I was in London the last few days, and it was fabulous. Besides getting to hang out with the wonderful lads Kieran and Steve, I also went to Hayward Gallery, Camden Market and a couple of pubs.
At Hayward Gallery, Kieran and I got to see some great photography by Rodchenko, as well as an exhibit called Laughing in a Foreign Language. The best piece of which was definitely Shimbuku’s talking cardboard box, “Born as a Box.” It’s one of those “had to be there” moments, but just for Kieran: “Hello, I am a cardboard box. I am happy that I am a cardboard box. Of course, there are some things that I don’t want people to put inside of me, but basically I am happy that I am a box.”
Underneath the gallery was some free, public/performance art in the form of graffiti and skaters…
As my “Last Supper,” we went to this amazing Indian restaurant last night, Spice Society. So much food and soooo good.
I also got to go to a bookstore, which was exciting because I haven’t really been to a good place to buy English books in a while. So I bought FIVE, three of which are huge. This resulted in a rather unfriendly exchange this morning with the easyJet baggage check desk about how many kilos my luggage weighed, and let’s just say I had to stop the line, unpack a bunch of clothes, and proceed to wear them on my flight this morning. “Could I BE wearing anymore clothes?!” kept running through my head.
I’m in Madrid today, and getting a bunch of work done. Will hopefully give you some Spanish pictures tomorrow.
I’m a lucky girl. I have amazing friends and family, and for some reason they always welcome me into their home, no matter how big a mess I tend to make.
This past week I’ve been staying with my friends Megan and Johan. I’ve known Megan since I was in fifth grade, and during the past 15 years, she’s been a friend I can talk to about ANYTHING. Megan’s lived in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Australia and Spain. If anyone could understand the culture shock I had leaving Senegal, I knew it would be her. It’s been so wonderful getting to catch up with her and Johan. They’re two of my favorite people in the world, and I just wanted to publicly thank them for lodging me in their tiny Sevillian apartment this week.
Later today I fly to London. It will be my first time in an English-speaking country in nearly three months. That means I have to remember people around me can understand what I’m saying, so I need to watch the trash talk!
Despite the fact that a feisty Spanish toddler actually landed some saliva in my EYE during the Grenada day, the small Andelucian city is still one of my favorite places in Europe.
Last time I was there in 2004, my college bffs and I saw a magic pony. No magic ponies this time, but there was this view …
Those mountains? Those are the Sierra Nevada. That castle on the hill—that’s the La Alhambre. Seems the Moors built the Alhambre sometime before the 9th century (it’s earliest reference in history is during a battle in 888). It’s one of the biggest legacies of the Muslim culture’s influence and rule in Spain. And in the 11th century it was used as a fortress to protect a Jewish settlement located nearby. AND a river connects the fortrees to a monastery called Jesus del Valle. How’s THAT for a religious triad. And don’t say you ain’t never learned nothing from my blog.
Now that the history lesson’s over, here’s proof that Megan and I both have a hard time just making a normal face in a photo…
We climbed the hill opposite to the Alhambre to get a good view.
Last time I was in Grenada, we climbed this same hill, and I took some of my favorite photos. It was before I even thought being a photographer for a living was a viable possibility, and I took a photo of one man, playing a guitar on a balcony, which has always been one of my favorite photos. It looked a lot like this one I snapped almost four years later…
So now I’ve been to the southern most tip of Europe and the western most tip of Africa. I’m trying to figure out which superlative to touch next… perhaps the home of the “blogger who relishes reaching the most pointless spots on Earth.” Oh wait….
So Megs, Susie and Johan and I spent Friday driving around Spain and seeing the sights, because it was raining and we couldn’t hang on the beach. I got pumped, because at the most southern tip of Europe, we could see Morocco (that’s it in the photo—where the little boy is pointing). So I blew Africa a kiss… did the Senegal crew feel anything in the air around 3 pm? If so, please let me know.
