‘The music you travel with helps you to create your own internal weather.’ –Teju Cole; Known and Strange Things
I: Confusion Na Quench
It all began with an acute anxiety commonly associated with departures – probably it should be entered in a psychiatry textbook as travel anxiety, if it hasn’t been already. I had also exhibited the foolery of drinking a bottle of Pepsi late the previous night. The combination of the caffeine and the droning of mosquitoes – the annoying buzz on my ears and their bites on my skin – did not let me sleep a wink, from dusk to dawn. As I walked to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport departure tarmac, my anxiety became even more heightened because I had not printed my flight ticket from my email and so I had to seek out somewhere to print it in the airport.
I didn’t find anywhere. Eventually, I just showed my flight schedule to the ticket attendant on my Kindle screen. She didn’t make any qualms about it. She just told me to go weigh and check in my luggage – I only had one small bag – and then come back for my boarding pass. I joined another queue for passport control. The officer in charge had already piqued my interest as he consistently threw me glances before it was my turn. I found him remarkable, as his facial compositions could summarise his identity and the religion he practised. When it was my turn – after checking my passport – he expressed a surprise that I didn’t look like a Nigerian, that I didn’t look my name.
I was in blue jean, blue suede Oxford boot and, light brown and orange cardigan. Of course, I had my cloth cap on, with the visor turned to the back – it has become my trademark accessory since I got it from Akin Adesokan, which a friend teased me about that I was now wearing the thinking cap of the professor– and was probably looking morose behind my oval-shaped glasses. How had that given him the impression I was not a Nigerian, I wondered. And, about my name, probably he was expecting Yoruba traditional markings on my face to account for my Yoruba name, like his àbàjà – four horizontal strokes on each side of his cheeks – or a zebibah on my forehead like his because I have two Muslim names in my passport.
‘So, you are going to Dakar?’
I explained my itinerary to him, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and Invisible Borders partnership. I was going to represent Invisible Borders as a writer at OSIWA’s partners’ forum tagged ‘Portfolio Review – Drug Policy and Harm Reduction Partners Learning Program’.
‘Hmmm. Writer.’ He winked. ‘So, out of everybody, out of probably more than 100 people, it is you that was chosen to go and represent.’
He wanted to make it seem like sheer luck. I quickly disabused him of this notion, and gave more him context. I was part of the Lagos-Maputo road trip which OSIWA was one of the sponsors, and since the other members of the team were currently in Bangladesh for another road trip, I was the next available to go. Even though he then turned to flattery, telling me I was handsome, I wouldn’t let it work on me. I refused to part with any money as a tip to him.
‘Honestly, I don’t have any money on me. I’ve already checked in my luggage.’ Except for my MasterCard, my wallet was stowed away in my bag and nothing significant was in it.
‘So you have a book?’
He sounded incredulous as if truly having a book was to be some kind of a confirmation that I was really a writer.
‘Yes. It’s called Transacting Stories.’
‘Can I get a copy? You have a copy you can give me, right?
As if I was a Santa Claus or mobile bookshop, why would he expect me to be going about with copies of my book like I needed it for a proof, and, seriously why should anyone expect authors to give out their book for free? Okay, okay, I just learned some authors intentionally leave a copy of their book at airport lounge hoping a stranger would pick it and find it interesting.
‘Unfortunately, it’s sold out. It was a limited print edition.’ I told him. The book sold out after a couple of Invisible Borders exhibitions it was featured alongside others in Germany and Mali.
He seemed genuinely interested in reading my book though and said I should look out for him at the airport when I return – so I can share booty of travel with him. I told him have heard. Las, las, since I had nothing to give, I was free to go.
I moved away but my mind was still crowded. My anxiety wouldn’t go away even after I had checked in and had the friendly chat with the immigration officer. I tried to kill time before boarding the plane by pacing about. There was already news of Covid-19 and most of the Chinese travellers at the airport had face masks on. There was a man who wanted me to corroborate his racist remark that it was the Chinese spreading the virus and that they therefore shouldn’t be allowed to travel. Not wanting to let him think I agreed with him, I just shrugged and pretended I didn’t hear him. He pulled out his phone to record the Chinese people in the airport going through immigration checks, and wanted me to feature in the video he was making. I said ‘motherfucker‘ and he laughed; he thought I was referring to the Chinese, rather than to him.
