Fresh Meat

A new shipment of toubabs is here from France.


Not only does this mean I may get to crash their dance classes (Sabar AND djembe! Waaaaaaw waaaw! For a fee, of course), but it means that I am no longer the only etrangere chez Yaye. This means that I can blend into the background a bit. There is freedom (financial freedom, especially) in anonymity.

The last toubab to come was here several weeks ago, and she was an idiot. Not because she spoke no Wolof or French, but because she’d flown across the world to see a man who spoke Wolof and French exclusively and though they’d never had a single full conversation in the course of their 3 year “relationship”, dude had still managed convinced her that even though she was a guest in his house for the first time ever, she should be making him breakfast. Because Islam says so, he said.

That’s cray, I said, trying to shake off the strong smell of foolishness and f***ery that threatened to overwhelm me, while I was pretending to accurately translate for them. “Don’t get caught up in any foolishness, you hear?” I pleaded in English. “You are not the first American woman to come to this house, and you will not be the last. Don’t be a dummy. Don’t let these people play you–they are lovely, but if you are a mess, they will play you and toss you out with yesterday’s garbage. Do you hear what I’m saying to you?!”

The man she’d come to see looked confused. He’d only asked me to translate one sentence.

She wasn’t hearing it. “He’s gonna give me 10 babies,” she told me, smiling and shrugging, with her New York accent. Oh, she’s one of them, I realized. Desperate to the point of foolishness. Reads the CNN articles about how hard it is for black women to find mates, realizes that while she has a great, great job that allows her world travel, she’s getting up there in age (ie, older than 26), and that she needs to breed with someone, anyone. He’s not like the other ones. He doesn’t want a green card; he loves his job here. And you know what they say about them African brothas, wink wink. 

Yes, yes, I do know what they say about them. And I know what they say about you. You are a fool. Please go home.

The new batch is different. They have a rapport with the family. They are mostly men. So that means no sexual politics, which always complicates matters. They are white. I honestly don’t know what that means. I guess it depends on the situation, but one thing is sure–they will always be toubabs–which is a positive or negative, again depending on the situation. They have taken Senegalese names (only the Lord knows why), which has led people to ask me why I haven’t taken one, which leads me to snap my neck around in angryblackgirl fashion and tell them that I am NOT Senegalese, and that I’m proud of my own cultures sodontbetryingtolumpmeinwiththesecrazyselfhatingtouriststhatcomeherelookingforanidentitybecauseyouarescratchingupthewrongtreethanks, which leads them to laugh and say “no, you are Senegalese,” which leads me to either try to convince myself that they think they’re complimenting me by taking away my identity and supplanting it with theirs, or to purse my lips and bite my tongue before shutting down the conversation and walking away. It’s bad enough that my name sounds a lot like my sister-in-law-to-be’s name, so many people assume that my actual name is actually a Senegalese name I took on. NO! My mama named me. My name–Marissa Annette Lydia Jackson–represents my family’s personal zeitgeist, our religion, our socioeconomic status, my parents’ aspirations for my character and my life. And stop adding le fiance’s last name to the end of it because I am not his chattel! Do we HAVE to have a discussion about the integrity of female personhood today, really? Or, can you just let me be great? Or even mediocre, but still just me? Please?

When you are a white guy from France, visiting a country your country colonized and still economically rapes, you can afford to submit to certain orders and structures here because you are privileged. You can change your name because your skin is still that rosy pink that so many Senegalese women want so badly that they burn off their skin with cancer-causing steroid creams. You can afford to take off work and just hang out with a Senegalese family; you get paid vacations, probably. You’ve boarded a plane. Like me, you didn’t even need a visa to come here. You don’t have to curtsy when you greet other men. You can pick up a new religion if you want, because you were probably raised with none and becoming spiritual will make you seem more awesome to your friends.