On Friday and Saturday, the sun came out and we went to the beaches near Tariff and at Malaga. It was too cold to get in the water, but we had a fun picnic on Friday and on Saturday I got to go on two nice little jogs down the beach—one by myself and one with Johan. When I went with Johan I stepped in a nice, freshly chewed wad of gum (barefoot). So yeah—no more runs with Johan.
Oh and near Tariff we ran into a dog with a snaggle tooth. I named him Pirate. But Johan wanted to call him Arrgthur…
On Friday night we stayed in the coolest hostel I’ve ever stayed in (okay, it was my first hostel). But the best part was this dog, Chongo.
He was adorable, and when we got home late that night, he was at the door to greet us, then he walked us to the kitchen to get a drink, and then up the stairs to the dorm-style bedroom. I’ve now decided I want five of these.
I have approximately 14.3 seconds to post this before Megan and I head out the door. The cathedral next to Megan and Johan’s apartment is chiming and signaling it’s 9 am. (here’s a view of the beautiful towers from last night on Meg’s rooftop)
So these tower bells are chiming right now, reminding us we’re supposed to be leaving to meet Susie and Ferhad. If it’s not the mosque prayers telling me it’s almost time to wake up, it’s the church bells telling me it’s time to get somewhere. I just can’t escape God’s presence these days … not that I want to…
Anyway, we’re all hitting the road this morning to go to Cadiz. After that, for the weekend it’s on to Malaga, Tarifa (the southern most point in Europe) and Grenada. A full agenda, but I’m excited to get to road trip with old friends (and their significant others—who just LOVE hearing all our ridiculous Macombie Homie stories).
I’m not bringing my laptop with me on the trip (gasp!), so this will be my last post for the weekend (read: Mom, I’m still alive if I don’t blog tomorrow. Don’t worry.)
The time difference between Dakar and Sevilla is only one hour. But the religious change was about 180.
After landing in Malaga and meeting Susie and Ferhad at the airport, we took a train to Sevilla (where Megan and Johan live). We got to the Southern Spanish town around 6:30, and were promptly greeted by people in long robes and cloaks, and pointy hoods covering their faces. (Think KKK attire). Crosses, Jesus and Mary statues were floating around everywhere.
This week is Semena Santa—the Holy Week leading up to Easter. Sevilla is home to some of the most elaborate processions during this week. During these processions, the cloaked, masked and hooded paraders often carry crosses and candles while they proceed down the streets—sometimes singing and sometimes silent.
I read that one reason for the hidden faces is that the people would walk down the street at this time, asking for penance. This way they could hide their identity while still begging for forgiveness from their sins.
So yeah—last week was an Islamic Conference, and this week is one of the Holiest Catholic processions.
I didn’t get any photos last night, but I plan on having my camera tonight for the processions. Instead, here’s some glimpses of today’s walk around Sevilla…
Meggie at Breakfast..
Walking through some palace that was actually used for a scene in one of the Star Wars movies…
Gardens are purty…
And this last one’s for Kenz, Ali and the Matts—me posing in front of an Alicante mosaic…
Brussels is officially my least favorite city. In all fairness, it’s not Brussels’ fault that I’ll always attach bad days with the Belgian metropolis.
Last time I was here I actually had doubts about my decision to move to Senegal. I was lonely, scared and worried that I had just decided to move halfway around the world at the risk of losing so much I loved. Two months later—two of the best months of my life—I know that was the best decision I’ve made in my life.
In that way, I guess Brussels is my least favorite city in the whole “it’s darkest just before the dawn” sense.
And now, as I sit once again in another tiny hotel in Central Brussels and update my blog, I already miss Senegal so much. I keep wondering why it was so hard for me to leave Dakar—I know I’m going back in two weeks. It just feels so far away right now. At the moment, I’m so happy there—working in a field I love and spending time with people I adore.
