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Drivel From Doc


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I've been posting this drivel on Facebook, but some folks suggested I might post it here, as well. Mind you, it isn't what I'm working toward. What I'm aiming at is "Pure" drivel. Haven't gotten there yet.


Anyhow, here's the first installment:


Friday, 9 January


Dakar doesn't disappoint. It's the same shithole I remember. They built a new airport a few years ago which hold the chaos, dirt, connivers, pickpockets, touts, hustlers, and rip-off artists back about 50 meters, but it's all still the same. Only more expensive.

Changing money on the street the guy tried to withhold $20 for “his commission”. I had to threaten to call the police before he gave me the full amount. Taxi driver ripped me off. Turns out my Samsung Galaxy phone won't work here.

The sky a sullen brown. The sun can't burn through the Sahara dust brought by the annual harmatan as my sept-place attempts to butt its way south through a clangor of auto horns, lorries spewing black smoke and lumbering busses.

Welcome home.


At least there doesn't seem to be any problem at the Gambian border after the failed coup attempt of December 30. I wouldn't want to be in the rebel's shoes right now.


I'm feeling a bit grim. I hope this mood lifts.


Tuesday, 13 January


A cacaphony. A tintinnabulation of bird song. Malang's compound is a-twitter with birds, large and small. The bush smells of mint and clean dust and the morning rings with women punding rice in wooden mortars, the cries of babies and children's play.


The trip from Dakar to Banjul was long, but interesting. The sept-place driver took a route I hadn't been on before, avoiding the badly potholed eastern road from Kaolack to Karang. We went west, across the islands, and had to take a small ferry at one point. Changed some American bucks at the border. No hassles from the Senegalese. Some of the Gambians were joking, welcoming, but some were grim. The recent troubles – some term it a failed coup attempt, the president of The Gambia called it a terrorist attack – has cast a pall over the area.


The State House, the president's residence, is next to the hospital, and my Gambian family lives two streets away. Ebrima told me they were awakened about 2 AM on the 28th by loud gunfire; small arms and heavy machine guns. Apparently the attackers were led by two Gambians serving in the US Army, plus former Gambian army soldiers. They had at least a truckload of weapons they were going to distribute, hoping the Gambian people would rise to support them. The gunfire continued for about 4 hours and when it was obvious the attempt had failed the ringleaders fled the country back to the US. Word has it they were arrested by the FBI when they returned.

Banjul is in a State of Emergency. There are armed soldiers in full combat gear with new Kalashnikovs and M-16s patrolling the streets. Between the city and Serekunda, some 6 miles, there are six military checkpoints with soldiers examining papers, looking in trunks, peering at faces.

The lovely thing is, that they are Gambians, and when you stick out a hand and greet them in one of the local languages and with a smile. They smile back delightedly. A huge, toothy smile and twinkling eyes under the helmet.

The Denton Bridge has a sandbagged emplacements for heavy machine guns, but interestingly, I saw very little military presence once I got outside the immediate Banjul area.


I spent two nights in Banjul, greeted excitedly by family, neighbors, friends. Lots of hugs “Dawda! Dawda! You are back! You maybe stay this time? How is America? How is your family at home? You are looking fat! That is good! It is very cold there, no?” The pure delight of a lap-full of giggling five-year-olds. Modou Lamin is 13 and tall. Ami is now 10, growing tall and willowy. Still her quiet, observant, self-contained self; but brooking no nonsense from any of the other kids her age in the neighborhood. She will be a leader.


People are worried. Times are hard. Ebola has frightened away the tourists and hotels are slack. The rains came late and the rice crop failed. The UN has declared a food emergency. At the same time – Ah, God bless the basic capitalist law of supply and demand! – the cost of a bag of rice has gone up from D 650 last year to D 1150 this year, while wages have stagnated and work is scarce.


Yesterday, Ebrima and I headed out for Kafountine, my village. No problems at the border and, on the Senegalese side, Selety, my friend, Sgt. Richard Nixon, of the Senegalese Army was delighted to see me. They've paved the road from Diouloulou to Kafountine, so the ride is quicker and smoother. I guess they wanted to make amends after the rebels robbed our bank two years ago, and Ebrima says there is much more gendarme presence in the village. If there is, I didn't see it. The place looks the same, thank goodness.


