Tuesday, May 15, 2012

If I Had a Hammer

words and music by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger 
(famously sung by Peter, Paul and Mary)

If I had a hammer
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening
All over this land
I'd hammer out danger
I'd hammer out a warning
I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land
If I had a bell
I'd ring it in the morning
I'd ring it in the evening
All over this land
I'd ring out danger
I'd ring out a warning
I'd ring out love between my brothers and my sisters 
All over this land 
Bell in School Courtyard at St Jeanne D'arc

If I had a song
I'd sing it in the morning
I'd sing it in the evening
All over this land
I'd sing out danger
I'd sing out a warning
I'd sing out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land 
Ismael Lo - Adored Senegalese Singer

Well I've got a hammer
And I've got a bell
And I've got a song to sing
All over this land
It's the hammer of justice
It's the bell of freedom
It's the song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land
 **** Especially in Senegal!!  *****
A Post from Manning ---->
Wow, what a day: A while back Hilary met some guys who do woodworking on our street. They make doors, tables, chairs, bookshelves - furniture like things.  But you would never know they are there. You have to enter a door on a side street and weave your way past two houses and an apartment into this courtyard area where they work.  So in order to repair some of things in the apartment I needed Hilary to introduce me to these gentleman.  I think 25% spent of your time is spent finding someone (that part was already done for me) who you think (hope) can do what you need done. The rest of the time is the 75% actually getting it accomplished.

I met with the woodworkers earlier in the week to explain I needed 4 corner support pieces to repair the kid's bed and drew them a picture with the dimensions. These pieces would be attached to the legs.The reason being is while it's a bed for one kid, two sleep in it and on occasion when there's been sleepovers a third boy finds his way in it too - even when there's been an attempt to create a sleeping space on the floor with a mat. Needless to say it was pushed to it's limit. But let's also clarify the design in general had it's flaws.
The woodworkers said they would be ready Friday morning. Nope not ready.  They said come back at 3:00 which allows them to finish up Friday prayers which in our case involves closing our street because there are 2 mosques in the neighborhood.  You can see how crowded it is at least 5 blocks long.

With Friday prayers concluded - the 'boss' and one 'worker' came over with their tools in hand. They fixed the boys bed for me and then cut a cylindrical piece of wood off the end of a curtain rod to fix the lamp we broke. Now with this other piece of wood in hand I had to explain to them my need for a hole drilled in this piece of wood - which required us all to go back to their shop.  Funny thing (yet maybe not so funny, but more of a reality)  that they had a electric drill but they didn't exactly have power access (outlets) in their work area.  We had to go to someone's house in the courtyard - an actual room in a house - and there was someone in this room watching TV.  I watched - not the TV - but the process with which they would drill my hole. They set the piece of cylindrical wood on the floor without even holding it and just tried to push the drill bit into the wood.  That didn't work; it just spun around, as expected (in my mind).  It was evident to me that this would really only work if they could hold it down securely and I should keep quiet and watch.  Maybe they have an approach that I've never thought of?

When I looked at the size of the hole, partially drilled now, I realized they used the wrong size diameter bit.  Just moments earlier I had actually helped them find the right size, so I have no idea why or when the 'switch' of the bit had taken place. I pointed out they had the wrong size and they FINALLY changed bits but that also was not a simple task. Apparently they had lost the key that you use to loosen and tighten bits for the drill (the "chuck") and so now they had to use a hammer and screw driver to change the bit.  Shortly afterwards, the found a vice - a portable vice welded to a piece of railroad track and returned to the house again with the guy still watching TV, - and viola! a hole was drilled though the piece of wood.  Wow, what a lot of work and what a hoot!

With that task completed now all I needed to do was find a longer piece of metal threaded tubing for the lamp to get everything assembled and working again. (African art in the corner - belongs to owner)
Should be easy, right?  - go to the hardware store (Ace Hardware on University Ave. or  Home Depot in Emeryville) and just buy one.  It's just a tad bit different here for the Do-It-Yourselfer like me.  I ended up spending about two hours going from shop to shop in the Sandaga Marche - which is always chaotic but I was ready for it. And of course with full determination I finally found my piece.  $2.  One shop owner that spoke some English indicated he had never actually seen that part being sold here before - but understood what it was. Then I had to find some washers - only one store in the entire area sold them.  20 cents.  I came home and fixed the lamp.  
So here are some final thoughts about this experience -  

I'm always amazed at how truly different things work here and how different the standards are.  The carpenters who work without electricity and minimal and sometimes primitive equipment.  My friend Oumar who teaches kids the woodworking trade explained to me that many of the workers don't really know math well enough to measure and calculate accurately (or at all). He teaches them on the basics as part of their apprenticeships.  Their finished products are mostly practical, but almost universally lack precision and/or standards of quality I'm used to.  It's not to say that it's bad, it's just what they know and/or are capable of and probably sell to what the market demands.  On the other hand, they seem to have become quite accomplished at making solid wood, paneled doors for houses.  These are typically African hardwoods with nice mortise and tenon joinery and are really quite beautiful. 

