Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Bad Boys of Senegal...

Yes that would be Parker and Addison.  Today was a completely off day. We do have them but today was the worst. I don't need to say much but I will use this image to shed light...

IFAN and Ice Cream

The IFAN Museum (Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noir) is close to our apartment so we took another day during the October school break to investigate.

I've never been a fan of taking my kids to a "Museum" (look we're talking about Parker and Addison here ;+} - it has to be a kind of kids hands-on museum to capture their energy and attention). We knew the IFAN was not one of these. And in fact those kind of educational places are not to be found here. It's really a shame but it is just as it is.  Manning and I decided to give it a go to ensure we had some activity scheduled for the day. All we hoped is that they would learn and see African art and that maybe something would get absorbed. On the day we went we (our family and our French friends we met our first week here) were the only ones there. When we entered the museum it was clear it was sparse yet perhaps doable in terms of  "attention span".  

We realized it might be kind of nice to have a guide so our friend who is French asked the receptionist about that - and like most things, nothing is formal or defined here - so when you ask you have to be ready to negotiate - and thus she did.  So for 2,000 CFA (a very worthy deal) we had our own private Senegalese guide.

She took us to the 2nd floor where their they had displays showed mainly masks and musical instruments across the region from Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Benin and Nigeria,  yet sadly, not much if anything we noticed from Senegal itself.  Our tour was a good hour and this woman you could tell loved her job. While the tour was in French and I could get a fair amount of it - our French friend did supply me with some translation. Even so - our guide explained so much about the masks, the history and the fine details of how they were made and much symbolism surrounding their designs. It was actually super interesting.  The kids meandered (that would be Parker, Addison and Soizic) in and out of the tour, with Manning acting as the "herder" if they wandered down to the first floor, in order to ensure they did not reek havoc.

I never made it down to discover the 1st floor so I'm saving that for myself on another day. because it does deserve a second visit sans enfants!

After the tour concluded we knew the only way to end on a high note was to go to the best and most well known ice cream parlour in Dakar - which none of us had been too.  It's called N'Ice Cream and it was a short walk from the museum. And all I could say was we were in trouble the moment we walked in the door.

Notice the Obama ice cream - the one in the back that needs refilling. I did not try that but I think it's supposed to be milk chocolate with small vanilla crackers covered in a thin fudge layer.  Admittedly it was kind of cool to see our President (for the time being)  has a reputation over here in which an ice cream has been created with his name attached.  I'll have to try it next time - but truth is there are so many more interesting flavors first to indulge in. The funny thing is there is no "equivalent" Abdoulaye Wade choice - Senegal's current President. Not sure if that means anything but if there was a flavor for him - I wonder what the flavor would be?  There is an election in February.

Creamy, full of flavor, and OH SO YUMMY

Friday, November 25, 2011

Les Phares Des Mamelles

This ones for you Eric!

Next stop after the Renaissance Monument was a walk to the lighthouse - Les Phare Des Mamelles.

A nice quiet stroll up to the top

Until we set our gaze upon this creatures - big mama's and babies - dozens and dozens strung with their big webs between the brush. I found on another blog mentioned as Deadly Senegalese Jumping Spider - thank fully there was no leaping and the thought of it now just gives me the heebies if one had made it's way towards any of us. Their body could fit in the palm of one's hand and as you can see their legs make a farther spread. I'm loving my Nikon for the telephoto.

When we reached the top of the road to the lighthouse a security guard greeted us and in usual fashion we took up a pleasant conversationand then the guard asked us to wait as he retreived something from inside. Moments later he returned with a good writeup about the general history of the lighthouse.  This lead us to ask if there was a way to get a tour, and we had the good fortune of being given a tour by the actual lighthouse keeper who lives adjacent to the structure (and who indicated he had been working here for over 25 years).  I do not have any pictures of the lighthouse keepers face because of his Muslim religion which for some - it is a preference not to be photographed. The lighthouse was was built in 1864 and for quite a long time it used  a system of pendulums  that would go for a two hour stretch that turned the lens  before the weights had to be rewound.  The lighthouse keeper said there was still a time while he worked there when he had to do this, before things became automated. Here he was showing us the mechanism of rope that would wind up. And sadly he also showed us the weight which was now used as a door stop.

