Picture this: five “toubabs” (foreigners) and Arli’s host brother, Ahmed, walk into a giant stadium in Thies that contains two bleacher sections facing sand in the middle. They notice excited men, women, girls, and boys from Thies sitting impatiently in the stands, tapping their feet, itching to dance and cheer.
I expected to only watch two people wrestling in the middle of the stadium, but when I arrived, I experienced so much more.
After finding seats on the hard concrete steps, the scene only grew noisier. The drummers down in the sand played a song as the wrestlers and their supporters danced, trying to intimidate each other. The boys sitting next to me began to dance with wild emotion, swinging their arms to the beat of the drum. People bit off the end of water bags to open them and proceeded to squeeze the bags, showering the stands with droplets of cold, refreshing water. The boys in my section carried big drums to their seats and began to play, not tiring for three hours straight. Candy and bananas flew across the sky from the hands of wrestlers rallying the crowd. Noisemakers screamed, and the drum beats stayed steady.
And this all occurred before the wrestling began in the sand.
The richness and pride that Senegalese people have in their culture shows through in this event. I think this match describes my immersion in Senegal thus far: The mixing ideas, religions, languages, and traditions creates a distinct, nuanced culture full of new experiences and learning opportunities, including the wrestling match that five “toubabs” had the privilege of watching.