To arrive in Touba for midday prayers, you must leave the city before dawn, even on the Saturday after Gamou. It is hard to escape the city because it never stops eating into the countryside. Finally, you swing off the highway into a dead-end. You turn left and there is a small road, an old road.
Dawn isn't much when it breaks. The plate of grey clouds rides low on the horizon. You ramble through one town, then another, all waking chaos of shacks, smog and bustle. Running next to the road are railway tracks. At one time, you could take a train to Mali on them but now they provide an endless garden of weeds to the legions of goats nobody wants to eat.
Time and place seep away. The driver plays the same tape of echoey religious chants over and over. It is a tidal flow of sound that rises and falls in the hot wind rushing through the windows. When the dusty sign over the entrance to Touba finally appears, you feel very far away from all who and what you were three hours ago, lying in the darkness waiting for a knock on your door. There is nothing in Touba. There is everything in Touba.
18 July 2016