Sunday, January 24, 2010

January 16 Notes drafty

I am not used to writing 2010, so I am practicing the notation. I enjoyed the triple 1—01/01/10 on New Year’s day. But the reason I am writing has to do with the horrible experience this morning which in retrospect could have been a blessings—South African Airlines is certainly better than Delta. I think I will choose them next time.

The airplane is spacious, three rows across—four center, two and two, on the wing side. They greet me with a travel package: sleep mask, tooth brush and socks. I didn’t get a headset.

8 hours 30 minute flight. I like the English language spoken on the flight.

Okay, so the first issue was language. I told Pape I was leaving at 3:30 AM and needed to leave for the airport at 1 AM. I thought two hours would be plenty time. I also asked him to ask the driver how much he was charging. Maybe it is a cultural thing, but folks had no problem telling me what they couldn’t afford and what they needed, yet when I wanted to budget my funds and refuse to let my savings slip through my fingers like liquid paper—all of a sudden the words “How much does it cost” were absent from the person’s vocabulary.

I didn’t ask for interpretation, just translation, literal translation, but each time I asked people, namely Pape and Amadou what a person said—I knew the translation was not verbatim –something that sometimes irritated the hell out of me.

It was like, I could see the gold through the sieve, but I couldn’t touch it. I lost a lot of money, riches, a lot of time when Pape or Amadou didn’t understand my questions, let alone know how to translate it. I could tell they didn’t understand by the answers which came back to me. Framing the question became key to communication. Lucky for me, the artists whom I really wanted to talk to spoke English and understood more than they could communicate. It was very helpful, not in the translation, Pape still abbreviated the content, but when they just spoke to me, I was able to really hear what they were saying that was getting fudged my Pape’s interference.

This is not to say that I didn’t appreciate his assistance, I just didn’t understand initially why Pape, in particular couldn’t just translate my statements literally when in doubt. Pape, clearly fascinated by the people I was introducing him to, often forgot he was there on my dime, that this was not an opportunity for him to establish ties when I was not the reason why he hadn’t stayed in touch with his long lost relations. Amadou didn’t insert himself like this. With him, he fit me into his schedule and we’d hang out. At times I don’t know where Amadou was mentally.

However, with both men, neither told me any stories of the people or culture, the rhythm of the streets we found ourselves on, or who lived where, what the differences were between one part of town and another, like I can when speaking of Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, Richmond, San Leandro, Lafayette, etc. Each neighborhood in Dakar has a personality, some more populated and dirty, with unpaved streets, lots of beggars or panhandlers, those clad in indigo, the Baafal brethren . There were parts of town where the Fula were dominate and one could see these paintings of cows, because they are herders.

It was sad seeing the street children with their cans, often in flip flops, torn tee-shirts and dusty faces—phelm around their noses or eyes. My last day in Dakar was spent gallery hopping again. I skipped the ferry ride to Ngor, an Island where there was a pretty beach and hotels.

The art was calling me, that and I wanted to meet Binta at Ashoka Foundation. It was through Ashoka that I met the wonderful people on the ground doing work to help community. I missed meeting a woman in Koalock who is working with women Binta Sarr, with Association pour la Promotion de la Femme Senegalaise (APROFES). When I mentioned her to Viola Vaughn with 10,000 Girls, she didn’t know her. Her view tended to be really myopic, but perhaps this was because as she said, she was a visitor and she didn’t want to make any waves otherwise she might find herself unable to do the work she started with the girls, now women.

I am sorry I missed Issa Diop, but I am happy I saw Modou Niang again. I was especially happy he was able to share with Pape and me information about the exposition in 1966 where he alone of the 52 artists in the Village, presented work. He was 20 then, and his lovely paintings graced the event—the catalog is priceless. Earlier Khassim Mbaye, one of the artists in the collective at “E-space Medina,” where I have been many times with Amadou who has friends in the neighborhood. Amadou doesn’t know the gallery, but I remembered the rock with Allahu Akbar carved into it. Amadou never mentioned that Youssou N’Dour is from this community. Many a time we sat at Amadou’s friend’s produce warehouse where I ate and purchased bananas and relaxed between runs.

Not a peep about the history, Amadou often a mile away mentally while present physically. I understand the distraction of poverty, stretching nothing—making stone soup from a bone with gristle, but retracing my footsteps and learning that the main post office is across the street from the military museum and that both are down the street from the American Embassy, a place Amadou spends a lot of time at, but today, Friday, it is closed early as was the cathedral, the largest in the city. I have been in this area many times, the last time on Christmas eve.

Most of my tour has consisted of people sharing their projects with me, so I could help. I felt like a missionary. There were organizations I’d wanted to connect with, but it didn’t happen this time, maybe next time. The woman centered tour didn’t happen, my guides were men and they didn’t seem to know many women headed organizations.

I felt like a missionary without the calling. I was not here to save anyone and I don’t think I met my intellectual equals, that is, people who shared my inquiry and interests until the last week, week six when I met the artists, scholars and Suzanne at the church. But I thank God for week six!
The artists are on the cutting edge of Senegalese society, whether that is Kine Aw who is along with her three sister in the male heavy Artist Village, Issa Diop, who is inheritor of a legacy crafted by his late father who brought the ancient craft of bronze casting to Senegal, or Lamine Barro who has traced the slave trade from Goreé to America and back—the artists see the connection and links between the aesthetic and pressing issues, such as pace and justice and reciprocity. I like this world, one where creation theories overlap and where new worlds are born just as the sculptor we met –Seigne Mor Gueye’s pieces covering the lawn near his studio –at least 7, 8, 10 pieces, each with its own story. Defined by its elegant lines—the breath of a sip of water or the stream of liquid into a glass, Gueye spoke of the stories and lives –spirits living in the wood, how he early on stopped working from drawings as the wood would often refuse his directions—its desire freedom. Gueye became an abolitionist, his desire to free the trapped spirit.

