Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Where Mosques out number Synagogues

Because no synagogues exist here - not surprising given it's 95% Muslim ;+}

Tonight, Tuesday - Sept 28th,  is Rosh Hashanah and I wish all my friends and family whether you celebrate this Jewish Holiday or not - L'Shana Tova - May you continue to be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet year.".  I think it's actually a very non-denominational message so why not spread the word to all.

A dear college friend of mine, Sheila (who is a reader of the blog),  took some time to do a google search for me and discovered there was another  Jewish woman here last year in search of a 'home for the holiday's' - so Sheila passed along her story and suggested I contact the Israeli Embassy - of which they have one here in Dakar just a stones throw from our apartment.  On Monday I sent an e-mail around 10:00 a.m. - asking for some guidance with regards to celebrating the holiday. I heard nothing  all day Monday or Tuesday so today - I decided to actually see if I could make any headway by going over to the Embassy itself.  With a little help - I was pointed to the correct building - that one would never know it was there - but at least 5 Senegalese military smiling, talking and laughing with each other outside in front - as this building I think had a variety of 'important offices' in it. I went to the desk and spoke with the non-descript security guard standing at the side of the desk. I explained that I was an American (and Jewish) and trying to find out about the holiday. He acknowledged he knew of it - even called it out by name - but said he was not Jewish and the office was closing early for the holiday.  He asked if I had my passport and I said not with me because truth is - I did not want it with me. I wanted him to understand I needed to be comfortable walking to the building and staying on course without being "redirected by others offering their help" - for more on this see --> "Do the Hustle"  and keeping my passport safely at home.  And he understood. I told him I could easily go back home to get it and return now that I had my bearings. However I did have another identity card with me (from the Institut Francais) that at least showed my photo and name - I suppose giving him some comfort to ask me a few more questions about where I lived and who I was working for with an attempt to try and see how to get me past him and onto the elevator.  I explained my purpose of living here for a year.  I mentioned I had sent an e-mail to the Embassy but had heard nothing back. Email responsiveness is not a high priority here I think. I spoke enough French and he understood enough English for us to get through this question/answer exercise - providing my name (of which we got off to good start)- as he then said - "Eelaree, as in "Eelaree Clinton" - me - "Oui". Then I provided  Manning's name with the attempt to say married Americans sometimes have different last names, where I live in Dakar and a few other details of who we were going to volunteer with. At that point he he makes a call,  not only was talking with his cell phone but on occasion speaking into a small microphone  just under his shirt near his collar bone. After all the polite interrogation - and a few calls  passing on the spelling of my name and Manning's -  and obviously talking to someone - he proceeds to tell me  "sorry, you are not on the list" - at that point I thought - wow - at least there is a possible list to be on - whatever that could possibly mean.  He actually felt bad and said he was sorry - suggested that for next weeks holiday (Yom Kippur) - I send my e-mail earlier (which I have since done!).

Happy New Year to you! And may I be inscribed onto the Embassy List next week. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Table - Part 2

Two days later Manning receives a call from Oumar saying he'd like him to come out and see the progress on the table.  It's pretty certain the guy is motivated and excited about this opportunity - how often does an American guy like Manning show up with plans prepared and ask him to craft a table. Not to often I suspect. This time we arrange the visit on a Tuesday so I can tag along when the kids are in school on a long day (8-3) - just to ensure there is time to account for the horrific traffic on a weekday that we've heard so much about.

First things first - taxi negotiation time!  As it turns out there is a hotel 2 buildings down from the apartment and we finally realized and made the connection that the 4-6 taxi's kind of parked in front was the taxi stand for the hotel. We decided to give these guys a shot at taking us to Pikine. The negotiations start and they all were starting at 5,000 CFA and we kept saying, no 2,500 CFA since we new that was the cost of  Manning's last return trip.  They started working their way down to 3,000 and we decide who needs these guys we'll just flag down any taxi that is driving by - there is no shortage!!  Just about that point "Amar" steps up to the task.