Yesterday, when I left the family house in Dakar, I was hoping to quickly say goodbye to the family and sneak on out. No way did that happen. The entire family, as well as a few of my American friends, came outside with me to catch the cab. There were about 15 people there on the corner helping me with luggage and hugging and kissing goodbye and telling me they would miss me. It was a quick blur, because the cab driver was impatient. And I quickly hugged mama (who had made me a bottle full of ginger juice—my favorite—for the trip), Aminta, little Mousa, Sarah, Daria and the others. I could feel myself getting sad, but I didn’t want to cry, especially because there tears just aren’t as accepted. But then as I walked to the cab, the last person to hug was Big Mousa, and I could feel my eyes getting warm. I quickly threw everyone one last wave and jumped into the cab, where I promptly started to cry. It felt like I was saying goodbye to them forever. I don’t know why, because I’ll be back soon.
As I get older and keep on moving, I always keep everyone so close to me in my head. I carry them around with me everywhere I go, and that’s why it’s not so hard for me to be so far away from the U.S.—I think about my family and friends every day, and it feels like they’re here with me. But the more I move around, the more people I seem to be taking with me.
And as I once again trucked around downtown Brussels with my luggage on my back, I thought about everyone I love so much in Dakar who I wished I could be with at the moment, and I couldn’t help that think that’s what “they” mean when they talk about “personal baggage.”
So even though I’m in Belgium at the moment, here’s some Dakar silhouettes for the time…
The Islamic Summit has been a blur of international faces, languages and outfits. Highlights for me include when the Mozambique Ambassador to Morocco calling Kari and I “two American Flowers,” photographing multiple presidents including Iran and Senegal, passing three hours under the sun with the Indonesian Press (don’t ask) and just overall hectic running from one event to another while dashing in and out of metal detectors. In the middle of the dashing I realized that the President of Iran was right next to me… so here HE is (pardon the blur — some security dude felt the need to push me along out of the room at that moment).. It’s weird that I really feel more comfortable with myself when I’m among people who look nothing like me, speak incomprehensible languages and have vastly different cultures. Kari and I had some glitches with FTP sites in London and satellite feeds to Bahrain, and here Kari is trying to explain the differences between those two methods to a delegate from the Bahrain contingent: Yesterday was chaotic at best. The day started at 7 am, but of course the 9 am event was postponed… and postponed.. and postponed… so a bunch of the photographers and cameramen were stuck sitting in the sun waiting for the delegation to arrive for the group photo. Lately I learned that those head scarves most likely have completely practical origins. They are SO useful for keeping the sun out of your face and actually cool you down in the heat.Here’s my journalists version of the United Colors of Benneton.. and me chilling in tripod jail… and Kari doing who knows what.. At the last minute, we were told the schedule had changed, and we’d be allowed in the conference room for five minutes… starting.. NOW! What ensued was about 150 photographers and cameramen sprinting up a hill, through metal detectors and down a hall full of security who didn’t want to let us through to get into the conference room. At the metal detectors, people were putting cameras on the belts, only to have the personnel who weren’t paying attention let the cameras fall off the belt and to the ground after they came through. After the metal detectors, there was a mad scramble to the conference room, and I lost a shoe for about 45 seconds. To add to the problems, much of the press here from around the world doesn’t speak French, so the Senegalese workers and the press can’t understand each other. For once I felt like my language skills were above par. Yesterday ended around 6 pm, and today was much smoother, and probably more fun. We photographed our Foreign Minister meeting with 3 Presidents (Senegal, Mauritania and Tajikistan) and an envoy from Thailand and Albania. There was also some dude from Libya he met with, who thought it was hilarious that the Bahrainians had two American women as their press. And Thailand and said we should come visit soon. Who knows… And voila…right now we are sitting in the hotel, surrounded by delegates, officials and journalists. We think we’re finished with coverage, but at the moment we need to hear back from Akmed (my favorite Bahrainian) about whether we need to shoot anything else. Sidenote: This will be my last post from Senegal for a while. I’m going to Europe (yay!!) to see Megs and Keiran on Monday morning… I’ll post from Europe whenever possible…
The other night I was walking home from work later than usual. The sun was setting, so when I rounded the corner to head west down the street where I live, the horizon was so bright it blinded me.
