Fresh blood. It was a feast indeed. So meticulous in their planning. Mosquitos. Clever and never satisfied
By Mohammed Thiane
Stepping out of the Kenyan Airways flight, at the Blaise Diagne International Airport in Thies, Senegal – some 40kms from the capital, Dakar – I felt the hot wind in my face as I disembarked from the plane.
The hot, sticky breeze immediately struck a memory of my earlier years in this great city. The time before I migrated to Zimbabwe, with my parents, for school. I had expected significant climatic differences between my two homes, so the 36-degree heat I felt walking onto the tarmac, was really no surprise.
I was greeted by beautiful smiles as I walked to join the queue where my fellow travellers were getting their passports stamped. My turn came and I responded to the call.
I walked to the counter and presented my case. I had no visa. I had heard that my father was sick, having suffered a terrible stroke. My sister had bought me a ticket, and, without hesitation, I had taken the next flight out.
Finally, after some minutes, I was called to collect my passport and my bag. Arriving outside, my father’s young brother was waiting for me. Greetings and happiness. I enthusiastically took a video of my surroundings. I loudly shared my update with the world. My Uncle’s face revealed he was not impressed at my over-reaction. I put the phone away as we walked to the car, and then drove home.
A beautiful room had been prepared for me. It smelled nice and was air-conditioned. What a sleep that was. I felt loved. I felt welcomed. I felt at home.
The next day, I woke, got ready, and my baby brother, Papa Moussa Thiane collected me for our journey to Touba Sham Thiane, in the region of Bambey. This is where my Father’s house is – some 180kms from Dakar.
Upon seeing my father, after many years, and in his state-of-health, I dropped to my knees as I sobbed on his lap. “Now, be strong. Don’t let your young brothers and sisters see you cry. You are the Kalifa (head of the house),” he said to me, rubbing the back of my head.
I got up, sat near him, and we talked for hours about the time we had been apart. Yet, all the time we spoke, there seemed to be something left unsaid.
We had our supper before preparing for bed. Little did I know that a welcoming committee awaited me in my chambers.
I laid on my bed, trying to find sleep. On the humid, night air, I began to hear them discussing the treat they had prepared for me. “Hello, Son of the Soil. Welcome home,” one whispered in the darkness.
I realised just how many flanked him, as they moved towards me with the most sophisticated, evasive manoeuvre. Through all my many years, and every battle I had ever encountered, I had never experienced anything like this…
It turned out, the rest of them had gone to invite neighbours, friends, and family for the great feast. The Prodigal Son had returned. Their social media page must have been ‘on fire’, as the turnout was nothing short of amazing. Within an hour the party was booming.
Even rival gangs from other territories turned out to show their love and appreciation. Fresh blood. It was a feast indeed. So meticulous in their planning. Mosquitos. Clever and never satisfied.
They create the facade of a distraction on one side while attacking from the other side. Cunningly pursuing their prey. Wild beasts preparing to feast. They duck the air from the fan and then pop up again. The bigger, louder ones fly down, and not up, avoiding the light, and the swing of the hand as you smack yourself in the face. Rage.
Magicians. They know how to land on dark colours for camouflage. You’ll be looking right at them but not seeing them.
They know your intention is to find peace, but they have learned patience. You can’t scratch forever, friend. They can wait. Your rising panic and fear only make your blood run fresher. They can smell fear from miles away and know where the blood runs hottest.
Free falling like a Navy Seal helicopter and dropping from height to their goal. You won’t even realise you’ve been drained until these ninjas have gone. 37 mosquito bites. 37. In one night.
In those hours, I believed I then understood why my uncle had not been impressed at my airport antics. I understood why my father’s reaction silently warned me of terrible lessons to come.
I understood why my beautiful, air-conditioned room on my first night was a final farewell to comfort and peace before the descent into a new kind of hell. Everything seems more dramatic when mosquitos get involved.
But all was not lost. After all of my father’s household had laughed hysterically at my complaints – more than I’d seen any Senegalese laugh, until that point – I was told about mosquito rings, sprays and nets. Why are life’s hardest lessons so painfully learned?
I would not be fooled again. While I navigate the beauty and culture of this wonderful land I have since learned that you are never, ever to be without a mosquito repellent. It is a necessity.
Senegal is a great country, filled with wonderful people and many perfect tourist locations – but always be prepared for the gangsters of the night, and their different kind of welcoming committee. And don’t get me started about their cousin. The Fly.
Thiane is a Senegalese who grew up in Zimbabwe, and is writing for The Sunday Express, and broadcasting for Jit Television from Dakar
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