Friday, December 25, 2009

To Gambia to Gambia

I haven't been dancing yet. Just think, in the San Francisco Bay I have met so many entertainers from Senegal and now that I am here, I haven't been to see one of them on their own turf. I hope this changes before I return.

Luciano is going to be in Gambia this weekend. I hope to catch him on Sunday, but I don't know, travel to Gambia is a long hot journey, but maybe if we leave early enough Sunday, we might arrive before nightfall.

I might be traveling alone, but I think I know how to do it. I just have to get through customs and on the ferry. I am thinking about stopping through Njawara Agricultural Training Centre in the Lower Baddibou District on my way back. I would like to meet the woman chief.

Gambia Maiden Voyage
Mouhammadou came to Dakar to pick me up for the journey to Gambia last week. We worked our way back north toward Rufisque--my escort likes to say that Rufisque is the door or gateway to Dakar. We passed through so many towns, like Bargny where the drummers for the Coumba Lamb Festival live. They have been drumming for the Coumba Lamb since its inception in 1996. I've got these notes written in the margins of my tablet and now that I am typing I haven't a clue as to what they mean, except that "Thianwlene" is the name of the healing place where the shrine is and Mouhammadou's folks are fishermen and farmers and their tradition--Lebu, doesn't include scarification of genital cutting for the girls or females. Others such as the Jola, Jula, Fulani (Khal Pular), Bambara, do.

Westerners have female cutting on the brain, not that we don't have ritual or traditions abhorrent to those in other cultures; they just don't get as much press or media attention, but to say the west is a model for women's rights is ludicrous. Control of women's sexuality is something the west is still trying to accomplish and succeeding if the illnesses like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

In Banjul, the capital, we went to this cool museum on Monday. There is this arch one sees when she comes into Gambia. The arch is actually a building with a gallery at its top which is also where you can see the entire city of Banjul. It was really cool. The gallery was great as well. There was an entire section on charms or fetishes, which is somewhat like scarification with regards to its purpose. The fetish is something you put on and the body markings are something in the skin which never goes away, like a permanent fetish. Ass Bojang got marks to protect him when he was a little boy and his father died, he said. Mouhammadou wears three leather belts, one which goes back to when he was a baby.

I am jumping around.

Just this week, when we arrived Tuesday, back in Rufisque from Gambia returning to Dakar--two days later than expected (more on this to come), two nieces arrived from a factory where they packaged beans for shipment. They fell into bed, first one and then as I was leaving in the morning for Dakar, the other sister slept where her little cousin departed for school.

That previous Friday, Dec. 18 was the anniversary weekend of "Thiarye 44," the massacre of the Senegalese French soldiers by the French government in 1944. As we were rolling through the town we didn't know about the anniversary. We heard about it on our way back a few days later.

The African soldiers who'd fought in a French war were demanding equal pay and benefits for their duties and the government pretended to honor their protest and rolled in canons as the men lay in a drunken stupor (according to Sembene's film, Camp de Thiaroye (1988) and bombed their barracks until there were no men left. Osmane Sembene made a wonderful film about the story. Most of my knowledge of African history is through the cinematography of so many great filmmakers like the father of African cinema, Osmane Sembene. I remember when I saw the film; I couldn't sleep for days afterwards. I found this great interview with Sembene about the first film in his trilogy on African women, Faat Kine:

Another article, an interview just before he passed where he talks about filmmaking in Africa and its necessity and future:

I wonder if I can find his burial site. It would be great to make a pilgrimage and pay respects to him. He is buried in Dakar and is from a fishing village in Casamance, but he got seasick and went into military service and became a novelist and at 40 a filmmaker so his stories would find a wider audience. He was born January 1, 1923 and died June 9, 2007. Faat Kiné (2000) and Moolaadé (2004) were two of a trilogy called Ordinary Heroes.

The name of the town is now, "Jamagen" which means: "Peace is better. When the French first came to Senegal its capital was St. Louis and then it moved to Dakar. I learned about this at the Military History Museum, and then again on the Gambia Heritage Tour last weekend.

Perhaps the trip to Senegal is worth it just to walk in places where this great man walked. I have to try to get to Casamance before I much to see and do and so little time left.

