I’m here. My host brother Cisse and co-intern Stephen met me at the airport on Friday and dragged me and my bags through the suffocating crush of people offering taxis, hotels, phone cards, shampoo (???), or just begging and whisked me away to Yoff, where I’ll be living for the next 10 weeks. My room is large and pretty comfortable, on the ground floor of the building. I was welcomed by Mama Africa, Matron of the Maison, who holds court on the ground floor and welcomes a slew of youths who may or may not be her children, and also friends, family, and passers by. She’s agreed to teach me a phrase of Wolof a day, so I should be pretty near fluent in only about 7 years.
It’s been tricky to explore the neighborhood– Yoff/ Dakar is much more hectic and busy than Jinja (or Paris) were. Nevertheless, people here are amazingly friendly. I went to visit a fabric atelier downtown today that Stephen was familiar with because he had once been challenged to a wrestling match by the owner, and because we arrived at lunch we were invited to join them. We ate spicy rice and balls of fish from a huge platter, everyone clustered around and digging in with spoons. Dakar, from what I’ve seen today, is a mix between the extremes of luxury and hustle– there are gyms, pools, and shopping malls that rival those of the Us in terms of facilities (and prices), but also the refreshingly familiar hustle of Sandaga market and the taxi driver negotiating astronomical fees for a ride in one of their battered hulks. I ended the day going for a swim in the big waves of Plage de Yoff, and then sitting on mats and talking with fishermen outside their huts on the sand. Black coffee was served. Islam was discussed. Details to follow.
Also, I got a haircut. Haircuts are often my most memorable/ enjoyable experiences in countries that I visit, and so I took my wooly mop of hair over to Paco’s Barbershop. I negotiated the price down to 1000 shillings, and then then my coiffeur cranked the reggae, hiked up his sagging jeans, and started shearing off my hair like wallpaper. I squeaked in protest but was drowned out by Bob Marley. Eventually, after practically shaving the sides of my head bald and leaving the top intact, he stopped in consternation. At this point his brother came in, took the clippers(they didn’t have a single pair of scissors), and tried to salvage what he could. It was hard to tell what was happening–there was a fan mounted above my head and one pointed at my face, so I was in a wind-tunnel of flying clippings– but after 45 minutes he spun me around and showed me his handiwork. I looked like a backup hoodlum in a French rap music video (see song below). The top was normal, but my sideburns were cut close and shaved into a point, and the coiffeur kept assu8ring me that I was “tres cool” and “hyper style.” I’ll upload a pic as soon as I can.
As I left they told me that Akon had also had his hair cut there. I wonder what he paid?