There are no bees in Dakar

Dedicated to the memory of the writer’s friend: the rebel and genius, Binyavanga Wainaina.

Image: Maya Wegerif (in the center) and Binyavanga Wainaina (second from the right).

I got stung by multiple bees this weekend and in order to explain how that happened, I have to introduce you to Binyavanga Wanaina. I met him at an Akuwa Naru concert over a month ago. The experience of recognizing a face in a crowd, in a city I had only been in for a week, stopped me mid-headbop and it took me a minute to place which one of my many homes I knew this one from. The answer was Twitter.

That evening I approached a legend but met one of the most effortlessly genuine people I had ever encountered. He had originally come to Senegal for a conference but had decided to stay indefinitely. We shared beers and talked about South African Traditional healers, the Senegalese Mourides and the ancient Bantu migrations to the South of Africa. You didn’t know if it was because of his big eyes or because what you were saying was genuinely interesting, but you got the sense that Binya was really listening to you.

I bumped into him again in St. Louis during the jazz festival a month or so later and we were both of the mind that we were not going to sit and listen to jazz. We preferred to dance. After that weekend he invited me to Saly, an hour South of Dakar, where he was renting a cool, 3-bedroom house with a pool. There were several other friends spending the weekend there when I went and this made for a lively home with flowing Gazelle beer and Marlboro reds.

Image: Maya Wegerif.

(I’m still getting to the bees.)

My trip to Saly was so relaxing, enlightening and fun that I went to visit Saly again this past weekend. On my way back from the Saturday night party session, while drunk as anything, I saw Binya’s lit, aqua-blue pool. It looked so incredible under the full moon that I stripped down to my underwear and jumped in. For about three seconds I marveled at the beauty of the world and the incredible order of things, and then I got a sharp sting in my arm. There turned out to be hundreds of half-dead bees floating in the water beside me. And behind me! And all around! I half swam and half ran out of the water. With each step, a sting. Five stings on my arm, thigh, back and most annoying of all, under my foot.

By the time I got back to Dakar and to work, I had developed a limp. The sting under my foot was swollen now and the itch was maddening. “What happened?” asked every person that saw me, since there was no such thing there as one’s own business. “Des abeilles,” I responded each time, “Bees.” Invariably everyone followed with, “Where!?” and a confused look.

Apparently, there are no bees in Dakar. When I explained that I was in Saly everyone “ahhh’d” with understanding. One woman not only guessed that I was in Saly but asked if I was in a pool when I got stung. So that’s it for Saly. I’m staying in the desert of Dakar. I am safe here in the offices of Niyel. Fuck pools, and full moons and interesting writers-come-friends who decide to be based in towns that are renowned for having bees.

— Dakar, July 2014.

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