I filtered away the chatter around me with Fela’s ‘Confusion’. Now, this is a great piece of music I would love to recommend to anyone dealing with anxiety, or to travellers to ease their passage at airports or stations. It was my lone playlist for the trip so I just put it on replay. The electric riff for the song build-up is like a massage to soothe the nerves. It’s like playing a note in a vacuum. Your aloneness is magnified. I mean, it gives you that introspective calm and clarity amidst so many noises that may be raging around you or in your head. The sax, the iconic musical instrument of Fela and Afrobeat, is apparent early on and blends rhythmically with the drum climaxing and dropping, teasingly, before it totalled into a Euclidean rhythm. The build-up centres you in the sonic-verse of the song. It’s operatic. Fela’s peculiar Pidgin English lyrics come on much later in his mocking manner defining confusion in an unusual way and circumstances using Lagos and the dilemma of three friends who speak different West African languages – Fela calls it Lagos, Accra and Conakry – who must share some money paid them by a white man as a backdrop. And at the diminuendo of the track as the whole ensemble winds down back to the prelude sequence, a kind of nihilo to anchor one’s existence or anxiety on is fully manifested.
I was glad I had arrived early and had about 30 minutes to kill at the waiting lounge before boarding. I was trying to fill up that time reading Emeka Okereke’s Dream Chamber, one of the chapbooks from the Invisible Border’s 2018 Lagos-Maputo road trip – the others were mine, Transacting Stories: Markets, People and Places, and A Substance of Things Unseen by Kay Ugwuede. But there was a little girl who wouldn’t let me alone.
‘Uncle Lateef!’ She screamed upon seeing me. Her mother also confirmed that I did look exactly like her uncle she mistook me for.
I put away the book and gave her my full attention.
‘Tell me your name.’
‘Oh, Princess. My name is Tope.’
‘Tope.’ She tried it in her mouth but the Igbo intrusion of o inveigh instead of the Yoruba ọ́ was evident.
She reached for my hands and asked me more about what I do and why I was travelling. I filled her in with delight. I was a writer going about places. She poked my chest, coiled about me, removed my glasses and observed me with a look of admiration and curiosity. She seemed assured and confident and I momentarily desired the company of Clemmie, my little goddaughter too. It stirred a deep wish within me to go on a journey with her one day.
Announcement came over the public address that we could now proceed to board. Princess and I said goodbyes to each other and I took her to her mum. The mother thanked me for keeping Princess occupied so she, the mother, may rest a bit. I told her it’s nothing. I was grateful to have the little girl’s company as well.
The plane taxied down the runway and lifted into the air. I tried to allow myself to be lulled by the humming of the aircraft’s engine, so I could sleep. But no. I plugged Fela into my ears again, courting sleep, but it eluded me. So, I came into terms with wakefulness and continued the book I was reading – there was little to see through the window anyway, as I occupied the aisle seat. My plan was to finish it before touchdown in Dakar.
Cabin crew began serving breakfast but I didn’t have any. I wasn’t particularly hungry. The air hostess serving my role gave me a bewildered look when I told her I wanted nothing. She gestured to the juice, wine – as if to be sure I understood her French-inflected English. But shame on my poor appetite really.
We touched down in Abidjan for the connecting flight to Dakar. My goodness. Passing through the place was very exhausting and emotionally humiliating for me. The customs officers were rude and coarse. The officer who searched me was a mean sonofabitch. After depositing my belongings in a plastic on the conveyor belt for a scan and walking through the metal detector and scan myself, I was still bodily searched by hand. This was the humiliating part of it, he practically pressed every inch of my body, except my crotch. His hands were firm, insulting, annoyingly ticklish and indicting as if I carried any substance. After that, he still swiped me with his baton. It couldn’t have been a case of one in a hundred because on my return flight, it was still the same experience. I made a mental note never to willingly pass through the airport again.
When I was presented with two flight tickets to choose from a few days earlier, I chose this flight because the airline wasn’t flying a Boeing like the other that was even a direct flight and more convenient. My selection was a silent protest against Boeing. It was for Pius Adesanmi and other 156 people aboard who died in the Ethiopian Airline crash. I was very angry at the corporate extortion and capitalist greed of the company because it could have been avoided.
