What a Friend Told Me, a memoir and biography

Written by Binyavanga Wainaina
French Translation by Mamadou Diallo

It was sandy in Mbour when i first met Alpha. it was also very hot. To be honest my love for the continent is very much tied to love for West African men. I had got a guide to Senegal who was 6 foot 5 and very lean and black black black, like most Senegalese. And i told him that i was not going to sleep with him just to keep things drama free. I had then aterror of drama, the gay kind. These days i am a bit of a drama queen. I got the guide from a website that was very popular then for gay visitors to all of Africa. Let us call my guide Papis. He is now married to a member of Belgian Royalty, after using some of the money i paid him to make his way to Mali, then crossing the sahara to Morocco, crossing the Mediterranean into italy, then finally Belgium.

It was 2004 or 2005, when Papis introduced me to Alpha first. I was still a virgin, and would remain so for three years after my trip to Senegal.

I was insisting on going to Touba, the religious capital of Senegal, i was beginning my love affair with Cheikh Amadou Bamba, who has taught me a lot. I came back to Dakar and found Papis had arranged for a young acquaintance of his to be my lover. It took two days before i could make a move. I was very shy in those days. He was dauntingly beautiful. Papis came to my room the second day, with the young man in tow, he had slept outside my room with the young man, who was so worried that i would not make a move that he went crying to Papis and said i had not touched him. Papis made the young man take off his boubou right there in my room, then Papis left us there. His body was like beaten copper, but jet black. He was a black smith. I had never met a blacksmith before. This country with its horses and black smiths and Baye Fall’s smoking dope and singing war songs throughout the night. I made love to the young black black beautiful man.  I enjoyed smell, the smell of a man, a man naked, his cock, big and hard. His hands were so hard, it was as if they were made of metal. We didnt fuck. We did everything else. I was not yet ready to be fucked.

The next day was friday. We were supposed to go to a beach town called Mbour where there was a huge gay party.

It was insanely hot in the peugeot, we drove down to Mbour from Dakar. It dropped us on the way, and we walked the rest of the way to Alphas villa.

All the way, there were mansions of expatriate French people. I remember it was hot and sandy. I did not know what to expect, but we took a corner, and it was huge and there were maybe 15 to twenty gay people there.  It took a while before i met Alpha. He was as usual firing commands at his two sisters who were cooking a huge pot of rice and thiepu djien. He took me to my room and took me to his boutique in an exquisite hotel near the house. Alpha was very plainly dressed. All Senegalese and especially gay Senegalese are very elaborately dressed. Alpha loves dressing people. I bought 3 beautiful white shirts from his boutique that day as well as some very fine brown leather sandals. I thought then that this weekend was the last i would see of Alpha. No. This was a period when all gay people in Senegal knew him, the center of every party. Making sure that the queers of a whole country were well fed and dressed, and partied like mad. It was Wednesday when i went back to Dakar, very hungover, very sexed, very full of delicious food and violently hot chilli.

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