When my mind rolls across this memory it snaps not first to the Mosque or to the pilgrimage or to the followers. But to an intersection.
We have spent the day in 100+ degree heat visiting Marabouts, Khalifs and family, digging our car out of the sand, stirring pots of meat, passing the gauntlets of blasting speakers in the market place and trying to glean oxygen from the air in sweltering stagnant rooms.
~Our car earlier that day
It’s dark now and dust is rising off the sandy road. Flood lights from the market stalls feature this dust kicked up by thousands of footsteps, temporarily blinding us. We are stalled in the most fantastic of grid locks.
This is not Paris or LA or Mexico City, this is Touba on the Magal. This is Senegal.
We are stalled on a two lane track packed with vendors, pedestrians, automobiles and horse drawn carts. Everything, except for the masses on foot who move in swarms around our car, is at a stand still.
Our car is a borrowed manual transmission Mercedes with a dead battery. Every single time Ass Modou pops the clutch or we park the car, we have to push start it. Until now, it’s been a regular thing in the 110 degree heat and deep sand, and he has just popped the clutch. Again.
Now, surrounded by masses it’s not the searing heat or sand that worries me, it’s the possibility of running someone over when the engines catches. That is of course if we can even find the room to get a good push going in this throng.
The Ngewel tells me to stay in the car. He is always telling me this. (see http://wp.me/pOa8x-zX)
But before he gets out I lean forward and tell him I’ve figured it out.
I ask him to tell the horse cart driver over there, to back it up, to make it possible for that car over there to turn, so that the bus over there can move through, releasing the grid lock. At present everyone is just sitting there looking at each other.
The Ngewel gets out and approaches the horse drawn cart. I watch as the cart driver co-hearses his horse to back up, and the Ngewel starts to direct the other drivers. Unbelievably but gratefully this works, and once the traffic starts to move again the Ngewel begins to wave people away from the front of our car.
I can see that Ass Modou, our uncle and our driver, is nervous. We are going to have to jump start this thing in a crowd.
Eventually there is a swath before our car big enough and our brothers get out and start pushing. I’m so anxious that the car is going to lurch into the crowd and kill someone that I cover my eyes. The engine kicks in.
Miraculously we didn’t kill anyone. Our boys, the brothers, remain in front of the car directing the traffic here and there so that we can move through. It’s all going very well until Ass Modou clips a vendors cart of lemons and knocks it over.
The vendor, a woman, is technically in the road but that’s just the way it is. I apologize to her out the window and the guys run around to help her right her table. We feel bad. I take note of her peacefulness and tolerance, her demeanor is serene and unaffected. She doesn’t say a word.
We move on. A few more inches up the road people begin to hassle the Ngewel for directing too much traffic in our favor. Ahh the tolerance disappears.
Then suddenly, out of nowhere a Baye Fall (a true follower and pilgrim of the Magal) appears before us. In niaxass and long dreads he enters the scene with his staff and begins to lead our car through the traffic like a pied piper, singing and dancing, flashing his white smile into the night.
It wasn’t until his appearance on this long long day that the gist of the Magal befell my exhausted soul, and it’s blessing began to fill the void.
In that very moment I returned to myself. The spirit had entered. Perhaps it was God, or perhaps it’s when all of your ‘points’ align and you are happy. You are happy no matter how hard the journey is. You savor it’s difficulty. Your perspective shifts and you remember that it’s the dusty journey that makes you tick.
The grid locked crowd though was not so touched. They became weary of the happily spinning Baye Fall, he was impeding their way.
And so, as he had come to the rescue of the Ngewel, it was now the Ngewel that came to rescue him. Speaking praises of the Baye Fall saying; the Baye Fall, the disciple of Amadou Bamba and Chiekh Ibra Fall, Barke Serigne Touba Khadim Rassoul Allah aren’t we all here at the Magal ?
These words had great affect on the crowd and you could see them collectively nodding yes this is right, let’s not loose our heads. So we continued on our way with the help of the Baye Fall until the crowds thinned out and he waved goodbye and danced his way into the night.
Alone, we turned onto another sandy track away from the throngs of pilgrims. A quiet street. A sigh of relief through the fabric we held over our mouths and noses in an attempt to keep the sand and dust out of our lungs.
But alas, it was outside a shop that Ass Modou popped the clutch again, killing the engine.
This time we all needed to exit the car because the sand here was deep.
In 95’ on a surf trip down Baja Sur my friends and I had spent 2 and half weeks digging our surf van out of sand pits. Looking at our car now, buried to the axles on all four wheels in deep soft sand, I knew we’d be lucky to get it out. No one was around to help. (where are they when you need them? HA!) The boys alone couldn’t pop it out onto a plane. And as you can imagine the car’s spinning wheels just dug itself deeper into a hole.
I closed my eyes (partly because I couldn’t watch anymore) and decided to see if I could will it out of the hole. It’s all I could do at this point. I gathered the spirit of the Magal into my center, and prayed. I put all of the love and devotion of our day in Touba into our predicament and visualized the car becoming light, lifting out of the sand, and starting.
As I gave thanks for ‘everything’ and visualized in my minds eye our success, I heard the engine start. My eyes flew open. Wow.
We ran after the car and jumped in. I leaned up between the front seats and told the Ngewel to tell Ass to ‘keep his foot on the clutch while he gave it gas and GO! Go fast (I knew this from Baja) and stay to the side along the houses where the sand is more compact. ‘Keep playing the clutch and the gas’ I said.
As we sped along fish-tailing in the sand I heard Ass and the Ngewel talk about how they were lost.
What surprised me now was that I knew where we were. I mean we were lost by now, but somehow I knew where we were in relationship to the Mosque and somehow I knew after only being in Touba for 10 hours where the house was in relation to the Mosque.
I leaned forward again. ‘Go 5 blocks to the main road and turn right’. Don’t ask me, (I have no idea how I knew this) and they didn’t.
The Ngewel translated and we flew through the night, one block, 2, 3, 4, 5 and bam there was a main road. We made a hard right onto the solid track and continued 3 more blocks until I asked them to pull over and stop. ‘We are near the house’ I said. The Ngewel dialed the Marabouts number. We were only 2 blocks from the house, he would send a car for us to follow.
I was exhausted. Like to the bone. By now it was 11pm and the house was still stifling hot. The Marabout led us to the roof where they had set out foam mats and sheets for us to relax on. We layed down on the beds in the cool night. Pape made tea. Ahhh to lie in the cool. It was Heaven.
As I lay there on the roof I became aware of the most incredible sound; a symphony of Muezzins calling from the Mosques all over the city mixed with the drumming and singing of the Baye Falls, creating a sound, a music, that I had never heard. Sometimes clashing, sometimes in perfect sync, the sounds of devotion rose out of the dust, the lights, up past the Grand Mosque and the Lamp Fall, up into the clear dark blue night, past the Sub Saharan stars, to God’s ears.
Diadieuff Yalla sunu borom, diadieuff Bamba borom Touba.
~the Magal 2007
except for post card All Art&Photography by fotoartfar::mX:: ©Lynette Wich
~The lovely Terragnga for breakfast the next day on the way back to Thioraye