I teased my sentiment about the Abidjan airport into a conversation with my new found co-travellers. They also made the same comment. We left the immigration check-in point continuing our conversation in Yoruba, once we knew about one another. I noticed everything was done in French at the airport. I didn’t speak a word of French so I stayed close to these Nigerian co-travellers.
‘These people no even pity us wey no dey speak French.’ I retorted, ‘I mean, someone could easily miss their flight just because of that.’
The bulky one with muscles among the lot quickly derided the haughtiness in my logic, ‘As if na so you sef dey do for Murtala. Don’t you know this is a French-speaking country?’
As if I needed be told, it dawned on me that I was no longer in Lagos; my body had been transported out of Lagos but my mind was yet to leave. I didn’t really feel any sense of dis-location yet that I was in another country. We had cheated time over distance. Except for the clouds and blueness at the far horizon, the face of the river that shivered by the droning of the airplane engine as we descended, the desert, all these had been experienced, yet it hadn’t registered in my head, the change in location.
‘T’óo bá fẹ́ gbọ́ nǹkan tí wọ́n sọ, ìwọ ni wàá san’wó ọmọọ́ gọ̀.’ If I must understand what they say, then I must also be ready to pay for my ignorance.
But it is a deliberate act for me though, refusing to learn French. I have a sentimental resentment for the continued and subtle colonisation of some parts of West Africa by the French and how their language was encouraged against African languages people spoke.
My co-traveller then launched into a story of how he missed a connecting flight in Milan and became stranded, explaining that it took the saving grace of an immigration officer who miraculously granted him a one-year visa in order to book another flight.
‘Well, that was how I got an Italian visa that year,’ he concluded.
Our boarding was announced and we proceeded into the waiting aircraft. This time around I took the middle seat and was later joined by other two passengers: a man and a woman to my right. The white gentleman regarded me, nodded in acknowledgement and then went on minding his business – well, he was in a hurry to sleep off the flight. But the French lady to my right was… well. We took off and I brought out the book I had been reading. She showed interest in the text but I didn’t regard her. Occasionally, she would cast a glance at me but I just didn’t acknowledge her nor her effort to make a conversation. Fela was shrilling in my ears: pafuka na quench, and then confusion na wetin o? Confusion na wah. I was tapping my feet to the rhythm now – the song had become a leaven in my head, obviously giving me an air of arrogance. The woman next to me would literally shove her face in mine, yet I wouldn’t budge. Her curious theatrics only amused me and made me smile inwardly. I was enjoying it. Later, when I asked her to excuse me so I may go to the restroom, the childish moue she conjured up on her face made me chuckle. I was one piece of an arse intentionally – so much for someone who does not have any lady eating his work in the eye of the carton.
When I returned to my seat, she appeared to have given up interest in me. She brought a multi-coloured linen out of her handbag and draped it around her face, covering her hair for a quick nap. At that moment, I found her to be strikingly beautiful in that posture, her pointed nose accentuating her profile.
Anyway, I returned to the book I was reading. There were just a few pages left now to finish it. I quickly did the few pages and tucked it back into my hand luggage. It was also time for the descent into Dakar. But it was no ordinary descent; it was dramatic, as it induced a vertiginous sensation in its seemingly uncontrolled descent. The plane shuddered and its wings trembled as if it were no match for the wind. Some passengers were visibly alarmed. Eventually, it was brought down on the taxiway.
The airport in Dakar was a piece of art. I couldn’t help but marvel at its newness and architecture. The roof at the waiting lounge was transparent to allow enough light seep in to keep travellers awake. From above while we were in the air, it had looked like a space centre program on the edge of the desert. If I said Murtala looked like a big shopping mall in comparison, it might not be entirely fair because Blaise Diagne Airport was completed only two years ago. My friend IE would later give me context about that: that when the Senegalese government were constructing it and had to stop for a time because of funds, the US government made them a deal to provide the funds necessary to complete it, but the former airport, Leopold Sedar Senghor Airport, would be converted to a US military base. And, to me, I am sceptical about such deal for that is how American imperialism is foregrounded, that’s how they gather intelligence of the surrounding countries and interfere in their governance. Or is America now too small a country to contain all its military bases? We have the examples of Middle East and South America for a sense of where that might lead.
