I know the path so well by now. I arrive to Anne-Marie’s by foot from the AirBNB I’ve rented for the next three weeks, just one neighborhood over. It’s the rainy season, so I had to hop around huge, smelly puddles and mud as there was a heavy rain the night before.
The chaos of Dakar is so familiar at this point; I notice for the first time out of the 7 times I’ve been to this country that I don’t feel nervous at all. The smells, the trash everywhere, the lack of sidewalks, the “Tsss, toubab!” shouting- none of it bothers me.
At one point on the way to Anne-Marie’s apartment, it seems the whole backroad I'm on is flooded, and I start to walk in the opposite direction to find another route when a man- one of about 30 lounging around on taxis and coffee carts- approaches me and says, “Try that way, to the right,” and points to a 2-foot-wide, dry space to the right of a Grayhound-sized bus.
I approach it cautiously, not loving the path, but people are walking from the opposite side through it, so I wait my turn since two can’t pass at once. A man with one leg hops up to me in crutches and asks if everything is OK, and I say yes, I’m just waiting. He says OK, and he goes back to where he’d been sitting.
The road spits me into the sandy, unpaved path that takes you to Anne-Marie’s neighborhood. I recognize everything, and I laugh to myself because I’m remembering the first time I came here, thinking that I would never been able to recognize it on my own. I remember feeling nervous and like I’d definitely get lost the first time I tried to come solo, and I sort of did, because there aren’t really addresses or street names in much of this area. So, I just called Anne-Marie and she sent someone down to find me, and it was fine.
This time though, I recognize the pharmacy on the corner, the line of old tires half-buried in the dirt, even the goats tied up on the left side of the path, though I know they’re certainly not the same as the ones I saw last February.
I hear my name being shouted- Awa is running toward me from the opposite end of the backstreet. Kids can and still do wander around a lot on their own here. “Tata Kah-tee!” she shouts, and runs into me, circling her arms around waist in a great big hug. I put my arms around her and cup her head; she’s grown so much since I last saw her! Her cheeks have filled in, and she’s taller. She grabs my hand and leads me toward the apartment, and I wonder if she was sent to look out for me, which I’m sure she was.
In the next minute, she says more to me than I can remember her saying to me over the past few years. She's had a language explosion, and I'm deliriously in love with every word. In a rush, she tells me all sorts of 9-year-old things, and I feel deep gratitude for the new school she's able to attend now because of Teranga Market that's helped her become so confident and speaking more.
As we approach the apartment, I hear more “Tata Kah-tees!” from the second floor balcony and look up. “Coucou Antoine! Coucou Baby Joe!” I shout up, waving. I can’t wait to get up there and squeeze them! And they can't wait to get the toys they know I've brought.
We walk up the stairs- there’s sand and mud everywhere on the tiles that’s been tracked in by the recent rain- and then we’re at the door, and then it’s opening, and then- there’s my best friend, whom I haven't seen in 17 months.
“Kah-teeeeee,” says Anne-Marie. “Anne-Mariiiiiiiiie,” I say back. And then we’re a giant hug, and I’m no longer sure where I start or end. Bags are squished on my back and front and around me and the kids are now all pulling on different limbs and I just melt happily into it all.
PS: haven't read the book yet? Check out my memoir about Senegal here :)
Also... here's a sneak peak of what's to come in 2022!