As to finding almost anything here, it's difficult, although not necessarily impossible.  It just takes time and perseverance.  There are thousands of small little shops, often several (sometimes dozens) right next to each other with the same or similar products.  Curiously, they rarely seem to know what the other people on their street or block have or sell.  It would be really fun (and useful) for someone to make a map/guide of the businesses and shops of some of these neighborhoods.  I'll have to save that project for next time:)


Saturday, May 12, 2012


Our last planned excursion while staying at Zebrabar was to head out to the The Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary which lies on the southeast bank of the River Senegal  north east of St-Louis.  On the map you can see a light grey line following the same path as the River that is the border between Senegal and Mauritania. So close and yet so far. With no visa in hand - Mauritania will have to be another time!

We'd read up that the best time of the season to visit the park was between November and April. It was pretty apparent we were hitting the tail end of the season so given our close proximity and our unknown schedule for the rest of the year to come back - Martin, the accordion playing owner of Zebrabar said we should go now. 

As stated in Natures Stronghold Foundations:  "One of the most important bird sanctuaries in the world. An estimated three million migrants pass every year through this beautiful 60-square-mile (155-km2) Ramsar and World Heritage Site, part of a vast basin of combined freshwater and saline flats on the Senegal River delta in the country’s extreme north. More than 400 bird species have been counted. For many it’s their first stop after a long flight over the Sahara. Some go farther, others stay for the winter, still others are resident and nest, including great colonies of pelicans and pink flamingos. The spectacle of millions of colorful, calling, constantly moving birds spread out in huge variety as far as the eye can see over these channels, creeks, ponds, lakes, marshes, reedbeds, and mudflats is, for most who have seen it, unforgettably moving, and for anyone who has not, almost indescribable. The scene can only be suggested—masses of milling herons, egrets, storks, spoonbills, plovers, sandpipers, ruffs, godwits, swallows, passerines, ducks, tree-ducks, geese, jacanas, rails, moorhens, oystercatchers, curlews, and, periodically sweeping overhead, throwing all into turmoil, raptors such as dark chanting goshawks and Montagu’s harriers."

It wasn't long before we were 'off roading' in our taxi.  In the rainy season this 'road' we were on is flooded and the road up on the left is the supposed drivable road, but no one is ever on the 'drivable' one because all the locals know it's not drivable (washboard ruts for miles and miles).  It got to the point where I could kind of see a rut ahead depending on what road we were on as we moved up and down on each of them. I "braced" myself each time we were ready to hit them - not phasing either the driver, Manning or P and A  Before I knew it the only thing I kept repeating was "Hold on"....."Hold on"...."Hold on". I'm sure I sounded like a broken record but it's all I could do to just stop thinking about it in a really weird way.  Here we are out in the brushy like desert. People don't get around with taxi's they can just wave down on this road at any time they want.  So if there was a break down - roadside assistance might have been a horse and cart, local villagers walking or maybe another car headed to the park - if we were lucky to see anyone along the way. AAA Card - Useless. It's pretty remote going to get to this park. Along the way we caught a shot of a small village.

And people washing both themselves and their clothes in the tributaries of the Senegal River.  And hanging the clothes up to dry on surrounding bushes. It really makes us think so much about access to clean water, electricity, health care and education as we drive through this country. It makes us realize that Dakar seems rather 'advanced' and yet there is still much to be done there as well.

Our guide. He seems so serious here in the picture but he was quite an animated and enthusiastic character. He worked hard to be sure we saw many birds and other critters. You'd think he would get all excited about the pelicans but we're guessing he had a love affair with the "Phacochère"

(Eric, you would have liked him!)

So what did we see at the end of April?...come and find out...

Cattle, pelicans and other birds wading together along this part of the shoreline. We were told this section can be covered with birds that you almost don't see the water. Since we are at the tail end of the season it was not anywhere as crowded . This is one place they congregate where we launched because there was still an abundance of fish for them to catch.

Kingfishers catching air


"Regardes Regardes - Phacochère!"