Off we go. (reminder to myself - any and all things about the taxi is a required future blog post)

We literally inch our way out of the city center - being held back by other cars, taxis, people and the lack of any stop signs or traffic lights to help the flow.  We work our way onto the Autoroute - truly the first time for me getting way out of the neighborhood since our arrival. So what do I notice - mainly a vast display of concrete buildings/apartments/housing perhaps anywhere from 1 - 5 stories  in various states,  buildings that appear to  have been abandoned,  piles of rubble,  shells of buildings that are in various states of construction, or buildings that just seem dilapidated probably just due to the materials used here or continuous streams of shacks and shanties with corrugated roofing. You do catch sight of  palm trees  (or maybe they were coconut trees) here and there inlnad.   Lots and lots and lots of clothing hanging out to dry - for two main reasons - electricity is an issue here so having a dryer serves no purpose - and it's certainly a luxury that a vast majority can not afford and it's hot and easy to dry clothes without it. Once we got off the Autoroute and started to weave our way into Pekine - my mind was still absorbing everything I was seeing.  Here's a couple of still photos I captured from within the taxi.

On the first and last photos - you can catch a sprinkling of vegetation in the background.  Since 'green space' is practically non-existent in the city center - I couldn't help but notice this because it was so pleasing to the eye.  Turns out that Pikine has a focus on urban agriculture or market-gardening - small scale production of fruits, vegetables, flowers and plants - from what I gathered  with a little web research - while it's providing income to farmers and a source of nutrition for a population - there is  also a concern regarding  irrigation practices and breeding grounds for mosquitoes - therefore keeping malaria alive and well.

After a few photos I remembered my camera had a video feature on it so here is a clip that gives you another sense of the driving experience .

Upon arriving at the shop location - there was the table - right out front and center - Oumar was eager to show Manning the progress and discuss the fine details of finishing it up. Then Oumar wanted to show me the different shops and meet all the 'teachers' and 'students' who were there. Of which I obliged.

From there he insisted we come with him to another location where he was to provide additional instruction as part of a seminar that was being conducted.  Turns out the taxi driver stuck around long enough so we all hopped back into the cab. Off we go (again).

In addition to the woodworking instruction going on - some incredible weaving was also taking place. I became completely memorized by the focus and concentration of the weaver and his apprentice. 


What was being woven appeared to be a long sash or scroll of their design - as you can see it piling up underneath both the weavers chairs. Yet what they were going to do with it or how it would be incorporated into something else was not clear to me.

Just before we left I got a bit choked up  because I could see how passionate Oumar and the teachers were in helping to guide their students on a path for self sufficiency and pride in their handiwork. It's surely a different pace here.

Of course the day could not end without a traffic jam mid-day back into the city center - in creeping along at a snails pace or not moving at all - the street vendors can easily catch up to you as you sit idling - and it's imperative to keep the windows open for air because it's so dang hot!- and in some cases the windows just don't close - so here is my account of everything I was offered as I sat in the front seat  by each individual person - belts, perfume, coat hangers, pedicure/manicure kit for little girls, remote controls, cell phone cards,  nail clippers, fans, tissue, washcloths (of which our taxi driver purchased from a vast array of colors and as I watched him wipe his sweat - I was kicking myself for not buying one too - as there is a plethora of vendors with washcloths or anything else for that matter), keychains, sunglasses, peanuts, water canteens, windshield wipers, cell phone chargers, some one asking for money, flip-flops, games, flashlights and socks.