If a French guy learns Wolof, it’s super cute and impressive. If or when I really learn Wolof, I’ll just be doing my duty. I don’t want to be on duty. I want a break. If I don’t curtsy, I’m demonstrating the rudeness, the looseness expected of Black Americans. I must curtsy before elders, especially men. Why? Because I’m a young woman. And not only that, but I’m black, and so I’m expected to understand Senegalese ways of life just because. When I curtsy, then, I’m doing it on behalf of an entire race, and a gender. Changing my religion? No thanks. Not just because that’s not how faith works, but because I need everyone to understand that being a Christian does NOT have to mean being a Colonizing Catholic from the 19th century who wants to strip folks of their land, freedom and African-ness, that being a black Christian is a legitimate choice, and a real culture. My nationality? A demonstration of endurance, a mark of pride at being a member of several disrespected minority groups. By refusing to let folks appropriate me, they have to deal with the fact that not all Jamaicans are weedheads, that not all Black Americans and Blacks in America are gangbanging prostitute cretin, that many of us read, travel, work, save, speak several languages (AND codeswitch), we are proud of our natural skin color and our natural hair. That we are real, decent people, worthy of respect on our own terms, even in their sovereign nation. That many of us respect them and their respective hustles, stories, histories, and that while we’re happy to be here with them, we’re not trying to be them–stealing and appropriating customs and traditions we don’t understand because of our Westocentrism, nor exploit them, nor corrupt them, nor control them.

How then, should I interact with these newcomers? So far, my answer has been not at all, aside from the standard greetings. People have continually tried to introduce us, assuming that we have something in common. We have nothing in common except that we’re not Senegalese. I don’t even want to speak my screwed-up “highly proficient” French around them, because experience has taught me that the French don’t like hearing their language abused, even if their English sucks. If they were Americans, we could joke about being able to finally speak English again, but they’re not, so we can’t. Instead they ask me what my Senegalese name is, and I force a smile and say “Je n’en ai pas.” I am nice because I know I want to join them for one or two of their classes, just to remind everyone that I, too, am different, and don’t know anything, and shouldn’t be expected to carry the cultural weight of all of my histories on my shoulders all the time. Sometimes, a girl just wants to dance. But I don’t want to overdo it with the “Dou ma senegalaise* temper tantrum”, because as hard as it is to be (sort of) on the inside, being on the outside without the benefit of white privilege is much worse.

*dou ma senegalaise = Wolof for “I’m not Senegalese”


Yesterday, I came to the house early in the morning to take Fatou Mbaye to school and I saw the tents being put up. I thought it was a bapteme. But that’s odd, I thought, I never heard anything about a bapteme. What am I going to wear?  As I walked into the courtyard of the compound, there was a cold stirring of activity; people were up and about as usual, but no one was happy. Made sense to me– I was also miserable with a cold/flu/allergy attack from hell and it was cold and gray out. I was probably just projecting my emotions on everyone else.
I walked past Mame Khady, who was praying, and into the salon. Fatou Mbaye was watching tv. “Are you kidding me?” I exclaimed, with annoyance clogging the remaining availability of my nasal passages. “You told me you’d be ready! I could have slept in longer if I’d know you’d be watching Babar!” She scurried. “No worries, Marissa, I just have to put on my clothes and we’ll go.” Hmph. I walked into Yaye’s room. No one. She was probably at the market. “Marissa!” Or not. “Marissa, viens!”
I turned around; she was summoning me from Mame Khady’s room, where she never sleeps. “Yaye! Ca va?”
“Viens, Marissa.” she said, urgently, if softly. “Viens ici.”
“Yaye, lan la?*”
Yaye told me there was a death; she was clearly disturbed. “You know him!” she said. “He comes to eat with us everyday! Now he’s gone! Life in Senegal…” she trailed off. “Life here is like that. It’s no good.” The problem for me is that while I know everyone’s faces and become attached to them, it is difficult for me to learn everyone’s name, so for the last 24 hours I’ve just been wondering–with dread– when the pieces would come together for me…when I would realize that I haven’t seen so-and-so for a long time. A few moments ago, a friend and mentor of mine posted this picture of him on Facebook, confirming everything, in the most horrible of ways.It’s true; I hadn’t seen him come by in quite a few days, but I never thought twice about it because I just figured we were missing each other due to my hectic schedule. I called him “Tonton” and he always greeted me with a firm handshake, that smile and the eyes that say “Asalaam alaikum”. He would often ask me for updates on le fiance, though he never usually said much else, thanking me for my greeting and allowing me to go on my way. He never needed to; he was part of the Circle of Uncles–you didn’t need to learn their names because they occupied a sphere that was higher than yours and you didn’t dare ask.

I wish this weren’t the case; I wish society weren’t so hierarchical and that we could have discussed things more openly, more freely. Maybe then he would have been able to tell me that he was suffering all this while from a painful illness that never kills anyone in the United States because it’s not supposed to be that serious. Maybe, if I had known, I would have been able to run next door to the pharmacy and even if I had to spend half a month’s salary for some–$20–he would still be here with his family, always quietly sitting or praying outside of the tailor’s atelier or the corner boutique with his prayer beads, often drumming if there was a Sabar at the house, always gentle and kind.