And before my eyes could adjust, I heard two voices scream out, “Ricci!” and start running toward me. All I could make out were two shadows silhouetted against the late evening sun. One was tall and thin—strongly feminine, and the other was just a bit shorter and just a bit thinner—teenage lanky.
They came running toward me, and they didn’t stop until they had run into me with their arms outstretched in a group hug. It was Little Mousa and Aminta—the youngest siblings who live at my house.
Because they’re younger, they’re almost always at the house, so I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with them. In the evenings, Mousa sits in the open courtyard and studies. When Sarah and I eat dinner in the courtyard, he’ll read next to us, and in between bites and studies we’ll both sneak him pieces of bread or potatoes off our plate. He loves to play jokes on me—and when I actually fall for them (which is most of the time), he’ll keep a serious face for about 20 seconds and then click his tongue, give me these huge wide eyes and just start laughing. He’s got a great laugh. He’s quiet most of the time, but I know his English is good, because whenever another American and I make a joke in English, if he’s within earshot he’ll always laugh. He’s a quiet comic, and he can easily make my day so much better when I’m the butt of one of his pranks.
The other day he asked to see the picture of my family I keep in my journal. When I showed him the Polaroid of my sister, mother and father and I, he asked where everyone else was. I explained there were just four of us. He asked where they lived. I explained they all lived in different cities. Just four! And all in different houses! I told him, well I have grandparents and cousins, too. Oh, he shook his head and looked at me reassuredly,
“So they live with you, too.” When I finally explained to him that no, in fact all those people I was talking about lived all over in different homes, he opened his mouth wide and gave me these huge eyes that he loves to flash whenever he just CAN’T BELIEVE the crazy American just said something silly or fell for one of his okes.
Aminta is more complicated. First of all—she’s 17. And because she is the youngest girl, as well as a neice to mama and not actually a daughter, she carries the brunt of the housework. I’d say about 80% of the time she’s bent over “ballaying” the tile floor.
After I’d been in the house about a week, she confided me that she had a boyfriend, but mama didn’t approve of him. So she would sneak over to use my phone every once and a while and send him text messages. Sarah helped her write a love letter in French to him on Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure how much education she’s had, but she works constantly around the house, and her arms and feet are thick and strong with the grace of manual labor. She loves to play tricks on me, too, but she’s also so sensitive. Whenever I come home, if I say Bonjour or Bonsoir to Mama and the other siblings, but don’t directly address her and ask how her day was, she always walks by me a few minutes later with a sad look. When I ask her what’s wrong, she always says it’s because I didn’t acknowledge her. At first I thought she was being dramatic, but then I remembered—she’s 17.
Sometimes it feels like I picked random words out of the dictionary, shook them up and spilled them onto a page to create my life. This week is one of those times. My friend Kari Barber and I are covering the Kingdom of Bahrain’s Foreign Minister during this week’s Organization of the Islamic Conference Summit for the Associated Press Television Network. See what I mean?
Here’s the foreign minister, Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al-Kahalifa, who, when we met him yesterday, made a joke by giving Kari the Texas “hook ‘em” horns sign after she told him she went to Oklahoma.
Yesterday was the first day of the weeklong event, and after Kari and I woke up bright and early to cover the 8:30 meeting, we found out it had been postponed until 2:00 pm. We went to the Meridian Hotel, where the conference is being held, around 1:00 pm and met up with the Bahrainian contingency. They’re all extremely friendly, and they all think Kari and I are insane for living in Dakar.After a long day of continued delays and Kari and I marching around the maze that is the Meridian, we had some footage (Kari is a camerawoman) and photos (that’s me) to send back to London, where it would then go off to Bahrain to play on their national television station. So here’s us hustling back to send our material before deadline. And by hustling I mean flashing peace signs at my point and shoot digital. Dakar Vice…