On Saturday afternoon Molly and I went shopping in downtown Dakar near the Marché Sandaga, a sprawling mess of fabric stores and sidewalk vendors. We pushed our way past stalls selling fake gold and imitation brand name shirts, running a gauntlet of jewelry peddlers and men pushing carved figurines and patchwork bags in our foreign, white faces.
That walk epitomized what is so exhausting, so aggravating, about being here. Our white skin was a glowing beacon drawing in a steady stream of people who had no interest in us beyond our toubab money. The man insistently tapping me on the arm with a wooden giraffe clearly believed that I had come to the market that day with no other intention than to give my money to him, if only he were persistent enough.
However, like so many of my Senegal experiences, there was also a moment of triumph—a counterbalance to the frustration, redeeming the day. I stopped to try on sunglasses and greeted the seller in Pulaar. All the guys within earshot turned to me in surprise, and pretty soon I had attracted a crowd of five or six men marveling at the white girl speaking Pulaar. One of them took over translation duties since the actual vendor didn’t speak Pulaar and I was having fun by refusing to speak French. I went from target to novelty with just a few sentences, and that was victory enough.