The room is on the second floor and looks east onto the street and the house guards below. They sit under the shade of the Acacia tree if it is hot, on the opposite side in the sun if it is cool. Seventy degrees is an occasion for sweaters and jackets. Eighty is comfortable. When Jean leaves after the day shift he returns to a home down the street. He is lucky to have his own place. The young guard down the street moved here from Guinea with no family; he sleeps under the stairs of the apartment nearby. We miss seeing Konate during the day; his sister in Paris sends him money so that he can attend nursing school during the day. He watches the building at night, though I am not sure when he sees his family. His eyes are kind. His brother sells Djembes nearby. On the street the wind howls and carries sand along the paved street. When I come in from a walk outdoors I shake the sahara from my hair; I dump sand like an hourglass from my shoes.
My shoes. They are forever changed. Stained by the deep orange earth, corroded by the leak of sewage, by the terrain of ridges and bottles--a city deconstructed.
Maggie and I spend much of our day in this room looking east. When she hears hoof prints on pavement she runs to the window to look out. The walls separating inside from outside in Senegal are mere facades. There is no real separation. Each day the Sahara blows beneath the porch door. I sweep and it clings to my nose, coats my mouth. Ants are tenacious, cockroaches plentiful. THere is always a mosquito lurking. This is their earth as much as ours.
I have become a mosquito hunter. The pacsifist who cried when her father killed a fly, who prefers to slip spiders quietly outdoors rather than squash them--here I have learned the mosquito's habits like an assasin planning its kill. I can spot and distinguish them by their lazy trajectoires. My hands are lightening quick. I swipe at them with open fist and smother them in my hand. I feel like the protector of my family when I do this--each mosquito has the potential to harm my daughter or my unborn child. What would I not do to protect them?
I know before the sun rise that day will begin. The first call to prayer happens before dawn; the last at dusk. On Saturday the local Marabout sets up a temporary roof and hundreds gather for chanting that lasts through the night. Prayer has entered Maggie's vocabulary. She sees many, including her friend Mamadou at the fruit stand, roll out their mats and kneel to pray. Our days are full of a million questions as Maggie takes the world in. It is all new to her, Africa or California or France. She wants to know what and why. Often if I do not have an answer she says "maybe daddy knows." Or she comes up with her own, "Maybe he's praying."
For nearly all of our six months in Dakar the power has gone out across the city for large portions of the day. This happened nearly every other day until about two weeks ago when the power problem was mysteriously fixed. After two years of terrible power outages, the power hasn't gone out at our house in Mermoz for several weeks. On our trip home from Senegal in December for the holidays we were sitting in the airplane when the lights went out to prepare for takeoff. Maggie said very matter of factly, "the power went out," as if this was just a part of daily life. We laughed.
Our world has changed. Maggie's body and mind will grow around these experiences; heart and muscle and tissue flexible from this time when a conversation might pass quickly from French to Wolof to English.
I am thankful, but I am happy to leave. I feel exhausted as we pack to leave for France. I do not want to live out of suitcases any more. I am torn by the desire to be unencumbered by things, and the desire to surround myself with familiar things.
We load our suitcases into the taxi that night. Our flight is not until 10:30 pm. Slowly they gather. So many friends come to see us off. They help Jon with suitcases. I wonder if they know each other: Konate and Jean the guards, Mokhtar, Mamadou the guard who lives down the street and Mamadou who sells fruit. They are genuine and warm and kind. We shake hands and they stand and wave as the taxi takes off down the street. As we drive to the airport the sun is concentrated on the horizon. It is cool and the air smells like the sea.