Saturday, August 28, 2010

Contemporary African Art

A great place to get a sampling of what contemporary West African artists are creating is the Village des Arts in Dakar. My post of 7/11/10 introduces you to this wonderland of creativity. A community of local artists have studios all together in this one place near the major stadium in the north part of town. The government sponsors this effort. On the grounds, there is a gallery for the display of selected works. Some of the artists are highlighted at

A gander through the gallery was an experience in itself. After the cab adventure I told you about in my entry called "Transportation - Getting from Here to There" of 8/7/10 and upon arrival in the art village, Sue, Suzanne, and I went our separate ways as we were each interested in different art and had different personal reasons for visiting on this day. Admittedly, Sue and I needed Suzanne to interpret for us in some cases, and she was patient and gracious as she made the link between us and the artists we wished to speak with. Sue, by the way, had a special bond already, with a young artist whom she had interviewed for her curriculum project. These kinds of personal interactions are the pieces of this trip that will last in our hearts and memories the longest. Sue would have to tell you her story.

Poster and "Les Jumelles" by Alpha Sow
The Obama poster is typical of many hints at the village and beyond that Senegalese people are watching the U.S. and rooting for Obama in his role as president. T-shirts with his picture abound. Back to the gallery - - - The floor of the gallery was of sand or sawdust. By now I can't remember exactly which, but I had the impression of soft, quiet, and the fresh scent of wood. During my visit, I was the sole observer. Sue and Suzanne were otherwise occupied. I snapped only a few photos of the art represented here.

"La hantee" by Sarane

"Eko Sapiens 1" by Akomian, "Jazzman" by M'ballo Kebe, "Mariage traditionelle", by Assane Gning, and "La Tontine" by Bidounga Russell.

"Jour de FETE au Village" by Bidounga Russell, "Confidences 2" by Sela Diallo, "Duo de Jazz" by Issa Diop, "Ndabu Gaan", by Zulu Mbaye

"Ndabu Gaan 1" by Zulu Mbaye

"Le Bois Sacre" by Tita Mbaye, "Ama Zulu" by Oumar Kata Diallo

"Le Masque" by El Sy
"Objectif" by F. Camera
The artist whose studio I spent the most time in on this day (July 30, 2010) is called Seni Mbaye. He spoke enough English that we could communicate about his work. He had jazz playing on the boombox and was working on a series with jazz as an inspiration. He had been in New York in 2007 as a guest artist and had a photo album which we looked through as he described his experience there. I came home with two of his paintings. In fact, were you to see me in any of the airports I spent time in on my two-day trip home, you'd have seen me carrying my rolled-up canvases, wearing my backpack over my Bohemian-style brown dress with the teal scarf that protected me from mosquitoes faithfully for the duration of my visit to Senegal. I was quite the sight.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Saly-Portudal is south of Dakar and considered a part of Mbour and Thies. It is a BEA-utiful resort town. Wikipedia says it is the number one tourist destination in all of West Africa. I can see why. Clean beaches, plenty of great food, nothing to do but relax, swim, read, and shop.

Saly-Portudal was once a Portuguese trading post. That's your whole history lesson for this post.

What can I say? We relaxed, ate, read, swam, and shopped.

More relaxing, eating, reading, swimming, and shopping.

Ahhhh. . .

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lac Rose - The Pink Lake

Two destinations were on our itinerary for Thursday, July 29th. First would be a stop to view the famous Pink Lake and then on to Saly-Portudal for a relaxing day at a beach town and resort. Below are some of the scenes from the bus between Dakar and the Pink Lake.
I keep thinking this is one of my favorite photos. What a beautiful smile on a beautiful girl. She is selling water in plastic bags.

We have arrived! First, a rest stop at a hotel near the lake, then on to that pink(ish) lake.