In the process of returning (with the same taxi driver that waited again - so instead of the 5,000 CFA total for a round trip - we treated him to 8,000 CFA) - just the sheer fact that he waited the entire time seemed worthy enough! - time is money ;+} - but we were clear that the next time - if he's at the taxi stand and he gets the business for us to go out one more time to get the table - there will be no waiting and the total will be 5,000 

Welcome to Dakar!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Table - Part 1

The entryway in our apartment is extremely bare - and Manning thought it would be nice to have a console table - given the fact that he has this idea for a table and cannot actually execute on it himself (his man cave is back in Berkeley) he is now having to get resourceful and find another way so he does.
He decides to research the web for woodworkers in Dakar and finds an article about an NGO  organization - Kora-PRD - established in 1995, to promote  economic and social change in Senegal in its efforts to strengthen the handcrafted sector-one focus being disenfranchised youths and teach them a trade and re-direct them from becoming kids on the street.  Manning contacts Mohktar, the Executive Director, via e-mail informing him that he was very intrigued by the program (also letting him know he was a woodworker himself and living here for a year) and wanted to know if he could have someone in the program make a table he had designed. This not only led to a few e-mails back and forth (but a phone call too because at that point the electricity is continually intermittent for Mohktar and a direct call would be a guarantee to reach Manning). So after he calls to introduce himself (he speaks in French but asks Manning if he can speak Wolof - at this point Manning says no) so he proceeds in French slowly and ultimately Manning arranges a trip for a rendez-vous.

I've asked Manning to take the reigns in writing his experience here because I was not there that day - we agreed it was best for him to make this initial trip without us and for him to stay focused on the task at hand. And also - it's pretty apparent you don't just show up and think you will find a park or a playground - or that you could even take a leisurely walk in the neighborhood - it's just not like that - and it's not because it's dangerous but because there are so many people, taxi's, cars, buses, horse carts, herds of goats, street vendors, streets that have potholes, sand and garbage - you have to constantly pay attention to maneuver around it all. 

Take it a way Manning ---> After negotiating the taxi fare - starting off with 5,000 CFA and settling at 3,500 CFA (one-way ~ $7) me and the taxi driver set off towards Pikine - about 20K away (12.6 miles - a leisurely and simple bike ride back in the states ;+} - but just not possible here). This was the first time really getting out of the city center.

Eventually we arrived at a gas station (our agreed upon meeting spot) and I met Mohktar (forgot to take a picture)  and his friend, Oumar the carpenter. 
Mohktar asked if I was ready to buy the wood today and start, or whether I was just there to discuss the project.I had spent the previous day converting my plans into the metric equivalents and had managed to purchase a tape measure too.  So, armed and dangerous and upon agreement of the construction costs I suggested we begin! Mohktar drove us to Oumar's shop and said good-bye.  Oumar immediately began giving me a tour of his shop which consisted of a long building broken up into 5 training centers  (bronze sculptures, welding , upholstery,  graphic design for signs, woodworking - which he directly oversees and mechanics for auto repair). Each of the training sections is comprised of a number of students and the teacher/professor for that trade. And are guided by that teacher as they make things for customers (like me!)

From there we we headed off to the lumber yard. 
Lumber Yard - and apprentice in the program
It was a little difficult to figure out what African woods they had - I "think" they were in French, maybe Wolof - and being "rough" cut, you can't actually tell what the grain really looks like.  That was OK, I figured it was going to be something nice - and maybe a good surprise at that. Allow me to point out though that there was no way for me to know where or how these woods were cut and transported - in other words the 'concept' of 'sustainable and environmentally friendly' which is what I look for when buying wood back home was not necessarily possible in this context - because I forgot to ask and even then would not have been sure how to ask.  We measured and Oumar negotiated the price for the wood - again leaving it up to the local expert (40,000 CFA ~ $85 USD - which back at EarthSource in Oakland where I purchase the sustainable hardwood for projects it would have cost about $300. About half an hour later a horse drawn cart (similar to picture below) arrived with our wood, and we began! 
It took a while to explain my drawings and plans (of which a critical design element was how the legs would be pinned to the frame in order to consider dis-assembly for future transport back to the US), but pretty quickly we all agreed on the dimensions, which pieces of wood for what and how it would be constructed.  The "boys" did all the rough cutting by hand in the 90 degree heat while Oumar oversaw the work. 

