Best-selling author of 'Money Power Love', 'The Little Voice' and 'Occupied'.

JOSS SHELDON

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1. DAKAR

Hi there,

 

I only arrived in Senegal yesterday, and I’ve already met Mohammed and God!

 

I landed at Dakar Airport at 2am, with no currency or accommodation. That wouldn't have been a problem if the only cash machine in the building was working…

 

As it was, penniless and with nowhere to go, I had no choice but to put myself in the hands of Mohammed, otherwise known as Moo Moo; a dodgy looking character who was loitering, hoping to rip off hapless travellers like myself. He put me in a taxi, which drove from cash point to cash point, until we finally found one which worked. Then we went to an anonymous white building in an anonymous white suburb known as Yoff.

 

Two African men were rudely awoken, shunted out of the bed they had been sharing, and shuttled out of what was to become my room. (Such living arrangements are known as ‘communal living’, part of the 'real Africa' MooMoo was so keen for me to see). I was left with four walls, one bed, and nothing else. Even the resident mouse left as soon as it saw me.

 

The shower in the morning was a bit of a surprise. I looked on the wall for the shower head, then on the floor, but could only find a bucket of water with a cup in it. A few pours later, I felt a lot closer to Africa. But I decided not to go for a number two; there was no toilet paper around, and I wasn’t quite ready to use the same bucket of water to clean up after myself.

 

Instead, I walked around Yoff. The beach was nice and the people were friendly. Friendly and young; over 50% of people here are under twenty. They played football, showed off in the water, and tugged at my watch – an item for which they seemed to have a strange fixation.

 

Later in the day, MooMoo and I bought fresh fish from the market, which we barbequed on the roof with an onion dish and bread. A group of about six of us remained there for the rest of the evening; listening to music, eating, drinking wine, and talking. Allowing ourselves “To kill time. Not allowing time to kill us.”

 

That was when I met God.

 

God, who is fluent in English (although I suppose you’d expect that from an omniscient being), told me about the time Bob Marley came to his house when he was a child. Then he asked for 5000 euros so he could organise my tour of West Africa. Everyone had been asking for money from me. Everyone had been trying to butt in on my trip. And I had told everyone, in the politest terms possible, exactly where to go. Still, the nagging continued.

 

The sun set, and the night began. MooMoo decided that he’d like to accompany me into town, and so we both jumped into an ‘African Taxi’; a converted old banger stuffed with far more people than seats.

 

The taxi ran out of petrol, and we had to push it to the nearest petrol station.

 

After Momo and I had a drink at a bar (which I paid for) and another one at a reggae club (which I paid for) we got a taxi to see Vivian; a local musician who was supposed to be playing a five hour set at Yousseff N'Dour's club (although it turned out that she didn't). I paid for that taxi too.

 

An African lady joined me in the back, and was what I can only describe as ‘overly friendly’. She said hello, squeezed up next to me, ran her palm across my thigh, and slipped her fingers inside my pants. Her hand moved up and down. I removed it from my crotch. Her hand returned. I removed it again.

 

“Thank-you,” I said.

 

“You don’t like?” She asked.

 

“Well, err,” I replied. “It’s not really appropriate.”

 

The hand returned to my crotch. I removed it again.

 

“You like it!” She said.

 

“I don’t know you,” I replied. Although I felt that she knew me a lot more than she had done just a few minutes earlier.

 

We walked around town and found a couple of clubs, which were both full of white men; the first I had seen since leaving the airport. They both played cheesy foreign hip-hop. We left both after less than a minute.

 

But the final club of the night, which played Senagelese music, was much more popular with the locals. We went in and started dancing. MooMoo asked for a drink, and I finally squared up to him. “Buy your own,” I said. “And stop forcing prostitutes on me.”

 

He had been rounding up prostitutes in every club we visited. So I left him alone, and went to chat up a pretty African lady who was standing near the bar. One thing lead to another, and after some giggles, some dancing and some kissing, we found our way back to a local hotel.

 

The lady went to freshen up in the toilet, returned to the bedroom, and looked into my eyes. I couldn’t believe my luck – I was about to get laid on my first night in Africa. And this girl was beautiful.

 

Then she asked for money!

 

My heart sank, I put my shoes back on, left the room and ran down the corridor. I ran down the street. I ran down one street after another. But the lady gave chase! She chased me through Dakar as locals looked on and laughed. Everywhere I looked I saw chubby-cheeked giggling Africans. All of a sudden I’d become the evening entertainment; a crazy gringo fleeing from a cash-hungry whore.

 

I eventually found a taxi and returned to Yoff. I walked up and down the anonymous roads, lined with anonymous white buildings, before I finally found my home. Then I went to sleep.

 

The next morning I finally had a poo. For those of you are interested, I poured the water with right hand and cleaned with my left.

 

Joss

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WEST AFRICA BLOGS

 

Back in the summer of 2003, aged 21, I went travelling on my own for the first time. The emails which I sent home, edited versions of which appear here, were my debut efforts at real writing.

 

Looking back, my trip around West Africa was eventful to say the least. In these blogs you'll encounter rampaging prostitutes, charismatic scammers, debilitating illness, and petite crime. But shining through it all is a real sense of humanity. The warmness of the Africans, their friendly nature and welcoming personalities, struck me almost every single day. Hopefully they'll leave a similar impression on you too...

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