Driven, Gueye produces the art quickly, curious to see what lies inside. Many pieces are figurative, but others are abstract –named and numbered.

At Espace Medina earlier that afternoon Sayo was similarly driven, his work—the images in his mind, the ideas in his heart, the stories he has lived which he now tells on canvas: village life with women at its center, the women who he feels is the start and finish of society. His brush strokes capture the energy and movements of these African women. One might call these peasants regal as they balance life on their heads, back and at their feet. He has them seated with gourds holding chickens at the marketplace. It is a nostalgia that captures the imagination –a time where time is loss, a space where life moves, yet there is no movement, a place that is quickly disappearing as the attraction of modernity is erasing the good already in place, the sustainable eroded for a faster more processed life. The other artist we met, Khassim Mbaye, a member of the collective also painted a scenes from his childhood: the boys begging. There was the can with the tomato on it, the same carried by the boys—girls don’t panhandle. He would take to the street after Our’an school, actually between Qur’an and French school. He told me he would keep his ideas until later on when home he could jot down his images stored in his imagination. His policeman dad said he must have come from another family—where did they get an artist from? Yet, when his father saw how in demand his son’s work was, he and the entire family was proud of him.

Espace Medina which is the result of a relationship over twenty years between the artists developed when the four artists met in an association, now defunk. Two are painters, Moussa Traore is a sculptor and the fourth Aladji Kone is also a sculptor. Moussa’s wife is also a painter and one of her paintings is on the wall. I asked why she wasn’t a member.

It’s Friday, Martin King’s birthday, the official b-day and I wasn’t able to get to Ousman Sembene’s grave site, but I will see it next time. It was really cool the way the entire city shut down for Juma—folks were rushing to prayer, rugs rolled under arms as its bearers moved swifty to prayer and then just as quickly, it was over. By 2:45 PM the faithful were headed home for lunch then back to work or school. I’d planned to attend Juma at the grand mosque of Dakar, but my scarf was at the Art Village. I thought about asking Muhammadou to loan me the scarf around his neck but changed my mind, did I fee like another khutbah I couldn’t comprehend and prayer with women cloistered in a separate building or room?
Nope, wasn’t feeling it today so Demba and I walked to the beach after a walk through the artists market nearby. Those who weren’t praying were watching soccer in Angola—red and white glass bottles stung from telephone wires decorated the lines above.

Okay, so I am at the airport finally and I am prepared to give Demba 2000 CFAs—I could have walked to the airport, it’s that close. I might next time. Pape, like I said, didn’t communicate my query earlier that afternoon. He told me to give the man 4000 CFAs. I’m like you can spend my money and keep yours in your pocket. I only had 3000 and some change. Demba wanted more, so he calls Pape and I’m like to Pape, how much does he want? I am not Ft. Knox (when there was gold). He never says, he just says its not enough. I’m like f—all of you exploitive folks. Don’t you know that when you burn a bridge you will never cross there again? So many bridges have been burned, I will never cross again like the one Demba drives across—the same is true of Tayib in Gambia too expensive. I get the inflated prices and the home team gets the resident deal.

I will get my own car next time and to hell with these folks . But anyway, Demba takes the 3000 CFA and as he is taking my luggage and giving it to some guy at the curb. I’m like hell no—more expenses, you just took my last dollar. I could barely give him a civil greeting, I was so incensed. So I am pushing a suitcase, wearing a backpack, a fanny pack and carrying a suitcase. Men were asking me if I needed help and I am telling them all no thank you and asking people to get out of my way. I enter the airport and the Delta Station is closed—they are not taking any more passengers.

I’m like huh? A nice man, who works for Delta, tells me we are taking South African Airlines to New York and takes my passport after I fill out a form for immigration which he tells me to keep. He then grabs my larger suitcase and takes me and another two passengers to another window where this guy behind the window who ignores all our questions picks up a phone and takes about 30 minutes to print a ticket. The guy behind the glass gives the tickets and passports to another agent, a woman this time, who walks us over to SA Airlines or maybe it’s immigration where they check the luggage and then process it for the aircraft. The tell me I will have to pick it up in New York and take it to Delta which means I am going to have to go outside the airport and come back in through security. I start thinking that I might miss my connecting flight, but perhaps they will hold the plane since the airline is the reason why I am missing it in the first place—they oversold the plane and took my prepaid seat. But I have no such luck, Delta, leaves at 9 AM without me even though I am in the airport.

I have to find out how to complain and get compensated for this horrific mix-up that made me miss a lot of appointments when I returned a day later than planned.

It is 9:30 AM and I am at JF Kennedy airport in Queens, NY. I should probably get more sleep. I threw away my sneakers and lost my comfortable blue shoes I think in Gambia, if not Rufisque (but Pape says they are not there). The saga is not as traumatic now that I have slept a couple of hours. I need to put on my glasses otherwise I will not be able to read this when I get home.

JFK is an airport which is not easy to navigate. I attach myself to a brother who looks like he knows where he is going after I have trouble figuring out which terminal my connecting plane is in. I take one tram and then find out it is the wrong one and since they are having technical problems and running slowly and the signage is wrong I’m glad I am with a woman who is going the same place and knows we have to go outside and cross the street to get to terminal 3 for Delta; this is a detail which is not written anywhere on any screen and there are no helpful agents present to help passengers trying to navigate this confusing terminal.

I don’t remember if this is the place where I lose my bananas and peeled apples, but immigration takes my fruit when I tell the woman that I have it. He won’t even let me eat it and so for the next five hours I am ver hungry and cold after the agent takes my bags at the Delta counter and tells me the next flight is 8 hours later, that my flight is gone—it’s not gone, it’s in the hanger, but they won’t let me get on because they have sold my seat? I am not understanding why they won’t let me on when I am there and it is too.

