Wednesday, October 28, 2009
A “Forever Day” in the Dakar Markets
A very busy workshop. The artists gave me
some samples of their carvings in the
event that BoPH might be interested in
importing some pieces to sell for
fundraising that would support them too.
The sculptor Babe holds up a wild boar
made of light and dark ebony. Almamy said
Ebony is not a racist wood, and laughed.
Right behind this mans display four
members of his family were busy carving,
sanding and polishing. I bought a "thinking
man" statue for about 6000 CFA (see-fa)about
$5 US. Every sale is negotiated
The first two days in Dakar I didn’t stray far from the hotel other than taking two 15 minute taxi rides to the international school to meet and rehearse with a group of high school students. I felt insecure about just wandering around the city. The cab rides themselves were outright adventures, and unlike Zambia, where English is widely spoken, Senegal is a French speaking country. In addition to this, Dakar has a predominantly Muslim population, and times are difficult for the large percentage of very poor people in the city. The cost of goods is high and so is unemployment. Add these factors up and you get a situation where there are throngs of people milling about hustling to make CFA (currency in Senegal) any way that they can. This includes selling goods, providing services, begging, and pick-pocketing tourists.
The only time I ventured beyond the gated hotel grounds, which were beautifully kept and situated right on the beach, I had a couple of men approach me right away trying to sell me something or engage me in conversation. They weren’t speaking English and I have no French, so in spite of my desire to trust everyone, I retreated to inside the gated walls, a bit disappointed in myself, but feeling I needed to because I didn’t know how to handle these approaches. Another thing that had me a little off balance was that someone was broadcasting what I assume were religious chants over a loudspeaker at all hours of the day and night, including one each morning well before sunrise. These were quite loud on my side of the hotel and the first few nights it made me feel uneasy because they were so unfamiliar sounding and loud. I didn’t understand the messages but the word “Allah” was the most frequent word I recognized. Ironically, by the end of my stay I enjoyed hearing the melodic chants, even at 5 a.m., which is when I was waking up anyway. It became familiar and comforting.
By the middle of the second day I was feeling rested and restless, so I asked Mary Casey, the teacher I was working with, if she knew of someone who spoke English, that might give me a tour of the city. She consulted Brad Philen, another teacher, a few phone calls were made and Brad had arranged for his good friend Almamy, a Senegalese Muslim man to show me around. When Almamy arrived the next morning and we set out on foot I realized he didn’t have a car. The learning adventure began when Almamy negotiated our first cab ride in a beat up old cab with the exhaust belching smoke, the fenders dented and barely attached to the frame, and a driver who went as fast as he could at all times. There are no traffic rules observed in Dakar. All turns are permitted and it is survival of the fittest, or most reckless. It felt like what I imagine demolition derby might be, except the objective here seemed to be to come as close to crashing as possible without actually crashing. I leaned back, recited a few prayers, and knew I wasn’t in control. Are we ever really in control?
Almamy took me to the Artisan’s market, the Fabric market, and the Senaga Market, the oldest market in the city. I saw sights and had experiences I will not forget. I decided to use the term “A Forever Day,” because I will remember the day forever. We spent about one hour in a workshop where dozens of barefoot men sat on the dirt floor surrounded by piles of Mahogany and Ebony shavings. There was the constant syncopated, staccato beat of hammers striking chisels and the slicing sound of blades shaving wood and saws being drawn back and forth. There were no power tools in use. In fact there was no electricity at all in the shop. The only light was the sunlight coming through the patchwork canvas roof. Accompanying the woodworking was a flow on conversation and laughter. A friend who visited the shop with another guide described it as a “sweatshop” and said he had to leave because it bothered him. I didn’t see it that way at all and was fascinated by what I saw. I stayed about an hour, bought several pieces, had tea with some of the artists and interviewed a couple of them with my video camera. The photos above also tell some of the story. I’ll close hear because the battery meter says it’s time. I’ve been writing from the Paris Airport during a 6 hour layover en route to Cameroon where I will meet up with Katie for the first time in 406 days. To say I’m excited is a gross understatement. I can’t wait. When the plane touches down in Garoua tomorrow it will be my 9th flight in two weeks. Good thing I like flying and airports.