2008 May : focus to infinity

All byyyy myyyseeelllllfff

May 30, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 2 Comments 

This is what happens when you move halfway around the world with no real promise of what will happen to you.

You meet other people who will also pack up and move halfway around the world without any real guarantees.

And these people, these people who are like you in a lot of ways, well these are the type to pack a bag and go somewhere, anywhere—whether it’s on an assignment, on a vacation or on a whim—and head out at a moment’s notice.

Thus, most of Ricci’s non-Senegalese friends, well they are not in the same hemisphere as her right now. And she is left to fend for the fort and the office.

I’m not completely bummed or anything, and I in fact have a lovely recent friend named Beth who is house sitting for one of our aforementioned “on assignment friends.” Seeing as how he is lost in the middle of Chad taking photos, we plan to raid his fridge and his home of all consumable products in the next few weeks while we are in Dakar searching for playmates.

So like I said, I’m not wallowing or anything, but I thought it would be a fun exercise to show where my friends happen to be at the moment.

Ms. Kari Barber (in a lovely, bio-photo outtake from yesterday), left me for Belgium last night.

Mr. Nico Columbant left me for Paris last week.


Ms. Uma Ramiah left me for the States last Wednesday.

And Ms. Naomi Schwartz also left me for the States, albeit THIS Wednesday.

And thus, my plight.

Also, this means I’m kind of holding down the fort for VOA office this week, and there’s been riots in Guinea. I am now an expert on recent Guinea issues (this is a bad joke, and not true), and if you would like to listen to any one of the FIVE stories I’ve done on Guinea in the last week, feel free to click away.

Day one: Prime Minister Sacked

Day two: Riots begin

Day three:Soldiers take hostage

Day four: Deal

Day five: Calm?

Finding Nostalgia In Places You’ve Never Been

May 28, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 2 Comments 

Ibu’s team TORE UP the competition. After making the first basket, they dominated the rest of the game.


After the game, they all lined up outside the bus and chatted, playfully giving the other team a little rubbing and emphasizing the score, which was 48-4.

When we all piled on the bus to go back to Dakar, everyone was laughing and smiling over the recent victory.
Ibu even did a little flip from the top of the rafters.

I kept on shooting. The men, who had all day been asking me if I was tired or hungry, and they just did not understand why I would not just stop taking pictures for one second.

Finally, after the first 20 minutes or so of the ride, I decided to put my camera down and join the men in their relaxed celebration of joking. When I flipped the off switch on the camera and zipped up the bag, the entire team erupted in applause.

As the men joked with each other, loud music played form the bus speakers. There’s a feeling on a bus after a victory. When the team is shouting over each other’s shoulders to one another, and the adrenialine is still fresh from the game. Just as on the court, you can see the ball pass from one teammate to another on the game, you can feel that threaded connection between close teammates off the court. There’s a lightness in the air from the victory and you can feel the closeness among teammates.

When I began photographing this team, I didn’t think I would find my childhood amid the torn seats of a worn down bus nervously sputtering down the dusty roads of rural Senegal.

But as I sat there among them, it was remarkable how much the atmosphere reminded me of when I played sports back in Macomb. Bus rides and locker rooms were always as fun as courts and fields to me. I really loved being part of a team.

As a journalist, you sometimes get to have that feeling. I definitely felt that with the people back in the early days of Sarasota, in the Observer newsroom. And when I felt the love between the men of Ibu’s basketball, you realize how so many of the stories you get to tell come down to the same principles—love of the game (whether it’s basketball or storytelling), and love of the people you get to do it with.

The Tournament Begins

May 25, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Leave a Comment 

So on the first game for Ibrahima, the bus was late. They were forced to forfeit their first game of the Senegal championships.

But there’s always a second chance. The next Saturday, the men met once again at their facilty at 10 am. This time, the bus was supposed to pick them up around 10:30 for their 4 o’ clock game. The game was in Mboor, a village about 2 or 3 hours from Dakar.

But by 11 the bus had still not left. This time the driver was on time, but the bus would not start.

As team captain, Ibrahima crutched himself up and down the halls, talking with his teammates and trying to devise a solution.


The coach was phoning other bus providers in the city, trying to get a new vehicle. By 1 o’clock, a new bus finally arrived to pick them up. It was still going to be a close call to make it to the 3 o’clock game on time, but things were looking brighter.

The team arrived at Mboor about 25 minutes before game time. They quickly ate some Ceebu Jen and got some warm up shots in.


They lined up as the coach handed out the jerseys.



And then the whistle blew.