The agent let’s me use his phone and call TaSin who was picking me up and who now doesn’t have time to pick me up. I don’t know until I arrive in San Francisco at 7:45 PM that the arrival time was East time, not Pacific, so I have to wait two more hours to get picked up. TaSin is at a banquet. My Metro phone didn’t work in New York and it’s not working in San Francisco either. When I paid my bill in Gambia, obviously it wasn’t processed, so I have no reception. I call all my friends in Oakland with cars using my calling card and no one answers, not even my brother who lives in San Francisco so I sit in the phone booth and try to read and keep falling asleep. It is about 1 or 2 in the morning Dakar time.

I’d slept a bit on the airplane and flip flops are a great way to travel. One doesn’t have to take them off when going through security. I didn’t know this, but in the winter, my feet were cold. I figured out how to put on socks with the flip flops and then I was a lot more comfortable. Also, I wasn’t aware that Dleta doesn’t give passengers anything other than snacks on domestic flights. I am happy I bought chicken salad and some fruit at the airport. All I wanted was water on the flight. It took a while but I finally got some.
I was watching a really good movie on SA Airlines about two children who were orphaned when they mother died and they walked to the city to find a priest who had visited their village. Instead of the priest they ran into a street smart homeless kid who took them under his wing and set about exploiting the little girl and her brother. The plane cut off the film before I could see how it ended. On Delta coming back to the SF Bay I didn’t watch any films and at the airport all day, I watched CNN reports on Haiti as I finished a novel, “The Joys of Motherhood” by Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta, Fily gave me while I was in Gambia the first time. It is about an African mother who wished for children. It is a great book to give to young women before they think of motherhood and childbearing—a great contraceptive. It is also a great book to read a polygamous system where men can marry more than one wife and the women supposedly feel okay about the system which seems to benefit the man and not the women and children.

I didn’t hear any women cheering the system, just a few men. And the young artists I met, said they were not interested in continuing the system. That they were going to have one wife, Fily said she wasn’t going to agree to more than one wife either, but all a wife can do is divorce the husband. She can’t prevent him from marrying.

In the protagonist, Nnu Ego’s life, more wives just meant more children, the meager resources she possessed had to be stretched that much further. She came to say that when the children were good they were their father’s and when the same children brought shame on the family, they were hers.
I told a man who proposed marriage that I might agree if I could have multiple husbands too. He didn’t agree with that proposal of course, and I just can’t see how a sister, a modern woman could go along with her husband bringing another woman into her house to share his bed, especially if they were already struggling as was the case in the novel. I didn’t want to have any part in that story real or fictional.
I’d seen many a mother this trip who didn’t have time for a career as being a wife was a lot of work—even with help with the children and the household chores. One business woman said marriage wasn’t one of her better choices. I was like—don’t worry, I am just window shopping.

I felt eyes on me the way in America black women look at white women with black men; the eyes seemed to say, you are taking one of our men out of circulation. I wanted to wear a sign saying: He’s all yours, I am just borrowing him for the moment and leaving him here (smile).

Most Senegambian parents encourage their children to marry once they finish school and can provide for themselves, so any man who looks eligible is already married and has a lot of children and other relatives he is responsible for.

I think in terms of marrying a person from outside the community, American women are seen almost like men, in that the men can’t provide for us; we are asked to provide for them. Everything is flipped here: black women from America are seen as additional breadwinners, at least that was my experience. Men seldom held my door, even when I was paying for the taxi, didn’t carry my heavy packages even when I was traveling with them, and felt no shame in having me pay for everything.

When I met Assan and Amet the story was different, I was their sister, but this was an experience that was not repeated.

What kind of Islam I wondered, where, the only women that count are native born, not those women returning to the land of their ancestors? I could see the difference in taxi service where one would think the driver would at least assist the paying customer. Some did, most didn’t. Why did everyone think American travelers were the new saviors—malaika, when if they read the newspapers they would know America is having a recession, which means there are a lot of unemployed folks in my country who need work. And why would I spend my hard earned wages on people who treated me like crap most of the time? What’s in it for me? Most of us were not even remembered until recently…I mean the past 100 years, so what’s with the fake “welcome home my sister” crap. Do they think I am stupid?

The pilgrimage was for symbolic reasons, nothing tangible. The clothes I had made are not as cute as the one’s I can get at Africa by the Bay down the street from my house. My African clothes purchased here look a lot better than what I wasted my money on there, a lot better. This is not to say I didn’t see really nice clothes. I just didn’t know where to buy them or who was sewing them. I was shocked to see men making most of the clothes.

I wasn’t feeling any sisterly love for Africa. No, any sisterly love felt was for the families who opened their homes to me and at the villages where I met really hardworking folks who shared their struggles and triumphs with me.

I’ve got projects I want to introduce to folks here who might want to lend a hand. I hadn’t expected the earthquake to happen in Haiti, which is of immediate concern.

The people who represent Africa to me are of course, Suzanne Fau, whom I accidentally woke up this morning, talking too loud on the phone as I peeled my apples. Suzanne is a strong woman. Born in Senegal to a Malian dad and a Senegalese mom from Saint Louis, the former capital of Senegal (before Dakar). She was raised by an aunt in Segou when he parents divorced and she went to live in Mali with her dad. Suzanne married and returned to Senegal with her eldest child, Coumba, to look for her mother, whom she takes care of now in Dakar. A divorcee, now, her birth mother had remarried twice and had three more children. Nana is a firey woman herself, who also remarried in Senegal and had two more children. The community she left in Segu is large and extended, Coumba said. I asked her why she called her mom by her first name and she said when she was a child, her mom was called, “the one whose mother is called something…”. She asked her mother if she had her own name, because the phrase didn’t make any sense for Suzanne’s child to call her that. Suzanne told her daughter her name and this is what Coumba called her and her siblings began to call her this as well. Coumba talked about the war and the split between Mali and Senegalese families on either side. It had to do with the railroad and the political split, which split families as it did in Suzanne’s. This meant she lost touch with her mom and if she could have visited her, after the “split between the countries” it was impossible after that. There was no joint coustody, summers with mom, no, she didn’t see her mother again until she was a grown woman. The only good thing about separations in Africa is that families still know where the family member is, so there is still the possibility of reunification. I wonder why this attention to detail fell down when connected to the slave trafficking.

