Sunday, May 30, 2010

Days 27-30 in Africa

What a journey this has been! My heart will always be in two places. I have learned and grown so much. I will miss Senegal--the warmth and kindness so many have shown us. It has become another home to me, and I look forward to a time when I can come back.

These past few days have been as busy as ever, as we've been trying to squeeze in interviews and research while packing up and preparing for our departure.
Aminata Sow Fall has been so kind in helping us. Time and again she has included us in her very busy schedule, and this week arranged an appointment with a wonderful older Senegalese woman who provided us with excellent information on the traditional jewelry and style of Senegal.

We were also fortunate to meet with the U.S. Ambassador again and discuss the project and some technicalities with temp. work visas for goldsmiths who may come out to D.C. and demonstrate traditional jewelry making techniques as part of the exhibition.

We picked up all of the jewelry that Dr. Johnson ordered for the exhibition this week, and one of our bijoutiers very kindly gave me a beautiful gold filigram bracelet as a gift and souvenir from Senegal. I promised Dr. Johnson I would lend it to the collection for the exhibit.

I purchased some incense from Sandaga market to help me remember the smell of Senegal, and bought an adorable little taxi-bus toy car for my new nephew Truman. Now all that remains is finding space for all of our purchases and praying that customs lets us through with it all!

Goodbye Africa! A la prochaine!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Days 24-26 in Africa

Winding down...Monday was spent nursing indigestion (wouldn't really be a true African experience without it), and preparing for the dinner we were hosting chez nous. I read somewhere that an estimated 1 billion people in the world live without clean, sanitary, water--something needs to be done about that says I (and my bowels).

The dinner was wonderful! Both Aminatas came: Aminata Sow, Aminata Sow Fall, Charles and Angelique Becker, and Ibrahima and Mariam Thiaw.

Tuesday was hades-hot. We made more Jewelry purchases for the exhibition, and then cooled off in the roof-top pool of our hotel--a discovery we made this last week of our stay.

Today we met with Papa N'Diay (head of IFAN university) and Syndalie Wade (the president of Senegal's daughter) discuss the exhibition. We met with Marcia Bernicat (American Ambassador) as well to discuss US support of the project.

This week is hurrying by at a time when I desperately want the clock to stop. There's simply so much to do, and far to little time left to accomplish everything!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Days 20-23 in Africa

It's very difficult to face the fact that only one week from now I'll be boarding a plane and leaving this beautiful spot and heading home. How I've changed! I can't imagine life without morning bonjours and ca vas from everyone we greet. Our kind fruit man and veggie vendor, the children playing soccer, and the women balancing laundry in their heads and a baby on their backs--I will miss them terribly.

The weather has been absolutely perfect the past few days. After mass and a celebration of the fete of pentacost at the local Catholic cathedral, we headed out to the beach for a little R n' R. We were provided with lounge chairs and seaside drink and food service. It was a wonderful little break from our usual hustle and bustle.

The usual hustle and bustle:
5 interviews over the past 2.5 days all recorded on 3 different forms of digital media--film, stills, and audio. Equipment carried primarily by yours truly over the dusty pedestrian un-friendly "sidewalks." Completely worth the shoulder ache! The women and bijoutiers we met with were wonderful, and extremely knowledgeable. The info. we gathered will be invaluable to the exhibition.

Hosted dinner for the young people who have helped us and who I've become rather close to after this trip. It's amazing what a couple of women can produce on a stove you have to light each time you use it, and a propane tank literally 6 inches from the oven! It's been wonderful to employ the "always at hand is the thing needed most" momwah adage so often here. It's true too--we really have everything we need and then some in this fabulous residence hotel.

Poured over research material and photos at the National Archives for more support for the catalog Dr. Johnson is producing for the exhibit.

Photo shoot with models we paid at a local boubou couturier's atalier.

