Sunday, July 29, 2012

Road Trip - Day 1 - Tapestries of Thies

I put out a "last call" e-mail back in April to invite anyone who wanted to come and visit and another friend Andrea stepped up to the challenge.

 Her responses to the call and some back and forth correspondence -
  • I'm excited...I can't wait to see you.  I'm "game" to anything you would like to do!
  • Whatever unfolds will be fun
  • No...I have never ridden a camel nor have I ever lived next door to a mama goat and her little baby goat.    :)  (but she meant sheep)
  •  This will truly be an adventure for me!  But who better to do it with... then the Goldman Sutton clan.
Yeah - let the adventure begin by enjoying your new living space for a few days in the apartment! What more do you need but a mosquito net and a thermarest.

We packed in the sights, sounds and tastes of Dakar during her first few days to give her a true feel of how life has been for us the last 9 months.

Point des Almadies

Muhammad Ali - and his fruit cart

Bus Line 47 - zigs and zags through the Dakar neighborhoods.
Visit to the Gueye Brothers Sous Verres Atelier

The other highlight of having Andrea visit was our chance to take on a road trip to some other parts of Senegal we had not yet visited. We secure Habib - a taxi driver we had come to know and like - to be our driver for this road trip. We debated on the sept-place option and after calculating the costs and number of transfers we would encounter plus the possible wait time involved between towns and the lugging of our luggage - we thought it prudent to be able to move about more freely by working with Habib. 

First stop - Manufactures Senegalaises des Arts Decoratifs in Thies

Manufactures Sénégalaises des Arts Décoratifs is an artistic center inspired by President Senghor in the 1960’s. It's more of a school of fine arts in the art of tapestries that also includes a gallery of stunning tapestries.  Designs for the brightly colored tapestries are chosen from paintings submitted by Senegalese  and other African artists.

Preparing the design is an intricate and fascinating process that we had a chance to observe.

We learned there was two approaches to the weaving and in the first room there were many looms setup upright and apprentices learning the art of weaving. The result of this effort in how they were putting the yarn on the strings reminded me of 'hooked rug' so one side at the knot and the other the plush yarn. They would also use a scissors to give it a 'trim' so it was very even.  In some instances there was a specific pattern they were following and that pattern was placed behind or under the loom in reverse.  

This design was a Baobab Tree

After we saw them weaving we moved into another room where a man who had been employed and taught at the center for a very long time was doing the mapping of a future approved design with the colors.  Here is where the process begins with transforming the picture and idea onto the paper before the weaving actually begins. This part can take weeks to do in order to get the colors right. In some cases they use a single color and in others a combination of colors to generate a visual effect of a new color if that color is not available already dyed.  It was so intricate in terms of the colors and the mapping.

A wall of all the fiber colors ever used in each tapestry

In the last room there was another series of looms set up but the weaving technique was different.  Here it was more like shuttling the fibers over and under the strings to create the image as they followed the paper underneath.

If I recall there was 7 or 8 tapestries being worked on. The tapestries are so exclusive - there is never more than 8 made of each design. They can range from  2 to 3 m high and about 2 m wide. They can take months and even years to complete.  Apparently these tapestries find new homes around the world and are given as gifts from the Senegalese government to foreign dignitaries of other countries.

The paper on top of the loop was flipped over for me to take the picture in order to not disclose what it was and where it was going.  And at this point I actually have forgotten so there you have it. 

From here we went to the display gallery which was a sight to behold (and unfortunately I was not able to take pictures but snagged others from the web)  looking at all these incredible and brilliantly colorful hangings.  It was a bit of a shame to recognize the love and attention paid to the tapestries and yet the facility itself inside in which they were displayed was in a state of disrepair.  The contrast was very apparent and slightly disheartening knowing the challenge the country faces with climate and electricity and funds to house works of art in a more preserving environment.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Friday Prayer's and Ramadan

One day on a Friday early in our time on Rue Felix Faure, I had an appointment to meet a new acquaintance who had arrived in Dakar around the same time we did in August. She lived not to far so we scheduled it for 1:30.  I went downstairs, walked through the passage way out to the street and discovered I could not leave. The entire street and available sidewalks and doorways were filled with men praying. Along with that all cars and taxis stopped in their tracks and empty as those who were in them, were now somewhere on the street as well.  I was totally unprepared for this. Yes -  it threw me for a loop since I'd no understanding of what was occurring. I ran back up into the apartment and called the person and explained I would be 'delayed'.   

Since that day in September I learned there are 2 mosques in my neighborhood and on Friday the call to prayer is heard.  This Mosque takes up a whole block between my street and Rue Carnot.