So we are rolling on this bus which stops every few miles through Sicap Mbao and Fass Mboa and Rufisque. On our way to The Gambia the roads look out on open fields with house in varying stages of development. Already a mosque is up--blue accents, white. Another town, Sindia. We'll pass this area on our way to Popingue. We pass another masjid going up. I saw men making bricks yesterday while on the bus. I see these same bricks at Orchard in Berkeley. I wonder how they are made in the U.S. I somehow don't think they are made by hand back at home. Pape says one can get 35 bricks to a bag of cement which one mixes with the sand from the beach.

Last night, speaking of masajid, the mureeds were chanting all night. I kept thinking it was time to get up, between the prayers and the firecrackers, Suzanne had a rough night as she is close to the street, while I am upstairs. Her back keeps her from climbing the stairs to a quieter spot.

We pass La Samone, where Pape's uncle lives and many baobab trees which are the national tree and symbol of the country. In Mul I see a policeman.

12 hours later, my ears used to the early call to prayer, I retire to a purple room--queen size bed, the master bedroom in a house shared by siblings of my good friend Leroy Moore's good friend, now my good friend too, Sirra Ndow- Her brother Moudo welcomes us at the ferry with a taxi and we speed along home --the roads an indicator of a new country, Senegal if nothing else known for its raggedy streets--dust and potholes--but I speak too soon because on our way to Ida's house the African roads return, so perhaps it is true, somethings are indicative of the region--not enough investment in the infrastructure.

Hum? Does Senegal have any debt to the World Bank?

I am like having cultural shock. Is Sirra's family wealthy? I find out later that Ida and her husband built the house over eight years. When they had money they built and when they didn't it sat. He is in insurance and she is in travel. Her dad is an educator with over 50 years in public education and now runs a private school for the Muslim community where he is a partner. The compound is lovely where he lives, not far from his children and with his children--tiled, the apartments all face a courtyard with trees. It's really beautiful. Ida spoke of years during her childhood where they had two rooms: a parlor and the bedroom and the entire family lived in those two rooms. She described it as a happy time.

We went to Ida's house first where we talked about their family, which is from Senegal originally. Two great grand-uncles trekked to the Gambia to avoid induction into a war, slavery or both. I asked about the family tree Sirra had told me about and it was impressive.

The family is starting a foundation to help family members who need financial support. I thought that was a great idea. Ida pointed herself out in the lineage. We had dinner when we got to the family house near the beach--talk about cool spot. It is the greatest place near nightclubs and like I said the beach.

I ate the hotdog with sodium nitrate and some processed cheese--it was great to finally not have to worry about whether or not I could eat it.

The next morning was "clean the community day," moved up from the final Saturday, which is the day after Christmas. It is a day to beautify the neighborhood. My intention was to get up and see how I could help, but well, I got up and took pictures and walked to the dump with Ousman twice. The patriarch is Pa Secka and the younger of the family is Pa Ebou Jeng; he's 11, Ousman is his senior by five years. The household ages range from 40-11.

Ousman was pushing the wheelbarrow filled with cuttings from the pruning. After the yard work we ate and a few of us then walked to the beach. It was lovely. We stopped by artisans working weaving baskets, sculpting and engraving words on seed pods. There was hardly any traffic on our way to the beach as it wasn't 1 p.m. yet and cars were discouraged on these national clean up days. However, on our way back it was watch out cause here they come.

I had to get used to revenue, dalasi: $250 is about $10 USD. 25 equal 500 F CFAs. I don't know what that is in dollars, but as I said somewhere else, 20,000 F CFAs is $25 USD. It all starts to run together after a while especially when things cost 32,000 dalasi.

But I just looked it up: Gambian Dalasi (GMD; symbol D) = 100 bututs. $1.00= D26.55 So 500FCFAs is about $1.

We hopped in a cab after the bus left us at the border town where we caught a ferry into Gambia. On the ferry where people and vehicles as large as diesel trucks, I met as nice kid, also named Ousman who was transporting rocks for roofing from Senegal to Gambia. There are a lot of items one cannot get in either country. Senegal has the rocks; Gambia has the cloth needed by the tailors in Senegal. I believe someone told me on both sides of Senegambia that everything is imported.

I think the border town is called Barra, the underdeveloped twin to the capital Banjul.


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