Sunday, July 24, 2016

Vignette of Sunday afternoon at Ngor Island, Dakar, Senegal

 The leaden sky is heavy with salty spray. I decide to take the public boat across to the island, imagining sitting quietly in a beachside café gazing at the sea.

I join the cheerful day-trippers in orange vests crammed in the festive long boat as we bounce across the steely passage. The tiny baby with sparkly earrings looks precarious on her teenage mother’s lap.

I stagger, with soggy pants flapping, from the crowded boat. A solitary afternoon is not possible when you stand out like a swollen sore thumb to the clever boys hustling for a living. Ali spots me first and appoints himself my Guide of the island and quickly leads me through narrow sandy lanes. I’m not panicking. I know he’s only interested in the cash in the bag squashed firmly under my solid upper arm.

Pouring with sweat we reach the top of the cliff and what a surprise, there’s a rickety wooden stall with rows of enticing trinkets. I haggle for bangles from his savvy friend who spins a yarn about the traditional origins of his wares.

I flop on the mosaic bench with a view of “America”. I’m not sure about the accuracy of smooth-talking Ali’s geographical coordinates. I snap him smiling, he snaps me and handing back my shiny iphone demands I pay him now before we get to the mythical café. I negotiate hard that I will only pay after he takes me there.

So now I am perched serenely in the al fresco café watching dark bodies frolic in the waves as boats spill fresh arrivals on to the shore. A disabled vendor approaches with a bundle of goods and I buy some outlandish harem pants and we are both happy and smiling together.

A handsome young man resplendent in Reggae dreadlocks invites me to a party on the island tonight but I politely decline. 
And I wait for the return boat in the drizzle, breathing in smoky barbecued seafood, savouring another eventful day as a conspicuous white tourist in West Africa, gazing at a distant “America”. 

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