Throwback

For the past few weeks I’ve burrowed myself inside my thin fleece sleeping bag every time the clock hits 6 a.m. because of (what now feels to me) the chilly 68° morning weather. Now that the cool season is arriving, I’ve revisited something I wrote during the beginning of my stay in Senegal, when the nights were so unbearable I longed to sleep outside:

August 2009

Mbour, Senegal

In the morning I wake up to the sound of roosters and mosque prayers piercing through my earplugs. By the time I have dug the foam out of my ears at 8 a.m., the women are already clanking around with last night’s dishes, scrubbing them with mesh metal sponges and a minimum of suds. The rain from the early morning has left the yard looking haggard, but someone is at work sweeping the ground cover—which is simply dirt—into neat semi-circles in order to collect debris. My back is damp from sweating after a night of molten sleep in my 97° tin-roofed room, a metal Klean Kanteen against my bare skin having been the only source of cooling. Despite yesterday’s laundry, my tank top reeks of an unfamiliar stench, bringing with it a morsel of self-realization that I actually can smell that heinously bad. My hair is still tangled in an elastic band to keep it off my face, and I don’t dare flip over to linger in half-sleep; my pillow echoes the same unbearable odor as the rest of my apparel. I peel away my mosquito net from the places where it is tucked under the mattress. I look into my mirror to survey the damage done (just for fun!) to my dripping, textured face. I’ve never before so violently wanted those abrasive, alcohol-drenched facial cleansing pads that one uses as a 13-year-old.

I shuffle about, snatching at my wrap-skirt in order to be decently dressed for going outside, to the bathroom, to fill a bucket of water. After a bucket bath in a chamber that on its off-moments doubles as a urinal for those who just can’t hold it, I feel a rare glimpse of clean. Eager to be finished with my room for the morning, I get dressed, prepare my bag for class, and greet everyone with morning salutations. Here, it is customary to not greet others in the morning until you’re washed and presentable. Out in the yard, Salimata is scrubbing a concerned baby Samba, and my host father (also named Samba), has a neighbor-friend over just to chat. My host mother, Koumba, offers me hot kinkeliba (a type of African tea) and finally I pause to enjoy it. I sit slumped on a chair outside, with a lock of wet hair in my hand, folded across my upper lip as I congratulate myself on its shampoo scent. In my other hand is the kinkeliba—sweet, flavorful, and steaming in a stained plastic cup. It’s still morning, the only precious window of cool. Even though it’s hot, the tea is comforting and allows my mind to drift. I sip the kinkeliba slowly while staring past the designs in the sandy dirt below me, in the early part of the day before any real thinking begins.

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