Back to Senghor International Airport in Dakar. I am still hopeful I am going to make the connecting flight; afterall, they know I am on this overflow flight –they put me here. I get lost and ask for direction and get screened a few more times, including getting patted down. They stamp my boarding pass and then I look at the long line crawling through security and know there is not enough time to go that route so I get out of the line and look for a uniform to see how I can circumvent that process. Another uniform tells me to stop just as I am about to pass go, and says I have to wait for someone from South Africa Airlines to come get me. In the meantime, I am joined by two other passengers who I met what feels like lifetimes ago. We’re wondering how will SA airline staff know to come get us when the brother from Delta comes by takes our passports to get them stamped—we’re in line looking back as it snakes forward, hoping by the time we get to the front he will be back. Hurray! He is, the only problem is, my boarding pass isn’t stamped. I have to get out the line and get it stamped. After what feels like a long wait, it is stamped. I take off the belt and step back in line. I am trying to be civil and not roll my eyes at the man blocking my exit to the shuttle bus. I can just see myself missing the connecting flight in New York, but we are going to be positive here. (I hate JFK—the most confusing airport I have ever flown into, especially Delta’s wing.)
I get to security, put everything on the belt. They don’t have me remove my computer. It just goes on the belt inside my backpack. Next a woman frisks me—complete body pat down and then a guy checks my carry-on again and then one more time. Yes, I am sick of this but the plane is not going to leave me because they call me by name here, so the pressure goes down a bit and the nice crew member and gorgeous plane makes me feel even better.

I am going to sleep. More about the vessel later.

Back to Coumba. She said her mother did not visit her mother on the weekend or vacations, a gifted and talented and smart child, Suzanne got a scholarship to study abroad in Europe. She was there for a semester I believe her friend was science, engineering, but the money didn’t cover everything, so she wasn’t able to complete her degree there. I don’t remember if she was married yet, but when she had her three children—all of them living in Dakar in a home she built, they all excelled. Coumba was top in the country and supposed to get a free ride to any university she desired, but politics is a game where rules are meant to be broken and this poor family was not among the favored few. Coumba did go to college (a story for another time) and her siblings did as well. Her brother is in his mother’s field, engineering.

Suzanne spoke of her daughter’s family in Bamako where the immediate family includes about 14 people. Her family wasn’t as large in Dakar. She wondered how I could leave my daughter at home alone, why didn’t I have her live with her sister until I returned?

In America, especially among immigrant American families who moved as nuclear entities to communities where there was no family, the small unit is all we know and as a divocee with only one brother, our mother and siblings and step-dad, a distance away—not far, the same distance between Dakar and Bamako, yet not close enough to get support, the kind of support that creates a tight or strong filial community.

My brother is in San Francisco; I’m in Oakland, closer than Rufisque and La Somone, and he doesn’t visit. All the visits are on me and I’m the eldest. In Africa, the order of birth counts. The elder brother or sister could be like a mom or dad. Cousins, especially first cousins are counted as siblings. When our mother left, I raised my brother, but none of that counts here, so if I don’t visit I don’t see my nieces and nephew and sister-in-law.

When I go home to Louisiana and Mississippi I look at my family from the outside. I didn’t grow up with them; the only relatives I know from childhood are my first cousins and grandparents and my parents’ siblings. Almost all of them are deceased now. My visit to Dakar and its environs was already rehearsed many years prior when I visited the place of my birth, New Orleans. Like Malidoma Some (Of Water and Spirit), there were rituals I remembered. My mother raised me well and so did my father and what I couldn’t access directly or empirically, I could intuit. The same is true for African culture in Senegambia. None of it felt strange—not even the outsider feeling, except the guy with the piercings.

I don’t know if I ever felt at home, a part of the culture except when I was with my friends and the families who adopted me. Outside with everyone else, I was just a type—type American tourist, a potential mark, a commodity. I was used to being trafficked or traded as goods for service, after all wasn’t this what got my ancestors to America in the first place 500 years ago. I didn’t understand why I had to pay for anything, when I this was more my land than theirs. What does it mean to be native—long suffering or original? I am the original woman, the rest, as descendents of the first woman, which I represent. But people were rushing here like they rush everywhere. TVs holding the dreams of so many.

I knew more about the slave trade and Pan African culture than the scholars I met. They might have more of the details, but I knew more in scope. I don’t know if they knew the Maafa and the films of Jean Marie Teno, Cameron filmmaker, like the “Colonial Misunderstanding.” (His latest film was shown on South African Airlines.) Of course they knew Ousmane Sembene, but how many had seen his films?

I think the reason I have a broader and more inclusive perspective on Pan African culture is because my historic experience is global. The heritage or perspective I inherited sees West Africa, which is split along colonial lines, as bigger than its individual parts. There is no unified Pan African perspective guiding African leadership, although the “United States of Africa” is encouraging. The school system is united along colonial or linguistic lines, the former British colonies share standardized tests and the Francophone nations the same.

There is no cross-academic-pollination.

The division of Africa into monolithic geographical parts facilitates Africa’s strangeness –one country towards another. One also must not forget the colonial mind, a legacy France, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Sweden left behind.

The introduction of Islam into the region also had a major impact on Africa, especially Senegambia, (maybe Mali, which I haven’t visited yet) where the Islam wiped out indigenous spirituality, except where the indigenous found a way to adapt, the such as is found in the Pan African community in Santeria, Vodun, Condomble however, these adaptations were with Christian cover religions like Catholicism and Seventh Day Adventists. Islam seems to have been less tolerant, yet, one sees the sacred African presence in certain rituals like the Coumba Lama in Rufisque.

