WELCOME. A room at the Dakar International Airport.
There is a man praying besides me. It is clear that praying is the one thing highly respected by the authorities of this airport. He finished praying – it lasted 20 seconds. God must be closer here. Every since we left Paris, time has been going backwards. When we made our first scale, at the Casablanca airport, local time was one hour earlier than Paris. Dakar has a two hour difference compared to Paris. We arrived at the Dakar airport at 3h00 local time. Now it’s 5h28. I wonder what time is praying-time. The 20-second-prayer must have come around 5h00. What happens if you miss the 5h00 praying tour? Will it be taken into account, to ease my sentence, the fact that I was the only stray dog awake for the 5h00 prayer?
When I entered the room Gregorio ‘Senegal’ was already sitting on the couch next to mine. His luggage is completely wrapped in plastic with a blue inscription on the front – ‘Gregorio Senegal‘. It looks like Gregorio is the efficient type of man, concise. Two words are enough to separate his luggage from the incoming, uncontrolled, herd. Someone has just come to life from underneath of one of the blankets on the other couches. It is an officer, part of the great body of enforcers of the Dakar airport – an officer sleeping among the stray dogs. Maybe we all become stray animals in this place. I should go and look myself in the mirror again to document the inevitable change. How many hours (days?) have passed? I am starting to feel comfortable in this room, sat on this couch. S, when I sent her some photos of the room, said – ‘it looks like a decent place’. She is right, what is indecent about people kept imprisoned in a room as animals. This will not be the first time that it has happened in history, and, to be honest, it wouldn’t be fare to compare this small incident to real injustice – this is only a momentarily misunderstanding. This will be over before it reaches the special stage to be included in history – of whichever history. Gregorio Senegal is sleeping again.
The television that started as a background joke, is beginning to feel like a passive torture. When I arrived to the airport, I started to notice some signs of television being an important way of control here. (Isn’t it everywhere?) The guard that was in charge of the lines going to the migration booths was holding a remote control as if it was gun, a futuristic gadget capable of neutralizing great herds of people. Before I could fully understand this image – of the remote control as a futuristic weapon – I was brought to the head officer’s desk. His post looked particularly abandoned – a group of detached papers surrounding a half dead computer, no phones, no sign of a working tool. But then, there were the remote controls, ten of them, aligned as weapons ready to be used in case of a crisis – a rising of people hurdling to get into the country without a proper visa.
When I first sat on the couch the TV was showing some of the music videos that I loved during my adolescence. I joked with S that I felt home watching this group of videos. Little by little it started to slide in time until it hit some strange place where I didn’t recognize the singers anymore or the year of the song. The videos have stopped. Now the screen is showing a man sitting on a carpeted floor, dressed in white with a white hat, talking about something that looks very important to everyone in this country (or at least in this airport). The whiteness of his clothes underlines the perfection of his teeth. He looks like a serious man, like someone every Dakar inhabitant must be waiting to hear before the day starts. There are some random images shown in the background – photos of monuments. Is this a serious man only addressing the stray people of this airport? Is he saying something that I should know? He is reading something; maybe it is the list of people who have been granted permission to leave this room. Am I on this list? Even when we had the music videos, the TV was muted. Is like some surreal image from a film (TV is always muted in psychiatric hospitals). The serious man is bowing. He is not praying, he is just being emphatic about the seriousness of what he is saying.
6h11. Another man is now praying next to me, an officer. His praying is longer than the other man’s. Officers must report daily to God all the irregularities of the past night. The serious man on the TV screen seems to be saying to the officer what to say, how to pray, how to pronounce the proper words to address God. I still cannot hear the TV, but then, I am foreigner, an alien that has entered this holy place by the back door. The officer finished his praying, it lasted a couple of minutes, including a small promenade in the room. Another stray dog has risen from beneath the blankets. It is a woman, a female officer. Did she commit a fault and therefore she has been forced to sleep with dogs? Or illegal immigrants in this country are treated as sacred animals, as cows in India? Are we special? We are different but that doesn’t seem to suggest here that we are not allowed to sleep in the same room with the authorities. Another officer has come to life. Is Gregorio Senegal an enforcer of the (airport) law? He is clearly dressed like a civilian. Is he the chief? Should I talk to him and ask him to grant my permission to enter his country and stay until I finish my project? Serious man has been replaced by a serious woman.
One of the female officers is half dressed in the room. She seems to have finished her shift and to be, finally, heading home. She is putting some cream on the elbows. Little by little she needs to become a civilian again before she leaves the room this morning. Is she waiting for her time to pray? Should I tell her that two of her colleagues have already addressed to God some of the important facts of the night? There is a recurrent call in the airport speakers. Another half dressed female officer is turning into a civilian in front of me. She is folding her uniform. Is there a special group of officers in this airport that are hired to sleep among the prisoners? One of the female officers is preparing herself to pray. The recurrent altar consists on a couple of abandoned desks in the room. I am feeling sleepy. My teeth begin to feel dirty. I wonder what comes first for night prisoners, the urge to brush your teeth or the urge to shit.
I have been released! I have been granted permission to enter this country. (Well, I was already in the country, I have only been granted permission to leave the airport.) Gregorio Senegal and I go out thru the front door. We are no longer stray dogs, we are free. We have been welcomed to Senegal by some of the top authorities of this country, the Democratic Republic of the Dakar International Airport. I stay a couple of minutes more to finish my text, this night report that has allowed me to smell the feet of this country and, of course, to cherish Gregorio Senegal’s forever loyal company. The sun is out. Everything looks very familiar. Everything looks like my own country – the Dominican Republic. I feel like home. Welcome!