I cleared through immigration and was looking for the driver from OSIWA who would pick me up, when the lady who had been sitting next to me on the plane breezed past me. She did not regard me anymore. In retrospect, I kind of regret shutting her out completely. That was not gentlemanly; I didn’t even ask what her name was. That condensed her to a mere face in my memory – a face without a name that I might soon forget.
I found the driver and followed him into his car. We drove out of the airport. His car stereo was tuned to 107.53 FM. Strangely, as if in acknowledgement of my Nigerianness, they were playing Klint da Drunk’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, a cover of Bob McFerrin’s song. I loved how the Nigerian comedian adapted the song into a Nigerian context touching on the existential angst of an average Nigerian. Another song I do not know came on and then ‘Sekem’ by MC Galaxy, another Nigerian popular song. I basked in the euphoria of Nigerian music through our drive to the hotel. These were songs unlikely you would listen to on the radio back in Nigeria because more trendy songs now own the airwaves.
I checked into my hotel room at Novotel. That was in mid noon. I quickly sent messages to loved one and called that I had arrived. By the time I finished doing all that, it was a few minutes shy of six. I courted sleep and soon dissolved into its arms. When I woke in the midnight, I was worried that I had missed my morning schedule until I checked the time and realised it was only around 3am. I couldn’t sleep anymore till daybreak.
Before arriving, I had already checked Achebe’s description of the city when I remembered he travelled there to visit Leopold Sedar Sengor, the then president of Senegal, as an envoy of the Biafra Republic in There Was a Country. He must have been overwhelmed by everything in Dakar when he simply summed up the city as ‘beautiful’, the only tangible description he could manage. It was more like a tongue-tied observation, almost bland, probably due to the context of his travel.
The drive from Novotel to OSIWA’s office at Stele Mermoz, Rue El Hadji Ibrahima Niasse opened up the everyday aesthetics of Dakar. I soon discovered it was much more than just beautiful. As we drove through Avenue Albert Sarraut, past Place de L’Indepence, Route de la Corniche, I saw people getting on with their daily life and it was incredibly affecting just watching them navigate their morning. The right side of the road as we drove were some embassies, and to the left side of the road lay the sea. Like any coastal city, the sea is the motific ensorcellment in Dakar. I was immediately ensorcelled. It had a calming effect on me: the vastness expanded my heart, the morning sun glistening on it, the sight of everyday people making use of recreational facilities on the beachfront. I imagined myself just taking a walk some morning along the shore contemplating the sea. It is a luxury I might not easily get in my own country. It reminded me of what Molara Wood recently called attention to on Twitter: that it’s just impossible to find any accessible beachfront in Lagos without paying for it.
For me, it was also like a drive through the length of the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos sans the frequent and nerve-wracking traffic. One of my colleagues in the bus from Sierra Leone was a little bit impatient when we were stopped by traffic lights for what seemed like a mere five minutes. I only chuckled inwardly for it was indeed a blissful cruise compared to Lagos traffic that Odia Ofeimun called a ‘shaming stasis’ in his preface to Lagos of the Poets that can instantaneously bring out the beast mode in anybody. Femi Kuti wasn’t merely hyperbolising screaming ‘Go-slow can scatter your head, original!’ on his track, ‘Scatta Head’, Lagos traffic is that injurious to mental health.
Just like Cameroon, or most other African countries, they take football really serious in Dakar too, it was apparent. The Liverpool FC sensation, Sadio Mane’s New Balance’ billboards were almost everywhere. I had noticed this through the drive from the airport. I saw not a single poster of their president or any other politician, but Mane’s billboards were everywhere. They were strategically placed along the beachfront too. His story symbolises hope for the common people. Born in Sedhiou, a rural town in Senegal, the story was that he had a desire to play football professionally against his father’s wish after watching the Senegal National Team play in the 2002 World Cup. He made it through the village and then to the outskirt of Dakar where he was eventually scouted by French football agent. He began his professional football career at FC Metz, in French League 2 and onward to Red Bull Salzburg, Southampton, and Liverpool. His is a success story that has been made into iconographic hope they are giving to inspire youths in Dakar, and probably fuelling the grind of football players practising in the open on the beachfront that morning.
