Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Gary the White Warlock

When Kelly's dad Gary yanked off his thumb, he let out a yell, and then quickly put it back on. Shocked, the five children who had been watching this strange 'toubab' ( the Wolof word for anyone who isn't black' ) turned and ran shrieking into the maze of houses lining the dusty street near the fisherman's beach of Soumbedioune. It isn't often that a white guy with no hair wanders through this part of town, let alone one who stops to display his magical powers. Within a couple of minutes more than a dozen kids ran back toward Gary, the white warlock, for another show.

"Owwwwwch!!!" Gary said as he pulled off his thumb again. This time, the kids who have seen it before stand bravely watching while several of the others' jaws drop open as they turn to run.

Another demonstration, and then another and Gary reveals the trick, the kids laughing and smiling as they trip over eachother for a closer look and try to immitate it.

This was the scene last week on Gary and Cilla's last day in Senegal, during a quick trip to a tailor's shop in this neighborhood of Dakar. And it wasn't the first time they drew a crowd during their week-long visit. Everywhere they went, they made friends, and the kids particularly loved and feared Gary's antics.

"Toubab!!!" they would yell as they spotted him driving by along the Petite Cote. At a beachside village, Gary drew yet another youthful mob, frightening several of them half to death with his 'yank the thumb off' trick, and giving the other half a laugh they will likely never forget. It was unclear if he was reinforcing their superstitions about witches and warlocks
and strange gri-gri, or eroding them.

It wasn't just the Senegalese kids that enjoyed Gary and Cilla's visit -- the entire Team Valdmanis Africa did, and we're all very grateful. Laird and Dylan were over the moon to see Nana and Grampy in Africa, and Dylan is still making the duck noises Gary taught him. Both of them say 'Nana' often. They had incredible fun swimming at Toubab Dialaw, oggling the giraffes and rhinos at Bandia, and playing in the inflatable pool at home. And of course Kelly and I were thrilled to see familiar faces from home here in Dakar to share some of our experience first hand.

Thank you Gary and Cilla!


After a nice afternoon at Virage beach, Kelly, Laird, Dylan and I strolled back to our car in the parking lot. There were lots of people sitting in cars, doors open and radios broadcasting the same soccer match.

“Who’s playing?” I asked.

“Senegal is playing in Cameroon,” someone answered.

We started loading up our car and as I was about to get into the driver’s side, a cab slowed down next to me and said – “Where are you headed?” I answered we were on our way back to Almadies.

“Don’t go that way. There are power outages and lots of rioting.” He seemed to be huffing and puffing.

This odd comment made sense to me, though. Senegalese are serious about soccer, and when the power goes out in the middle of a big grudge match, it often means riots. On the road between Virage beach and our house, there are dozens of charred circles marking the spots where tires have been set ablaze by frustrated sports fans.

I thanked the cabby and we headed up to the junction of the main road and had a glance in the direction of our neighbourhood. There was no sign of trouble except for the few dozen cars driving in reverse in our direction. We decided to take the long way home, the opposite direction and around the airport, hoping not to run into any other riots.

We heard later that there had been loads of rock-throwing and that the Senegalese riot police arrived and fired off some tear gas canisters. Things calmed down after a while and word started to filter that Senegal had prevented a Cameroonian win – good news as the teams jockey for a spot at the 2012 African Nations Cup.

Riots also happened in Cameroon apparently… Cameroon had needed the win for a solid chance at qualifying, but its captain, Samuel Eto’o missed a penalty kick and instantly turned from national hero to pariah. Unfortunate fans in Cameroon wearing Eto’o shirts had them ripped off their backs by angry mobs.

People in Senegal and Cameroon have bigger problems than how their teams do in soccer – but it’s the soccer that seems to get them into the streets.