Electrical Automation
On the ground floor, an engine room houses a generator and the set of backup batteries. And the 2nd floor there is use of solar panels  as the primary energy source to run the halogen bulb which is housed inside the lens. While the solar panels were nice to see as a glimpse into alternative energy sources here - you've got the backdrop of cell phone antennas as this mountain is high above the plain of Dakar and perfect for the needed reception for a country that relies heavily on mobile phone access.

The Fresnel lens (original still intact!) was manufactured in Paris, by the Barbier, Benard & Turenne Co and gives it a range of 53 km.

Today it is equipped with a small 1000 watt halogen bulb with a lifespan of 3000 hours and operating on alternating current at 220 volts, the light produces a powerful white flash every five seconds.  This is what he is explaining to us in French. <sideways video I could not figure out how to get it clockwise>

This is a lovely view of the peninsula northward from the top. 

And this is a view facing southward with the city of Dakar in the background and the (very controversial) African Renaissance Monument located on the other "mamelle" mountain top. 

I only wish I could tell you that the coast was protected as we know it in parts of California.  What you cannot see much of the time is the trash and pollution taking up real estate all along the way.  I sigh thinking  how easy it could be to have trashcans available which could help reduce what gets left on the road or beach - but it is not only that - it would require encouraging and changing personal behaviors - sadly no different than the crushed cigarette butts I see taking up space in the cracks on sidewalks back home.  One day - some day.

In looking past that - I have to say it surely was "icing on the mamelle" to have seen the lighthouse through the eyes of the lighthouse keeper.

African Renaissance Monument

During Parker and Addisons' fall school break we decided to venture out of Plateau to another section of Dakar and work our way to see a monument that has stirred up much controversy here. It's called the African Renaissance Monument and it is located in the northwest part of the Dakar peninsula on top of one of two sets of mountains. The two mountains together are named the Mamelles which was derived from the french word meaning breast. Atop one - the monument, atop the other - the lighthouse

I'm of the sense that it's "the controversy" around the monument that drives people to see it - certainly we wanted to know.  And after we got there it was clear to us - after about 5 minutes "the mystery" was over. Here is a write up from the BBC in April 2010 when it was inaugurated which helps explain the controversy.


Senegal has inaugurated a massive $27m (£18m) monument - higher than the Statue of Liberty - that has drawn huge criticism over its cost and symbolism.
The 49m (160ft) Monument of African Renaissance has been unveiled in Dakar as the highlight of the nation's 50th anniversary of independence.Some scholars have labelled its scantily clad figures un-Islamic, while others said it was a waste of money.Supporters say it represents Africa's rise from "intolerance and racism".In the hours leading up to the inauguration, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Dakar to voice their opposition.The Soviet-style bronze statue, built by North Korean workers, is the idea of President Abdoulaye Wade.It depicts three figures - a man holding a woman behind him and a child aloft, pointing out to sea. 

'Monument of shame'
Mr Wade also attracted fierce criticism for saying he should take 35% of the revenue generated by the monument because it was his idea.Protesters carried a mock statue through the streets of Dakar. Riot police patrolled the streets during the protest rally, which the authorities initially banned, before relenting.The demonstration was called to protest against "all the failures of Wade's regime, the least of which is this horrible statue".Deputy opposition leader Ndeye Fatou Toure said the statue was an "economic monster and a financial scandal in the context of the current [economic] crisis," AFP news agency reported.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by 19 African heads of state, North Korean officials, and a delegation of 100 African-Americans including the Rev Jesse Jackson.
Guests were given a tour of the monument ahead of the ceremony. The vast staircase leading up to it was lined with hundreds of people wearing yellow and blue, the colours of the ruling Senegalese Democratic Party. "Africa has seized this monument," presidential spokesman Mamadou Bamba Ndiaye told AFP. 

"It is rare to have one country hosting more than a dozen heads of state for this kind of event. That testifies to their support."The statue has divided opinion in a country where half the population lives below the poverty line.Some Muslim scholars have called the monument idolatrous.Some Muslim scholars have called the monument idolatrous.

On the eve of the celebrations, the Reuters news agency quoted a leading imam, Massamba Diop, as telling worshippers at a mosque in the capital: "We have issued a fatwa urging Senegal's imams this Friday to read the holy Koran in the mosques simply to ask Allah to preserve us from the punishment this monument of shame risks bringing on Senegal."
The statue has been mired in controversy from the outset. President Wade - who at 83 has announced he will seek re-election in 2012 - had to apologise to Senegal's Christian minority after comparing the monument to Jesus Christ.n Its architect also said he had received complaints about the woman's naked legs.However, its supporters stood by the project. 

