The subject to this post, “Day at the beach," is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration in several different aspects. First, we didn’t actually spend a day there; we only spent about 2 hours there. Second, we weren’t actually at a beach, or not a “real” beach by American standards; we were on the side of a (really mucky, salty) river that happened to be covered mostly in sand, though it had patches of mucky clay. Despite these inaccuracies, we still had a great time on our 2 hour sojourn on the sandy side of a river.
Perhaps I need to back up though. This all started several years ago when my best friend in Kaymor, Yassay, attended a girls camp run by an American NGO. The camp was held at a small resort among the mangroves in the delta of the Gambia River. Even though there was a really nice swimming area at the resort, she (like the rest of the girls at the camp) was not allowed to go swimming in the mangroves. Fast forward a few years, Yassay attended a day-trip to a beach south of Dakar with her classmates, where she was allowed to swim. Their definition of “swimming” though simply involves wading into the water up to your knees (or waist if you’re really daring!) and splashing around a little. Because of this, and knowing that I know how to swim really well, Yassay told me the other day that she wanted me to teach her how to swim. Since the Bao Bolon River is the only body of water within any reasonable distance for us, we made plans to go there the following Sunday afternoon. And that is exactly what we did. Yassay came over to my hut late morning and we chit-chatted for a while. Then, as 12:30, we left: me peddling my bike, Yassay sitting on the back, doing a fabulous job of balancing (the road to the river isn’t exactly smooth…). A half an hour and tons of stares (from Senegalese people who have never seen a white person biking with a Senegalese girl sitting on the back) later, we arrived at the river. Once there, we changed into our swimming attire: I put my workout clothes on (shorts and a soccer jersey) because my swimming suit was in Kaolack (not that I would have worn it anyway – it’s much too scandalous for a grown woman to show that much leg and stomach), and Yassay pulled on a one-piece swimming suit and then slipped on a short skirt over top.
We took some pictures to document the experience, and then proceeded to wade into the water. Even though it was mostly sand on the shore, once we hit the water, the ground was all mucky clay. The water is quite salty (almost the same saltiness of sea water) so there really isn’t much plant life growing in the water. However, there is a fairly large fish population in the river; these fish don’t get much bigger than 15cm, or at least that’s what I’m told; all the fish I’ve ever seen from the river are really small – no more than 5 cm long. We waded into the water a little – just until the water was up to our mid-shin – and then Yassay said that that was enough. After a few minutes she told me I could go a little farther out, so I waded a ways and then, when the water was about at my knees I did a really shallow dive and swam for a little ways before Yassay called me back again. We proceeded to do that several times, always with Yassay calling me back when I wasn’t even 100m from her. She clearly was concerned for me, though I assured her I could swim very well and even if I couldn’t, it didn’t matter, the water never got higher than my waist so I could easily stand up.
After all while, we got bored and went and sat on the beach. There we chatted and listened to music on Yassay’s cell phone for a while (until her cell phone battery died, and then we just chatted). We both lamented how neither of us had thought to bring a towel or wrap skirt so we could lay down on the beach and sleep. When we were ready to leave, we went back in the water one last time, but not for long, since we were getting cold – a rarity here, but it does happen. Then Yassay changed back into her clothes (I didn’t feel the need to change) and we biked home the same way we had biked there.
All in all, it was a fun experience, though we both agreed that a real beach day, with a real beach on the side of a lake or ocean, with towels to lie on, lunch to eat, pop to drink, music to listen to and perhaps a soccer ball or Frisbee to play with, would be way more fun. Yassay is going to come visit me after I move up to Dakar in October, so hopefully we can do that there sometime.