First, I have never quite grasped the concept of "Writer's Block." How could someone stare at a blank page or an empty screen and NOT have something to write about with all this great material to choose from around Dakar...
I have read with interest the stories of winter from America this year. You couldn't hold a global warming conference anywhere in the U.S. when - at one point - 49 states had snow on the ground (including Hawaii). Nor'easters blanket New England on a weekly basis. Syracuse has recorded 157 inches of snow this winter - that's BEFORE the month of March. Nowata, Oklahoma hit minus 31 degrees. Nowata, Oklahoma. Why is it the only thing I can picture when I hear "Nowata, Oklahoma" is Junior Samples sticking his head out of a cornfield saying, "Population 3,971. Saaaallluuute!"
For more of Junior Samples, try: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5S2z8rDL9Hg
Many of you have wondered, "What is winter like in Dakar?" Surprisly similar, as you will learn from my observations while out running last week. First, I made my way down an oceanfront promenade called the Corniche. The Corniche is actually a four-lane highway that runs along the ocean route, and adjacent to the Corniche is a huge stretch of concrete sidewalk. Think Storrow Drive along the Charles River.
One particular stretch of the Corniche is about two miles long and features a small beach. Normally, there are over a thousand people walking down this particular stretch after work, and there are hundreds more exercising on the beach. This particular day, the numbers had dwindled because of the weather.
Any souls brave enough to fight the temperatures wore woolen, knit hats and gloves. The exercisers - who are usually dressed in soccer uniforms - were more likely to be wearing a warm-up track suit with long pants and jacket on this particular, blustery day.
I left the Corniche and ran into a neighborhood that gave off an aroma of desolation. Six men were bundled up, warming their hands around an open pit fire they had built on the side of a street. It looked like a scene out of Mad Max, except instead of burning a tire in an old metal garbage can they arranged rocks and were burning what appeard to be some old furniture. The time of day was just prior to sundown. These men looked like homeless people and were preparing themselves for a long night.
Children scurried to get from one place to another, deftly avoiding open space as if the wind would carry them away. Many people stared at me as I ran through, with some even calling out comments that (I think) warned me against running in this type of weather or that I was not dressed appropriately for the conditions.
I returned to my neighborhood and did not see the guards. There are six houses on my street and each house has a security guard on duty. Since there is no crime in my neighborhood, the guards bring plastic chairs outside and set up a central watchpoint where they can hang out and shoot the breeze for hours. There were no guards outside today.
I found our guard inside our garage. He was wearing a heavy overcoat as if he were on the sidelines at a Green Bay Packers game, hoping his unit would not have to go onto the field. The garage door was open just enough for him to be able to record the comings and goings of pedestrians. I asked why he wasn't outside enjoying the beautiful day and he shuddered while responding there would be no outside for him today.
Then, he asked me with an incredulous voice, "Aren't you cold?"
It was 17 degrees on this day. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Oh, wait. That was 17 degrees Celsius. About 63 degrees for you and me. And it was the coldest day of winter.
This week, it was back to normal. I came back to our neighborhood and saw three guards out mingling. I said to our guard, "I have some news for you." He asked if it was good news or bad news, and I replied that it was just news. He was still wearing a jacket and I had to inform him that it was 88 degrees outside and that winter - all six days of it - appeared to be over.
He laughed heartily. But, he did not remove his jacket.