Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, March 13

Murder Mystery

When I was a kid, I remember my parents throwing murder mystery parties every year on New Year’s Eve. I remember our house being transformed into a high school reunion, a cruise line, a ‘speak easy,’ and so many more fun places. The idea of a murder mystery party is that someone dies, people are assigned characters and clues, and everyone guesses who done it.
The way my parents used to play involved someone at the party taking another unsuspecting person aside and staging a death. The cops were once called after the neighbors heard a gunshot, and the party took a brief sabbatical while my parents explained the pile of blood-like ketchup in the snowy backyard. Hmm. Anyway, throughout the night the guests exchanged clues about one another which way or may not be true (false ones being called red-herrings). Anyone with a guess as to who the murder was and why he or she had done it, was to write their guesses down, time stamp them and turn them in. At midnight (after the usual ball dropping New Year activities) the box was opened, the guesses read, the truth proclaimed, and the winner awarded something I never thought to be awesome until I hit the legal drinking limit. I haven’t seen one of these since my parents got divorced, but I’ve been told that one can buy premade murder mystery story packages online to use at your own next party.

However, one ambitious (or bored) member of my exciting Dakar region took it upon herself to write a murder mystery party for one of our mildly frequent gatherings. Dressing up in any old theme wouldn’t have been possible; the availability of variety in this country is slim to zilch. So instead, we embraced our surroundings and dove into a Senegalese themed mystery.

Car Rapide
I assume you don’t know much about our “public” transportation systems, so I’ll start with a brief review. The cheapest method to get from point A to point B is to walk. But the cheapest motorized way is taking an Ndiage Ndiaye or large white conversion van outfitted with benches so as to squeeze uncomfortably upwards of thirty or forty people inside. PCVs usually refer to them as alhums because the front of each one reads alhumdulilah which means “thanks be to god” in Arabic. Thank you for not killing everyone in this death trap today… because these things are more prone to rolling than an SUV. However, these same vehicles in Dakar are yellow and blue and then called a car rapide. The operation of one van is run by two men: the driver and the apprentice. The driver’s job should be obvious. The apprentice is the man at the back of the van- usually standing on the bumper outside holding onto the door- that calls out destinations, collects money, and bangs loudly on the sides to alert the driver to stop or continue the voyage.

For the purposes of our murder mystery party, everyone is assigned a typical character found inside the back of that alhum. And someone has killed the apprentice... Dun, dun, dun!

My character was a traditional African medicine woman, aka a crazy mystic. After a simple Google images search to confirm my suspicions (yes, Shia LaBeuf does appear as a result), I dug out my comb and ratted my hair. Then I grabbed some hot blue tights and an old ratty Senegalese shirt from the closet. I tied a head rap around my waist and another in my hair, donned all the jewelry I had, and painted my face with a mint mask sent in a care package. I took permanent marker to my hands and forearms because nothing says loco like awkward symbol tattoos. The final touch was to grab a couple of sticks and a creepy looking bottle of cough syrup as props. I, to put it bluntly, nailed it.

Beer Pong Champs
The party was held in Popenguine, a now usual vacation spot, because really where else would we have it? I arrived just before the lunch hour and enjoyed a cold beer and quality time with a volunteer about to finish his service. Then it was off to the rental house on the beach where I spent most of the afternoon commandeering the beer pong table on the front porch with an ocean view. By dusk, dinner was prepared, costumes were changed into, and the drinking had long gotten under way.

Women with Newborns
Everyone had been given a few clues pertinent to their character or perhaps gossip about another. Mine, for example, were that the dead apprentice was the father of a newborn baby and also that I hated him. Or something like that. We mingled for a few hours exchanging clues and theories, but mostly playing around with our characters and taking pictures. Periodically, new clues would be announced to the entire group. The apprentice was strangled! A little while later: The killer is a man! And after that a blackmail note was found on the body. And then all the clues were out and it was time to stake a claim to our hypothesis. A few stellar ones were presented, but in the end it was the young university professor who’d done it. Why? Because he’d slept with one of his students and the apprentice found out and tried to blackmail him.

The Maribou, The Student,
and a Bi-Fall
The next morning, I spent a good ten hung over minutes listening to a friend explain why his hypothesis was better. He figured the Maribou (religious leader) had ordered his Talibe (small beggar child under influence of the Maribou) to do it because the apprentice had recently killed the daughter of the Maribou’s best friend. And, after all, he’s the only one with the power to command a hit like that, right? Not to mention, the apprentice was demanding such a small blackmail payment from the professor that it wasn’t even believable. In any case, the game was fun. But dressing up and acting out the roles of the people we interact with every day was even more entertaining. 

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