For Muslims the Friday prayer is a congregational prayer and they go to the mosques which overflow to many of the surrounding streets including mine. While I had heard the calls the first few weeks in the apartment it never dawned on me what was happening outside. 

Over time when I started teaching English on Friday's I learned that I had to leave a half an hour early (by 1:00) to get around the populous at the very end of my street while I wait for the bus.

And  oh what a sight to behold  - all these men prescribed by a series of actions over 10-15 minutes involved with their praying in unison - sitting, standing, bending and kneeling.  Here I quickly snapped a shot while I was waiting.

Here is what the street looks like just after prayers are over - I managed to get this shot on the bus - since at this point it stopped at a most opportune spot!.

One of the things I had always wished for was a chance to see what it is like on Friday from an apartment balcony above.  My own "prayers" were answered by a DWG member named Leslie who told me she had a balcony and her street while it doesn't get blocked like mine it would still give me a great perspective.  She had told me she lived in Plateau as did I and I was invited to come to her apartment for a view before our planned departure. Months had passed when she first made the offer.  So finally our scheduled date came on a Friday after returning from Casamance. And since teaching was now concluded this worked out perfectly.  

Upon giving me the walking directions to her place we both realized (after nearly a year) that she lived only one street over from me. We met for the first time and both agreed it was a shame we did not connect sooner.  As it was, I was grateful for the opportunity and  the timing of this Friday also landed on the day Ramadan began. Here is what I saw....

People walking towards the mosque and outlying streets and sidewalks
Some men in place already at the front door of  Leslie's apartment

Looking left

Looking right

Prayers are over and people are dispersing

Father with son licking ice cream

And then it was oh so incredible memorable moment


From - HowStuffWorks website

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Because Islam uses a lunar calendar, Ramadan begins and ends at a different time each year. The way the lunar calendar works is that the beginning of each month begins with the sighting of the new moon. The lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar used in much of the Western world. 

The start of Ramadan each year is based on a combination of sightings of the moon and astronomical calculations.  The end of Ramadan is determined in a similar way.

The Meaning of Ramadan

For Muslims, Ramadan is a month of blessing that includes prayer, fasting and charity. The meaning of Ramadan goes back many centuries, to about 610 A.D. It was at this time, during the ninth month of the lunar calendar, that Muslims believe God, or Allah, revealed the first verses of the Qu'ran, the holy book of Islam.
According to Islam, a caravan trader named Mohammed was walking in the desert near Mecca. This occurred in what is now Saudi Arabia. One night a voice called to him from the sky. It was the angel, Gabriel, who told Mohammed he had been chosen to receive the word of Allah. In the days after, Mohammed began speaking the verses that would be transcribed as the Qu'ran.
At many mosques, during Ramadan, verses from the Qu'ran are recited each night. The prayers are known as tarawih. By the end of Ramadan, the complete scripture has been recited. Ramadan is a time when Muslims can connect with the teachings of the Qu'ran.

How is Ramadan Celebrated?

During Ramadan, Muslims practice sawm, or fasting. Of course, no one is required to fast for an entire month. The practice of fasting during Ramadan means that Muslims may not eat or drink anything including water while the sun is shining. Fasting is one of the five pillars or duties of Islam. As with most other religious practices in Islam, Muslims participate in the fast from the age of 12.
One of the most important aspects of the Ramadan fast is called niyyah. Niyyah literally means "intention." Muslims must not simply or accidentally abstain from food; they must achieve the requirement of niyyah. To achieve this requirement, a Muslim must "intend in [his] heart that [the fast] is meant to be a worship for Allah alone." So, if someone fasts for political or dietary reasons, he would not achieve niyyah. In fact, according to scripture, "Whoever does not make niyyah before dawn, would not have fasted." The determination to fast is equal in importance to the fast itself.
In much of the Muslim world, restaurants are closed during the daylight hours of Ramadan. Families wake up early, before the sun rises, and eat a meal called sohour. After the sun sets, the fast is broken with a meal called iftar. Iftar often begins with eating dates and sweet drinks to give fasting Muslims a quick energy boost, and it is a rich meal. It can include any type of food, but the dessert almost always includes konafa or qattayef. Konafa is a cake made of wheat, sugar, honey, raisins and nuts. Qatayef is a similar cake, but it is smaller and is folded to encase the nuts and raisins. In between the two meals, the night-time iftar and the pre-dawn sohour, Muslims can eat freely.
Fasting is so important to Muslims for a number of reasons. First, when you are not paying attention to your mortal needs such as food, you may be able to become more in tune with God and your spiritual side. Also, the fast serves to remind Muslims of the suffering of the poor. This idea reinforces the importance of charity during Ramadan.

