‘Of course there’s a goat in the garden’

Ganeche and Malik race each other to catch a crocodile toy, both on all fours, whilst Berengere and I chat about my upcoming trip to Casamance over a drink – We’ve discovered her drinks cabinet, and it’s rather wonderful. Of course it is – she’s half-French after all.

Malik is very much a post-modern child: at ten months of age, he loves taking selfies in addition to playing with Ganeche, crawling, walking, talking, and spending time with his parents.

He is no longer terrified of me – even though his mother is white, and he himself is mixed, I am ‘the most white’ man he has ever seen. I am indeed especially pale, even by British standards. I guess it’s my northern roots.

Issa gets back late, but not so late for me to discover the local wine shop. Not to mention the dibiterie. I’ve eaten dibiterie before, about five years ago. Basically, a large animal (normally a lamb or goat) is hung from the roof of a hut, in the heat. The animal is often coated in flies and other insects. When one orders from the dibiterie, several chunks of meat are cut from the animal, doused in salt, onion and spices, and cooked – gristle and all, in a pan at an extremely high temperature and until they’re extremely burnt. It’s then served in paper or tin foil with mayo and spicy sauce. It’s extremely delicious, and (according to my sister whose friend visited South America and ate their equivalent of dibi), occasionally deadly. I tell Issa this, but joke that it’s a pretty tasty way to die.

It’s around midnight. Issa is tired from his day’s work. Berengere and I share the bottle of French white I found in the shop. I’m no longer enthused by the cartons of red wine on display that we drunk here ten years ago: They’re cheap, matters of pence for a litre. They certainly get you drunk. They’re also disgusting – they take the scum from the bottom of the manufacturing process from making proper wine, send it to Africa as powder, where its then mixed with water in cartons to create ‘wine’. Sharing the bottle with Berengere over the dibi meal seems much more civilised.

After the meal, my French and her English flow considerably more competently – speaking foreign languages is almost always improved by wine. I was not taught this in GCSE French. After much discussion, it is time for bed at around 2am. I’m woken from my sleep by the call to prayer at 5.30am. I fall back to sleep. I am woken by Malik crying at 7.30am. I fall back to sleep. At 10am, I emerge from my bedroom – drenched in sweat from the wine and the humidity: It is 32 celsius and 66% humidity. According to the weather report, this means it ‘feels like’ 39 celsius. I shower, dry myself, then recommence my process of sweating. I eat breakfast: bread, coffee, a litre of sprite, and play with Malik.

I call my mother. I recount all the excitement of the trip so far. Part-way through the conversation she stops me:

Mum: ‘Can I hear a goat?’

I: ‘Yeah, why’s that interesting?’

Mum and sister: ‘Well, you don’t normally keep a goat in the back garden do you?’

I: ‘It’s the next-door-neighbour’s’ (This is true, but sharing this fact in no way clarifies matters or answers their question).

I: ‘It’s eleven years since I first came to Senegal, mum. It’s normal here. What’s normal here is no longer strange to me’.

After the phone call I smile. This holiday is enjoyable precisely because it does not feel like a holiday at all, but more like a week at a mate’s house. It’s easier to relax that on a normal holiday: I feel no pressure to ‘see’ everything – I’ve seen much of Senegal before. It’s nice just spending time at home, chatting to Issa’s wife, playing with Ganeche and Malik, and shadowing Issa at his work. It’s like a parallel universe to my own home, cat, and housemate. It is a real privilege for me that people continue to so openly, honestly, and kindly share their lives with me.

I said in my last post that my next would be more about the talibĂ© centre. It’s coming, I promise.

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