Bamba's Town

Trip Start Mar 05, 2006
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Trip End Mar 12, 2006


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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Leaving Kaolack this morning, we were able to just make out a salt refinery across the river. Lots of big equipment. I would have liked to check it out, but Donna would have called a pass, and we needed to get on the road. My fingernails are getting dirty again, and I keep finding patches of dirt I miss in the shower, like spots you forget to put sunscreen. A chunk of my neck yesterday, above my left ear today.

This morning we were up at 7:30 and on our way to Touba by 9. The musical accompaniment to our ride was enough to give you motion sickness. Perhaps it was to put us in the proper reflective mood. Like a bad priest's incantations and chants. The man could not sing. Not even like a cultural thing, he just could not sing, and every so often, to use Donna's delicate words it "sounded like someone grabbed his balls." Oh did he howl and carry-on. We were in the back with the only speaker, too. There was no silence on the road to Touba.

Two hours later, thankfully, the ride was over and we weren't quite sure where we were. We were just surrounded by hustlers and touts and beggars. We found a nice policeman who told us we were in fact in Touba, not Mbake (the town that runs into Touba) and told us we had to wear skirts in the city limits. Opps. He rushed us into a store where we wrapped our sarongs around our pants, a very nice girl helping Donna get hers to the proper specifications of decency.

The very friendly policeman then hailed us a taxi to the mosque. Touba is the center of the Bamba brotherhood of Islam founded in the late 1800s. Bamba was born in 1857 and died in 1927 (I think). During his life, he was exiled by the French twice because his followers would flock to him and the French thought he was planning a revolution. Why they were concerned, we're not sure. As Donna put it today, we can't see why the French wanted Senegal and what they expected to get out of it. It's great for growing peanuts, but we're not sure what else. The English apparently decided they didn't want the Gambia at one point, too, and tried to give it away, but could find no takers.



The mosque itself was impressively large and impressively colored, looking like something out of a pastel fairy tale. Pink marble imported from Portugal, a white stone from Italy that stays cool in hot sun for the floor outside so people won't burn their feet. Five minarets, one for each pillar of Islam. Four were shorter while the fifth rose to a height of 87 m. Prayers are called 5 times a day live from the highest minaret at 9, 14, 17, 19, and 20 hours.

We got an English speaking guide (you have to have a guide) and he was really quite useful. He gave us a place to stowe our bags and shoes and lent us scarves to cover our hair. Without them, we would have had shirts tied over our heads with hair elastics. Hardly dignified. These things happen when you have to wear a skirt and cover your hair at the same time and you only have one sarong.

A side note on hair. This country is obsessed with hair! There are almost as many barbershops as telecenters (apparently the most surefire way to make a CFA in the country) Perhaps it's because they can do so much with it. The men keep their hair short, but the women do a multitude of things with theirs when they're not covering their heads with colorful scaves. Many of them also have fake hair of some sort. A woman in Banjul had rows of curls pinned to her hair that looked totally natural until she started taking them out, and a woman in a Peugot today had hair like black curled ribbon, which could not have been hers.



Anyway...barefoot in our skirts and head scarves, we began our tour. They have four different libraries, one filled with only Bamba's writings. Apparently he went through each letter in the Quran and wrote a poem starting with it, as well as writing many other things, I'm sure.

We crossed to the mosque and saw the men's prayer areas and the women's prayer areas, both outside. We never actually went inside, but looked in and saw a fountain from which holy water can be drawn to drink and small amounts taken back to your family. We saw the purification areas for washing before entering the mosque, too.

Once a year, 48 days after the Islamic New Year, on the anniversary of Bamba's exile (the first one) there is a giant pilgrimage to Touba. Three million people flood into the city. It's no Hajj, but still impressive. The Magal (that's what it's called) begins next wekk, so we were lucky to get here just in time. During the Magal, it's nearly impossible to find a ride to Touba and all the city's residents open up their homes to house pilgrims.

After the impressive mosque tour, we decided to forgo the Touba market and head for Thies, a city on the way to Dakar about 120 clicks down the road. For the second time today, we were the last two people into a Peugot and soon we were off, once again on Senegal's excellent roads.

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