After the struggles to get to Saint Louis, we wanted a responsible driver with a reliable car – well, as reliable as possible in Senegal. I spoke with my English friend (and our very first guest) Mam Diarra who put me in touch with her buddy Daouda. Mam Diarra (her Senegalese name) runs a charity in Saint Louis to help the talibe children. Talibe are young children found all over Senegal who are sent by their families, due to poverty, to a marabout for Islamic religious training, but in reality spend much of their time begging on the street, ragged, barefoot and as sad looking as you might expect. There are many tales of them being beaten (and in some cases to the death) if they don’t make their daily quota. The terrible thing is that giving them money perpetuates the problem. As difficult as it may be, the best thing is to be kind to the children, but not give money, rather support charities like Mel’s.
Daouda turned up on time and his car worked. We left as the sun rose over the Sahelian plains and we took roads into the hot dusty interior. Our destination was the holy city of Touba. I always like to do something different with each trip I make and I’d long wanted to visit this place. Sadly we were a few weeks late for the Maghal, a pilgrimage where two million people visit there to celebrate the return of Cheikh Amadou Bamba, spiritual leader of the Mouride Sufi brotherhood, after being banished by the French colonial authorities for 20 years – apparently Dakar virtually empties for those – but at least we’d get a look at the huge mosque – supposedly the biggest in Africa – which dominates the town and is the most visited holy site in West Africa.
Indeed, we could see the minarets before we’d even entered the city. When we pulled up to the mosque, Glyn and Sharon said they could add it to the list of world monuments they’ve seen covered in scaffolding. Daouda called his friend, a guide, and shortly a portly man, barefoot in white robes, appeared, gave us the dress code (Sharon had to put on a head scarf – we were already wearing long trousers etc) and remove our shoes – we were given a paper bag, like an airplane sick bag – in which to put and carry them.
The guide proceeded to show us around, insisting we wouldn’t pay but should make a donation – a donation it transpired that should be at least a sack of rice which was slightly more than the few quid we had in mind. Nevertheless, the tour was interesting, the mosque in fine shape even if being upgraded, and the devotion of the chanting worshippers who were working themselves into a frenzy, rocking back and forth and getting louder, admirable, even if such devotion baffles me.
There was just one more thing – cafe Touba is the spicy liquorice like coffee sold in small cups across Senegal and I was determined to drink cafe Touba in Touba. So I did.