So I was messing around with some photos in Photoshop today, and did this, kind of on accident. (I just meant to outline the kid – the streaks were on mistake). Turned out to be a good mistake. I like it.
I came home for a visit. And visits mean presents for the fam back home. My grandfather, the man who asks for nothing, usually gets handkerchiefs every Christmas, birthday and father’s day presents. To his credit, every year he acts surprised and genuinely grateful. I believe he’s grateful, but I’m not so sure about the surprised.
So I never know what to get him, but when I saw these slippers in downtown Dakar, I knew these would be the perfect ‘house slippers’ as he refers to his usual podiatric wear.
Here he is in the fashionable gift, one of my all-time favorite models.
My “G-pa” is a retired math professor (read: genius). My earliest memories of him are seeing him sitting at the dark wood antique desk in the back of my grandparents’ living room, hunched over a yellow legal notebook pad. I wasn’t quite sure what he was writing in those pads, but until the age of 9, I was sure he was scrawling out the secrets to the mathematical origins of the universe. In my five-year-old mind, he was Einstein. Actually, in my 25-year-old mind, he still is. I just found out last year he can speak German. What? How does that slip casual conversation during my first 24 years?
I was lucky growing up, because I got to spend nearly every day at my G and G’s house, “G-ma” being my designated babysitter (read: teacher). I had the best daycare in the world. My grandma, a retired English teacher, made sure to teach me to read during those days together, and I still credit her with my love of reading.
But it wasn’t all work. My grandma rocks. See, there were wrestling matches, lunches out at the Sports Page (now Red Ox) and numerous daily adventures. My grandma was not the “sit-in-the-rocking-chair-and-knit-over-her-spectacles” grandma. When I was five-years-old, she taught me, encouraged me and generally made me feel like I could conquer the universe whenever I felt like it. One of her favorite wisdoms she constantly imparted on me was to “Remember: Girls can do anything as well as boys except for pee standing up.” That’s a direct quote.
One of the best memories I have as a kid is when G-ma and I were walking back from the hospital to her house in the afternoon. I can’t remember why we were at the hospital, but it was maybe a mile back to the house, and we were walking the normal route east on Grant Street. It was an L-shaped path we would have to take on the roads—5 or 6 blocks north, and then make a 90-degree turn and go maybe 10 blocks south. The L-shaped path of roads were bordered by a newly-chopped cornfield.
We were just a few blocks into the walk, when G’s eyes veered south to the cornfield.
“Hey Ricci, why don’t we cut through that cornfield to get home?”
“Yeah, let’s do it.”
So off we went into the cornfield of deadened, shin-grazing golden stalks. It must have been late fall and the harvest had already razed the straight rows of Illinois gold. It was like an agricultural commentary.
It also must have recently rained, because just a few minutes into the walk, my grandma and I both noticed the mud was rather wet and thick, and it began clumping onto hour shoes. The more we walked, the more mud accumulated. The clumps sticking to other lumps on our shoes and grabbing onto each other as if it was a team effort to wear down our legs for trespassing onto the farmer’s precious land. Probably five minutes into the walk, and I was sure there were a few extra pounds on the soles of my feet.
But we didn’t go back. We kept on through the cornfield. I remember feeling sorry for the people who were stuck traveling on the road. My grandma was cool, and I was out in the middle of a cornfield, getting muddy. Of course about ten minutes in, our walk had become quite difficult, but by now we were tin the middle of the field, and getting either out or back the way we came would have been the same distance. Our walk had slowed to a crawl, and I began to wonder if in fact we would ever get out of the cornfield. That’s when G-ma turned back to me and said,
“Now Ricci, why did you think this was a good idea?”
“Huh? But Grandm-“
“Now Ricci, don’t argue with me. I wanted to take the road, but I listened to you, and now here we are out in the middle of the field, with mud all over us.”
Yes, yes. I knew this game. We continued to playfully blame each other and make up stories about whose idea the field had been until we finally made it across to the other side—where the asphalt relieved us of our new muddy boots. By that time we were laughing at our ridiculous, dirt-covered selves as we kicked and flicked the mud pies into the sky. Leave it to my grandmother to turn a routine walk home into a 20-minute mini adventure.
That was about twenty years ago. Then, just last year, when I told my grandmother I was going to Africa, she decidedly declared that she was against the idea. She was worried about my safety and my future, and WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD I WANT TO GO TO AFRICA?