Fasting gives Muslims an opportunity to practice self-control and cleanse the body and mind. Many cultures and religions use fasting for this purpose. During Ramadan, fasting helps Muslims with their spiritual devotion as well as in developing a feeling of kinship with other Muslims.

As the history goes, Ramadan is the month in which Allah contacted the prophet, Mohammed, to give him the verses of the holy book, or Qu'ran. As such, praying during Ramadan is especially important. Muslims say nightly prayers whether it is Ramadan or not, but the taraweeh, or Ramadan nightly prayer, carries additional weight.

According to scripture, "Whoever observes night prayer in Ramadan as an expression of his faith and to seek reward from Allah, his previous sins will be blotted out." Thus, the Ramadan nightly prayer, after a day of fasting, serves the purpose of eradicating the sins that have been previously committed. In this way, the nightly prayer is an important element of the rituals of Ramadan.

At the end of Ramadan and before the breaking of the fast, Muslims say takbeer. The takbeer is a statement indicating there is nothing in the world that is bigger or greater than Allah. Takbeer is always said when a Muslim completes an important task, as in the completion of the fast of Ramadan.
Translated, the takbeer exclaims, "Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest. There is no deity worthy of worship but Allah, and Allah is greatest. Allah is the Greatest and all praise is due to Allah." It is recommended that men say the takbeer out loud and women say it silently. Takbeer is a sign that the festivities of Eid Al-Fitr have begun. It is a joyful statement of faith and accomplishment.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


I came across this article via a Peace Corp volunteer I met here - April - who has done some amazing things for her service and is returning to the US on the same day we are. While Manning and I had our own goals and experiences for  our family being here in Dakar/Senegal/Africa for the year - this article reflects similar sentiments that we will be addressing soon. I wanted to share this article with you....

 A timely article on the Huffington Post by Ross Szabo posted July 16th, 2012

The Hardest Adjustment in Peace Corps is Coming Home

When a lot of people think about the most difficult parts of the 27 months of Peace Corps service they tend to focus on the time spent in the foreign country, but for numerous volunteers the hardest adjustment is coming back to America. There can be a bit of culture shock.
In my first 2 weeks out of Botswana I experienced what I like to call Post Peace Corps Experience Disorder. I desperately missed my friends, co-workers and village. Everything felt out of place. I looked the wrong way down the street. Went to the wrong side of the car. All of my dreams were filled with moments from my service. I still have flashbacks of water not coming out of the faucet, constantly needing to clean to stop ants or other things that became habit. Most of my sentences start with, "In Botswana..." The change is hard.
Luckily, the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) is there to help make the transition a little easier. The membership organization was founded in 1979 and is separate from U.S. Peace Corps, the federal agency. The organization's vision is a more peaceful world shaped by greater cross-cultural understanding and lifelong engagement at home and abroad. The mission is to connect and champion Peace Corps community members in "bringing the world home." They do this both by advocating for the Peace Corps and its values, and connecting volunteers who have returned or Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs).
I asked Erica Burman, Director of Communications, at NPCA and an RPCV from The Gambia (1987-89) about the 5 biggest challenges RPCVs face. Each person's adjustment is unique. Some come home, are happy to be back and don't have a hard time. Others have issues. Here are some of them.
1. You have changed, but other things stayed the same. In talking about volunteers' adjustment Erica said, "Most people just can't understand that the past 27 months have been a transformative life experience. You've seen and done and survived things most Americans can't imagine. Things that you couldn't have imagined before Peace Corps. You've witnessed exquisite beauty and the most squalid ugliness. Had your values and assumptions fundamentally tested, and your priorities shifted. So you may no longer be your sister's best shopping buddy, or your dad's sports guy. But many friends and loved ones expect you to be, more or less, the same person you were before and you're just not. That can really be painful for everyone."
2. It's great that you volunteered, but have you heard about the Kardashians? Erica stated, "Sadly, most people aren't that interested in what you've done for the past 27 months. Their tolerance for stories about your Peace Corps experience is generally pretty low. They might ask, 'So how was Africa?' Not your country, but the entire continent. 'Was it hot? Did you see animals?' After a few minutes the conversation changes to pop culture or some other topic. Meanwhile you have days, weeks, months worth of stories and anecdotes and impressions and comparisons bursting to get out and be shared."
3. Daily life in the U.S. can be boring. Volunteers spend a lot of days talking about how boring life can be during service, but life in the U.S. can seem mundane. Erica shared, "You miss the daily challenges of figuring things out and overcoming obstacles. It can be tough and painful during service, but it's also immensely satisfying when you do persevere and succeed. Life in America is more routine, more predictable. There aren't those thrilling frissons of bewilderment and strangeness."
4. You are no longer a pseudo-celebrity. As I have started to adjust back to life out of Peace Corps it is a bit weird to not have every child yell to me and most people excited to see me walk by them. The novelty of volunteering disappears quickly. Erica says this is pretty common, "As much as volunteers complain about living their lives under a microscope, we can miss the fact that we're no longer special, that people don't really care about our every move. Truth be told, it can be kind of fun and ego boosting to be somewhat famous."
5. Going back to the material world. A lot of Peace Corps Volunteers leave developing countries with water, electricity and basic need shortages and enter America's first world problems like not getting all of the apps on the I-pad to work. Erica talked about this as well, "The superficiality, rush and materialness of much of American life can be hard to come to terms with. Overseas many of us learn to greet everyone, to take in and value each person we meet. We may sit for hours under a tree cracking peanuts with our host mother, just being. Often we become enmeshed in close-knit communities for the very first time. That's different than the hurried, "yeah, let's get together," that never happens. Also striking is the waste. We waste so much stuff. Water, heat, electricity, paper, plastic containers. You name it. Stuff that would be prized overseas is casually tossed here. It can be really disturbing."
RPCVs cope with all of these unique difficulties in different ways. Obviously not all of the adjustment is bad. We reconnect with family/friends, devour sorely missed foods, and bask in the land of washing machines and technology. We come home having missed weddings, births, funerals, divorces and a host of other life changes. We worry about what is next. It takes time to catch up with the people we are closest to. Some parts of the brain just click back on from the pause they had experienced and other parts take a little more time.

