerse myself in the culture, but the only way to achieve my immersion is by completing my apps. Just as I finish my work for the night, I hear a cry that reminds me of wars and all things terrible. It steadily grows. One thousand legendary battle cries; One million enemies pierced through the stomach. One long-awaited victory achieved through one colossal blow: Yekini has won!
The din lasts a full minute, maybe more. I put away my laptop and head outside to the sidewalk. Hundreds of Joal’s gleeful youth swarm the street, chanting, calling out joyously. They run in my direction, one dynamic entity, hurling out exuberant yells and firercrackers. “Yekini! Yekini!” they chant, as even more individuals sprint out of their houses and join the single screaming heart.
I stand transfixed, facing the scene that is growing before me, reminded of the juxtaposing feeling of power and powerlessness that I used to feel when I watched the oncoming freeway traffic from a bridge back in Irvine. Children, teenagers, adults run by me, as if I am seeing, hearing, and feeling, but not really existing. And then I think that if I look at one Joalese person’s lifespan, the time I will have spent here will be practically nonexistent. Though I am here now, taking everything in, in the great scheme of things, will I really have been here long enough to be here? God knows I will remember all this, but will they remember me? Some children quickly turn their heads around me when they see me and call out “Toubaaab!”, and my pondering stops. A few kids half my size leave the crowd and ask me mockingly: “Who is Yekini?”. I give them some attitude. “Le Roi des Arènes” I say in my best ‘duhh’ voice.
“Whatever you do today” my sister warns, be back home by 3 PM, because Yekini is coming home. 3 P.M. means 5 P.M. here. My sister, I, and a mutual friend are standing on the side of the street watching bands of young men fly by on motorcycles. Some cars sponsored by the cell phone company Orange drive through, throwing out t-shirts to the grabbing hands. Just as it’s all becoming monotonous, Yekini, Roi des Arènes, and arguably the greatest hero to Joal’s male youth, arrives. Yekini! Yekini! My sister shrieks hysterically as she tries to keep her hand above the crowd. “YEKINIIIII!!!! YEEEEKINII!!!!!!” Oh sweet Lord. But then Yekini turns his great head and looks right at her! He smiles in recognition and pivots his face toward me who is now screaming my head off just like my sister. “YEKINIIII!!!!” I shout, flailing my arms, awed that a man famous all over Africa just gave me a half-second’s worth of attention. We are sweaty and it smells, but the pull of his car that is steadily moving away, and the push of the thousands of excited people behind us propel us forward until we are running running running with Yekini.