A few decades ago, I was born in Senegal, in the seaport town of Dakar. Shaped like a lion's head, Senegal sits proudly on the far Western coast of Africa. It is a former French colony that first saw Islam in the 8th century. I spoke French as a child. I still do. I am still a proud French citizen.
My first memories are of bin-littered smelly markets, of ample bosomed Senegalese women, swaying provocatively under their colorful boubous while red gold jingles round their wrists. I often awoke to the crowing of roosters on concrete roof top terraces. Noise pervaded my world, from the metallic clank of construction sites to the unrelenting muezzin calls to prayer, high up on mosque minarets.
I remember the dandy male locals in their billowing embroidered white robes and their rich leather slippers. I recall the warm smell of supple leather, the odor of rotting fish on sandy shores, the elegant pirogues matted with algae, the abundant coconut, the ever present sun, the beaches...
I lived most of my childhood in Senegal and France. I ate Lebanese food because my father and his family were originally from Lebanon. I ate French food because my maternal grandfather was French. I ate Vietnamese food because my maternal grandmother was Vietnamese and loved to cook. I ate Senegalese food because the maids prided themselves in cooking their traditional dishes for us.
I can remember that as a six years old, I was blessed with food experiences unheard of for most of my contemporaries at the time. Monday's lunch would be couscous, Tuesday, steak and frites, Wednesday, spring rolls and Vietnamese fried rice, Thursday, Lebanese shawarma and Friday, the renown Senegalese thiep bou dien.
You are what you eat, right?
But soon, I discovered the insipid meat pie wrapped in plastic with all the lumpiness of failed gravy. And before I knew it, I was standing in a grass oval, littered with shrieking, English speaking eleven year olds who gesticulated in their sport uniforms and I realised, after much confusion, that I was being told with fervent passion, to bat. Everything depended on me batting. And batting properly. Bat? The concept was horribly foreign. I remember crying with shame that day.
As a ten year old, I'd arrived to Australia knowing only about kangaroos and koalas. On a holiday to Melbourne five years before that, I'd flirted with the tall Lady Diana look-alike who brought me coloring books in the plane and spoke in her sexy accent. But after immigrating, I had no idea that prowess in cricket, softball and T-ball was the way to fit in and measure how well you were assimilated, in this large, barren country.
Rest assured, things have changed for the better. After all, these were cheap supermarket meat pies, and I've since learnt where to find more tastier, wholesome ones. Try Sydney's Bourke St Bakery, for example. Much has evolved here, in Australia.
I write in English now. That's what I do. But I'll never write about sport. First experiences linger somehow.
In the 1980s, Australia was still new in the art of receiving people like me. It did not know about Teranga. I learnt from my experiences. At school, I tried to offer Teranga to many new friends who had emigrated from Hong Kong, Taiwan, El Salvador. Having walked in their shoes, I tried to ease them into their new life. In many cases they were grateful. And so was I, for the cultural exchange.
Foreign culture and travel hold a special fascination for me. And with reason. Before I arrived in Australia, I had been in transit. Senegal was my transit. I was born in transit. I don't really belong anywhere. How can I?
It has been hard to define myself. My identity remains fluid. Perhaps the only stable traits are my persistent obsessive mind, my undying passion for aesthetics and my immense joy in self-expression. I've lived on the sidelines long enough to understand different viewpoints. I studied social psychology. I am still learning.
This blog is a sliver of a tiny human being. It is my journey in writing, through my passions and lately, in giving back.
You are welcome here. In all your plurality, contradictions and complexity. Be you.