Let’s not forget the African saints like Cheikh Amadou Bamba and others who have shrines and followers who make pilgrimages. I think the black saints are cool, except where the mosques cost billions of dollars to erect while the regular folks still lack indoor plumbing and electricity.

Folks were praying to the cheikhs, drinking holy water and purchasing books to study in Touba. I can’t imagine the crush later this month when millions of people make the annual pilgrimage to the mosque. It was a beautiful edifice, one of the more beautiful I’d seen. I liked the lavender minaret.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend traveling like I did. I missed a lot of tourist spots like the Eglise Nortre Dame de Deliverance, a place where there is a black Madonna. She was scene here in 1986 and there is an annual Pentecostal pilgrimage site. I was also told this is where the president has a summer palace. I went to Mbour a lot which was a transfer point for Popenguine where Ayi kwe Armah, writer, scholar, lives.

We didn’t get to Musee de Thies, but we did get to Diourbel (jur-bell) the home to Cheikh Amadou Bamba, the founder of the Mouride Sufi brotherhood from 1912 until his death in 1927 (Lonely Planet) 196). I wanted to visit his mosque which we did, got a tour and saw the library and further away the first mosque where the Cheikh prayed before the larger mosque was built. The palatial mosque in Touba was built after his death by his brothers, it was a major project where one brother after another added onto the project until it reached its present state of glory complete with shrines for Cheikh Bamba’s sons and siblings. The Grand Magal, a pilgrimage which marks the date the cheikh returned to Touba after a 20 year exile by the French in 1907 is as I said coming up. It takes place 48 days after the Islamic New Year.

I didn’t have time to stay long in Koalock, missed Thiés completely—this is the place where there is the world famous tapestry factory, but I did get by the shrine for Ibrahima Niass. The artist, whose reception I attended, Marc Montaret’s “Paradis Perdus” tapestries were made here. Marc is white with a black wife. His “Paradis” takes the female form and exploits it a variety of mediums. He said he admired the female form and channeled it like one channels a muse…the goddess linked to carnal appetites is evident in his drawings enshrined in the multiple tapestries hanging on the walls, more subtlely in the sculptures and explotive in his gargantuan hipped scultpture which reminded me of Sara Baartman. There were turtles and busts of his face—wired hair like medusa springing from his skull. It’s up through Feb. 5 at Atelier Ceramiques Almadies, Dakar, Senegal. African artists who took his designs and interpreted them on canvas with thread, Ibou Cisse, or in bronze, Bara Lamine Diop (Issa’s brother), in ceramics, Mauro Petroini’s crew, and the fiberglass, résine et fibre de verre, peinture polyuréthane. The pink sculpture is called “Fécondité.”

I don’t think I have ever been to an art exhibit where the artist works in so many mediums collaboratively, that is, the art is his design but not solely his creation.

The Grande Mosquee, was where the shrine was for Ibrahima Niass ( . Assan and Amet told me about this shrine when we were on our way to Gambia. I would have missed it had they not mentioned it. I also knew about the tapestry factory in Thiés, but it was hard to plan day trips when I wasn’t clear on how long the trip would take, and as this was a major cause for communication break-down, time, I just let some of the sites within shouting reach go, until next time when I can plan more efficiently.

All the shrines look alike. I am trying to remember if this was my first one. I think it was so I was duly impressed, if not kind of appalled at this shameless display of idol worship. But it was everywhere, instead of little pictures of Jesus there were pictures of black saints, which I think is a much healthier notion if one has to worship god as flesh. Let the flesh resemble the people.
This mosque was financed by the Baye Niass brotherhood (Lonely Planet). I don’t know if I saw the mosque built by a millionaire Ndiouga Kebe. I also didn’t get by Alliance Franco-Senegalaise, an art gallery, event destination, coffee shop, but next time (smile).

Suzanne is Catholic, but she drew me a diagram of the various Islamic communities in Senegambia: it’s a complex system. More later. These are notes I have to transcribe.

The photos of the kids and teachers is from the Lebanese School in Dakar. It's a college prep school which has preschool through high school and prepares students for American and European universities. Suzanne, in pink, whom I met after church three weeks ago) is a teacher here. The other teachers (the men) teach English and the preschoolers sang a song for us. A photo of Obama was on the locker in the classroom.

One Week Exactly Since I Last Saw Him

I think I am missing Pape—Pape and the mosquitoes—just kidding.

Not about Pape, about the bugs and the cold water, toilets and spicy food. Last week at 1 AM I was wondering where the taxi was and after I woke the driver up, I wondered how long it would take for him to get to the house, how much he planned to charge me and if I had enough money.

I noticed both Suzanne and Kine, after cursing the drivers out for being stupid, gave them a tip. I found the communication interesting and noticed how the women especially those with more wealth supported the men or maybe the term was shared what they had with others. I didn’t get it, especially when Kine paid for dinner and the taxi—there were two women and two men. I gave her something for the taxi, but one of the passengers—a man, got out without paying.

I am in Oakland now and last week, this time, I was in line getting my ticket changed after having to pull a black woman from America attitude on these men who wanted to haggle me. Why bother giving anyone business when all they do is complain that it’s not enough.

Hella annoying. Makes you want to walk everywhere and let the folks with their hands out, starve. The squeaky wagon does not always get the spoils if they get in my line. I was putting money in the hands of folks who smiled and greeted me kindly.

After the plane took off without me, and the next plane almost did as well, I wrote for two hours straight. Ear plugs are a great way to focus—I couldn’t hear so I could ignore everyone and pour everything onto the page in front of me. I was going to type it, but by the time the light came on granting me permission to use FDA approved electronic devices, I’d already written too much so I kept writing in longhand.

