I Been ‘Buked.

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this past Sunday morning. I didn’t sleep well because I sneezed all night; I may have had a cold, or the painting chez Yaye may have affected me. And then there were the Gabonese (?), Ivoirian, and possibly Cameroonian neighbors. For whatever reason, they were having a rooftop party with lots of faux Caribbean (Okay, now I’m just hating…it was West African music from which West Indian music was derived, but the Africans are still guilty of re-stealing it, if such a thing is possible. Just bear with me and let me land.) music in French and general howling. It was as loud as it could have been.

“Loud music doesn’t bother me; I will sleep soundly,” boasted a certain small child who was sleeping over, right before he slept so soundly that he made peepee on my new mattress.

Sigh. By 9am, I was so ill, fatigued, and horrified that I knew I had to attend mass, if only so I could remember that it’s not actually all about me.

I’m not Catholic, but I decided to be during my time here because there is a Catholic church right down the street from my apartment, and the peepeemakerwhoshallnotbenamed attended school there last year. I wanted to be part of the community. I’d had a difficult time finding out when masses were held, so from time to time, I would just stop in to pray, either at that particular church–St. Joseph’s Parish of Medina–or at the grand cathedral downtown. At the grand cathedral, I found a list of mass schedules. Perfect. 9:30 am it would be.

Due to Mattressgate, I didn’t arrive until 9:45. Grawoul*, but I’d have to wait to be seated. The mass was difficult to follow, and if I hadn’t attended parochial schools or masses in my past, I would have been totally lost. I picked up that the priest was preaching on the need for Senegal’s Christians to be good examples during the Lenten Season, noting that Christians are often Christ’s worst enemies because of the horrible example they set for others. I didn’t understand much more of the message, but that was good enough for me. I was glad I’d come.

After being seated, I struggled to follow the many gestures and genuflections. I tried to say the Apostles Creed in French. I tried to hum along with the prayertime chants. As the Lord was my witness, I tried. Then there was Communion.

Hmm. I didn’t know what to do. Do they offer open or closed Communion here? No one asked me if I wanted to participate, or abstain. We all filed into line as we were tacitly told.

It was only when I began to get close to the front of the large, beautiful church that I realized I couldn’t see exactly how people were taking the Communion. I tried to peer over a couple of shoulders, but to little avail.  I could see that after whatever happened had happened, people bowed a little in front of the pulpit.

Two people in front of me. One person in front of me.

Show time.

The nun was standing there, waiting. The round wafer in her hand. Did I grab it? With which hand. Left hand is bad in Senegal. I chose the right. She refused! I think she shook her finger at me, but I can’t remember because I instantly went into ughthisisawfulcuzimscrewingup mode. At some point, I managed to negotiate the wafer out of her hands and tried to mumble some sort of apology in French, before bowing, wondering where the wine/juice was, and fleeing to my seat. Maybe no one saw me. Maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal.



There were hands on my person. Then there was a small crowd. I turned to see if I had dropped something. There was the fat usher, the lady who gave me my seat, with her sash–a sash that read “Service d’Acceuil” (Welcome Service). And others.


“You can’t take the wafer to your seat! What are you doing!?”

“Oh! I guess I’m a little confused…It’s my first time here!”

“Oh?! So, you are not a Christian!” She summons more people. They descend on me. I try to explain, all the while realizing that this has actually created a huge scene and that we are in front of the entire church. The fat usher does not understand French. She summons someone else, with whom she can discuss me in Wolof.

“You can’t sit down with that. Eat it right away or give it back. Or, are you into black magic?” Quoi!?

“Have you been baptised?” Oui.

“Are you a Christian?” Oui! That’s why I’m here!

“If you don’t eat it right now, we will think you are trying to leave with it to do witchcraft? Are you Catholic?”

“Madame, this is not how we do things in this church!” What the he– QUOI?!

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I don’t speak French well, so I am a little confused. It’s my first time at this church.”

“So you are not a Catholic?” Make it stop.

I eat the wafer, which I can barely swallow because my throat is dry with horror, and I walk/run to my seat. Everyone is looking at me. They are staring/glaring. Some are smirking. Maybe two people tried to hold back laughter. Some are whispering.

