When in Rome... or Senegal, dance as the Senegalese do?

We finally got to go out and enjoy the nightlife of a Saturday night. Wow. I most certainly did not bring the right clothes, heels, makeup, nor flare to match the women of Senegal. They're GORGEOUS, dramatic, aloof, and fascinating! The moment I feel as though they might be judging me through their observations of this wacky white woman who gyrates her hips and attempts to dance like the locals, I smile at them in unification and they reply with a shared flash of white, and at times join me for a dance.


Markus, Christopher, and I joined Michael and Delphine (the world-wide surfing couple) and several people from the Island-based surf camp. Germany, Holland, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and the USA (I was the only US rep) were represented in two cabs full of adventurers. After wading through the highest tides we'd ever experienced while on the island, we piled in and headed for "Just 4 U", a live music venue designed for the posh dinner crowd. Mammadou, one of the drivers who'd taken us to the Bird Sanctuary, introduced us to Omar Pene through the treble-heavy sound of his mobile, dancing in his seat with the occasional "Hmm!" and "Uh!" thrown in as his satisfactory expletives. It was so exciting to learn that we were going to enjoy Senegal's prided musician LIVE! 


After arriving and arguing with the cabbie about the post-ride inflated price (we seriously argued over 500CFA=$1), we found the others at a large table, the opening band already in session, a large room limited in attendees, and no space for dancing. We ordered beers and whiskey and as I recognized my seating arrangement next to Cole, the often drunk Australian who works for an international wine company that makes "Shit Wine", I knew I'd have to fiercely pace myself. I had the opportunity to bond and chat with Serena, the South African who works for the surf camp, who is also surrounded by men, their dirty habits and jokes, and welcomes any chance to connect with other women. The group was such an eclectic and jovial blend that by the time Omar finally began playing, the room was full of fans! Every table was full and monitors showcasing all of the musicians (there were 9!) were placed at the bar and around the restaurant where visibility of the stage was limited. The music was AMAZING! The lead rhythm was a Kora, a 12-string, gourd-like instrument with a sound somewhere between that of a harp and a sitar. Omar's voice had us entranced, wanting to savor, dance, and celebrate such a welcomed piece of local culture. One man got up to dance right in front of the stage, facing the crowd, gyrating hips, throwing arms, kicking legs, and moving to the beats set in motion by the pitch of the hand drums. He was such a showboater that when he sat down, I pointed at him to acknowledge his proximity. As he saw me point, I moved in a dance motion much like his (I'd had whiskey by this time) and he grabbed my hand to lead me to the front of the stage. I looked back to my table filled with surprise, glee, and curiosity. My mind raced and my body entered a zone completely moved by the beat of the same drum. The man had challenged me to a dance-off in front of hundreds of local, rhythm-cultured, Africans! Shit. I knew this was my chance to represent every Wolof (the native language of this region) declaration of my status, "Toubob" ("White Person" or "Foreigner"). I was going to dance for my table, myself, and for the story I get to now tell. The "Sai Sai" ("Womanizer" in Wolof) was up first and moved in unison to the beat of the drum, welcoming the room to cheer him in his movements as the hometown hero. He threw his arms and moved similar in style to what we'd observed before, but this time it was personal. He dramatically finished the beat and motioned to the space that I move in to it for my turn… I don't know where I went, but I was on a different plane in space… I felt the music and anticipated every rat-a-tat-tat… I moved aggressively, confidently, and without any thought of my station, skin color, nor culture of origin. I felt amazing. I finished with the throwing of my booty toward the crowd (Back in Seattle, I'd been told twice in one week that I had an "African booty" and finally had the chance to use it to my advantage!) and received cheers and nods from the band. Sai Sai moved me over to heighten the challenge with leaps and more kicks and I followed it up with replicated movements with a honey coating of my feminine flare. The crowd roared and an exasperated challenger escorted me back to my chair as though I had won one of the most important challenges of my life. My table clapped, jaws gapping, shaking my hand, giving me high fives… tables around me nodded in satisfaction and women seemed to wonder why I wasn't more reserved. My table declared me as their hero and after a few more beers, they joined in and danced at their seats. I thought of all of the times I'd been invited to dance at weddings I photographed with Cheri and the silliness I brought to the dance floor… All of that practice was all for this moment. 


A couple Peace Corps volunteers from an earlier dinner on the island, joined our table and the majority of the crew left anticipating huge swells and epic surfing the next morning. Cole, Markus, Christopher, the Peace Corps folks, and I remained ready to see where the night took us. We literally piled into a cab and headed to The Patio, a dance club. The place was packed at 2am!! Familiar songs and beats with foreign flare and vocals filled the space already overtaken by humidity. There seemed to be 4 men to every woman and as I danced I received invitations to join several willing partners. I danced with one to replicate his moves and then left him to look for friends. To escape the sweltering heat, we flowed into the expansive patio where a large bar continued to serve beer well into the morning and where prostitutes target wealthy Europeans including the men in my party. They're well-dressed, well-spoken, manicured, attentive, and all over the place. It was amazing to observe. A drunk Senegalese man kept begging for beers and finally got kicked out by the well-dressed door handlers. At around 5am we decided to exit and find ourselves in a world of cab mayhem. We headed toward the late night eats and ordered burgers and pizza… some of the most disgusting food I've ever had. We piled into a cab and before we knew it, we were waking up at La Plage de Ngor in the backseat. I have no idea how long we'd been there or how we managed to get a pirogue so early in the morning back to the island, but we were all in bed by 6:30am. Although it took sleeping until 11am, a solid multi-hour nap, and a lazy Sunday to recover, I was thrilled to have that experience before I left this place in a week and a half. It's now go-time for the rowers and their documentarians…