III: Day 1 OSIWA
The instruction had been to seek out Haingo Rakotomalala, associate advocacy officer, and present her the chapbooks from the Lagos-Maputo road trip, but she was the one who found me. As I walked into the conference room, she was seated at the entrance, she tilted her head slightly and called out my name, ‘Tope?’ A welcoming smile warmed her face as she spread out her arms for an embrace. I could feel kindness emanating from her. You know this type of people that are effortlessly effusive and give off this special aura around them? It’s always a blessing to be around them. They consume and wrap everyone around them with their benignity.
She introduced herself to the room when we all settled in, and of course, to the purpose of the forum meeting.
‘Over the years, OSIWA has adopted a range of tools and methodologies to assess the effectiveness of its interventions, in order to inform and update its strategies and approaches across various strands of work. The portfolio review is one such tool and is scheduled for presentation around every OSIWA board meeting. A key instrument of the portfolio reviews is the Partners Learning Forum, which brings together partners and experts to review OSIWA’s investments in a strand of work and provide recommendations on how best it could impact the field. This helps the organization understand its role in the field and generate recommendations for enhancing its strategy and approaches.’
We spoke into the mic before us one-by-one, and mentioned the organisation we represented. An agenda for the two-day partnership program was shared. For the day one, we were to make presentations of the work done by the organisations we represented showing the trends and key issues observed, do some group analysis on some questions raised: thinking about how the criminalization of people who use drugs prevent them from accessing services – what gaps do you see in our interventions; in terms of building capacity of drug user groups and other CSOs – what worked and what didn’t work? The session was facilitated by Haingo and her colleagues: Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, Dominic Deme-Der and Fatou Sy, all hospitable and incredible people.
There were some who made their presentation in French but it was interpreted, and when we spoke English, vice versa. Flore was among those who made theirs in French, although she spoke English too. She represented Enda Sante and spoke on a project aimed at building capacities of drug users’ associations in Senegal in terms of leadership, meditation, administrative management, financial management, commutation, etc., and how they also help drug users to start small business in order for them to use the income to be more independent from donors.
The unifying tone in all the presentations so far had been criminalisation of weed and other substances by the African governments. Thus, Adeolu Ogunrombi, my fellow countryman from Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, expended time on the two concepts, de-criminalisation and legalisation. He explained that it would probably take time to actually legalise marijuana but de-criminalisation is most important.
I wasn’t entirely surprised when Sylvestre, another participant representing POS Foundation from Ghana, said the police in Ghana have a concept they call ‘bail yourself’. They arrest people randomly as a way of exploiting them and ask them to bail themselves. It is what is also obtainable in Nigeria. That day I was travelling to Benin City and we were just stopped on the highway at a checkpoint. I was the only suspicious fellow just because of the way I was dressed; they roughly rummaged in my pockets asking me, ‘Where is the weed? Where is it?’ Of course, I had nothing incriminating on me, I don’t even smoke, but I was certain I would have been arrested had it not been for the driver who took me who also happened to be a police officer himself.
I presented a PowerPoint presentation. Being the only artist in the group, representing a creative organisation, I talked about some of our discoveries along the road in Ekok border town and across the border in Cameroon during the Invisible Borders 2018 Lagos-Maputo road trip. Through images and texts from the books we wrote, I illustrated the two sides of a coin in Nigeria: the NDLEA and drug users.
It was well received and piqued the interest of others about Invisible Borders. During our lunch break, Flore was one of the people who came to chat me up to know more about the road trip project and the organisation. I had been eyeing her all day during the presentations. She appeared smallish and immaculately beautiful. She showed interest in my adventure and that I wanted to explore Dakar better the next day. But, again, as my mood would have it, I barely acknowledged her next day. I didn’t even bring up the topic that we were supposed to explore the city together again.
