Sunday, October 11, 2009

Keep the Cannibals Away

“Coconut trees are good because they keep the cannibals away,” said our new friend Samba, a tall man with a brightly-colored woolen cap who insisted on helping with our purchase of plants at the outdoor nursery.
“You will like living in Senegal, but it is important to learn our philosophy so that when you return to America you can teach your friends and family there,” he said.

I didn’t bother telling Samba that there weren’t many cannibals or coconut trees in New England or New York these days, but he wouldn’t have been interested anyway. He was on to new things. Anyone care for a pinch of dirt mixed with blood and spit rolled into some newspaper to ward off evil spirits?
“This will ensure that you two and your unborn babies have good fortune here. Some advice that I offer for free. Just rub it on yourself,” said Samba, who’s timid older brother hid behind enormous sunglasses, attempting to light a cigarette with a broken lighter.

With all the uninvited action, it was difficult to concentrate on the task at hand – to buy as couple of potted plants for our new house from Waly, the gentle gardener who tended this patch of seaside soil.
There was no end to the choices – palms, papayas, almonds, ferns, hostas, aloe, and a massive number of other incredibly healthy-looking greens and flowers stretching up along the roadside as far as the eye could see. Standing in the shade of the plants that grew there, we’d picked out about seven different specimens and were negotiating the price and sorting out the delivery when Samba strolled over, making a rather normal transaction into a true Dakar experience.

“I would love to help you plant these at your house,” Samba offered.

“No thanks, Samba,” I said.

The plants were cheap, so it was not too painful when we finally realized the only way to prevent Samba from giving us anymore handfuls of dirt or suggestions on how to keep evil spirits at bay was to give him a buck so he and his brother could grab a coke and some couscous down the road. He was either a sorcerer, or a guy who knew how to freak out a newcomer to get a free meal. Not believing in ju-ju, I reckoned the latter.

Twenty minutes later the donkey cart with our plants arrived at the villa and we arranged them around the house. Plants can really make an empty place seem alive. And while we were exceedingly happy with how these new additions fit into our home, I found myself paying particular attention to a plant that had clearly set its roots deep into the soil on the property long before we’d arrived. A sturdy coconut tree planted by the front door.

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