On January 4, my friend Kimalee and I flew from Ghana to Senegal. We landed at the Blaise Diagne International Airport, and from there took a taxi to Popenguine, a small beachside town in Senegal. It’s a place I’ve now visited at least four times. The last time I was there — prior to this trip — I was on a personal retreat. I needed a quiet yet inspirational space to work on my book. My friend, the author Ayesha Harruna Attah, opened her home to me. Popenguine gave me what I needed then, and did so again on this trip.
For over a decade now I’ve had a ritual of going away at the start of the year. I often do this trip with different groups of friends and there is always a body of water in the mix. My January trips are also when I review my goals from the previous year, and set new goals for the year ahead. This year, Kimalee, my friend Eliza, her friend Soraya, and I, rented a house on the beach. It’s a higgledy piggledy house, yet full of charm – my friends insist I take the largest room downstairs because this trip is also to celebrate my 45th birthday. We eat most of our meals downstairs — from here we have views of the vast expanse of the sea, broken only by fishermen in small canoes in the foreground, and what we suspect are trawlers on the horizon. We spend our days walking, swimming, and eating a variety of Senegalese dishes cooked by Nabou, a woman from the village nearby, who wears brightly colored flowy dresses with matching head wraps, and whose skin looks like it’s been nourished every day with the best quality shea butter. We indulge in chicken yassa, fish, thieboudienne, fatayer, and onion sauce, washing them down with home made bissap. A stray one eyed cat who looks like he’s lost several fights adopts us, and we save him little morsels from our meals. We name him Jim.
We spend our nights in the small living room, taking turns to share the comfy couch and the not so comfy stools while reflecting on the year just gone, and sharing our dreams for the year ahead. On our last day we each say what we want to take away from our time on the beach. For me what I want to take away is the sense of spaciousness I felt in Popenguine where time felt elastic. Where I woke up and slept to the sounds of waves crashing repeatedly on the beach. Where food was plentiful and delicious because it was made with love, and is eaten in the company of women who love and nourish me.
And then it was on to Dakar where Kimalee and I shared a room at the Hotel Le Djollof. We had two single beds which we pushed together. I chose the bed closer to the terrace, so she had no choice but to pick the one near the toilet. I would get dressed in 5 minutes flat, then sit and wait for Kimalee to get ready. Often she went to the bathroom with her speakers — I would hear strains of Afro-fusion music drift in from under the bathroom door, and then she would emerge, and light her incense. Dressing is Kimalee’s art form — she once described herself to me as “‘high femme”’ — and her process can take what feels like hours. Her look of the day is always finished off with lashings of gold on her fingers, around her wrists, neck and ears.
I’ve been to Dakar a number of times but this time it feels different. I’m not working. I’m not in endless meetings. I am living. If Popenguine was about spaciousness, Dakar was about filling my life with art and culture. We visited the Museum of Black Civilization, Loman Art House and Soumbedioune market. I left Dakar with numerous little treasures – mud cloth coasters, woven tissue holders, fridge magnets — that will always remind me of the beauty of the city, and the skill of its artisans. More importantly I left Senegal with a reminder to create spaciousness in my life, making dress up an art form and a ritual, and taking things slow because as Naike’s (one of the women I interviewed in The Sex Lives of African Women) mum said, “you haven’t tasted anything until you’ve tasted it slow.”
I’m back in Ghana and I resume my favorite act of self-love — taking myself on hour long daily walks. I’ve recently moved homes and I now live in a quiet suburban part of town where the sun seems to shine brighter when it rises, and the sky turns all shades of orange before the sun sets at night. I can’t believe I was ever worried about moving outside of the bustle of the capital Accra. I love my new neighborhood. People say a chirpy “Good morning” when they pass you on the street, and on the days I go walking without my dog Romeo, someone inevitably says, “Oh, you didn’t bring your dog today.” I’ve taught my two-year-old to hold my hand tightly when we go walking together but we encounter very few cars. We tend to walk just as the sun is setting, and the moon is rising. Often she says, “Mum look, there’s the moon, and there’s the sun.” She’s big on chasing the sun and so we often walk in the direction of the setting sun, chasing her as she dips below houses, and looking up at a sky that’s bursting in flames of oranges and reds.
Self Discovery, Freedom, and Healing