It was near the end of the service. I think praying happened. I was stunned, angry, and half-past humiliated. So I prayed, too. I prayed to God asking him why he had allowed me to put so much in the offering basket, especially when everyone else just offered coins. I asked him to punish everyone who had stopped me, halted Mass to accuse me of being a witch because I wasn’t a Francophone Catholic who’d been attending their masses for years. And then I determined that I would find the fat usher and tell her how bad a Christian she was.

Mass is dismissed. I walk out quickly, aware that people are staring at me still, wondering who I am and why I tried to steal their wafers. And I was so tired, and so depressed at that point, and still so ill that I decided to just let it go since I’d never be attending St. Joseph’s again, ever. I would just go home and go to bed on the one mattress that wasn’t filled with child waste.

“Ah, Madame! Viens ici, je vais t’expliquer.” It was the woman that the fat usher consulted in Wolof.

“Merci, je ne veux pas parler.”

“Non! Non! Je vais t’expliquer.” And she did. She explained. And I waited patiently. And then I went in.

“I understand how to do church. I’ve been in church all my life, which is why I decide to try to join yours.” A crowd is gathering. Good. Let them hear me roar.

“My problem today was that I made the mistake of trying to join a community as a stranger in a place where strangers are clearly not welcome. Clearly, you all don’t have time to be patient with someone who comes from a place where church happens a bit differently. No, I’m not Catholic, but in all the Catholic churches I’ve ever attended, we either take our Communion with juice at the pulpit or we sit down and pray with our Communion until the priest tells us to partake.”

The crowd is growing. “Oh, so you are a Pentecostal?” “You are American? Ah okay, well you have to follow our rules here.”

“I would have followed your rules happily if you’d given me a chance to learn them. Everyone can make mistakes, but why didn’t you pull me aside quietly? Why was it necessary to humiliate me in front of the entire church?”

“No, madame, ne dit pas ca.”

“I WILL SAY IT BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED!” I am definitively in a rage. “You told me what you wanted to tell me in front of the entire church, and now you want to tell me not to tell you that what you did was wrong? The priest was right; you people really are the enemies of Christ. Vous m’avez fait honte pour rien…c’est Dieu, le temoin! Que Dieu vous punir!!!”

Gasps and shrieking. “Madame, ne dit pas ca!”

“You are the reason that Muslims don’t respect Christians much here. The Muslims here have been nice to me and the first time I come to church, I meet you monsters!”

At that point, the nun with the wafers whisked me away. She spoke quietly. She told me that where ever I go to church in Dakar, I will have problems if I don’t learn to follow the rules of the Church. I needed to understand, she said. They didn’t do anything wrong, but there are questions of security… what if I was a witch? She asked me if I was Catholic…question of the day.

“Je suis Evangeliste, mais je voulais faire partir de votre communaute. Je vois que ca n’est plus possible. Et vous allez sortir beaucoup de monde avec votre attitude.”

At which point she quietly told me that if I didn’t want to come back, that was cool, because Senegal was a free country, but if I was going to come back, I MUSTFOLLOWTHERULES.

“Your rules are more important than human souls?” I asked.

“Il faut suivre les regles, madame. Tu devrais bien regarder les gens.”

She dragged me against my will to meet the priest, to whom she told the story from her perspective, naturally. He smiled and took my hand and patted it. “Oh la la,” he said. (Seriously.) His eyes said, “you will learn.” I looked down. I was tired. I had no words for him. I had already learned. And I’d also learned that at a certain point, the conversation is just over. People who will not be reasoned with will not be reasonable. The nun smiled and told me to go home and reflect on everything I’d learned.

I walked home. I went to bed. I did not sleep well. I reflected on everything I’d learned, namely how disappointing even one’s family can be and how bad an idea it had been to try to join a ritual-based church in a country where ritual is everything. I’d thought that Christians would provide me sanctuary from ritual and gris-gris and rote, but I was wrong. Oh, was I wrong.  My feelings were  hurt, and my sense of justice destroyed, and my pride in my faith shaken. Even today, I am so, so angry at them.

It’s likely that practicing Christians reading this will be miffed at me for telling this story, because it makes the church look bad. To them, I will say that St. Joseph’s made St. Joseph’s look bad. Let’s stop lying and covering up and sweeping under the rug. Let’s admit that we suck when we suck. Let’s not be like inflexible, prideful, rule-centered Christians; let’s be human, and compassionate, and heaven-centered. Please.