Does it look pink to you? Check out the mounds of salt. A high concentration of salt and cyanobacteria in the water cause it to appear pink, especially in the dry season. The color also depends on the weather. If the sun is out, there is a better chance to see what all the fuss is about. Any industrious person can set up a salt mining business here. They just have to be willing to do the work. A very small amount of this salt now resides in a "jar of honor" in my home. I didn't take it, a vendor gave it to me, calling it a gift. Of course later I was pressed to buy something from her because she was kind enough to give me a gift. Anyway, I'm glad I kept it, because it's a reminder of people I met, things I learned, and how I was touched by the entire experience this summer.
A little-known fact: Episode 6 of The Amazing Race included a task here. Contestants had to bag salt. (Haven't you always wanted to be on The Amazing Race?!) They also went to Goree Island's House of Slaves, and had to guess the author of a poem by former Senegalese President Leopold Sedar Senghor.

To get some of my photos, I walked into the water. It was as warm as if I were stepping into a bathtub. The dried salt coating left on my feet and ankles was a little bit uncomfortable, but I had been learning to adapt to heat, humidity, and the idea that I would not look and smell fresh and clean for very long at a time in this climate, so this was no big deal.
Fulbrighters and vendors are in the distance. Notice the girl in yellow who has decided I must look at the beads she is selling.
"Take a picture of me." I did. She gave me a piece a paper with an address on it to send her the photo. The paper includes her name and "Lac Rose". I wonder if it would really get to her...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Mangroves

Mangroves? We're going to see the mangroves? To be perfectly honest, the image I conjured up when I heard the word, mangroves, was this. I could vaguely remember something about mansomethings in Harry Potter, so I was more than curious. None of my colleagues knew that I was clueless, though. I never let on.
photo source:
While staying at the Hotel Keur Saloum in Toubacouta, Fulbrighters got an opportunity to visit the mangroves in the delta. This would turn out to be a eventful day in which we learned a great deal, had some time to relax for a picnic lunch, and did our best to tolerate the heat. First of all, traveling to the mangroves, which I figure took us about an hour, was by boat. Awesome! We navigated westward through the Sine-Saloum Delta.
Our fearless leader, Samba.

Ah, so mangroves are actually a tangle of trees/shrubs whose roots grow in the water. That does sound familiar after all. What's so special about them?
These mangroves are at the picnic area we would eventually return to for a relaxing afternoon. More on that later.
Reminiscent of the Disneyland jungle boat tours, our boats slowly entered deeper, denser clusters of mangroves where we would stop for a lecture on the characteristics, uses, challenges to existence, and other little-know facts about mangroves. Also reminiscent of the Disneyland tours, our guide told us that another tour group had seen a crocodile in these waters. If I wasn't awake before, I surely was by now!
Some facts: Mangroves are a resource here because oysters attach themselves to the roots underwater. They can be found and harvested easily. Usually it is the women who will come to the shores to do the work. One problem is the way they have been harvested historically. The mangrove roots were cut away in order to get to the oysters. Obviously, that method means that the same mangrove plant will no longer be there as a habitat for oysters or any other kind of life. Sounds kind of like killing the goose that lays the golden egg, if you will. Mostly, that is not done anymore. We even observed the setting up of a rope system that entailed sections of rope dangling into the water right beside the mangrove plants. The ropes could be lifted out for harvesting the oysters and then returned to the water. No cutting. Voila! Mangroves are a habitat for crabs, barnacles, sponges, and fish as well.
Mbye gets a good look at clusters of oysters attached to these mangrove roots.
Me, Mbye, Samba, and Laurie. I now know the difference between the mighty mangroves of the Sine-Saloum Delta and the fictional mandrakes of Harry Potter fame. Mission accomplished.

