Friday, September 24, 2010

September 24th - Dance Recital; Lunch with Abdou

Chadit and her dance troupe (Chadit in the center)
Idy's daughter and Chadit's son at the recital
Closeup of the beads and fabric
On our last night together as a group, we danced in the courtyard of the Centre Culturel Blaise Senghor to a small audience consisting of Idy and his family, Malaal, Ibou, our dance teacher Chadit, the drummers who provided live percussion for us at every dance class, and members of the dance troupe that Chadit works with professionally.  She outfitted us in traditional dresses and jewelry from her own collection; I wore a blue dress with bright stripes, a matching headdress, and two thick coils of multicolored beads that crossed my body from the shoulder to the waist, forming an X.  We danced in the open air in our bare feet, performing the dance that Chadit had taught us, and when the dance was finished we did it a second time - Idy and the others joining us at the end and forming a circle.  We took turns dancing in the center, showing off our best moves.  Later, at the house, Idy praised our performance in his understated way.  "That was good," he said, a small curl of a smile on his face as he watched the scene replayed on a hand-held video camera that K had brought with her.  Abdou stopped by the house; he had planned on attending the performance but had been called away by business.  Idy showed him the video and they watched together.

My roommates left for Poland that night, and I was once again alone in the room.  It felt strange, and I had trouble sleeping.  The next day I packed my bags and waited for Abdou; we had lunch plans.  He drove me out to his house, in a neighborhood where government officials lived.  After spending two weeks in the rented house, it was strange to see such relative opulence; his was easily the largest and most ornate house I'd seen.  He introduced me to his wife, son, daughter, and grandson.  Abdou has four grown children, and two grandsons; about half of them live in the house with him.  He kept his earbud on at all times; it seemed Abdou was always on the clock.  He took a call while giving me a tour of the house, and wore the apparatus while we ate lunch.  I misunderstood something that he said - he asked if I wanted to eat at the dining room table, or with "les gens."  I understood this to mean "with the people."  I wasn't quite sure what Abdou meant by this, and said that the dining room table was fine.  Apart from the time I went to dinner with my cousin's friend Ndeye, it was the only meal in Senegal that I'd eaten at a table with silverware.
Abdou's house

We discussed the Alliance Française, where Abdou had taught first my husband, and then me.  He asked what my fellow classmates were up to: Kim is now married and has two young sons; Caroline is in graduate school; Carla is studying to become a medical coder.  I mentioned my current teacher, Tim, who is American but speaks French like a native.  I said that Tim was learning Swedish, to which Abdou replied: "really, maybe he wants to marry a Swedish woman."  I almost choked.  Tim shows up to class wearing Hermès shirts, frequently breaks into song during class (he heavily favors Céline Dion), and openly discusses his personal life with his students.  To even the most casual observer it is clear that Tim does not want to marry any woman, Swedish or otherwise.  I marveled - if that's the right word, at Abdou's absolute cultural blindness to what for me is a very obvious fact.  Homosexuality is essentially not recognized in Senegal, and Abdou was unable to pick up on the fact that he had a gay colleague at the Alliance Française.

Abdou's grandson
I had noticed that in the absence of any outwardly visible signs of gayness, men were much more affectionate with each other in Dakar than in Chicago.  At the house one evening, over the course of a late night conversation, Malaal and Mustafah were both reclining on the mattress in the living room that Idy and his family used as their bed.  They lay on their sides, propped on on one elbow, so close to each other that they were practically spooning.  "Um... yeah, maybe he does want to marry a Swedish woman," I finally replied, not wanting to blow Abdou's mind.

In Abdou's courtyard - note that he is on the phone
Later he showed me the second floor of the house, where his family was eating, African style, on the floor; I now understood what Abdou meant by eating with "les gens."  "I didn't mean that I didn't want to have lunch with your family," I said, and suddenly felt very stupid.  I recalled a moment a few years earlier when Abdou had come to my house and made mafé, a stew made with peanuts.  He'd been fascinated by the fact that we kept animals inside our home.  I'd seen plenty of cats and dogs in Dakar, but none of them were pets.  They ate garbage, humped each other in the streets, and were treated as vermin.  More than once I'd secretly invited a cat to come closer, and Malaal would wave his cane at the animal and hiss.  Animals were only kept if they were useful - like the goats that Malaal and Chadit kept in a pen behind their home.  In my home, Abdou had asked about the decorations (of the antique banjo mounted on the living room wall he'd said: "that's an African instrument"), but he seemed most fascinated by our cats.  He asked what they were named, what they did, what they ate.  He told us about an uncle of his who lived alone and kept a dog, as if this were the strangest thing a man could do.  I thought he'd asked everything he possibly could when a look of deep concentration came over his face.  "Where do they go to the bathroom?" he asked me in French.  "Um, in a... a box, in a closet" I replied, and, not knowing the exact French words for it (we'd never studied this in class) said, "there's.... sand that they do their needs in.  Afterward... we throw it away."  "And it's in the house?"  Abdou asked.  "Yes," I replied.  Abdou's curiosity was not satisfied until I showed him the litter box.

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