Awa ran out and threw herself into my arms. We have been together one month in more than 3 years. She looks smiling and slender and lovely and, I am very happy to say, her cooking skills have improved immensely. Today, we went to the market together and she bought a fine barracuda, which she made into the most delicious thiboudienne I've ever had. This is the Sengalese national dish of fish, served on highly seasoned rice with vegetables. It was yummy, and we shared it with Malang, the gardener, Ebrima, Awa's friend, Rohey and her two-year-old boy, Ousman. Also present were Sol, Awa's younger brother, who is a very nice young man and one of his friends.


After lunch, Malang and I went to my land where my house will be. I was amazed. They have done a huge amount of clearing. He has planted gardens of flowers and shrubs, with borders of seashells. There are trees in pots awaiting planting and a grove of various types of banana trees, perhaps 16 in all. “I am going to make you a garden of flowers like none in Kafountine!” Malang declares.


Sunday, 18 January


There's music echoing from the kunlio (naming ceremony) at the neighbor's place. Walking through Kafountine I exchange greetings in French, English, Wollof, Mandinka, Karoninka, Jola, and Fula. The guard Malang hired for my property is from Guinea Bissau and speaks only Balanta and Portuguese, as does his wife and two tiny children. My Portuguese is limited to “obregado” (thank you), so we have to try to communicate in Spanish.

Never a dull moment.

The water from my well is sweet. The guy who dug it three years ago is coming back tomorrow to finish the job. We have to pump out two meters of water and my friend, Dianna Diassy, is bringing a pump to do the job.

There's an inner cylinder of concrete blocks inside the main cylinder of the well. This inner cylinder needs to be undermined, so it can settle lower and tap the water table a bit deeper. The level is adequate now, but if there is a prolonged dry spell the water table may drop and the well could dry. Consequently, we need to dig it deeper. Once that's done, clean sand will be poured in to seal the bottom mud.

Two guys are busy digging out stumps. A hundred bags of concrete were delivered yesterday and today, three truckloads of sand. Tomorrow, a team of guys will start making concrete blocks. This is done on-site, with a mold or two. Thousands of blocks made one-by-one.

The items I had in storage? The roof leaked and much was lost. Mostly clothing and books. A Pendleton blanket I'd had for 40+ years; a fine native-cotton outfit I'd bought in Guinea; my copy of The Art of the Motorcycle, the beautiful coffee-table book from the Guggenheim exhibit.....sadly ruined.

My lovely bookshelves? Well, I now know that Senegalese termites have a taste for walnut.

The take-home point is: don't bring fine things to Africa. Neglect, bad handling, insects, or the climate gets them.

And the motorcycle? Timpa Marong is a bit more rusty for the three years of storage. I installed the new, light, Shorai lithium battery, the new LED headlight bulb, new sprockets and rivetted on a new chain. He needs oil, so I haven't attempted a start yet. And I discovered: no rear brakes! The rear master cylinder is rusted tight, so that will need replacement before I go anywhere. There's some light corrosion on the wheel hubs and every fastener has surface rust. To a fastidious Westerner, it makes me want to completely disassemble the machine, bead-blast everything, powder-coat everything. Even the spoke nipples are rusty!

OK. So you're not insane enough to ride a motorcycle. In Africa.

I respect that.


Awa has spent two whole days washing clothing that was stored, including our riding suits. Before I left the States a man I've met only on Facebook sent me a new riding suit. I guess it doesn't fit him any more and he passed it on to me. It is a mesh Kevlar suit from Motoport and fits as though it was made for me. It is actually the suit I have, for years, wanted to buy myself but just could never justify the expense. And it is expensive! I won't say how much, but those of you who ride are likely familiar with the marque....and the price! I can't thank Bill Walker enough. It was a gift fit for a king....but it fit me.


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Doc, not drivel at all. Thanks for the mental transport to a land where most Americans have forgotten about. At the very least, your prose very much enlightens.


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