We Interrupt this Program to bring you Beached Whales

May 21, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 3 Comments 

Today I was going to get back to Ibrahima, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Because today there were about 20 beached whales in Dakar. I went with some other journalists to go check out the scene

Apparently last night about 100 whales washed up on the shore at Yoff Beach. All night the fishermen dragged the whales back to sea with their pirogues. But by morning there were still about 20 left.

Unfortunately, these whales died. By the time we got to the scene, the children throwing water on them to use them as slides.


Before the Buzzer?

May 20, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 1 Comment 

The Talibou Dabo team met at the courts around 11 am on Saturday morning. Their first game of the Senegal-wide tournament was scheduled for 4 pm in another area of Dakar.

So the team took these few hours before the game to eat, pray, rest and discuss strategy with the coach.

They all lay on a mat in a small room at the center for the handicapped while workers there prepared their lunch.


After an hour or so of rest, the men gathered to pray and then they sat down to eat ceebu jen together.


When the team finished their meal, the coach sat in a chair in front of the mat and laid out the game plan. He stressed the importance of this first game, and the need to attack right away.


But as the men sat and waited for their bus to come pick them up, team captain Ibrahima Faye began to worry. The bus was late. It was already 3 pm, and the driver hadn’t arrived. If they were going to make it all the way across town in Dakar traffic before their game, they would need to leave soon.

Finally, at around 3:15, the driver arrived, and the men quickly shuffled their equipment—wheelchairs and crutches and basketballs—into the bus’ bottom compartments.

They were still going to cut it close to game time. And as the bus pulled out of the center, it didn’t make it very far before it got stuck at a traffic standstill. The men were shouting hurriedly, the manager was on the phone with the other team, explaining the situation. But the word forfeit began to be thrown around the bus, as they clock moved toward four faster than the bus could move to the court.

Day Before the First Game

May 19, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 1 Comment 

Ibrahima came home after work to eat dinner with the family and rest up before his team’s first game in the Senegal championships. After the bus dropped him off at his neighborhood, he ran into some friends and chatted.


As he walked up to the house, his daughter Bintu ran up to greet him


He sat down to eat, and Bintu lay in his lap, wrapped her arms around him and playfully demanded his attention. She is such a Daddy’s girl.


Ibrahima was going to bed early that night, because he had to be at the courts at 10 am the next morning. His team has won the national championships seven of the last eight years, and he is determined to make this year their eighth victory.


Poverty — Two Kinds

May 16, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 4 Comments 

Wednesday I went back to Ouagadougou—in the journalism sense.



Wednesday was the second of a three-day strike in Burkina Faso. The people were striking against high prices and demanding the government augment their wages by 25%.

So I did a ‘day of’ (read: a little high stress) story about the issue. Here’s a link to the radio piece.

Uma was doing a radio story on Burkina that day, too. So she looked up some stats. Turns out, Burkina Faso is the second most impoverished country in the world, according to the United Nations.

This kind of surprised both Uma (who was also recently there) and I. According the the list, the bottom five countries on the poverty index are in West Africa. The people I talk to for my stories and report on everyday are the poorest in the world.

For a little context: I just spent two and a half years as a journalist in Sarasota—where in 2006 one in eight people were millionaires.

At first, I wrote so much more for this entry on life here compared to Sarasota. But to be honest, I need to find out more and think more about what I write on this topic. Because to be frank, I feel like when we see images of poverty, we’re supposed to feel all this pity… I think that implies a lack of respect. I rarely feel SORRY for people here, and I didn’t find myself feeling SORRY for people in Burkina. This makes me wonder – am I paying enough attention? Do I know what poverty is?

To be completely honest, the more I learn and live in Africa, the more questions I have about this place, and the less I understand it. For that matter, the more questions I have about the world, and the less I understand it. I KNOW more, a lot more, than I did in January. I just understand less.

The people in this region have very little money. This is true. But there are also other forms of poverty in the world. Forms that can’t be solved with money.

There are things here that other people don’t have. It’s hard to describe, but when my fellow J-school grad and lovely friend Tiesha Miller sent me this video, I realized it was the best way to try and explain what I mean when I say there are other forms of poverty.

I didn’t realize how disconnected I was from the United States until I watched this video. I don’t know who I want to be President yet, but I do know that after being in Senegal for the past few months, this video made me sick to my stomach. And it made me want to cry.

Let me repeat, I’m not trying to say I’m a huge Obama fan or a huge Hillary supporter or McCain lover. What I am a big fan of is Open Minds and Getting the Facts Straight.

I said I rarely feel sorry for the people here in West Africa. I feel sorry for the people in this video.