I try to look for God in the little and difficult things, so I hope that he let me experience this for some meaningful purpose, because I really wish he’d spared me the ordeal. I doubt that the nun or the priest ever gave me another thought. The usher…maybe, because she could not make eye contact with me when she passed by my lecture with the nun, but maybe because I purposely shot exploding bullets at her with my eyeballs. Who knows? Maybe someone will rethink. Maybe the only someone will be me.

I doubt that I will be able to return to St. Joseph’s. Too painful. I hope that I’ll muster up the courage to attend another church, perhaps a Pentecostal church, but the nun’s words, her promise that I’d have issues where ever I try to worship, are still with me. Maybe it will be pillowside Pentecostal for the rest of my stay here, as it had been until Sunday. And that’s okay with me, even though I hope for more.

I will always hope for more. Because otherwise I will be forced to come to terms with all of my ex-Catholic, ex-Christian friends and just how powerful and awful and real it can be to be shunned and humiliated out of the faith. Even though I’ve tasted it, it’s still just too bitter for me to keep down.


(Paroisse de St. Joseph, Medina, Dakar. Ash Wednesday 2013. Marissa Jackson (c). All Rights Reserved.)

*Grawoul= Wolof for “No big deal”

Cigarettes: Not fit for Ladylungs

Twice in three days, I have heard people lamenting the fact that there are women who smoke in Senegal.

The first was Fatou Mbaye. “I don’t understand how a woman can smoke!” after we’d switched tables at Sweet Coffee after the disgusting fumes of a cigarette wafted over to where we were placed.

“I don’t understand why people smoke” I retorted. “It’s horrible when men do it, too.”

She looked confused, but agreed. And then kinda disagreed. “There are many men who smoke, but now women are doing it, too…it’s awful.”

“Smoking is foul. I hate when men smoke.” I do love forcing an issue. No child is going to eat on my dime and talk foolishness. No, ma’am. No, sir.

The second occasion was on Monday, when a professor (yikes) explained to me that he didn’t believe in equal rights for women, because women have their place, see, and il ne faut pas deranger la religion. “Par example,” he said, while lighting a cancer stick in a manner that was overly delighted, overly self-assured, “I’m going to smoke, but women should not smoke.” He smiled, self-satisfied, with the few teeth that his smelly little habit haven’t yet rotted. I smiled, too.

Fine. You’re going to die early because of your smoky male privilege. Take that. Take THAT.

I didn’t respond because I fundamentally value the mind of Fatou Mbaye more than I do some nut who dares to tell me that I have my place while literally munching on cancer candy for lunch.  We will all have our place, we smokingless women we, as we walk on your grave.

Here lies Stupid. Dead from emphysema and complications stemming from sexism.


Having a Seat

On my way home from the research center today, I passed by a home with a large herd of sheep reclining outside. This is not uncommon; I only noticed because people seem to generally let their sheep out only on weekends. HOWEVER…one of the larger sheep was reclining on a horizontally-positioned (and by all appearances, extremely expensive) refrigerator like it was NO.BIG.DEAL. Like, it had literally hopped onto the fridge, and was just sitting on it as if it were spinning around on a stool in a black barbershop. I wanted to whip out my phone and take a picture for you lovely people, but I didn’t want to offend the owners. So, you’ll just have to believe me.

Somehow, this beats out the time when I saw a couple of camels chilling outside of an apartment building, as if we were in rural Morocco and not in downtown Dakar. And it almost beats out the night when I saw a pack of rats chasing a cat down the street. Amazing.
(Photo, Medina quarter of Dakar, Senegal, October 2011 by Marissa Jackson (c). All Rights Reserved.)



Chez Yaye, people sing your name until it takes on a life of it’s own. In almost two years of knowing everyone here, not one single person has ever said my name correctly. This will not change. It’s MAH ree (rolled r, obvs) sah JACKsown and then giggle giggle ellipsis SOW, followed by more satisfied laughter at having sufficiently attached me to their son even though we haven’t gotten married yet, the end. 

My favorite sung name is that of Ibou Cisse. Ibou Cisse does not talk. Not because he can’t. But because he doesn’t have to. When he has to, he does, and not a word more, and don’t you push it. Ibou Cisse is maybe 18 or 19 years old, if I had to guess. I’d ask him, but it would require him to talk unecessarily and I don’t want him to hate me. 

His tacitness has had no effect upon the willingness of the women of the house to call his name–especially the Benevolent Dictator. And who can blame them, even BD, when it’s so easily and melodiously blended together to sound like baby talk, or some Caribbean religion based in black magic? 