Time is whipping by, and Dr. Johnson's worried she won't be able to complete all of the research she's hoping to get done.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Our guests with the American Ambassador

At the Ambassador's Artists Gala

Days 14-19 in Africa

The weather here was San Diego June Gloom-y at the end of last week and beginning of this week. Each day would start overcast and muggy, the sun would burn through the haze around noon and we'd see some blue skies for about 5 hours before it hazed up again. The past two days, however, have been clear skies but really hot and humid. In spite of the sticky weather, children still are out playing football, and wives and mothers still huddle over steaming pots of rice and yassa, adding spices and stirring the dark brown liquid broth.
Dr. Johnson and I, on the other hand, have been trying to work at our usual break-neck pace, but are finding it increasingly difficult to have energy in the sweltering
heat and stay hydrated. Even so, we have accomplished a lot this past several days:

1. Ambassador's Reception: We were able to meet, and set up a future appointment with the Ambassador.

2. Baptism fete: We were invited by a Bijoutier and his family to join them in the celebration of their son's/grandson's baptism. A white lamb was sacrificed as part of the ceremony, and we were able to sit with the whole family on the floor around huge vats of rice and mouton and eat the wonderfully seasoned stuff with our hands.

3. Interviewed the Bijoutier Oumar and his Uncle Abou who has a son in Ohio!

4. Purchased several incredible pieces for the exhibition. One piece bearing the traditional oiseau design is an exact replica of a piece Dr. Johnson had in a photo of a woman she took back in the 60s. She's hoping to mount the photo directly above the bracelet in the exhibition.

5. Feasted on incredible Chwarma at a local Lebanese family-run restau near the Sandaga market.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Children at the fishing village: Aren't they gorgeous?

Statue in front of La Maison des Esclaves:
Intensely moving

Days 9-13 in an African nutshell

We've had a very busy week this week. It's hard to believe that I've crested the hill of my African adventure and it's downhill from here. A few highlights:
1. Meeting with Ibrahima Thiaw--the head Conserviteur of the IFAN Museum here in Dakar. He was able to help us with research and connected us with the head of the National Archives.
2. Goree round 2: I love that Island. If I were a better fisherwoman I would live there. Since you've had luck in that department Liney, I think you ought to seriously consider it! Madame Crespin's home was a piece of heaven--right on the ocean--absolutely beautiful!
3. Visiting with the authoress Aminata Sow Fall: Remarkable woman and pioneer of women rights and education in Senegal and Saint Louis.
4. Dinner with Charles Becker renowned historian and scholar--some of the best french ragout I've ever tasted, and fresh bananas from his garden for dessert.
5. Playing with the kids at the fishing village near Soumbedioune...Have I mentioned that I want one :)?

Africa is becoming so much a part of me now, I really don't want to think about leaving. I even consulted Mr. Becker about pursuing doctoral studies in African Art at the University in Fann. Unfortunately, he discouraged me...not the best learning environment apparently. I am resolved to find a way back here in the future, and enjoy the last two weeks ahead.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day 8 in Africa: A few of my favorite things...

1. Fig Jam. Words would completely desecrate the sacred, salivatory, sweetness and goodness of this incredible stuff. When paired with fresh butter and bread it sends you completely a la lune!

2. Incense from the Becker's home and from the Sandaga market.

3. Waking up to call to prayer.

4. Mangos from Mali. I'm pretty sure I never truly had a mango before Africa-- positively mind blowing.

5. Chacos.

6. Beautiful senegalese babies. I want one so badly!

7. Taxis held together by two pieces of scotch tape.

8. Aminata: The Grace Kelly of Senegal--
elegant, refined, and all-around incredible taste.

9. Singing old showtunes with Dr. Johnson as we prepare supper.

10. The beautiful smiles, kind acts, and expressions of gratitude from people who have so little.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Days 6-7 in Africa

It's hard to believe I've only been here one week! I've learned so much and have grown so close to this country already, part of me feels like I was born Senegalaise and have lived here all my life. As I reflect on this past week, I can't help feeling a lot like Dorothy shedding the grays of Kansas for a very colorful OZ. Life before Senegal was very grisaille; I live in color now.

The colors in Africa are truly unbelievable. I feel like people in America are afraid of color, and Africans totally embrace it. Both women and men wear the most vibrant colored ensembles you've ever seen. We went to Sandaga market and were absolutely surrounded by color. We befriended Mouhammed, a young man nearly finished with his masters degree. He was kind enough to take us up to the rooftop of the market to the "restaurants" --small corrugated metal huts --where women wearing traditional dress and sporting some traditional jewelry stooped over steaming pots of couscous and yassa. We were able to get some nice photos and brief interviews with the women. It was a good vantage point from which to really see the hustle and bustle of the marketplace on the weekend.

