Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, June 2

Pilgrimage

The annual catholic pilgrimage to Popenguine is quite the experience. I began my own pilgrimage on Saturday afternoon. I took the normal sept place to Thies and in doing so discovered a Pulaar man, who spoke no French and Wolof that seemed only slightly better than mine, also headed to Popenguine. At the garage in Thies, I would have normally gotten in another car to Mbour, which is a destination farther along the same route, and paid full price only to get out early and take a small taxi car to the beach. Instead, with help from the Pulaar man, I was escorted to another smaller garage, a ten minute walk through town, which hosted car rapides- like a large conversion van outfitted with too many bench seats to be comfortable- directly to the small town I would’ve gotten out at anyway. Doing this saved me 25% of the travel cost I was willing to pay. Score! It paid to be friendly with the elderly man, even though we couldn’t communicate. This would also serve as a sign to the light hearted atmosphere I was about to encounter during the event.

At the small road town of Sindia, I utilized a gendarme escort to cross the main road. Traffic was beginning to back up and people were crowding the streets looking for transportation to the beach. Even after crossing, a fight broke out and I found myself attempting to duck out of the way by jumping further into the street. It was nothing major, just a simple fight over open seats on another car rapide, and it was over in under a minute. At this point another kind person took notice and escorted me to a taxi with an open seat… and off to Popenguine we went.

In town, I utilized my knowledge of my previous visits to navigate through the hundreds of booths, tents and promotional stands that were half constructed to the far side of town where my friend was waiting for me at the bar with a cold beer. Relaxing and making future plans with his friend the tailor, we enjoyed our beers until it was time for dinner back at my friend’s house. We ate some truly amazing meal of chicken with veggies and just as we finished some mango slices for dessert another friend arrived in town. Back on the street we found grilled pork sandwiches and tried a new beer in Senegal called “33,” with a taste in between the current two- Gazelle (my favorite- like a light beer) and Flag (like a wheat beer). We continued to walk around town to checkout restaurant tents, watering holes, and promotional booths that we’d have to come back to the next day. The vendors of said booths were already fast asleep on the streets in blankets or tents made of rice sack bags.

We grabbed some fresh bottles of palm wine. It comes from the local palm trees (of which there are apparently many versions and I can’t tell you which gives wine and which gives dates, but I’ll get there someday). At first it takes like a sweet juice… but the longer it sits the more it ferments and before you know it a bitter tasting liquid is getting you very drunk very quickly. We took it to the beach, which I’m told is closed off for the weekend because people get drunk and end up trying to swim (when they apparently can’t) and drown. Somehow, we got down there for a moonlight gaze at the ocean. We continued to walk around the quiet, sleeping town and bought 3 more bottles of palm wine for the next day before calling it quits.

After a hot night’s sleep in my friends packed house (apparently every family member brought a handful of their friends for the event), it was back to the town to experience the pilgrimage. We started by hitting up the local cell phone company booth to look for free t-shirts (that would come “later”) and then quit pretending we weren't in it for the booze and found some beers. We pulled up plastic chairs and hung out with a view of the ocean and some cold drinks. People all around were still setting up for the fete. As afternoon came another friend arrived by car and we decided to grab some lunch; yassa pork and grilled pork. It felt great to eat pig again! We walked around some more, drank some more, and ate more sandwiches. In all honesty, it felt like tailgating. So naturally, we took a ‘post game’ nap. Upon waking up, we found that the walkers had started to arrive.

People walk from all over the area to Popenguine each year; arriving in packs from Dakar, the Delta region, and even from the north. The event is apparently well organized, as you pay an entry fee at your respective take off point which gets you a badge, free meals, transportation of your baggage, and tent space in Popenguine (Hello, Breast Cancer 3-day walk, are you hearing this? Senegal has organization skills. Think about it). The people walk because apparently a while back someone did this from Dakar to Popenguine and upon arriving saw the “Black Mary.” Yeah, I don’t know what that could possibly implicate, but as they found it an enjoyable experience so be it. The event has grown over the years so as to make necessary the following: organized walking (as described above), permanent infrastructure (in which to conduct mass for the masses), and even the printing of event t-shirts and other souvenirs. Port-o-potties (which I have never seen in country before this), massive amounts of pork and beer, and all the largest companies in country played a role in our entertainment.

We went to my friend’s favorite watering hole in the afternoon, sat on the roof (with more beer, is it possible?) and waited for our friends who were walking. Curiously, they were both female. Girls can walk farther than guys in Africa too? (Dearest 3-day organizers, seriously, are you listening to this?) We waited for the sun to set and started in on the sandwiches once again. We headed to the church and the market to view the merchandise… it is possible to purchase a glowing (even blinking- Vegas style) statue of the Virgin Mary. Score! One also found t-shirts proclaiming that “without Jesus there is no life,” and that Jesus wants you to “come to me.” They ran out of pink, so I choose to pass on purchasing one.

Later, we stopped by midnight mass. Thousands of people crowded under and around the cement pavilion built on top of a hill for this occasion. Multiple sets of sound systems were set up to broadcast someone I couldn’t actually locate. Mass was in French.

We went looking for a party, so headed to the beach once more, which was littered with couples doing things I didn’t care to investigate. Back during training we rented a house on the water and that night we wandered back to it. Apparently some people had rented it out, turned it into a club, and were open to a small group of white people crashing the party. Good times, with good music, until someone started throwing bottles and we got out quickly. And on the way home we got more sandwiches. Are you surprised?

The next day, it became clear there were too many people in the house as everyone went to shower in one bathroom. It was the first time I saw a squat toilet overflow. I have no idea how one fixes that (and I’m told it’s still a problem over a week later). People dressed to impress as they went to morning mass at 10a. More people than the night before attended the event. We couldn’t even get near the pavilion there were so many thousands of people. Someone had even organized the local boys/girls scouts to act as first aid… which we witnessed in action as they carried a passed out (probably dehydrated) pilgrim into a tent with a red cross on it. (3-day people, this is not your last chance, but come on!)

We walked around town some more checking out the souvenir merchandise and tasted a new promotional milk (it’s a big breakfast drink of choice). Mass went from 10 to lunch, then was to recommence until mid-afternoon. Intense, no? In an effort to beat the traffic, we left town around noon. Our final round of sandwiches was consumed as we hiked to the garage outside of town. There we negotiated a small taxi to drive us to Dakar (we were going for PC training the following day), and though he said he had to be back at a certain time, the driver was happy to oblige. Half way there, he decided he needed to turn around so he pulled over, bargained another taxi, paid the man, and helped us transfer to the new car… which drove us straight to the Peace Corps house. Best ride to Dakar by public transport I’ve ever had. And we even missed all the traffic! It was another awesome experience.

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