Eeebooseesay! Eeebooseesay! EEBOOSEESAY! Ana* Eeebooseesay? Sigh. 


pause. impatient, annoyed pause.




Insert parroting of 1 year old Ndeye Famaa (aka “DAY-fah-mah) here: booboosay, which quickly degenerates into “taataa”


The singing of Ibou Cisse’s name works so well because he refuses to respond with “Nam” as everyone else does as they’re on their way up or down the stairs to respond to whatever the request is. Or, if he does respond, no one can hear him. Usually, by the time I’ve begun singing “mama say mama sah ma mah ko sah” to myself just because I’m a jerk, he’s responded and everyone’s satiated, until it’s time to begin harrassing Fatou Mbaye. 




*Ana= Wolof for “Where is…?”

*Nieuwel= Wolof for “Come on/come here”

On Desperation

I began growing out my dreads nearly 4 years ago. I have always gotten them professionally done. A few times a year, I would fantasize about learning how to do them, and as I realized that I would be leaving the U.S. for a country where women don’t wear locs, I promised myself that I’d learn to do my hair myself, just like I managed to style my hair when I had the relaxer, and then the teeny-weeny-afro. I even watched a dread-retwisting tutorial, but I never tried it.

I have been here in Dakar for 5 weeks. 5 week old locs don’t fly here in Dakar. They certainly don’t work out when you’ve had malaria and spent days writhing unconsciously in a hot, sweaty bed while your fever rose, fell, rose and then broke. Once you start washing city smoot and dirt out of your precious locs every week, you start looking like a gorilla. If you DON’T wash them every week, you will smell like one.

I don’t want to look, or smell, like a gorilla; I want to look, and smell, like I have parents who love me.

Don’t you know today I closed my eyes, remembered what I saw in the tutorial (thank you, photographic memory), and began re-twisting my hair? I can’t say I did a masterful job, but it looks and smells like I have clean, re-twisted locs.

It’s not the first time I’ve turned into superwoman in a pinch–yesterday, I learned how to wash my own clothes in a bucket because I didn’t have time to find someone to wash them for me. And, it wasn’t even the last. Today, when I left the library and thought to myself I’d walk all the way to Yaye’s house but then got really, really tired, I suddenly learned how to take the crazy cars rapides all by myself. I spoke Fr-olof. I found my way to the right street. I paid the correct fare. I got off at the correct spot…with my newly twisted locs.

I’m calling today a win.

I hate Wally.

It’s 4:13 am and Wally is singing again. This little jerk will be the death of me.

I’m used to the dogs barking, the children screaming, the sheep bleating, the roosters crowing, the ocean moving, the mosques demanding that we pray, at all hours of the day and night. But this fool and his daddy’s nightclub: La illah ila allah!!!

True, I’m up because I was downloading music and trying to set up this blog. I should have gone to sleep early as I promised myself, before the clubs begin really popping here in Dakar. But I’m a night owl. I can’t realllly go to sleep until 1:30 or 2am unless I’m just pooped. And I will be pooped if this little dude with his wife and his girlfriends and his songs about why women should forgive men cheating (he is a cheater himself, after all) doesn’t shutupandhaveaseatNOW.

It’s not even that bad, honestly, seeing as I moved here from the noisiest block in all of Harlem, but I just happen to be annoyed by this little brat, with his tight-ass pants and his love affairs. How is it that the nightclub, Penc Mi, is a good 5 minute walk away and I can hear ALL OF THE LYRICS. You loud as hell, son! And I hate your voice!

It’s too bad, really, my distaste for this kid, because his dad is a friend of the family. Yaye baptized Wally. She’s quick to remind me of this when I complain about his concerts.

“Oh, yeah? Well, call up his dad and tell him to tell his son to hush. Im-be-CILE!

Yaye always howls with laughter when I say this, and continues to pour her tea. I tell her that I have to go home early so that I can go to bed before he starts up, but she always wants one more round of tea, and then another. I will never win. I will have to learn to tolerate his music, this Senegalese Justin Bieber-Fist Brown-Usher tweenie pop ear-torture, and let it blend in with the rest of the city’s chaos.

But not tonight. Tonight, I will continue to hate on Wally and his stupid little name and his v-neck shirts. And I will wish in vain that he would shut UP before the call to prayer starts, because I have to go to work in the morning.