Do the Hustle – Dakar

Ibrahim’s wife had a baby today.  In fact at least 5 Ibrahims’ wives have had babies, four boys and a girl.  It’s the favorite hustle in Dakar.  Ibrahim comes up to us all excited, puts a bracelet on Suzi or a shell in my hand and says he is a new father and it is a custom that the father give gifts.  He tells us we must never sell the bracelet, shell, whatever, or it will bring bad luck to the baby and ourselves.  As the conversation deepens we discover that he would love to either, show us around Dakar, take us to his brother’s store, sell us pictures made of butterfly wings, or take us to a real African market.   If we say no (and no and no and…) he asks us for a contribution for the baby.  Well, we tried to give Ibrahim one a dollar bill and he refused it, saying it was not enough and demanded more.  Ibrahim 2 took the loss of the bracelet as a cost of doing business and bade us a pleasant good-by.  Ibrahim 5 (or was it 6) actually got us into his brother’s store because I wanted to get an African shirt (I had been looking at them in the market and none fit).  Of course none of them in his brother’s store fit and I don’t think either of us thought they would.  But while there he tried to sell us other stuff which we didn’t want or need.  Finally he pulled out a table cloth, he said he had another brother who was a tailor and he could make me a shirt in 10, well perhaps 20 minutes.  The table cloth was hideous.  As we left the store, he told us about his new daughter, “just this morning, named her Ida after his mother.”  He gave Suzi a shell necklace as part of the old African custom etc. etc. etc.  We congratulated him and started to walk, he followed us through the alley, down the block and across the street.  Finally Suzi decided to give him a dollar.  He was insulted, took both the necklace and dollar and went off in a huff.  Cheap entertainment.

One of the Ibrahims looked too old to have a new son.  He explained it was his third wife.  Suzi did buy several yards of cloth (from a non Ibrahim) that she liked (“I give you my best price,” but only after we enjoy some haggling together) and a few other things in a market.

In Dakar we visited the “Gallerie Antenna.”  The name got me in, the owner is a ham radio operator, they speak English and take credit cards.  We bought two small paintings of griot players that will go nicely with our Georgian tapestries of musical instruments.  The paintings are by Bacary Dieme who did the logo and livery for the Air Afrique in 1980.  We asked them for a café recommendation.  They sent us to “The Times,” very New York in décor, very French in food but very African business class in clientele.

Before we cast off we looked down from the deck on sales people who were striking the market on the wharf.  During sail out we passed the island of Gorée.  From the late 1400s to mid-19th century it was one of the largest slave trading centers on Africa’s west coast.  It was run by the Portuguese, Dutch, Brits and French.  It has a fort, slave quarters and the ruins of some elegant houses.  Both Presidents Bush 2 and Obama visited there to honor the memory of the captured people who passed “The portal of no return,” the last place they set foot on African soil.

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