I feel like I am on the airplane right now, it’s that cold in my room. I think I am getting acclimated…I am up late again.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

January 15, 2009

This is my final day in Africa. Tomorrow at 1:30 AM I will be sitting at the Leopold Senghor Airport waiting to board returning to California. Tonight I am going out for the first time and shake that thing for King and all my brothers and sisters in the Diaspora who se ancestors left this place so long ago which we are slowly returning to.

It’s funny, yesterday I sat in the office of Ibrahima Seck, at the West African Research Center talking about Hurricane Katrina and Haiti’s recent earthquake and he was in New Orleans in 2005 and in Haiti just two weeks ago. He was speaking about how the government hasn’t made any statements regarding what happened in Haiti and when asked about Katrina, he said, what he heard most when the images were shown on CNN was “they look just like us!” His response, they are us. We’re the same people. The disconnect between Africans and Africans in the Disapora, thiose of us who are here because of the slave trade is enormous. Slavery is but a footnote in the texts and curriculum at most schools and so the images of Americans, African Americans are the Beyonces and Oprahs and Denzell Washingtons and of course, Tupac. Africans don’t see my family: brother who works two-three jobs to support his three children and wife who also works. They don’t see my daughter’s husband who has been applying or fulltime employment for the past nine to ten years, maybe more. They don’t see my younger daughter and her juggling a fulltime job and a career as an artist or my older daughter who for a long time worked part-time and attended school and who was saddled with a bill she had to pay before she could register for her last semester at the university where she is almost completed with her BA. Everyone doesn’t have healthcare. I remember hoping I didn’t get sick for years and taking my kids to the free clinics and waiting hours for an appointment to get their school checkups. I remember the poor prenatal care and delivery my older daughter received when she had my granddaughter because she was at the country hospital where people go as a last resort. (This doesn’t mean everyone gets the same treatment—bad or poor, but when my father was there, his treatment was poor as well. Maybe the outpatient service is better? My friend, Lanier Pruitt went in with a cold and they gave him medicine that killed him, but then Summit operated on a friend of mine, Kamau Seitu and he died from complications shortly thereafter. My older daughter’s saga with Kaiser is too long to recount and let’s not talk about worker’s compensation. My daughter was injured at work and they okayed her return the next day. )

I have friends who are losing their houses or have had to move because the owner lost the home they were renting. I have had friends have to downsize from a condo to a room in someone home. I know lots of really educated people who can’t find employment. It’s the same story in Dakar and Rufisque and Oakland and San Francisco, a tanking economy, however, unlike America, Senegal has land and people already have the village ideology going so they can collaborate and create opportunities outside of government which is not for the people anywhere, unless it’s in Cuba.

This is not to say there are not models of successful governance elsewhere; I’m talking Third World examples, countries off the US radar that are taking care of its people.

So anyway, last night I hooked up with my friend Kine, wonderful artist who is completing her application for the Biennial this summer in Dakar. I certainly hope she gets in. I met her in a part of Senegal I hadn’t been in before; out by the water, sort of like the area in San Francisco near the Cliff House, and just as ritzy. The restaurant was so close to the shore, waves washed onto the tables nearby. I bet it is really beautiful in the day time. We sat around and spoke in English a bit and then the two men, Ahmeth and Bingo or Ibrahima, and Kine spoke in Wolof and I daydreamed…their words music, a chorus to the liquid symphony surrounding us. The chicken was good, deep fried so that the bones were edible. Not too spicy. I avoided the salad, as I didn’t know what the greens were washed in.

I have a stomach ache this morning, so maybe I didn’t avoid everything. I am going to just drink water and see if I feel better soon. I can’t be sick the night before I leave and certainly not the day of my night on the town (smile).
This week has been really fun, except for the lost glasses and shawl I also lost in the same bag. I have finally gotten to see some art. I really liked the Muskee Boribana Gallery where I met Khalifa Dieng, artist and curator and secondly, Galerie ATISS, where the curator and owner makes furniture with hand woven upholstery. Amadou met me at the WARC and then we took a taxi downtown. Yes, the money flowed through my fingers like air—I spent almost $30 on taxis, the 1500 to 2500 F CFAs is no joke, the only thing I noticed here is that the drivers didn’t make me pay for Amadou; one fair covered both of us.

As I road to the Almaden area, I’ll have to check the spelling, I say a really big shopping center, like a mall and a jazz club called The Blue Note. It looked pretty upscale. There were sidewalks and paved streets too. There were several universities and as we drove the views overlooked the ocean which folks here call the “sea.” One person asked me if we had a sea in America or maybe he meant California. I laughed and told him California had the Pacific Ocean, New York the same Atlantic. The taxi passed several private clinics, a military base with barracks and a hospital and this enormous statue. I couldn’t figure out what it was as we passed it. Kine told me it was built within the past few years, a project of the current president. He didn’t even hire a Senegalese artist. Kine said it was a waste of money considering the poverty here. I loved talking to the scholars at the WARC, one of whom was a sister from the Bay, former journalist, Wilma Jean Randle. She was selecting the films for the Black History Month events the WARC was hosting Feb.-Mar this year.

Before she came in, the former head of the research center came in for a receipt and we were talking about Haiti and the catastrophe and somehow the conversation turned to the number of churches in close proximity. Dr. Seck presented papers in Haiti on the connection between Haiti and New Orleans and Dakar, facts not necessarily well-known in Senegal. Once again, those of us in the Diaspora, see the connections more clearly than those of our distant kin. The Center has established a doctoral program housed at Suffolk University. It is an exchange program.
Got to go, more later. If I can stay awake, I am going to try to get to “ In the Name of Love.” I return that afternoon, and my day will be turned upside down (smile).