Good news and bad news

May 15, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 1 Comment 

The good news? I figured out how to embed an audio file on here.

The bad news? I’m having other technical difficulties with the second episode of Dakar Vice.

Soooo.. here’s the first episode, in ALL its glory.

And here’s a photo from the other night, when we had a dinner party extravaganza… don’t Kari and Jennifer make nice housewives?


Reggae the African Way

May 13, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 1 Comment 

Here’s the way things went down:

It’s Sunday night. I am tired, and I really just want to go to bed early after a long weekend of work and play.

But we have bought tickets to see Alpha Blondy. This is exciting, because Alpha Blondy is one of the most well-known and politically charged reggae singers in the world.

He’s Ivorian (from Cote D’Ivoire). He’s 55 years old. He sings in French, Dioula (his native language) and sometimes English, Arabic, Hebrew, Wolof and a few more.

So we rallied strong and went to the concert. The tickets said the event would begin at 6 pm. Ha! Yeah, right. So we showed up at 8 pm. The doors had not even opened yet.

We went to a little hole in the wall place (Chez Joe, which has the best Chwarma in Dakar), and ordered a pizza. We ordered a vegetarian, but the lovely and friendly (sarcasm) waitress didn’t seem to understand. You want the Reine pizza, then?

No, said my friend Naomi, we would like the vegetarian pizza, please. The waitress gave us a confused look, nodded her head and walked away. All bets were on that we were gonna get a Reine pizza.

Ten minutes later, the “veggie” pizza, complete with large pieces of ham (or beef, not sure) arrived. No worries, we ate it, and it was delicious.

Just as we finished the pizza, we could hear Bob Marley singing in the stadium. The concert had begun. And by concert, I mean the opening DJ.

It was 8:30 or so by then. So we headed over to the stadium, picked out a good seat, and watched all the Rastas dance. Watching Rastas dance is one of my favorite things to do. They sway their arms in what looks like a drunken but friendly stupor. They look like they’re in love with the air around them. I like it a lot.

So we watched the Rastas. At about 10, the FIRST act came on. This was the first of I think 5 opening acts. My favorite was Dread Maxim. He jumped around a lot and had some songs that made me move.

At about 1 am, a limo drove onto the field. It was Alpha Blondy. Hallelujah. He took the stage around 2 am.

His first song began in a hauntingly beautiful way. His band was onstage, and all of a sudden, you could hear (but couldn’t see), Alpha, as he began chanting a prayer – in Hebrew.

Alpha Blondy was born to a Muslim mama and a Christian pops. I would guess about 99% of the Senegalese who were there to watch the concert are Muslims. But this first song, called Jerusalem, has a main chorus that goes, “Jerusalem, Je t’aime.” (Jerusalem, I love you).

And at one point of the song, he says “Salam aleikum,” to Jerusalem, which means “Peace be with you,” in Arabic, and is a Muslim greeting. Then he says “Shalom,” which is Hebrew, and also means peace. Then he goes on to sing in English; “You can see Christinans, Jews and Muslims, living together, and praying, Amen.”

He’s also got a song called “Journaliste en Danger, “ which was inspired by a journalist who was killed in Burkina Faso ten years ago, and is about journalists being incarcerated and assassinated.

Here’s the thing about the Rasta African singers I saw that night: almost all of them sang about political and religious forces and called for Africans taking hold of their futures and addressing many of the continents problems. I’ve gotten to listen to a lot of great African music since I moved here, and the depth of the lyrics (when I can understand them) is something I’ve really come to appreciate.

And, in a completely unrelated photo duo, here’s another woman in a doorway.

weekend follies and good spam

May 12, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 2 Comments 

I had a full weekend that involved photography, handicapped basketball, journalist partying, swimming and a reggae  concert—all in that order.

I know I’ve been skimping on the writing lately, and I apologize, but right now I’m finishing up about 17 different projects … all due in the next 3 minutes.

So, today here’s a fun photo I took in Ibrahima’s neighborhood, as well as a random comment posted on my blog.

See, in the magic Internet place where I write my blogs to post them, there’s also a “Dashboard” where I receive the comments some of you are nice enough to post on my blog. It always asks me to approve them before they are posted. I appreciate this, because I’ve been getting a lot of “Spam” comments lately. What’s a Spam comment you say? Well, I’m so glad you asked. Because today I got the best one ever:

Comment Posted By:
esomplaisesia  |

Clomid assists in increasing the production of egg maturation in the ovaries. It does this by tricking the body.

Thank you so much, Esomplaisesia, for the bio lesson. That, my friends, is a Spam comment.


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