I told her I would be okay, it would be good for me, and it was something I just felt I needed and wanted to do.
After some prodding, and when she saw there was no changing my mind, she finally gave me her hesitant blessing.
“Remember: You can come home ANYTIME – RIGHT AWAY,” she said as we hugged goodbye this past January. “If you don’t like it, you leave right away.”
G-ma also said something else to me the day I left.
“You know, Ricci, I thought of that muddy walk across that cornfield the other day,” she told me. “I don’t know why, it just popped into my head. We sure did have fun, didn’t we?”
“Definitely,” I answered.
What I didn’t tell her is that I had thought of that cornfield day just before I left for Africa, too. I had thought about how it was days like that cornfield day that made me want to go to Africa. And days like that that made me know I could.
By ignoring that normal paved road and venturing out into the knee-high corn stalks, my grandma had shown me a different way to go. She had shown me there were always different ways to go. Maybe by the time you got through those different ways, you’d be a lot more muddy and have a lot more dirt on your shoes, but you’d also have had a lot more fun. And those shoes would have a lot more character.
She taught me I can do anything I put my mind to, and to forget anyone who thinks I’m not doing things the “right way,” because I can do things my way and still end up on top — and happy.
And in my mind, my grandma is always by my side, kicking our feet and laughing about the mud on our shoes.
There’s a line in a Mokobe song that goes,
“Jus de Gingembre: Ca c’est un cadeau.” Roughly translated—no, not roughly, exactly translated—that means: “Ginger Juice—That there’s a gift.”
Now, besides the fact that Naomi told me I pronounce this line with a “not-so-bad” Ivorian accent, which kind of sounds like.. ummm:
“Joo da Sh-ahn-shah-mmbra… Zah say Uh Kat-oh”
Besides that fact, which makes me proud for no apparent reason, I completely love this line. Because I can pronounce it the way the singer does, and because it is 120 % true. And the nice folks at the Dakar airport agree with me.
Wanna know how I know they agree with me?
First, let me begin by extolling the virtues of Ginger Juice. See, when the singer says that the juice is a gift, he means that it is a gift from GOD.
Ginger juice is a yellow/orange liquid that stings your entire mouth upon entrance. Even when ice cold (and it’s best ice cold), it’s hot. This is not a passive drink. It makes its presence known immediately. It invades your tongue, inside cheeks and lips with a spicy ness best described as a hive of delicious and benign baby bees having a jolly good time.
That might not sound like your idea of the perfect drink, but my theory on food is usually the more it hurts, the better it is.
If made to perfection, the juice maker adds some pineapple juice as well. That is if it is made to perfection. A big if. Not only have I never been able to find ginger juice outside of West Africa, it’s also hard to find the best juice in the region. But of course Mama makes a fabulous version. And she knows how much I love it.
So before I left Dakar yesterday for Chicago, she gave me a twenty ounce bottle of the liquid goodness. But after some confusion with cabs, I found myself rushing to the airport, and I didn’t have a spare second to consume it until I was at the ‘security’ check-in at Dakar airport.
I threw my bags up on the belt, and then looked at the guard. I still had my 20 ounces of happiness in my hand. I was pretty sure the liquid rules were TECHNICALLY recognized in Dakar’s airport, but this was my last time for Ginger juice in a while, and I was going to fight for it.
I held up the bottle to the guard, smiled, and said..
“I’m going to the U.S.. you can’t get this stuff over there!”
He didn’t even blink—just kept smiling, nodded, and waved me through.
As if to say..
“Jus de gingembre. Ca c’est un cadeau.”
No electricity? No worries. There’s always taxi headlights.
Ninety percent of the time Dakar makes me happy. A lot of people, people who don’t like it here, have asked me why I like it here.
There’s people everywhere—in the streets, on the sidewalks, sitting under trees, walking in between the cars in the road.
They’re hawking phone credit and wooden African animal figures and Scrabble games and coffee and chewing gum and mangoes and Café Touba and bananas and bath towels and peanuts.
They ask you to buy something. You say no, but they don’t give up. They never give up. The vendors follow you for three blocks and tell you they have a good price and you need this and that and it’s quality. It’s quality.
This is one reason people do not like Dakar. The vendors here do not leave you alone. They never you leave alone. They do not give up. They never give up. After they’ve heard ‘no’ six times they ask you a seventh. It’s annoying—drive-you-crazy, make-you-want-to-scream-at-someone annoying.