Yesterday, we boarded a ferry and went to the beautiful Ile Goree. Goree is an island just off the Dakar coast which was used in early colonial days as a major slave trade port. After landing at the dock Dr. Johnson and I headed directly to the Women Museum--a museum that pays tribute to the wonderful women of Senegal. We were able to interview an older woman on the island who had many photos of herself, and members of her family, in traditional dress and jewelry.

For lunch we feasted on jumbo shrimp and Gambas (basically shrimp on steroids) outside at a restaurant just a few feet from the ocean. We spent the rest of the day exploring the island and finding out as much as we could about jewelry from the women we met.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Days 4-5 in Africa: Soumbedioune and Medina

Our portable printer problems took us to an electronics store in Medina--a Dakar suburb. Having been told that traditional jewelry and dress would be found more abundance in suburbs of Dakar, we decided to make lemonade out of our HP lemon, and make the most of our electronics excursion, by looking out for Bijouteries on our way to the shop. We stumbled across a veritable goldmine! Lots of older style jewelry and bijoutiers who have had the traditional jewelry-making techniques passed down to them by there grandfathers or maitres.

The next day we met a young man who was kind enough to show us around the small hut enclave of artisans in Soumbedioune. It was such a beautiful day, and we had such a wonderful time meeting with the locals, making new friends and interviewing women about their traditions--the ceremonies they've attended and the jewelry they wear to those ceremonies.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Day 3 in Africa: Bijouteries

Mornings in Dakar are a real feast for the senses. The streets are full of older women selling fruit and veggies, and bringing in fish from the ocean on large baskets on their head. School children are scampering off to school and business men are crowding the streets on their way to work. Every so often you'll see a young goat-herder move his small pack of goats across a busy intersection, and taxi drivers lay on their horns and yell obscenities in Wolof. The smell of fresh bread, fresh urine, and freshly cut flowers all mix together to form an indescribable scent only found, I'm sure, in this wonderful place.

We spent the morning figuring out the banking situation and attempting to take care of our portable printer problem. One thing that is very different culturally here from America, is the time it takes for any kind of sales or exchange transaction. It is expected that you will "discuter un peu" (barter) over the cost of an item--it's almost an insult if you take something at cost. It's also considered poor customer service to spend less than ten minutes with each person at the bank. Because of this custom, Dr. Johnson and I decided to split up--she would take the printer to a hotel that had an IT crew who would hopefully fix it, and I would wait patiently for my ten minute exchange at the bank, we would then meet up at the hotel's IT center.

30 minutes later, I was leaving the bank after making my exchange when I suddenly realized that I'd completely forgotten the name of the hotel where I would find Dr. Johnson. I knew the name of the rue, and that it began with the letter "T", but that was it. It didn't take long for a young man to approach me selling butterfly wing artwork to offer his assistance. Unfortunately, he didn't know the hotel I was describing. Luckily another 2 boys joined my growing entourage and they each were able to direct me to the right hotel after I described the beginning letter of the name of the hotel and the IT center.

3 days in Dakar and I've already been told I should compete to be Miss Universe, I've been asked to be a Bijoutier's 3rd wife (but, he told me I'd be his first American wife...consolation prize I guess...), and I had a random boy hit his knees and profess undying admiration and affection for me. So, it appears your prayers have been answered Mom--I may be producing grandchildren for you sooner than you think ;).

We spent the evening with Dr. Johnson's friend Aminata. She took us to the traditional jewelry shops in town, and offered to go with us to Medina next week to interview some older women on camera about the traditional jewelry, and more particularly, when and where it is worn for the upcoming exhibit. She has been an invaluable resource as she speaks wolof, french and english. She was able to translate the wolof of the older goldsmiths for us.
Tomorrow we will go to Soumbedioune--an area of Senegal known for its artisans and particularly its goldsmiths.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day 2 in Africa: Yummy Yassa

Today we went to the American embassy to meet with Kristin Stewart (A U of Michigan grad--shout out to Jed) now working for the state department in the cultural and pubic affairs sector. She kindly took us to lunch, and we discussed the exhibit over tasty Lebanese wraps. She was able to give us the name of the head conserviteur at the Ifan museum, as well as several other contacts with the french cultural institue. As we were leaving she extended the invitation to an Art Gala at the ambassador's home. Apparently there will be artisits and artisans from all over Senegal, and several politicians in attendance.