IV: Confusion Na Wah
I woke up early next day. I needed to get some things at the market – I am that traveller who believes he can always get anything he wants on the road. So, I changed money at the hotel’s reception and purposely strayed out to the street that morning. The streets were quiet and stray cats were just waking up too. I paused to observe their feline gait as they stretched and catwalk lazily on the road, the similarity we shared in our purpose at that moment. I continued onward and walked past the French embassy and soon sighted a grocer. I went in and saw the shop owner attending to two women who were elegantly dressed wanting to buy baguette. I brought out a CFA note and pointed to the things I wanted. I demonstrated the ones I couldn’t see on the shelf. He understood my gestures and gave me the items he had. The women were amused – exactly what I wanted. I wanted my foreignness to be known. I wandered around a little more but discovered most of the shops were not opened yet – the time was some minutes past seven. But I needed to get a long sleeve shirt that would complement the white vest I would wear on it. I went back to the hotel to find a taxi to the nearby market. I was immediately surrounded by a mob of drivers. But, unfortunately, they spoke no English; I spoke no French. It was a stalemate, but they were very eager to take me on a ride. Fortunately, there was one man, he was not a driver, who pushed forward that he spoke English. He could speak some smattering of the language enough to convey messages. I told him what I wanted at the market and he told one of the drivers in return. We got into the driver’s cab and headed off to the market. Shops were just getting opened. The roads and market were quiet without the buzz of traffic.
I couldn’t get the kind of shirt I wanted eventually but a turtleneck which suited me well. I imagined the Invisible Borders branded white t-shirt I would wear on it would be perfect. Now that half my curiosity, the real reason I ventured out, had been satisfied, we hurried back to the hotel so I might catch up with my colleagues. I was well behind schedule now. They had been trying to reach me, Sylvestre even knocked on my room to get me ready unknowing I was not even in. I told them to leave me behind if I didn’t join them in the next 10 minutes. I knew it was not going to be possible for me to join them, because I’d had neither my bath, nor my breakfast (not that I was keen on having a breakfast though). I took my bath quickly and rushed down to get a cab.
V: Day 2 OSIWA
It turned out I hadn’t missed much from the day’s program. We had a quick recap and then launched into the agenda for the day which included solving some pertinent questions related to OSIWA.
While we brainstormed on these questions, I got carried away by the images that decorated the walls of the conference room. There are several of them but the one that first clicked with me was of the two women in fencing suits, standing behind an imposing fence rigged with barbed wires. When I asked Haingo about it during tea break, she told me it was the work done by an artist to reach out to women in prison – these women were jailed for dealing drugs. It made sense then, the fencing and the fence. It was the subtle juxtaposition that drew my attention into the images.
My attention was taken off the image by a woman who pulled a chair close to us and said she was going to be observing our conversation for a while if that was okay with us. Of course. She later introduced herself to me as Ciku Kimera, a fellow traveller and writer, and enthused about the work of Emmanuel Iduma. I was elated to meet her when she told me she had visited Nigeria for her book reading. We talked about travel generally and her novel, Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges, which I promised to read if I should get a copy in Lagos. She remarked on the prose style of Iduma that it is extravagant and consuming. She promised to immediately read my chapbook too. I was pleasantly chuffed when she sent me an image that evening via WhatsApp placing our new chapbook series alongside Iduma’s A Stranger’s Pose.
Haingo and Asantewa gave a vote of thanks, appreciating all the participating individuals and organisations. We also individually thanked them in return. Haingo commented on the role of Invisible Borders for changing the narrative on drug use through the mediums of photography and writing and that she’s proud of our work. We then rounded up early and had chitchat with one another during lunch. But I was itching to get away and get lost in someplace in the city. Alone.
I discovered I had more time to kill before my return flight the next afternoon. How much Senegal could I see more within that short frame? How much Dakar could I experience before the end of the day? I wanted to meet the everyday people of Dakar on their own terms and I thought the market would be the natural place to experience that. I’ve always loved market places and gravitated to the space naturally.
I went back to the hotel and drop my things and changed my dress. Time to do some more transactions.
VI: Marché Sandaga
Some of my colleagues also indicated an interest in visiting the market when I told them about my plan. But it was Sylvestre that accompanied me. He wanted to get a kind of muffler for his girlfriend, while I only had one thing in mind: sending a Dakar souvenir to Clemmie, my little dear one. It is her I entrust the sum of all my travels for I owe her loads of love – and just as her name implies in Yoruba, the name I christened her Folake, I want to pet her with much care and wealth. When she comes of age, probably she might decipher the love I still can’t couch in a poem for her in all the souvenirs of my trips, like the stuffed giraffe and fur-covered gorilla toys I got for her in Kigali.