“Life here is like that.” Yaye mused, bitterly. “When you’re alive and sick, no one will do anything for you. No one will help. And now we will all help his family bury him. Now we will help. Here…Senegal…ici, c’est comme ca!”
May God comfort his family and grant his soul everlasting peace. Amen.
(For valuable information on Senegal’s Sabar music tradition, please check out the Gewel Tradition Project.)
lan la?= Wolof for “what is it?”

Cockfight (Roostergate)

I should explain myself. I don’t make a practice of insulting animals or inciting them to commit suicide; the rooster and I have a history. He is a great excuse for the reason why I do not spend nights Chez Yaye unless absolutely necessary. Last Saturday night, it was absolutely necessary, since we were all traveling to Diourbel (sigh. more on that later, maybe.) early on Sunday morning–buttcrack of the night early. Early.

As a result, I didn’t get a wink of sleep. The rooster howled ALL NIGHT, and at random intervals, making it impossible to even get used to the loud, anguished crowing and fall alseep to a sort of rhythm.  It was horrifying, and I was already utterly exhausted after a hard week with little sleep, a multitude of meetings and assignments, a certain little boy’s birthday excursion to Magicland (and the trampoline, and the mall, and La Gondole, etc), and so on and so forth. Not only that, but I was falling ill. And the rooster just kept on howling in the middle of the damn dark night.

I hated him.

I still have not recovered. I’m sicker and even more exhausted today, caught in a vicious cycle of needing to get work done but being too tired to do it well and staying up too late trying to get it together and waking up feeling like death but running to a meeting anyway. Accordingly, when I thought I saw a standoff between a cat, the rooster and the rooster’s ladyfriend yesterday, I naturally assumed that I was hallucinating. What I thought I saw was the cat blocking the fowls’ path as they attempted to enter Yaye’s courtyard. The rooster and his woman appeared to be fearful of the cat, refusing to move as the cat menaced them. At the same time, two baby girls were engaging in a fight over a plastic ball. It wasn’t really a fight; one of them was just receiving a beating because even thought she was better nourished and fatter than the aggressor, her mother has taught her not to hit other children. Life sucks that way sometimes.

After I ended the infant butt-whipping, I returned my attention to the rooster’s problem. And then I realized that while I wasn’t necessarily hallucinating, I’d perceived things incorrectly. This was another case of nature gone wrong in Dakar. The rooster and his wife (common-law?) calmly passed the cat, finally, mocking it by picking at his tail, and the cat screamed a little bit before running in the direction from whence the birds came. They had been blocking him. The rooster was not just loud and confused about what time it was, but also a jerk.

Fast forward to today. Early morning rising, meeting in a poor suburb of Dakar requiring a long, hot trip on a bus. Cold and allergies. Headache. Nearly 6 days’ worth of sleep deprivation. I needed a nap by 5pm-ish, which was around the first time I ate for the day. By 6pm, I was in an out of sleep in a blissful, comfortable, peaceful way.

5:54: The rooster.

You’ve got to be kidding me. You have GOT to be kidding me.

Then silence (by silence I mean a compound’s worth of people making lots of noise that I no longer here).

6:01: The rooster

6:05ish: I insult him in this blog.

6:15ish: The rooster takes it up a notch.

At that point, I decided to try to make lemonade out of roosters. After all, I couldn’t keep telling these outrageous stories about animals in Dakar without some photographic evidence to back it up. I opened the window in Yaye’s bedroom and took out my iPhone. Rooster was out of sight, but still yodeling at the top of his lungs. At approximately 6:25pm, he came into view, along with his wife. While searching for him, I noticed the cat chewing determinedly on a piece of meat…could have been fish, could have been goat, could have been beef, could have been mutton, whatever…the cat was going at it, and it was an unusually tough, large cut of flesh to which the cat would certainly not ordinarily have access.

I began fiddling with my phone to make sure I had space for photos, and then there was chaos. The rooster attacked his wife and his wife began to scream and peck at him. Cockfight. No one but me seemed to be interested. I switched from photo mode to video mode. The rooster, now literally henpecked, had escaped to the top of the compound’s canopy, from whence he has the habitude of crowing like a much more macho man than he actually is, given that he attacked his mate and she, in turn, just bit the hell out of him.

