Memories Change People Change Memories

by Elizabeth Muir ’17

7 year old host sister speaks Wolof, some French, and no English. Likes to pretend to speak English, spouting a gurgle of consonants and vowels accompanied by theatrical facial expressions and gesticulations. Empty words, but eyebrows and hands that perform meanings. I respond with equal enthusiasm in actual English. We communicate.

First weekend in Dakar, going to Latin night at high-end hotel bar. Me: long pencil skirt, leather fanny pack, dusty sandals. The bar: infinity pool onto the ocean, private palm tree hookah. Obama and the Pope stayed here. The locals: 6 inches taller, strutting spandex mini skirts. Silky men in silky suits. Live music. They played “Mambo Number 5.”

6 young American women in a living room in Dakar watching “Big Fish”. All sobbing.

Visiting House of Slaves at Isle Gorée. Door of No Return: last view of Africa for enslaved thousands. Reading museum plaque, an African man asks me if I’m here with my boyfriend.

Writing a blog post at a well-established abroad experience center. Middle-aged white man sits down, makes a ‘that’s what she said’ joke. Asks if I know any good “primitive villages” to visit in the interior of the country. “You know, with drumming and stuff.” I really can’t help you.

20 minute walk to school every day. Next to the pedestrian bridge, Mom sits on an upturned bucket with her twin daughters. I greet Mom, and the girls toddle forward to hug my leg chanting, “Toubab! Toubab!”

The women at my favorite sandwich stand know my name. Baguette stuffed with beef, onions, fries, ketchup, eggs. Yes Yes Yes!

Reading Ernest Hemingway with my Muslim host brother while American Sniper plays in the background. Laughing with my Muslim host brother because we’re reading Ernest Hemingway while American Sniper plays in the background.

Wolof teacher decides class is over 10 minutes early. He saunters to the door. Cuffed jeans, white button-up shirt, “Thailand” printed on the front of his cowboy-style hat. A wink, a tip of the hat, a “See you on Monday.” TGIF.

I leave school just after dark. The guard has picked a coconut from the tree by the front door and is hacking at it with a machete. He gives me a piece. A taxi driver who’s a friend of my host family is hanging out outside, and offers me a ride home. I recognize the Senegalese song playing on the radio, and we talk a little in Wolof.

Walking home from a political rally at night in Sokone, a town a couple hours south of Dakar in the Sine-Saloum delta region. Sandy side streets. Circles of light from the streetlamps rest on the ground and fade away before the next; I don’t notice the darkness so much. A group of little boys practice their English by giggling over themselves and shouting in our direction.
“I love you!”
“You are a girl! I am a boy!”

On the beach in Sokone, I swim with some of my American classmates, and Senegalese elementary and high school boys. The mangrove trees are bright green and the brackish water carries me easily as I swim. The river has no waves, and the water rises gently with the tide. One of the boys finds a clam buried in the sand underwater beneath our feet. I can’t remember the French verb for “to kick” while trying to teach one of the boys how to swim. (His village is inland from the Delta. This is his first time swimming). Before we leave the boys teach us a game. You draw lines in the sand and each player gets three rocks. It’s a more advanced form of Tic-Tac-Toe.

Watching “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” with my host sister before bed. We discuss. Kim is eating a lot all the time because she’s pregnant and eating for two people. What about her lips? Injections. You Americans (you white people) have small lips. Like fish. I pucker my lips and suck in my cheeks.