Eventually they needed to use the tools at the shop next door, but I was informed that there would be a wait - at which point I decided I could leave.  I felt fairly confident that they understood what I wanted so I returned home - under a better negotiated deal of 2,500 CFA - only because Oumar interceded on my behalf but it took 3 taxis to get that rate.  While I thought I was getting better at this 'negotiation' - I guess I'm still learning I have "room for improvement' - but I also know that despite having a real street address in Dakar and saying "J'habite ici" - being Caucasian comes with the territory of knowing the taxi drivers know we do have more money to spare.

Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Little History Lesson...


Truth is, I did not know *anything* about this country before I came here except that French was spoken and it was in Africa - but that was really it. I did take time to at least look at a map so I had a sense of where we were headed but there was just too much to prepare and organize to ensure the departure - that leisurely reading about the country just never made the list.  Now that I have some time I thought it prudent to do a little research and understand a bit about this country we're calling 'home' for a year. I figured if I was going to poke around on the internet and do a little reading - I'd cobble together some bits of information from the State Department and the BBC I found interesting to share!

Three equal vertical bands of green (hoist side), yellow, and red with a small green five-pointed star centered in the yellow band; green represents Islam, progress, and hope; yellow signifies natural wealth and progress; red symbolizes sacrifice and determination; the star denotes unity and hope
note: uses the popular Pan-African colors of Ethiopia; the colors from left to right are the same as those of neighboring Mali and the reverse of those on the flag of neighboring Guinea

8th century - Present-day Senegal is part of the Kingdom of Ghana.
11th century - Tukulor occupy lower Senegal valley.
12-14th centuries - Rise of the Jolof empire.
1440s - Portuguese traders reach Senegal river estuary.
1588 - Dutch establish slave port on island of Goree
1659 - French found St-Louis at the mouth of the Senegal river; it becomes a key slave-trading port.
1677 - French take over island of Goree from the Dutch.
1756-63 - Seven Years' War: Britain takes over French posts in Senegal, forms colony of Senegambia. France regains its holdings during American Revolutionary War of 1775-83.
1816 - Britain returns French holdings captured during Napoleonic Wars.
Late 1800s - France extends its influence, gains control of all the territory of Senegal.
1895 - Senegal becomes part of French West Africa.
1914 - Blaise Diagne elected as Senegal's first African deputy to French parliament.
1946 - Senegal becomes part of the French Union.
1956 - National Assembly established.
1958 - Becomes an autonomous republic, as part of the French Community. 

In January 1959, Senegal and the French Soudan merged to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent on June 20, 1960, as a result of the independence and the transfer of power agreement signed with France on April 4, 1960. Due to internal political difficulties, the Federation broke up on August 20, 1960. Senegal and Soudan (renamed the Republic of Mali) proclaimed independence. Leopold Sedar Senghor, internationally known poet, politician, and statesman, was elected Senegal's first President in August 1960. (Fascinating individual and you can read more about him here --> Leopold Sedar Senghor)

After the breakup of the Mali Federation, President Senghor and Prime Minister Mamadou Dia governed together under a parliamentary system. In December 1962, their political rivalry led to an attempted coup by Prime Minister Dia. Although this was put down without bloodshed, Dia was arrested and imprisoned, and Senegal adopted a new constitution that consolidated the President’s power. In 1980, President Senghor decided to retire from politics, and he handed over power in 1981 to his handpicked successor, Abdou Diouf. Abdou Diouf was President from 1981-2000. He encouraged broader political participation, reduced government involvement in the economy, and widened Senegal's diplomatic engagements, particularly with other developing nations. Domestic politics on occasion spilled over into street violence, border tensions, and a violent separatist movement in the southern region of the Casamance. Nevertheless, Senegal's commitment to democracy and human rights strengthened. Diouf served four terms as President.