So, we were guided by another colleague from the conference to Marché Sandaga. The same market I visited earlier in the morning. We went on foot as it was close by. I didn’t know that in the morning. That afforded some sightseeing too.
The market was a strange setting and now bursting with throngs of people. First thing I noticed was there were a lot of young and middle age men who had dreadlocks. Having observed them further I noticed they also wore amulets around their neck. So, a large percentage of people must be sufists – mystic Muslims. Then I saw a gathering under a tree by the walkway. Again, they all had locs and wore gowns. They sat in a close circle intoning. There was a man at the middle in white and those seated around him wore blue. There were pages of Quran and Hadith opened before them, some bill notes, bananas and other fruits were strewn at the centre, probably dropped by passers-by as a token. I asked our guide what they were doing, he said they were praying for safety in the market. They were chanting harmoniously in Arabic. It was vigorously loud and mesmerising. We skirted around them. Sylvestre was a bit hesitant before he could pass; he was scared. I thought I had left all that behind when all of a sudden their intonation crescendoed, I was startled, as if some member of the group had been possessed by a spirit. The sonic vehemence with which they prayed trailed me as I walked down the street.
I went into a curio shop and saw a balafon which I think might be interesting for my two-year-old Clemmie. I hadn’t decide whether it was suitable for her, but I bargained anyway just to know the price, so that when I saw another one of smaller size, I could easily get it. We walked around some more and entered into a fabric store, a perfect place to get my mother something. I ended up buying some yards of textile print from the Lebanese store owner and was excited I did. It was those kinds of stuff she liked. But Sylvestre was yet to accomplish his mission. How would a traveller return back to loved ones without bearing gifts? We went about the market and I saw another curio shop. This time, I bought Clemmie two beautiful ankara print gowns and a kora. Well, I just fancied the kora and though it might not really be functional for her yet, at least, the gowns can redeem my lack of perspective on functionality.
Since, I had now got everything I wanted, I was more determined to help Sylvestre out. Miraculously, some colleagues we had left behind at the hotel caught up with us and the shopping became merrier. That meant they could easily help navigating the market and help Sylvestre. We shopped till late afternoon milling about. It was a refreshing and eclectic experience even though I lost the group. Honestly, I didn’t know how I wandered too far and lost touch with the group. With no smartphone or any other device with me, I had no choice but to find my way back to the hotel on my own, which I even liked. The joy of walking in the crepuscular hour was both thrilling and memorable. As some shop owners were closing for the day, and I was going back to the hotel and then the next morning return back to Lagos, I thought all my acts of transactions were now complete. I only had to say Novotel and gesticulate to passers by to give me more direction whenever I got confused finding my way again.
Now that my work was done and had seen a bit of Dakar, I was hoping I would return again, before we were ferried to the airport the next morning, I made a playlist for my return trip featuring Akon’s ‘Mama Africa’ the sonic texture of my short stay in Dakar that surrounded the walls of my hotel room every morning, Saheed Osupa’s ‘London Delight’, my ritual song I always listen to when travelling, Beautiful Nubia’s ‘Mama Agba’s Twilight Tale’, a song I turned to after watching Kunle Afolayan, the celebrated Nigerian filmmaker, dance to it in his hotel room – he was also in Dakar at the period for a film shooting and, ‘Ife Oloyin’, also by Beautiful Nubia, the song I danced to in my hotel room while recording myself. My mind was filled and refreshed; my only concern was that I would not meet the immigration officer back at Lagos airport – for you can never trust chance.
Tọ́pẹ́ Salaudeen-Adégòkè is an editor, literary critic and poet from Ibadan, Nigeria. Tọ́pẹ́ is the co-publisher of Fortunate Traveller, a travel journal. He writes for Wawa Book Review, Abuja, and Africa in Words blog. He enjoys travelling and cooking. His chapbook of travels across Africa, Transacting Stories: Markets, People and Places was recently published by Invisible Borders Trans-African Photographers Organisation, part of their exhibition, ‘A Volatile Negotiation Between the Past and Present’ at the 2019 AfriCologne Festival, Germany. @LiteraryGansta is his alter ego on Twitter.
Cover photo credit: OSIWA