My Curriculum Project Focus

In order to apply to the Fulbright Hays Seminar Abroad program, a teacher must write a project, or follow-up plan. How, we are asked, are you going to disseminate the information you receive as a participant in this program? Honestly, it's tough to plan for a specific curricular focus when you haven't been through the seminar and don't truly know what you will learn or what may inspire you. I knew this: I teach middle school world history and U.S. history. Africa, especially West Africa, plays a huge role in both. I also knew that my students get more involved in the lesson when it is told in a narrative style. They love stories. So I endeavored to learn the stories of modern Senegalese residents, and beyond that, the stories of their ancestors. Eventually, I realized that my project focus would be communicating the idea that oral histories have been, and are important, not only in African history, but currently, and not only to Africans, but to American students as well. So my unit is called, "What's Your Story?", and these are some of the people who helped me tell it. While in Toubacouta, WARC staff arranged for me to visit the family home of a farmer whose first name is Nouha. As we drove up to the farm, he was still in the field but had been forewarned of our visit, so rather than being annoyed with me for interrupting, he was welcoming and friendly. This was not going to be easy for me, because I do not speak Wolof or French. The interview would take place in Wolof. Thankfully, Waly, a representative of WARC, came along to lay the ground work by introducing my project idea and interpreting the interview. Nouha is the patriarch of a large, extended family living at this compound. He agreed to allow me to interview his teenage son, Talibouya, and his mother, Dieynaba. Thus, I had three generations in a Senegalese family who could tell me about oral histories which were passed from one generation to the next and demonstrate how well they remembered them. I video-taped the interviews, so do not have still photos to load here. The family was beautiful and their photos alone could tell you much about them. Grandmother Dieynaba was just returning from her granddaughter's wedding in her finest clothing. She was a joy to interview, so animated that, in order to keep her in the center of the frame, I had to pan with her.

The photograph above is of what was happening at the home behind and beyond the video-taping of the interviews. Nouha told me that when the soap opera comes on, the television is set up, and many members of the family gather to watch. This, he also said, was one reason that not so many family stories are told after dinner as they once were. Ipods and television shows have replaced them.

These Senegalese American Bilingual School (SABS) students made themselves available for interviews conducted by four members of the Fulbright program. Each of us, Amy, Yumi, Suzanne, and I, had a different project focus, so we organized a rotation system through which we each had a chance to interview as many students as necessary for our curricular focus. This time I was able to ask my own questions and understand the responses because these students speak English, often several other languages as well. One "take away" from the experience of talking to Senegalese about the histories and stories of their families is that, after becoming comfortable, they were very pleased to tell their stories. I hope my American students will enjoy looking into their own family histories and understand the importance of both listening to older generations and telling those stories to generations that follow. This is something am passionate about!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Wild Animal Update

While my earlier entry about the wildlife of Africa was satirical because many of us have preconceived ideas about what we will find in Africa, I did see a few, more exotic types of animals while traveling through the rural regions in Western Senegal.
Not exotic, but very cute. This little 'un was perched in a tree just like her bigger, feline cousins would. This picture was taken at a hotel near the Pink Lake and just too cute to leave out.
While staying at a hotel called Keur Saloum in Toubacouta, , we actually did see monkeys in the wild. They were red in color and our hotel posted this illustration of monkeys found locally, so I think this may be the type we saw from our boat on the delta and from our bus on the highway. I was simply not near enough or fast enough to photograph the real ones. It was exciting to see them, though, sometimes in big family groups.
At the Hotel Keur Saloum just beyond the outdoor restaurant. These little guys would swoop down on the tables looking for leftovers.
These water buffalo were NOT seen in the wild. They are living in the Reserve de Bandia,, which is 65 kilometers from Dakar and 15 kilometers from Saly-Portugal. This was not on our itinerary, but was added after some of our group members expressed a desire to stop and see it. Our directors, Samba and Mbye, were wonderful about making sure we could see as much of Senegal as possible. They knew it may be our only opportunity. . . ever. As it turned out, we used the reserve as a lunch-only rest stop on the way back to Dakar, but from our outdoor tables, we had a view of a handful of the animal residents.
Keeping an eye on the pizzas and chicken that members of our group were eating, this guy had no problem hanging out very nearby. A Bandia Reserve resident.
My National Geographic shot! :) Sometimes, you're in the right place at the right time. Upon arrival at the reserve, one croc stayed near the shore as we ate, I got some photos of him, but they were no big deal. His eyes and nose poked out of the water a bit, and sometimes he was only visible through the branches of the small trees between us. After a big lunch and a lazy afternoon, however, another croc came to call. Alerted by the growling or roaring of the second, I grabbed my camera and caught some action. As with all living photo subjects, the moment arrives, and then it's gone. Only minutes later, the second crocodile left the scene, and we had our peaceful, lazy afternoon back.