Joal in a Bottle

Trip Start Sep 14, 2012
Trip End Aug 16, 2013

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Flag of Senegal  , La Petite Côte,
Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Happy Africa Day!

If I was granted one wish, it would be the ability to bottle Senegal. Imagine that, the essence of a beautiful, mind-wangling, topsy-turvy place caught in a bottle. My idea of perfection; to sit getting drunk on the Senegalese atmosphere. Nothing else could capture the rhythm of life. The beauty of the African sunset over the Atlantic Ocean, the bobbing pirogues with their vibrant colours, 'REAL MADRID' painted in swirly black writing next to a Senegalese flag. After a while, you forget about the rubbish that lines the streets, the plastic bags, the fish scales, the bottles and cans and papers. Instead you see the blue of the sky, hear the clip-clop of the horses pulling their wooden carts, smell the fish they are transporting. I haven’t always thought this way about my town. One early-on diary entry reads ‘I live in a pigsty, Joal is a dump.’ But now it’s almost difficult to remember that way of thinking. But the heart of Joal’s beauty doesn’t lie in its beach or its sunset or even the litter, but in the hearts of the people who reside here. Senegal, the country of ‘teranga’…

The lazy market where vendors while away their hours making ataya, strong sweet tea, debating football or money or politics in their sharp wolof tones. ‘Wey-yo! Bayil ngay wax! Danga doff!’ The serer women stroll in their bright, stunning boubous. Seldom are the streets empty of locals sitting, chatting, laughing. Don’t forget to greet everyone, shake their hands as if they’ve been your lifelong friends and make sure there are at least 5 greetings, in at least 3 languages. ‘Asaalam alekium!’ ‘Maleikum salam!’ ‘Nanga def?’ ‘Mangi fi!’ ‘Ca va?’ ‘Waaw, ca va bien’ ‘Yangi noss?’ ‘Noss bi yam rek’ ‘Ana wer ker ga?’ ‘Nyunga fa!‘ ‚yangi si jam?’ ‘Jamm rek!’ The bustle of the streets as the kids amble around, half-dressed, dirty-faced, yelling ‘katty toubab’ and chasing me with dead chickens. The jambaar women carrying a baby on their back and a bucket of water on their head, going home to cook the delicious thieboudien. The one paved road of Joal, where the spluttering, unworthy-of-an-MOT cars, monstrous lorries, wandering goats, students cycling 15 kilometers to-and-from school, donkeys pulling carts and falling-apart minibuses with kids hanging out of the back fight to be king of the road. The car station where yells of destinations are made with a cry ‘Foy dem? Mbour Mbour Mbour Mbour Thies Thies Thies Thies Dakar Dakar Dakar Dakar’. At midday, a multicoloured snake of students joins the throng as they wander their ways home, each donning their particular colour in Joal’s rainbow of school tabards. The music that sets pace to the pulse of life here; The mbalax rhythms bouncing from market stalls, the church choir resonating their serer adoration, the incessant honking of car horns, the mosque calls crying above each voice like a soloist singing to the melody of Africa.

But at the centre of it all, the people… the lovely old man from church who buys me coffee (liquid sugar in a plastic cup) as we walk home, the fruit seller who gives a handful of free bananas because I manage to splurt out something in Pulaar, the choir conductor who does a mean impression of the queen and talks to donkeys, the basketball coach who never stops smiling, the enthusiastic and cheeky students who speak English with a grin etched across their faces.  They’re what make Joal.

If I could, I’d send you a bottle of Joal so that you could taste it too.

P.S. Very sorry I haven’t updated my blog in so long – I have been so busy with work, travelling and just generally yanging my noss! I will post soon about what I’ve been up to. Sending lots of love xxxx
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Elaine on

Wonderful descriptions Katie you made me feel for a few moments that I was back with you. You have made such an effort with the language and people and integrated so well, and you have worked very hard with your students . I am very proud of you x x

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