These vendors stand on hot, sandy street corners all day. During Ramadan these street vendors stand on hot, sandy street corners all day without water and food.
They sweat. They get yelled at and abused. They get ignored. I can’t imagine spending 80 percent of my life being ignored (okay, I’m a freelancer, I can imagine—I think 80 percent of my emails are ignored…Editors… bah.)
After the heat and thirst and hunger and sand and heat and boredom. They maybe sell a few dollars worth of goods a day.
Then they get up the next morning and go out and do the same thing.
That takes strength to get up and go out in the heat.
That takes stamina to repeat the same phrase to people who will just ignore you.
And to believe that you will sell something that day, after so many days of selling so little. They don’t give up. That takes faith.
That’s why I love Dakar. If I had to pick one word to describe Dakar, it would be faith. I’m not talking about the blatant religious faith that is so pervasive with the mosques and the korans and the prayer mats. That’s the macro faith in, and it’s easier when compared to the harder, minute-to-minute belief that tomorrow will be better than yesterday.
The vendors’ faith is just one example of that mentality, and there are so many more examples. So many different examples, if you stop and look around. But you have to stop. And you have to look for the amazing examples of faith. You have to stop. And you have to look to find the smaller, beautiful, less-obvious examples of faith.
And that faith has a soundtrack. There’s goats bleeting and mosques praying and music blaring and cars honking and cell phones ringing and children laughing and men discussing and women gossiping and rain pounding. It’s alive.
And that faith has a symbol. Because when you stop and look at all of Dakar’s persistent vendors and pesky beggars and chanting imams and singing children, there’s something you’ll see almost every time.
PS: Still taking editing votes for Monday’s post…. let me know what you think…merci.
It’s rainy season. This means flash floods that appear out of nowhere and swallow corners and swaths of streets (yet somehow those clunky taxis still manage to get through).
The other night I went to grab a taxi, and a torrential downpour snuck up from behind. The word “Rain” has nothing to do with what nature decided to do on that street corner. I bolted into a boutique and watched the winds throw cardboard boxes and pieces of plastic roofs into the road. A road that was disappearing. The streets here in Dakar do not drain. It’s a fact. The city planners here must have put high bets that the people would all be great swimmers. After five minutes, the water was knee deep. I hitched up my pants and ran to my friend’s house that I had just left six minutes before to retreat from the storm.
I waded through the water and tried to not focus on what was in the brown deluge. I need to buy an umbrella. And rubber boots. And a canoe.
Another night, and another storm, two days ago, and the sky was a pretty orange just after the rain.
ps: if you haven’t voted on Monday’s photos, please do. Thanks. I’m gonna tally them at the end of the week.
I photographed another wedding this weekend, and of course it was a grand time. I’ll post some photos from the wedding eventually, but for now I wanted to ask your advice.
Before Saturday’s festivities started, there was some relative downtime, so I decided to get some portraits. There was this one woman, I need to get her name from the groom if possible, because she was awesome.
My problem? I’m not a good editor of photos. It’s a fact. Someday, when I’m applying for a photo editing job at some no-doubt prestigious newspaper/magazine after my freelance career has skyrocketed me to wonderful heights, but you know, I’ve had my fill of globe trotting, and I think I’d like a nice cushy, steady gig.. of course one with great responsibility, but also one where I can count on a steady paycheck and where I know I’ll get home in time to see my wonderfully behaved and prodigious children….when that day comes, and I apply for that job, this blog post will no doubt come back to haunt me.
But that’s tomorrow, and I’m talking today here people. And today, I have these photos of this amazingly beautiful woman, and if I had to chose one, well I know which one I’d chose, but it would be a tough decision.
So I was wondering if you could let me know your favorite? Or if you like any of them? Hey, if none of them tickles your fancy, feel free to tell me. Just leave a comment with the number that you like (see below)
Of course this is all assuming people besides my Mom are reading this…hi Mom!!
Today is the fourth day of Ramadan. This morning I woke up at sunrise, and went out to the balcony. Pretty scene, so I decided to take photos. Then I noticed the building’s guard was outside saying his morning prayer and facing east toward Mecca.
And yes, I can refer to religious practices as thingys if I want to.
Here’s a play-by-play of my day:
05:00: Woke up at five to eat something before the sun came up, but the boutiques were closed. Another Senegalese inside fact that I’m not in on. I can hear the prayers from the mosque. I go out on the balcony and enjoy the cool air that is so rare these days in Dakar.