A Trip to Kermel

Not to far from our home is the covered market - Marché Kermel - within the interior it's a mix of stalls mainly selling foodstuffs, fruits and vegetables, poultry, fish and meat. And the exterior - souvenir shops galore - wood carvings, baskets, flower stands and lots of jewelry.

It took us a few months to muster up the interest to go there. We'd seen the market from a far when we first arrived as it was a stones throw from the Novotel but with so many other things to keep us occupied and overwhelmed - in order to settle in officially with a phone, address and bank those first few weeks - this market would have to wait. And wait it did. 

We knew this is where  Esperance, our bonne,  was going go to pick up most if not all items needed for a days meal.  Finally with life feeling settled way back when - we had her take us there. It's not that we couldn't go it alone but we also figured that our initial 'intro' to the place and people and it's surroundings would be easier with her by our side.

Truth is, when I think of a 'market' - my mind wanders off to France - pristine and orderly. I can be in my little world peacefully meandering, looking and oggling over all that I see.  While it's not impossible to do this in Marche Kermel - it seems more like a 'mission' to get what you need and get out. Like any market over time as you build relationships with the sellers it makes each visit easier and more pleasurable since they remember you.

At times Kermel can be chaotic - although it probably depends on when you go, not so clean and slightly disorderly in an orderly kind of way. There are a fair number of cats around who benefit - if I was a cat I wouldn't turn down some free fish lickin's that land on the floor. Then you have  the flies that have to be waved away. You can't really get the 'peace' that you want because there is always one souvenir vendor who wants to follow you through the interior to be sure to 'catch you' before you leave to come to his stall of African goodies on the outside.  The upside of being with Esperance is she can fend them off a bit with some Wolof. Although I've been known to do a good job myself with polite persistence. But truth is as well - she gets her own interesting experience by having us with her as she knows there is more attention paid! 

Other than that - it is a must to do experience and always on the agenda when our friends came to visit because like everything in Dakar - you go away with a new sense of how life is here - for yourself and the vendor. What you can't really see posted on anything is the price per kilo and I'm certain it changes as the seller sees fit - which is actually and likely the biggest challenge of shopping here if you are not Senegalese. My price would likely be higher than the price Esperance pays so the learning here is she is given the money earlier on and handles the transactions. Now of course the more time you spend here in Dakar and learn what prices should be or what prices Esperance pays then you can manage the negotiations accordingly. I have to say though I never got up the interest to shop in Kermel on a regular basis. But Sandaga, Malian and all the African Art object shops on the Corniche - the other markets - now that is where I *love* to bargain!

So take a peak at what we see....

The only history I know is that the original 1860 construction burnt down in 1994, and in 1997 it was reconstructed - closely modeled on the building's initial structure and decoration.

Esperance and Marie Diop - she has a vegetable stall

Pictures of  various Marabouts

the broom like thing on the counter is the fly mover.....