January 23:
I didn’t get to the In the Name of Love and I didn’t get to Bringing the Noise for Dr. King Monday, and I didn’t get to Oakland Saturday, January 16, rather Sunday, really late, Sunday, January 17. I also didn’t go out on the town, Kine had a prior engagement and cancelled. The date I called was too tired that evening so I packed and fell asleep and then got up at 12 midnight rushing.


The presentation of the 5th Oakland Citizen Humanitarian Award to, Pastor Raymond E.Lankford. Tickets: General Admission- $12, children under 12- FREE , Lowered ticket price thanks to the generosity of Target. Tickets available at and by phone: 800-838-3006.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Africa 2010

The Africa those of us in the Diaspora romanticize, daydream over and hope to return to some day, doesn't exist. Africa is just as technological savvy as those in Silicon Valley, perhaps more than the residents in the flatland schools in East Oakland. Most people have cell phones connected to the net. When I mentioned email addresses most people had one, unlike some responses I get in the US from those resistant to technology.

Even in those villages without running water, trips to the tap a regular part of one's daily routine, had email. In Djawara Village they use solar and have computers with iffy reception, the same with phone reception, but the point here is they are connected.

Viola Vaughn, director and founder of 10,000 Girls says there are no underprovided girls in her program; the same can be said of Africa. There are no underprivileged Africans, poor Africans or Africans who need a handout. No what I found here are people who straddle both the past and the present quite well and are doing more with less than I have seen to date.

Can you imagine trying to deliver placenta with candlelight, one's iffy generators either gone or on their last leg. Kids are seated on rocks in Qur'an school because there are not enough chairs. Smiles light their faces...each morning Allah's word wakes one from pleasant dreams.

Chickens roam freely and when two young men verbose words turn into a potential fight, my companions move to separate the men, as the elder --in this case, Ousmane Ndoye, tells the boys to let it go. I only saw a parent strike a child once and when she did, at a public event, Mouhammedou told her that wasn't necessary and an elder woman seated elsewhere said something too. The woman was ashamed, Pape said and she didn't strike her kids again.

On the bus, people help each other with the kids, lift them on and off the bus. Distract them if they are irritable.

Third World...hum, I think First World is a concept the western nations are not living up to on a human level. The Africa of our dreams is there, it's in our DNA. It's in our genetic retention: the walk, the gestures, the rituals we can no longer explain, the language, no one speaks over here anymore.

Africans in the Diaspora have a lot to share with Africa, and vice versa. Neither of us was static over the past 500 years and together as New Africans we can certainly move both our destinies closer together and further along.

The hands are not out; they are clasped in partnership.

Count Down

It's amazing, but I return home in less than two weeks. Time didn't fly but with public transportation, which I love here in Africa, a great way to see the folks, a short one day trip can extend to 2-3 days what with missed ferries and fatique. Try fitting three healthy adults into a seat meant for three for a two hour+ trip, talk about there is no word for what one feels when her feet hits solid ground.

Such was the case with the trip from Koalock to La Somone. I stopped asking how much longer, how many cities left. Why ask? I don't know what a kilometer is, compared to miles. Is the 50 on the highway equivalent to 40 or 60 MPH? The same is true of the hectometer for acreage. I haven't a clue how large that is. If football fields are the same for soccer and American football, then I have some point of reference, but again there are certain details I will figure out when I get back home, like how in the world I decided to travel to another country without even the basics of the language.

I guess the kindness to strangers certainly applies here. That and the ancestors certainly have been with me, that and many kind people, especially my Gambia family and my Rufisque family, especially Miuhammadou Diang, who has been more than a kind guide and companion for much of the journey in and out of Senegal.

I don't know what I would have done without his language tutoring and assistance on the phone when he couldn't be present. Many a time, I gave the phone to taxi drivers in different cities and asked them to talk to Pape. And I don't know what he said, but I they were always very protective of me and made sure my connections were correct.

I am at Pape's Uncle Ousmane and Aunt Adama's house. We came here for respite after a grueling day on the road, two tours, one of Jawarah Village in Gambia and then another quick interview and tour with Sister Viola Vaughn, director of 10,000 Girls, in Koalock. We then went by the shrine of Cheikh Ibrahim afterwards. My what an impressive structure --so lovely.

I am not impressed by people who insist on alms. This woman grabbed me and told me to cover my hair, it was covered just not all of it. These Senegalese women want every stray strand under wraps--whatever, but in Rome.... So I put my sweatshirt on with the hood and with a nod of approval from her I proceed.

So anyway, this gatekeeper, whispers loudly, to her campanion while I am getting myself ready for a repeat inspection, "American...". American what wasn't necessary, just the "American," was explanation enough.

I forgot my batteries in Dakar and one can't find alkaline batteries strong enough to use in a digital camera in Senegal or Gambia. I am running through 4-6 batteries a day for a 2.0 GB Scan Disk.

Today, when I finally got up, packed, becasue I thought I was leaving, it was about 11ish. We piled into Uncle Ousmane vehicle and went for a drive to look at the properties he and his partners are developing and the land for sale. I forgot the name of the project. Africa-something. I'll have to get back to you on the name.

The properties are high end, lovely with a traditional look--thatched roofs and multiple rooms. Others look like townhouses. The project is ten years old and I don't know what the influx of new persons, many non-Senegalese will have on the personality of the area, but Samone is a tourist area, so it's mixed already with mostly French, which I found interesting, the colonizers fratenizing with the formerly colonized, but hey I am not being slave syndrome looks a lot like neocolonialism.

Black folks are working and black folks are in charge. Riding around with Uncle Ousmane, everyone waving at him and giving him the greetings, was like being with a celebrity. It was the same last week with Assan --football star. Everywhere we went, folks would come up and say hi. People even recognized him when the sun went down. Now that was impressive.

It was the same with Moudo in Banjul. We were watching the masque and one of the persons in the pagent left the group and came over to say hi. It is so cool watching Senegalese and Gambians greet one another. The greetings of peace are followed by how are you and how is your family and did you sleep well and often a prayer for your safety while traveling to your next destination. The new year added another layer to this ceremony. Oh, the young women curtsey. It is so cute.

