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.

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