I am self-described momma’s boy. I tell this to my sisters very quickly to prevent them from not recognizing my basic human rights out of concern for their own safety. This effort of mine never works, largely because of the burden of the 21st-century socialite: she deals with people in bulk and tends overlook the fine details.
When I went to Africa for the first time in my life I did several momma’s-boy things: I took rooms at a “four star” hotel; I wore way too much anti-mosquito skin cream; I was in my hotel for the night at or before six; and I had way too much fun with my compatriot elders.
One of the “big-boy” things I did was make a point of walking the streets of Dakar (instead of going everywhere in a taxi). Since I was not going to be yelling broken French into the ear of a beautiful Senegalese woman with too much western makeup on in a night club full of chain-smoking French men of all skin colors, this was going to my way of getting close to Dakar. And walking is the second-best thing a cyclist can do (I saw, by the way, only two cyclists in Dakar—one looked to me in great danger with a taxi close on his tail—by the way, many taxis in Dakar have ‘tails,’ tufts of blonde animal hair gingerly touching the street from the rear of the cab for “protection”).
Outside of the gates of my momma’s-boy hotel there are street vendors (many with mobile-phone SIM cards) and others waiting for tourists. Two young men waiting outside my hotel volunteered themselves to be my guide for DAK’ART 2014. The first dude was, ahem, not qualified to help me and the second man was Tafsir Diop—who was not only my guide (because a map was not going to help me much) but was my interpreter. He understood immediately that I intended to walk to most DAK’ART venues and, as we walked through the streets, many, many people of diverse walks of life seemed to know him and greet him with genuine pleasantries.
One “big boy” fantasy I had before travelling to Africa was engaging a beautiful, Senegalese, female interpreter. This is just more Hollywood imagery coming ironically from someone that claims to be so anti-Hollywood. First of all, in the real world of Dakar, there would not be a beautiful, educated young woman just standing in front of a hotel with a bunch of men waiting for a Black stranger like me that she will then brazenly walk up to and volunteer herself. There are only two adventuresome sights seen in Dakar that featured such attractive Senegalese women: one was a female taxi driver that had something like “Sister Taxi” painted on her cab (she made point of parking her cab inside the gates of my hotel unlike most of the male drivers) and two was this stunningly, superfine sister that was putting a helmet on her head, as I walked past her, to get on the back of a Mobylette, driven by a greying, heavy-set French man, old enough to be her father.
So, based on my complete stranger-hood and my limited knowledge of Dakar, my ‘close’ interaction with Senegal was going to be close interactions with the men of Senegal. To many of my homeboys (and, ironically, some homegirls) that have some kind of idea of how much money I spent on this trip, the previous sentence was a declaration of total disaster. To many of my homeboys who still claim to be “afro-centric” after it went well out of style after the Public-Enemy 1980s—those homies who claim to “love” the motherland—this “disaster” should look like me paying respect for the real situation on the ground—and the idea that a Black Man coming to the motherland for exploitative, imperialistic, patriarchal sex-tourism should be nauseating.
Tafsir Diop primarily reminded me of two things about Africa: there still struggles a man’s world of honorable men in Africa and me being in Africa close to my people with economic problems is just like me being North America close to my people with economic problems—eventually a mufukka is going to ask for too much money (I spent about a half-million “cifa” on the streets of Dakar—not including my personal hotel shit). But let’s concentrate on the honorable man stuff that Tafsir brings to the table. It begins when he tells you his name. He referred to himself with first name last name and he referred to himself with first name and Baye Fall. I has no idea what Baye Fall meant for my entire time in Senegal. He invoked Baye Fall in a musical way like how Rasta people invoke Rastafari. He referred to certain other young men as Baye Fall as well. It took a while for me even me to break through my western programming and simply Google Baye Fall and the Wikipedia article came to me:
One famous disciple of Bamba, Ibra Fall, was known for his dedication to God, and considered work as a form of adoration. Amadou Bamba finally decided that Ibra Fall should show his dedication to God purely through manual labor. Ibra Fall founded a sub-group of the Mouride brotherhood called the Baye Fall (Baay Faal in Wolof), many of whom substitute hard labor and dedication to their marabout for the usual Muslim pieties like prayer and fasting.
I knew there was something about Tafsir because we walked through the streets of Dakar for hours and he never complained about the effort involved (even by local-folk standards). Once—and I do mean only once for my duration in Dakar—an elderly woman was really persistent about getting money from us (usually young men were persistent like this)—and I told Tafsir give her one thousand “cifa” and he did so immediately. A more western-impoverished young thinker would immediately insist that I give her money, but Tafisr knew (I guess) that I would hand him five thousand or more later—and very possibly he knew that I was the kind of man who traded cash for work, I was not a typical westerner that would “give” money to people for nothing but begging (I can do that shit at home with a small number of persistent folk in my own family).
When a street merchant wanted to sell me sandals and I did not have the tens of thousands of “cifa” on me (I would have to walk back to the hotel ATM), the merchant trusted Tafsir enough to give him the sandals and collect the money from me later in the day. This level of trust (not just for fear of thievery but just general “forgetful” incompetency) is very much impossible in too many places of the world I come from. So I knew there was something ancient and pre-western about Baye Fall and the honorable ways of Tafsir.
So Tafsir Diop always makes me remember Cheikh Anta Diop and the idea of checking the index of his books for Baye Fall led me to page 148 of Civilization or Barbarism. During an exploration of “the Islamic Revolution in Africa” Diop refers to Cheikh Ibra Fall:
Islam might have eliminated castes and started a social revolution, the basis of all progress; but the religious dignitaries of common origin preferred to become “ennobled,” in a way, by marrying princesses, so that their children would be nobles through their mothers and marabouts through their fathers. Thus, outwardly, the model of the conquered aristocratic society continued to be conveyed, in some manner, by the subconscious of those whose mission had been to eradicate it from the mental universe of the people. The failure of the social revolution was painful. However, some religious chiefs did at times put the nobility back in its place. This was the case with “Lamp Fall” (Cheikh Ibra Fall), creator of the Muride subsect of the Bay Fall. He had a calabash full of sun-dried “turds” given to all of his princess wives who were demanding the privilege of having their meals separately, apart from the other wives of popular or slave origin, and exclaimed indignantly: “Try to tell your ‘turds’ from those of the common women!”
Immediately we see the Baye Fall style, a mixture of formal piety with street vulgarity. I relate to this extremely quickly. We see very little patience with the pettiness of imperial womanhood—something keeping me very sad and single to this day.
So whatever is “tragic” about my time in Dakar is weighted against what came close to me in Dakar. I came very close to the brothers of Dakar—and it gave me a reason to pull out my old, cherished Diop books. I have found my interest in Cheikh Anta Diop a very lonely pursuit and any little thing helps a momma’s boy like me. Much respect Tafsir! Baye Fall!