The girls from the villages do this more than the girls from the more urban areas. However, at Suzanne's the young girl who helps Nene, does this cute bob and Grand Yoff is certainly not a village.

Okay, we get in a paddle boat and cross the lagoon to one of the beaches at the mouth of the Atlantic ocean. There were three of us and then we needed help steering so the boats owner switched places with Uncle Ousman and he shifted to the front of the boat facing up, while I pedaled, and Pape brought up the rear. We were doing fine until a motor boat rolled by us and tossed water in our boat and made waves pushing us away from our destination. I was like, hum, can I stand up in this water? I certainly can't swim.

On the other side, where we'd parked, we met women who fish for oysters which they share the profits from jointly. Uncle Ousmane bought a couple of buckets and took them home, for his wife to cook. They spoil quickly. This evening the folks were digging the seafood, tapping them on the gound or opening them with a knife. There were piles of shells. Did I mention that I am allergic to seafood and red and black pepper and citrus? It's been hard eating here, but I have enjoyed watching my friends enjoy their meals. It looks and smells good.

At the beach, after I stepped onto rocks to climb up to the shore, I immediately went for a walk along the shore. Oh my goodness, it is so lovely...I can hardly wait to get back tomorrow. It is the most beautiful beach I have ever been on and the saddest too.

These large boulders cover the inlet. Scattered I found one to sit on and watch the waves rise and fall high enough to avoid getting wet. After sitting there for a while, at least an hour, these guys with fishing poles came up and claimed rocks nearby and one guide spoke to Pape about his claim to my rock. I moved grudgingly and found a smaller rock to sit on, not nearly as large, I quickly became drenched and the guy with the pole vacated my rock.

I guess the juju worked, but I kind of liked my new habitat, so I stayed until I got too wet. The weather was warm so I dried and this was no easy feat, in jeans--yes, I know, I should have worn shorts, but I didn't bring any even had I dared.

Hum, bathing suit? I couldn't find it before I left.

So we head back for the lunch and I can't eat it; it's the national dish, rice and fish with stewed onions. I eat some rice and stewed onions. Uncle Ousmane is not happy that I can't eat the meal.

Pape finishes my part off and we go for another walk. It's like a new beach.

The tide is out and all of a sudden I see heads and faces...and eyes staring at me, lots of eyes. I am reminded of August Wilson's first play in the cycle, Gem of the Ocean, (the last play he wrote, I believe, or maybe the last one written was Radio Golf). In any event, he wrote the plays out of sequence, yet all together they represented 100 years of emacipation from reconstruction to redevelopment (now in more ways than one).

These rocks were not white, rather charcoal black, like fossilized coal, the kind that volcanoes spit out. They seemed to ask for a ceremony, a burial...500 years after they washed a shore. The saying "we stand on the shoulders took on new meaning as I looked at the boys with fishing poles standing on these heads with eyes.

It would be the perfect place to have a Maafa Ritual. I could see us spread across the beach blessing these artifacts, representative of thousands who remain abroad souls wandering looking for a way to get home.

My camera battery had finally died, so I only have a few photos, nothing of when I climbed inside the cirlce of rocks to get a better look. On this same beach were layers of shells where one would normally find sand.

It was beautiful, I scooped up hand fulls of the shells. Pape said people use it inside their homes on the walls like a mosaic.

While on the beach the first time, I met a muscian playing one of region's indigenous instrucments: it is made from a gourd with a metal thumb pick in its mouth. He was a native of Sierra Leone. A war survivor, his is an interesting and sad story. He shared stories of music being stolen and one song in particular was a major hit almost ten years ago, and it is still being played. I heard it on the radio.

Oh there are lots of mangroves here. Oysters eats them and can be found at their roots. I have to run now.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Happy New Year!

We went to the Central Mosque of Banjul January 1, 2010 (Imam Thierno Ka presiding). It was the first Friday in the Muslim New Year. It was also the first day of the Gregorian calendar year too. I was in the bleachers with the women (smile); however, I stood and looked from the enclosed space at the men below, the imam in what I'm told is a "minbar." Looked like a phone Gambia I actually saw some, but I digress.

I am doing a study on toilets, just because it is so hard to find one here. A kind family let me use their toilet before prayer. There is no public bathroom at the masjid (mosque). I found this strange, but have learned to roll with it, as in everything--"jere jef" or thanks on my lips as strangers let me use their bathrooms. I also try to leave a few dollars with the children or woman of the house, which I did Friday--Youmal Juma.

Pictured with me is one of the brothers of the lovely family I am staying with, Assan Bojang. Moudo Jerre-Faye, the elder, invited me back for the New Year, and as I hadn't been inside a mosque, Arabic, masjid since I' ve been in Africa, I thought this would be a nice thing to do, and it was despite the segregation (the womanist in me is speaking now). I hear only elder women attend Juma, but this Friday was a nice exception.

Moudo is with his aunt, Hady Maney in one of the photos.

The caretaker saw us looking in after Juma was over and invited us in to take photos, what a coup (smile). It was too cool. I had a great time in the capital. We'd missed Juma with President Yahya Jammey, but Juma at the Grand Mosque built by the king of Saudi Arabia, at one time, President Jammey's running buddy (my language), was a good second choice (smile).

We met my good friend, Pape or Mouhammedou Niang at the ferry in Banjul and then the four of us hung out watching the masquerade (more later, it's almost 2 AM here.) I couldn't take photos of any of the ritual--the egungun (Yoruba), koump (Jula)--I'll have to get back to you on the Gambian name.

Dressed as antelope, with attendants in orange on one end of the block, purple on the opposite, drummers on either end as well, the pageantry was really impressive as the masque proceeded.

The photos are from the events of the day: slaughter house, masque, Juma Prayer.