Gambian Geese and Warthog


At one point the guide made some comment about it being plastic and shortly there after it opens its snout.  Okay buddy - where are you hiding your remote control?  I'm sure "momma" was giving us the signal because someone in our group spotted a baby sunning itself on a branch. Not to mention the two babies that were spotted floating nearby just with their eyes and little snout above the waterline.

Baby crocodile

Pelican colony

Pelicans, Pelicans and more Pelicans. And these are still not all the pelicans. As a mother of twins half the time still having trouble telling Parker and Addison out - I had to ask - how do the mom's find their babes. They all look the same to me!! Our guide said it's by the 'cry' of the baby that she knows. Amazing.

"Regardes Regardes - Phacochère!"

Warthog family

Monitor Lizard

African Fish Eagle

What a great day. And it wasn't over before I heard in my head as we were diving out...

"Regardes Regardes - Phacochère!"

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Walk in the Park

A simple excursion was planned one morning to Guembeul Nature Reserve a short distance out of Zebrabar.  We relied upon our trusty driver to take us there.

This reserve covers 720 hectares and was inaugurated in 1983. There has been some tremendous maturity of the park in the last 29 years making it a home to many species of birds, reptiles and mammals, of which we had the pleasure of seeing.  

We started off with a viewing of these African Spurred Tortoises that would fit into the palm of your hand.

And from there saw a few larger ones. They are all currently in their own segregated pens as the reserve is managing a reintroduction program for them.

Apparently they really like excavating burrows and enjoy a bit of shade during the hotter parts of the day.  They can dig nearly 30 m deep.

And for the moment too these Dorca Gazelles are being managed with inside a pen, but many had dug under the boundaries of the pen and were now roaming in park. 

The rest of the animals we saw in the park were  roaming free.


It's not very often we see anything made of wood in Senegal except perhaps an abundance of doors and furniture crafted and sold on the streets - so this observation tower which appeared to be newly built required some extra inspection.

So you've got Manning 'the teacher' and Parker and Addison as the 'students'  listening to Manning cover the finer points of the workmanship:
  • The base supports were made of concrete and the wood was raised up above the concrete by some kind of  metal posts. The purpose of that he believes is to keep it from rotting during the rainy season
  • The clapboards in the observatory itself were overlapping in order to keep the rain out and from collecting inside the room
  • There was a bench inside to sit on while you were viewing and he liked how that was laid out

We continued our walk which honestly was such a delight to be in this protected open space, free of litter and vendors.  And enjoying the various scrub.  The photos from 30 years ago showed no vegetation or trees in this area due to over grazing and lack of protection.  in this short time, the flora and fauna have returned and the habitat is able to support a wide range of animals. 
I wish the country could take as much pride as they do in parks like this - with the rest of the country's environment.  While it may seem like a simple comment to make, I realize the many complexities of life here - and while barriers do exist they are just that - barriers that can be tackled - I never said it would be easy.  But there has to be a desire for seriously considering even ridding themselves of plastic bags since they are everywhere - on the ground, in trees, in the ocean and rivers and on fences.  It certainly crosses my mind knowing the throngs of conservation groups that exist in California.  It's apparent this park is trying their best in this little corner of Senegal.

Here is a common scene we see often throughout the country (and during the drive between Saint Louis and Zebrabar)  and is what makes this reserve and the Langue de Barbarie reserve total jewels!



During the walk we discovered a variety of informational signs which had been knocked off their posts and flipped over. Not sure how or why or when there would be plans to have them all restored. Or if they even knew. I think if I saw their operating budget it would explain it. Resources are so limited.  In the meantime of course we continued our journey.

Closer up view but not sure exactly what the sandbar and sticks around it are meant for.

Red Monkey

At the end we had a chance to review their little eco museum which was actually quite informative.

We also caught the view of some warthogs but they were so fast I could not capture them so this information billboard will just have to do!  As we wrap up the 2 hour walk we find our taxi man sleeping on the job. Actually he waited for us along with an orange we gave him before we started the journey.  And just when we thought we'd seen all animals roaming free we came across these guys just outside of the park.

 STOP the Taxi!

This man here is the 'owner' of the camels. And if we understood him right he was  Mauritanian. His 'helpers' were local kids tagging along.  I kept my distance on the road but Parker and Addison bolted off with one of the kids to get a close look. Which was okay by the owner. Although admittedly I was a bit concerned from afar as to how close was close.

Apparently they got close enough for Parker to make this observation...and in his own words unedited -  "They are bigger than they look and in their hump they store food and water that's how they live in the desert they eat the fat from there hump and the water in their hump that's why they can live in the desert and not us.  We would run out of food and water in 2-3 days . It's amazing what they can do!!"