And then it became interesting: The hen, fired up and ready to go like Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign, then descended upon the cat, who had been paying them absolutely no attention whatever, and began to give him the lashing of a lifetime. The rooster flew down and hopped on the buttwhipping bandwagon, and suddenly the cat was meatless. The hen had his food in her mouth, which by this time was probably good and tender, and she left the rooster to continue to beat the cat while she began to eat. And then I began to think I was hallucinating again, because everyone knows chickens are vegetarians, but Fatou Mbaye entered the room and began giggling at the fact that I was trying to capture everything on my phone.

And then the rooster, proud of himself, mounted the canopy again, and began telling the world about what great victory he and his lady had won at war.


Medina, Dakar. April 2013. Photo by Marissa Jackson. All Rights Reserved.

I hate them both.

Extending Family.

My step-son-to-be turns 8 today. His birthday experience has been ridiculously expensive so far, but I haven’t minded. Which means it’s quite possible that I love this little boy. I’m running off to a meeting now, but when I’m done, I will rush home to prepare for his birthday party, even though I’m exhausted. 


And that means he’s mine.

Takeifa: Rocking Dakar


Nothing is impossible with Senegalese music.

Originally posted on Africa is a Country:

Some music videos take you by surprise. One such video is the brand new offering by the Senegalese band Takeifa, called “Supporter”. Takeifa is band of siblings from the Keita family headed by brother Jac. According to soundcloud fable, Jac Keita experienced his musical calling at the tender age of 11, begging his father for an old guitar. Finally acquiring a guitar without strings, he cleverly fashioned makeshift strings from bicycle break cables. Before long Jac was recognized for his prodigious talent and recruited three of his brothers and one sister to join him in making music. The Keitas moved to Dakar in 2006 and established themselves as reliably strong performers in Dakar’s music scene.

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I hate Kenya Moore, but.

To the creature who told me to cover my head because Islam says so (who? what? Jesus told me to tell you to hush.)

To the Baay Fall who grabbed my arm in the street today because he didn’t think I was paying sufficient attention to him and his maleness, and then yelled at me for embarassing him  (Boo, bye. Next!)

To the little dude who responded to my request to stop calling me by my fiance’s name by asking me who I thought I was (I think that maybe I’m sorry that your dad didn’t use protection.)

To the people who scold me for not having children yet (Don’t hate on me just because you had 5 kids by the time you were 18 and now your ladyparts are the size of a two-car garage. You must be mistaking me for your co-wife. Mind your business.)

To the people who scold me for not being married (*expletive*)

To the heifers who tell me to stop losing weight (Mind your business.)

To the heifers who tell me to make sure I don’t gain weight (Mind your business.)

To everyone who demands that I give them money or other gifts for any number of absurd reasons (Lolz)

To the insolent bastards who ask me when I’m going to convert (no, after you)

To the crazy university student who coerced my phone number out of me after interrupting my evening run and now will not stop texting me how I’m not that pretty anyway and why am I not responding to his calls and he just wants to be my friend and when can he see me again and I’m so arrogant for not responding and okay have a nice day God bless you (boo, you spit that good game…)

And to everyone else who can’t seem to stay in their lanes: Kenya

Margaret Thatcher: My tribute

Rest in peace, Iron Lady.  I harbor no personal resentment against you, and even if I did, I’ve been learning how to hold my peace lately. Plus, there is that whole business about remaining silent if one has nothing nice to say.

I have nothing nice to say.

Oh, but I would like to shout out the feminists you hated (and whose necks and backs you stood upon), the society you didn’t believe in (read: believed in, hated and dismantled), my great hero, Nelson Mandela (who you labeled a terrorist, mostly likely because he was busy terrorizing white power, which was terrifying for you), and my great aunts and uncles who emigrated to your cold, rainy land from Jamaica against your wishes because you stated openly that you viewed them as a threat to England (just as England threatened Jamaica by COLONIZING it, but you loved colonialism, so it couldn’t be the same thing, see). I would like to big them up because despite everything you did to make our lives more difficult, or to kill us outright, like giant Senegalese street rats, we’re still here. Mr. Mandela included.

I would also like to say, just once, with a definitive shake of my dreadlocks, with the fullness of my black post-colonial immigrant lips, with all the force I can muster up in my perpetually enraged feminist soul, and on behalf of the masses to whom I have dedicated my life’s work, the following:


So, go on, rest in peace, Iron Lady. Condolences to your family, too. Even Carol. I ain’t mad at you.

Not anymore.