“You will feel the the wave of heat when you exit the plane. Ahh and also the smell” my friend’s eyes glaze over with a pleasurable wholeness “when someone goes and comes back and they open the suitcase you can still smell it, all their clothes smell like Senegal”. I smile and bite into my burger. “just make sure if you eat meat that its properly properly cooked all the way through” “definitely”. This is my last social and also last good advice before leaving for a month to Senegal.
I arrive midday in Dakar, and as I exit the air-conditioned zone of the airplane I feel enveloped by soft, warm, humid air. No visa is required and the boarder officer does not ask me my return date, just where I’m staying and laughs at my poor pronunciation. Then captures fingerprints electronically, snaps a photo and stamps my passport. All luggage is scanned by a customs officer before exit and then I’m out!
The smell. It smells of sunlight on stones, light incense, salt water, moto exhaust, flowers and spice. Its faint but ever present, the same way a house smells like the people who live there, and I get the pleasure my friend showed me describing it.
After checking in at the hostel I get a taxi for the centre, he drops me off at the wrong place, but at this point I am too starving to think. I go into the first place I see and order a grilled dourada and a coke, then ask for directions to the french institute so I can figure out language classes. The woman is either not sure where it is or what I need, hard to know since I only understand a few sentences. She doesn’t give up though, but tells her colleague she will go out and then finds a guy to whom she explains what I want, possibly, he doesn’t seem to understand either, so calls on a third person, who says he will show me the way, and then actually walks me 15 minutes to the place. Hospitality factor confirmed!
On my second day am already ready to crawl out of my skin, am alone and in serious doubt about the whole project, craving a full fledged hour long, bouncy conversation with someone. Why did I want to do this solo explorer thing in the first place? When does it get awesome? Gah! Another Afro-European friend comes to the rescue:
“Take your time. Slow down. Coming from London you still have that hectic rhythm. This is Senegal baby, pasito a pasito. You don’t need to talk to anybody…Eat something new, build up your confidence and then try your French”
By the mentioning of London I feel a manic impatience rising like a drumroll in my body, I inhale deeply and… let it go. I’ll come back to that soon enough.