Then I pray. If I’m going to try this Ramadan thing, I might as well talk to God, too.
Then I go back inside and go to sleep. I don’t wake back up until 8. I had my alarm set for 7 so I could on a morning run, but I figure without any food in my system, and since I won’t be able to put in any back in, I think I’m gonna skip my run.
08:00: Wake up. I’m hungry. NO usual bread and chocolate breakfast. Stomach is talking to me. Ignore stomach. This is kind of hard. Usually when I’m hungry, I eat something.
09:37: I drink a glass of water. Technically, not supposed to drink water, either. But I already knew that wasn’t going to work. Maybe the second day I try fasting I will hold off the water.
10:53: I’m hungry. But it’s not crippling. Still just working… But my teeth hurt. What’s that all about? Are they lonely?
11:39: Second glass of water. I know it’s cheating. I guess the good thing about this fasting thing is that when you grow up all your life knowing you can just eat something if you’re hungry, it’s good to realize (if only for a day) what it feels like not to be able to go grab a bite when you’re hungry
12:00: Took a walk. Hot…laid down to take a nap.
13:06: yup. Still hungry. I figured the hunger pains would go away, they usually do.
14:00: More hunger pains. I want a piece of bread.
15:35: Hunger pains have gone away. Now it’s mostly in my head. Food… yum… Hard to get work done. Can’t really concentrate.
16:00: Talking to colleague. Helps keep mind off hungriness. I forget I’m hungry for nearly 20 minutes. Big success.
17:00: leave office to go home. While getting taxi, we walk by bakery. Smells Goooooood. So goooood. No worries. Just a couple more hours. Get Taxi. Starts to rain. Taxi front windows cannot go up. We are getting rained on, and I have two cameras, a bag full of clothes and a computer. Water hitting us…Streets flooding. All of a sudden cab driver stops, pulls into station. Water is at least ankle deep here. Cab driver explains there is problem with gas line, and he has to get under the car to fix it. WATER IS AT LEAST ANKLE DEEP. He enlists three young kids to help him push the taxi to the side of the road. They push it up on a curb. It is pouring. Water is at least shin deep. Driver pulls out garbage bag to lay on the ground and tells us this will only take 10 minutes. We do not believe him. If a Senegalese taxi driver admits outright it will take 10 minutes, you’re guaranteed at least a 30 minute wait. We give him a third of the cab fare, hop out and SWIM to find another taxi. IT IS POURING. I AM HUNGRY. I HAVE A LOT OF EXPENSIVE EQUIPMENT IN MY ARMS, ON MY BACK. Did I mention, I AM HUNGRY.
Find taxi. Get home.
17:30: Go to get supplies for making brownies tonight. Torture to buy dark chocolate. I consider grabbing some crackers and calling it a day. Then I convince myself that no, Ricci, that is your problem in life. You start out and can’t finish a damn thing. Damn ADD culture. Follow through.
18:00: I think I can stop at 6. Call my Muslim friend to see when I can stop. He tells me that depends on what the mosque says that day. I ask how I can find out. He says he thinks it’s 19:30 that day when I can stop. I’ll be able to hear the prayers come on .. “Oru NDogo” is the Wolof phrase that means it’s time to eat. I ask if 18:00 is good enough. He explains that it’s the intention of doing it, and the following through that are important. Hmmm…..I decide that I had INTENDED to stop at 18:30
18:20: I go outside to the balcony for the last ten minutes. My head is quiet for once. I go sit, and I hear the rain pounding on the cracked pavement, a roomate is playing Senegalese gospel music, people are yelling Wolof below. There’s a drum that seems to be beating along with the gospel music, and a cat. Somewhere a cat is crying.
18:30: I can feel that serene calm that only sneaks up on me when I do not expect it. That serene calm that I love so much, but still haven’t figured out how to harness when I need it. It’s that “Everything is going to be ok. Everything is ALREADY ok… this world is actually a pretty great place, and geez, I kind of like it here, and I’m alive and …wow.. life is pretty good.” It makes me feel light. Basically, it’s what I’ve always thought of as God. For me, it’s when I can actually feel what I consider God, and when you feel that, you don’t even feel compelled to talk—ask for forgiveness or give thanks—it’s just cool to sit there and chill with whatever that is.
18:45: I sit down to eat some chips and guacamole. I’m almost sad to eat.