Senator Ahmed Bachir Kounta told Reuters: "Every architectural work sparks controversies - look at the Eiffel Tower in Paris."


Our timing was such that without realizing it we showed up on a Monday sometime between 1 - 2:30 - we only remember because the gift shop and elevator access (for a fee and I'll get to that in a minute) were closed. This  really had no negative affect on our visit there. It seemed that the only people who were there though - were these guys - the ones whose job it was to clean the bathrooms who wanted to take a photo with us.

So what did we think about it - well, it is colossal, and somewhere I read it is supposed to represent Africa’s rise from “ignorance, intolerance and racism” - but I can't say that I understand that interpretation in relation to the design of this monument. What I saw was a giant man with chiseled abs, holding a child (his son?) on his shoulder and ensuring the woman by his side (his wife?) did not get away extending out of 1/3 of the monument that was more like a rock formation (volcano?).

I wasn't moved one way or the other with regards to the monument - yet could relate to the disgruntlement of many - who felt it was a costly endeavor - given all the rampant poverty, economic problems and unemployment that surrounds the outlying areas of the statue. Seems there could have been a more fruitful use of the funds. Although whose to say that the funds if given over to some type of NGO source would have proven itself with better results. It's all conjecture.

We did receive a spectacular view of the sprawling Dakar peninsula. Along with what could either have been  abandoned construction or work in progress - It was hard to tell.

Now here is what really got our goat - the price to get into the monument -

6,500 CFA for a non-resident adult = $13.00 - guessing it includes a brief tour guide, the exhibits and a ride to the top - but the way things work here - nothing surprises us that without anything being stated for sure - anything goes.

3,500 CFA for non-resident kids = $7.00.  

1,000 CFA - simple - adult resident which I think is just a ride to the top = $2 
3,000 CFA - complete - adult resident  = $6 includes we think the  brief tour guide and some exhibits plus the ride to the top.

It's not to say we could not have afforded it, or that we haven't paid prices like that to visit other cultural or notable structures on other trips we have taken. It was the thought that even the reference that 35% of the funds collected might have ended up in President Abdoulaye Wade's domain  - irked us. 

It was evident to us that the only sure way our funds would get put to good use in the community was to spend the $40 eating at a restaurant in our neighborhood!

Next stop -  the lighthouse.

View of the Lighthouse from the Renaissance Monument

But first - a soda break at the nearest (which was not so near and in the heat)  magasin to minimize the whining....

Ahhh - Whining suppressed!! - Now off we go.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Île de Gorée - The Colorful and Vibrant Side

While my first post about Île de Gorée and its past gave one insight into the methodologies and madness of what occurred on this island (and sadly the recognition of human trafficking and brutality on other levels which continues in this world today)  - the island and it's people have a colorful and vibrant side too - making the visit uplifting as well.

Remember I mentioned the arts and crafts vendors were out in force - let me tell you how clever they are!  Or should I say how naive I was.  You get all kinds of folks aboard the ferry - locals and tourists - but any tourist - non-black and likely 1st timer to the island - are cleverly interrogated by Senegalese woman who may or may not live on the island - but likely owns a shop or works at a shop there. Or if you are not paying attention - their shop is in their over-sized purse/bag - it's not hard to transport jewelry. These are smart woman who have mastered English well enough  and are more than eager to engage with you to get you to come to their shop. After all they are business woman of independent means.  Talk with them just long enough (in French or English) and  at this point too their photographic memory of your face is now imprinted in their brain. My mistake - asking one woman "where is your shop?"

As this point we dock and settle in with getting our guide. As part of the personal walking tour we were taken to some additional monumental sites. 

WWII  Gun Placements

Monument built in the shape of a ships hull commemorating all those who perished or were forced to leave the African continent on the voyage to the new world

Cellphone tower disguised as a palm tree

It's no surprise too how conveniently our guide directs us on certain paths that ensures you are exposed and actually meet some of the local artisans in their "open studios" -   I have to say the style and artwork crafted is rather amazing. And the stroll through the streets/paths was delightful  given the various colors and greenery that surround you.

