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!

1 comment:

  1. Hello, This is the first blog I've read. Very interesting!I would love to go swimming there and 'shop'.
    Linda Humphreys