We visited many different Bijouteries (jewelry shops) and gathered more information about the traditional styles of jewelry, taking careful note of the Wolof names for the various ancient styles. It looks like we will need to leave the center of town and go to a few small villages outside of Dakar to find more women and goldsmiths who still wear and make the type of jewelry that interests Dr. Johnson.

Dakar is a charming, but poverty-stricken city. The people are breathtakingly beautiful, and extremely kind. It has been such a sad and strange sort of dichotomy to see women in costly apparel sporting fashionable boubous and covered head to toe in jewelry, contrasted with women and children wearing threadbare clothing trying their best to survive on the streets. It is especially difficult to see children who are not properly cared for, and people with crippling diseases. I wish there was more that I could do to help.

In the evening, we went to a local restau and ate a wonderful meal of traditional Yassa and Tiebou Dienne. The Yassa was made with blackened and grilled fish (served head, eyes, teeth and all--though we opted not to eat the head) on a bed of couscous. The Tiebou Dienne we selected was made with sauteed onions and other legumes in a very soupy, flavorful sauce, with chunks of chicken floating on the surface. This dish was served with white rice and dipping bread. Words cannot describe the incredible marriage of flavors in these dishes. You will simply have to come to Senegal and experience it for yourselves.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Day 1 in Africa: Love at first sight

Just one day is all it's taken for me to fall in love with Africa. I am already convinced that one month will not be enough time on this incredible continent!

Upon arriving at the airport in Dakar, Dr. Johnson and I exchanged information with a Parisian couple we met on the way over that work at the French embassy in the cultural affairs department. They kindly invited us over to dinner later this week to further discuss our project and the possibilities of future French involvement in the upcoming exhibition. We located our charming driver, and were soon cruising through the main highways of Dakar at a speed that would have given Bapa a run for his money :) (although, unlike Bapa, his preferred driving illegality was straddling lanes rather than driving on sidewalks).

We made it safe and sound to our palatial apartment (pics and info to follow) just past 6 AM, I hit the sheets and was lulled gently to sleep with the sonorous tones of "Call to Prayer" wafting through my window.

2 hours later Dr. Johnson and I lethargically prepped for the day and headed down the Rue Carnot in search of the Protestant church our concierge directed us to. The service was a cultural and spiritual feast! The choir was absolutely incredible, and the congregation was full of men and women in traditional dress. The quaint mediterranean-looking (French colonial influence) stuccoed church was filled to full capacity. Three different priests offered their sermons in three different languages: French, English, and Wolof. We met some wonderful women and young girls after the service who volunteered lots of information on traditional jewelry and dress, and who are willing to meet for interviews and photo sessions.

I've never seen so many wonderful and unique spices as I saw in the main market which is housed in a fantastically delapitdated (odd combo of descriptive words I know, but It's truly the only accurate way I could think of to describe it) establishment which has been around since colonial days. Took some wonderful photos. Will upload them in the future.

After a late lunch and an afternoon nap, I slipped out to one of our apartment's terraces that looks over the ocean and the Ille Goree with the Senegalese novel "So Long a Letter" in hand for some reading, and waited for Dr. Johnson to wake up. Someone was hosting a street party out towards the beach. I could hear the drums faintly pulsing out a rythm and Wolof singing, the breeze off the ocean, and the lowering sun hitting the white and pink buildings provided the ideal reading setting for Mariama Ba's book.

When Dr. Johnson awoke we explored Dakar in the evening feasting on marvelous cultural delights. Women were performing a traditional street dance near the Place d'Independence, and there were many musicians playing and singing to both Wolof and Francaphone tunes.

On our way home we stopped at a fruit vendor's stand as he was closing up and bartered down some mangoes for breakfast tomorrow. Dr. Johnson said they import all of their mangoes from Mali and they're positively delish.

...If you've actually read this far, I salute you. This really is just a small sampling of everything that's happened in the last 24ish hours. All I can say is that I'm on total sensory overload, and absolutely in love with Senegal!

(Pic is of the view from the terrace off of the kitchen...morning haze over ocean)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Malaria pill regimen has commenced. Bags have been packed. In 20 hours I'll be landing in Dakar and my African adventure will begin!