In the presidential election of 2000, he was defeated, in a free and fair election, by opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade (pronounced "wahd"). Senegal experienced its second peaceful transition of power, and its first from one political party to another. Wade was re-elected in 2007; parliamentary elections were held the same year. Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for February 2012.


Senegalese President Wade 

Abdoulaye Wade, the founder of the Senegalese Democratic Party, won re-election in February 2007, gaining nearly 56% of the votes cast - enough to avoid a second-round ballot.After election officials confirmed his win, Mr Wade warned that corruption cases involving his opponents would be re-opened. The opposition Socialist Party said it would challenge the result.Mr Wade came to power in March 2000, winning presidential elections at the fifth attempt and defeating Abdou Diouf's Socialist Party. He was 73 at the time.

He found himself in a political impasse: The presidential poll did not coincide with parliamentary elections and he was left heading a minority coalition. But elections in April 2001 consolidated his power base. His supporters gained control of the national assembly, with his party winning 89 of the 120 seats.An advocate of democratisation, Mr Wade helped to launch the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or Nepad. The plan aims to foster economic recovery through African-led reforms and good governance. He has sought to strengthen ties with the US.His critics say he has failed to deliver on promises to boost living standards.Abdoulaye Wade was born in northern Senegal in 1927. He studied in France and has a French wife.Senegal has a lively political scene, with parties competing across ethnic, religious and ideological lines.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Senegalese (sing. and pl.).
Population (2011 est.): 12,643,799.
Annual population growth rate: 2.5%.
Ethnic groups: Wolof 43%; Fulani (Peulh) and Toucouleur 23%; Serer 15%; Diola, Mandingo, and others 19%.
Religions: Muslim 94%, Christian 5%, traditional 1%.
Languages: French (official), Wolof, Pulaar, Serer, Diola, Mandingo, Soninke.
Education: Attendance--primary 75.8%, middle school 26.5%, secondary 11% (estimated). Literacy--59.1%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--56.4/1,000. Life expectancy--59.78 years.
Work force (5.53 million): Agriculture--77.5% (subsistence or cash crops). Industry and services--22.5%.

GDP (2009): $12.82 billion.
Real annual growth rate (2010): 4.2%.
Per capita GDP (2010): $1,900 (purchasing power parity).
Inflation rate (consumer prices, 2010): 1.2%.
Natural resources: Fish, peanuts, phosphate, iron ore, gold, titanium, oil and gas, cotton.
Agriculture represents 12.4% of GDP. Products--fish, peanuts, millet, sorghum, manioc, rice, cotton, vegetables, flowers, fruit, livestock, forestry.
Industry: 19.8% of GDP, of which manufacturing and construction compromise 16.3% and energy/mining represent 3.5%. Types--fish and agricultural product processing, light manufacturing, mining, and construction.
Services: 55.6% of GDP, of which transport, warehousing, and communications represent 13.4% of GDP and trade 16.6% of GDP.
Trade: Exports (2008)--$2.05 billion: fish products, peanuts, phosphates, cotton. Major markets (2009)--Mali 20.12%, India 9.84%, The Gambia 5.58%, France 5.02%, Italy 4.23%, U.S. 0.5%. Imports (2010)--$4.474 billion: food, consumer goods, petroleum, machinery, transport equipment, petroleum products, computer equipment. Major suppliers (2009)--France 19.58%, U.K. 9.64%, China 8.08%, Netherlands 5.64%, Thailand 4.75%, U.S. 3.97%.
Exchange rate: African Financial Community franc (CFA) is fixed to the euro. 656 CFA = 1 euro. 495.28 CFA = U.S. $1.
Economic aid: The United States provided about $85.1 million in assistance to Senegal in fiscal year 2009, including $2.1 million for peace and security, $2.4 million for governing justly and democratically, $49.2 million for investing in people, and $31.4 million for economic growth