Saturday, April 14, 2012

Moussa and Rhissa

I first met Moussa at the Dakar Woman's Group Christmas Holiday Bazaar back in November. 

I do remember a passing thought - it was the least 'Christmasy' holiday craft fair I had ever attended - here I am in Dakar, Senegal and it felt like summer!!  Don't get me wrong it was a fantastic venue of all things African hand crafted or designed with an African flair which I appreciated. Just because there was no snow (well okay so I don't see much of it in Berkeley unless I drive to it in Tahoe), no nip in the air, no Christmas trees, no Santa's nor any piped in holiday music - my pocket book did not discriminate.

So who is Moussa - Moussa is a Tuareg from Dabaga a town in the  Agadez region of northern Niger - from Wikipedia "The Taureg are a Berber people with a traditionally nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. They are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa".  His specialty is hand crafting jewelry  (necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings, bookmarks, spoons, and more) out of silver, ebony and other beautiful stones with very distinctive designs.

Here's the story. I buy a ring from Moussa that I'm just enamored with.

Shortly there after the DWG event I'm walking in my neighborhood and I see a guy that looks like him - or at least distinctively wearing the white and indigo clothing. His scarf was covering his mouth - yet honestly - it was like our eyes locked - as I thought I've seen those eyes before.  As well hanging from his neck a very unique pouch that I recall him wearing at the craft show. He stopped and I walked closer and then he unwrapped his scarf to reveal more of his face and I realized "it was him". I was so taken aback at that point  (It's a "small Dakar" at times) I showed him my pinky finger - because adorned on it was his ring.  He was so happy that he held his hand out to shake mine and kind of pulled me in for a somewhat of a bear hug. It certainly caught me off guard.  He proceeds to explain to me that he shows his jewelry at a local gallery in the neighborhood and doesn't live to far from our neighborhood. As one thing lead to another I find him inviting me and the family to visit him in order to see where and how he makes his jewelry. So Manning, the twins and I make our "field trip" for a Sunday afternoon.

He explains we should meet him at the bus stop near the Clinque Du Cap - which I'm all too familiar with (a blog post I have yet to write up but it's been on my mind to do a story which occurred many months ago about the 'security' dog who resides within the property, me, our landlord and his brother the doctor). But this post is all about "the field trip"

We meet him at the Clinique and start walking up the road past this incredibly large  abandoned building - Palais de Justice.

From there past a large lot where a Demm Dikk bus depot exists and finally the place Moussa calls 'home' It's a conglomeration of working areas, cooking areas, a pen for sheep, chickens running around and  many lean-too type sleeping spaces made of wood with corrugated roofing. Before we started our tour I got this shot of these guys sitting around prior to stepping into this encampment - some told me they live there and are bus drivers for the Demm Dikk. 

Moussa showed us around including where he sleeps. And what I remember most was a bed like cot and maybe a trunk or two on the right of this lean-too ish space along with another bed on the left where someone else sleeps - complete with mosquito nets. On one level it's the simple life with few "things."  Yet as a nomadic person who moves between Senegal and Niger months at a time just for work - it doesn't seem all that simple working and being away from his family.  The reason for being in Dakar - he explained - tourists stopped coming to Niger because of Al Qaeda. Yet another topic to research and with the Mali coup and now Guinea-Bissau - it's a topic of conversation that is more present by being here in Africa ....

After we get the tour of this communal space he takes us to where he and his other Nigerian colleagues work which likely makes being here together easier. I think he tried to explain to me they represent a cooperative  from various towns in their region. Before he introduced us to his 'team' I got this shot of this little girl outside the work space. She was quite intrigued by all of us - how often do westerners show up here? I think not very often.

We get ourselves tightly packed in the back and if I remember one of the boys had to sit on Manning's lap for us to all fit.  Note the small anvils, torches and hammers - it gets hot in this space!   And of course you don't get together with people in Senegal without being offered Ataya and accepting! So as Moussa prepares the tea we watch all his colleagues work while also noticing the sheep that meanders about outside. 

Addison was given a chance at trying his hand out.  You can see the tiny amount of square space on the anvil they do their work on.


Moussa and Rhissa
And of course they were proud to show off some larger pieces they had created.  Not to mention their effort at trying to sell me some more. I kindly declined and it's a delicate discussion when you can't 'escape' easily and you've already enjoyed one round of tea.  And then they start showing the boys a few bookmarks. By the end we had negotiated for one bookmark that Parker really liked but truthfully I am the one using it!



By the end of our "field trip" I did have a proposition that I was sure they would be eager to take up. I thought about how I loved my ring with ebony and silver - maybe they could make a special bead for my Pandora bead necklace - not that I have that many beads - but certainly I liked the idea of having one specially handcrafted and designed bead from Africa made just for me!  This is where Rhissa comes in - he was the guy that was going to make the bead. You might be thinking - why would I even have this jewelry with me - well I just wore it like people wear bracelets or necklaces or rings or even eyeglasses - along with my wedding ring. As a few woman who run shops on our street started to inquire as it is their nature to do that here - and I'd come to discover that perhaps it was not helping to wear the ring and necklace in order to integrate in the neighborhood - so I finally opted to tuck it away (which I have to admit thankfully the first bonne  we 'fired' never found where I had placed it). In other wards dim the spotlight if you will.  However, for this occasion I brought it with me to show them what I was after in terms of this bead. It was a fascinating experience having to show them the clasp and the size of the hole required as some beads slipped on and others the core of the bead screws on.  They seemed marveled by the whole concept. I discussed the shape of the bead with Rhissa and the size trying to show them I wanted it somewhat proportional to others that it would be next too. Instead of having a ruler of sorts with millimeter tick marks to just measure the size of the hole of a few of the beads I had to agree on the size - he pulled out various things in his tool box to test a bead if it would go through the hole or not and that is how he calculated the size. It was quite absorbing for me to watch his process.  I suppose it doesn't matter how you get there but that you do!   After that, I was confident we were on the same page with the design and bead - I knew it was out of my hands at that point (along with the advance) and all I could hope is that given my best effort in French with them all - it was going to result in something I had envisioned.

Two weeks later I returned by myself  - yet nothing happens until after a round of Ataya - 

Then Rhissa does his final polish of the bead 

and with sheer delight presents me with it. You can see by his smile how happy he was with the results. I was elated myself!  So I wasted no time restringing the beads on to show him how it looked.  

Here I was thinking - this experience was the craziest yet oh so memorable of many we've had here. I'm  sitting crossed legged in this small work space drinking Ataya,  I just had this one of a kind ebony and silver bead hand crafted for my necklace by Rhissa - a Taureg from Niger, temporarily living in Dakar, Senegal in Africa. What more is there to say?!