Sand from various places in Senegal

Sand Painting Artist

One stop we made was to see the sand painting. This guy was awesome and we are definitely going back to see him and buy from him. He showed us a hands on demonstration and we were so fixated on what he did we forgot to ask if we could take a movie. Basically the 4 of us gathered around the table as he took a blank canvas and began to paint with glue that he explained was the gum from the Baobab Tree - a national symbol here. Then he began to work with a number of different bowls of natural Senegalese sand from different regions of the country. The artist  took a little sand from this bowl and a little sand from that bowl and sprinkled it on the glue in what seemed to be a rather nonchalant manner. After a few minutes, he picked up the canvas, knocked it a bit on the table to get rid of all of the extra sand and voila a portion of what was going to be a beautiful and quite unique sand painting had appeared! He told us the price and I think rather than the hard bargaining his method was to entice you in buying 4 for a reduced price. He cleverly had them in rather small sizes for transport. At that point we told him he needed to market them based on bag type - "sac a dos" or "valise" - he liked our humor.  At that moment we opted not to buy - it was just one of those moments where I prefer a little distance from the pressure to buy johnny on the spot - and avoid the impulse. I like to let the need/want and desire  simmer a bit, and now that it has we can't stop thinking about his work - it seems worthy of returning.  We know where he resides on the island.

At the point we had concluded our tour and we were back at the beach - guess who approaches us - OH NO - it's the woman on the ferry trying to get us to go to her shop. I try to politely shoo her off and soon enough she's moved on.

Senegalese Pirogues

We enjoy a little lunch at this cafe on the other side of the pirogues - and OH NO - guess whose lurking - it's the woman who has her shop - it's hard to hide behind anyone or get lost in the crowd because no crowd existed this day. In fact there was only in the end 2 other tables that had anyone eating at it. This was the same for every restaurant on the beachy area. It was just a slow day I suppose.  I rid myself of her again and we move on to some time for swimming. 

Before I dive in myself I decided to take another walk around some of the streets as I was just overcome in a good way by a certain amout of quiet and calm.  

See the Blue wrap - I bought that.

OH NO - on my way back - I'm stopped in my tracks again - I swear this woman has a GPS! or she has planted a tracking device on me. This time she's carrying some African shirts and pants for the boys. Honestly I don't remember what I said but just after I was certain I have shaken her the woman with the oversized-bag shows up and suggests I come to "her" shop. Yet now I'm in the "know". I tell her in French I don't have to come - I know she's got her shop in her bag and sure enough - out pops her jewelry on a big ring.  I tried to be polite - allowing her to do her "pitch" and explain to me the various shells and beads on some of the bracelets and necklaces - I tried to tell her I wanted to be alone. I thanked her. Tried again to explain and now I felt forced to say "Je veux mon privee avec ma famille" - now I'm sure it wasn't the perfect way to say it but it was good enough for me - and I knew she would understand it.  Then sadly it got a little touchy, even in French, as she suggested I did not like people with different color skin. I knew at that point I wasn't going to get anywhere so I just stopped talking. It was kind of a bummer but I just chalked it up to a pesky,  persistent, yet overly aggressive hawker. Looking past her comment - in general the "Spirited Senegalese Seller" I'm convinced has some kind of innate behavior bestowed upon them at birth - those that grow up to be vendors - it seems so naturally prevalent in they way they go about selling on the street or sand, by now I see the humor in it all  (I myself craft soap and need and want to sell it - but I'm aware my approaches and interactions with 'potential customers' are just a tad bit different ;+}).  I knew I wasn't her first assault nor her last.

On the upside upon our departure Parker and Addison were mesmerized by this rhythmic hand shaker toy that had been seen or should I say "heard" from some sellers.  At the end we broke down and told Addison and Parker they could each have one. So the guy they had connected up with lets us know the price and I said to him - I'm not the client - the boys are - you need to discuss the price with them. After some haggling - SOLD!

All in all - it was a memorable day. With the last laugh at the end being the taxi drivers who want their  5,000 CFA to take you back to a hotel they are looking to get from the "toubab tourist" who just got off the ferry.  Forget it  (it should be like 500 CFA) - we'll walk! (because the port is close enough that we can)

There is no doubt with the deep and troubling history yet colorful and distinctive surroundings -this island deserves another visit.  There were a number of museums we did not get a chance to visit as well as some artists we would like to go back and see.

On the next Ferry Ride - Note to self - Ferme Ma Bouche!