Of Crunched Prayer Beads. [Oops.]

Stories like this one make me miss girls like these ones. Both of whom might easily find themselves in the exact same situation...

Where did we leave off?

That’s right, with me on the beach in my trampy outfit.  My team and I had made plans to eat by the ocean that Friday night, and then to hop in a couple of the filthy, canary yellow, precarious death traps masquerading as taxis and head to an ice cream shop [called, get this: NICECREAM] downtown. And with the promise of flavors like “Obama ice cream”, how could we possibly go wrong?

 Because I’m simply mad about using time efficiently, we arranged for everybody to meet me with dinner in hand, on the beach at the very end of my run. [Let’s talk about who came out on top in that deal…]

 Well what I’d failed to take into consideration in my meticulous planning was the critical, minor detail that during said jaunt from the beach to downtown Dakar, I would still be in my running clothes.

The best laid plans.

But what’s a girl to do? By the time I realized what I’d done, we were eating chicken pasta and caprice on a cliff by the ocean while the sun slowly bowed offstage to the Atlantic’s standing ovation, in a theatrical waltz of purples and reds. [Life is hard.]

We finished our al fresco dinner, and then divided up into two groups to hop into those aforementioned taxis, head downtown, and try to find an ice cream place that none of us ACTUALLY knew how to get to.  If you’ve lived internationally, a slow smile just crept across your face because you understand what it is to hop in a car with a complete stranger that does not speak your language, and drive off into the foreign unknown without the foggiest idea of exactly where you’re headed and even less idea as to where you’ll actually end up.

Ben, Ted and I hailed a taxi, and gave a very nice Wolof-speaking gentleman the general area of town we were aiming for, hoping that we’d spy Nicecream on the way. No such luck. After about twenty minutes of aimless driving, one very frustrated Senegalese taxi driver dropped three rather baffled, very lost STINTers on the side of the road, and sputtered off into the night in a glorious blaze of exhaust and smoke.

It was thus that I found myself downtown in a Muslim, African country at nine o’clock at night, wearing running shorts and a tank top.


Because we’re survivors [cue Destiny’s Child!] and I was once a Girl Scout for three and a half whole weeks, we immediately found the nearest tree and looked for moss to ascertain the direction of due north.

…or we would have, had we been able to find so much as a bush.  But we live in Dakar, and consequently had to settle for wandering aimlessly in the dark, hoping we would somehow bump into Nicecream.

I felt for all the world, like I did the time my Mom found a stash of approximately twenty six thousand tootsie roll wrappers under my bed. You know those hand-in-the-cookie-jar moments as a kid when you get caught doing something you’re entirely guilty of, and there’s not a darn thing you can do except stand there with an abashed, sheepish look on your face?

That was me in my running clothes, bumbling around my Muslim city in the dark.

Now, you have to understand that I’m almost never out at night-once the sun sets, I’m not allowed outside of my apartment without one of the men. And while I understand the reasoning behind that, I do dearly miss evenings spent outside. I really love nighttime. All that to say, in all of my excited, distracted enthusiasm at being outside in the cool dark, I didn’t even notice what I’d done until he grabbed me.

In fact, I wasn’t even sure who “he” was-I never saw him. All I knew was that suddenly and without warning, someone was angrily clutching my arm. Instinctively, I ripped it away and turned heatedly to face the offender-Ben and Ted right behind me.  

…and that’s when understanding slowly dawned. My nemesis was a Senegalese man standing carefully on his prayer rug-which along with his prayer beads, I had just stepped on in all of my scandalous, ugly-American glory.

You see, for a Muslim man to even think of praying, he has to perform a lengthy ritual washing process known as an ablution.  It’s incredibly detailed-instructions are precisely dictated for every step-from the kind of water you are permitted to use to wash yourself, to the order, number of times, and manner in which you wash your different body parts. A lengthy list of offenses will invalidate your ablution-and thus, prevent Allah from hearing and accepting your prayers. Amongst said list, is touching a woman.

And there I was, standing guiltily in my shorts on a very irate Muslim man’s prayer rug with his brown string of prayer beads crunched under my tennis shoe. Somebody ought to have just slapped a scarlet “A” on my forehead and called it a day.

Missionary fail. The poor guy had to be convinced he was going to hell six times over for that one.

As Ben and Ted joined me in a frenzied, apologetic chorus of “desolee’s”, we quickly backed away and got the heck out of dodge.

On the bright side, that Obama flavored ice cream was delish.


  1. I am certifiably OBSESSED with your blog. I read today’s and yesterday’s and laughed. out loud. / was slightly embarrassed for you since I know how you feel ;)

  2. You are so sweet! And please tell me that you’ve done something similiar. Dear goodness, I need more friends that live in Muslim countries to make myself feel better…;)

  3. Oh my gosh…this post made me crack up. Last year, I was heading to a concert at a small local theater with an American friend. We were a bit lost, but saw the entrance to what we thought was the theater. My friend told me to go in and check it out. I walked in, and as I looked around at the 40 or so men standing and sitting all around the room, understanding slowly dawned on me. I had stumbled into a mosque during prayer time. 40 pairs of eyes just stared at me as I mumbled “sorry” over and over and slowly backed out of the room. My bad!

  4. Haha! Oh Amy, that’s brutal. I always run right by a mosque-and somehow, I’m always out in a tank top and running shorts on Fridays when they all pour out in the afternoon. Just me and a tidal wave of Muslim men. I’m so glad that I have friends in Muslim countries that understand these things! :)

Speak Your Mind