I got back to the States for a two-week visit on Monday. After a 30-hour journey involving 4 planes and airports on 3 continents, I was wiped. So I took the week off from my blog. But oh, how I have missed ye.
My internal time clock must be a little bah-jiggity still, because the first few days I woke up with the sun. Here’s my first Florida sunrise in a while.
To sit at Pastry Art and grab coffee with Roger and Heidi was like slipping back into a jigsaw puzzle I’ve always loved to be a part of. One night, we sat outside Roger’s porch and talked about the merits of character development verse plot development in books. I think Sarasota might have been the first place I discovered a community of dorks like me – chic bookworm journalists, if you will.
Roger put on a barbeque for my temporaray homecoming, and as is the custom at nearly every Sarasota gathering I’ve been a part of – it was full of journalists. But this time, the tables were turned and I was interviewed! The lovely and talented (and much better writer than me) Heidi interviewed me for her blog. Check it out if you dare. And here are some pics—also taken by Heidi—of the shindig.
Funny thing about RE-ENTRY: As I was driving around Sarasota, one sentence kept popping into my head: “There was never any other way it could have been.”
What do I mean by that? I guess, it’s just that in the months and even more leading up to my departure from Sarasota to Dakar, I was often stressed or worried that I was making the wrong decision by leaving for West Africa. Or that maybe things wouldn’t work out how I thought, and I’d never actually leave at all. But as I was driving around (in my rented PT Cruiser — NEVER will I use Budget again), I had this overwhelming gut-feeling that it was always going to turn out this way.
At first I was worried that I had all of a sudden become a fatalist, and that’s a little disturbing to be honest. But it’s not as much fate I think as much as me going 100% for my gut. I didn’t really know what I was going to get or why exactly I had to go to Senegal – I just knew I had to do it. And now six months later, I’m still comprehending and digesting all that the experience has given me, but I can tell you I know why I had to go to West Africa. I remember when I was making the decision to go to West Africa, Heidi told me to go with what my gut said. So maybe that’s what going with your gut feels like.
The weirdest thing is, that phrase kept popping into my head, the “There was no other way it could have been,” came up in on of those” random, lovely conversations with a stranger” that I had yesterday and will remember most of my life. But that’s for tomorrow’s blog.
On my last night in Guinea Bissau, we all sat around and danced and sang. (I did NOT sing). Here’s the video – flashlight’s the only lumiere. Most of the lyrics are in Kriole or Portugese, so not sure of the exact words, but they told me one of the songs was something like ..”You came, we made friends, and now you’re leaving. But that’s the way things go. So I will sing for you.” And the other one was a song about a mother’s death.. the lyrics, sung by the child, say …”You are gone now, you were my only mother, so can you show me way to find you so you can tell me the magic (of how to prepare food, etc.).”
The last few days were an amazing experience — photographing the ICCR distributing rice, seeds and cooking oil before the “saison de faim” (translation: season of hunger) sets in soon. (More on this later).
For now, I’m in a hotel room, and I have three minutes before I’m supposed to leave for the airport. And I haven’t packed. So instead of talking more about my experience, I’ll just say this: in the village Susana, was the closest I’ve ever come to time travelling.
There was no electricity, and we had an almost-full moon all three nights I was there. Some of the kids in Susana wanted me to take their photo. I tried by moonlight first, which meant they had to stand still for nearly a minute. Getting them to do this might be one of my biggest accomplishments up to this point in my life.
Still … the photo wasn’t turning out ideally. Just artsy.
I’ve been in a few villages in Guinea Bissau the last few days — no running water and electricity, so certainly no Internet.
I was there photographing some of the Red Cross (International Committee of the Red Cross) projects. It was absolutely amazing. I’ll post some photos and video tout de suite!
Point of Info: Those hats we’re wearing in my last post? All the boys and men were wearing them in some of the villages I was in. When I asked someone why, they explained that the man who circumcises the males comes every thirty years to each village, and he had just been to the area. The hats were a present to all the men under 30 who had just been circumcised. THIS is why cultural context is important people before you post photos on your blog!
Like every city, there’s a style for the young crowd and a style for the more mature here in Dakar.
There are these wooly hats here that are usually reserved for older men. And the older men like to wear aviator sunglasses a lot as well.
Before I came to Dakar, I always wore aviators, so I was already halfway into the category of dressing like an elderly Senegalese man.
The other day when I saw some of the wooly hats on the cheap, I figured I would complete the look and go for it.
After I showed the hat to Kari and Nico, they were obviously insanely jealous. Since the hat had only cost 1,000 CFA (little more than 2 bucks), I figured I’d go get them a couple, too. No sense looking out of place all by myself.
The only problem is a few days later when I went to go find the hats to buy, I couldn’t find the same model, and when I eventually did find a guy selling them, they were trying to charge me 4,000 CFA a piece.
(This is another phenomemenon of shopping in Dakar – there is SO much RANDOM stuff for sale in the streets and when a man approaches your taxi window with an array of items he wants you to buy, you think, “WHY in the world would I need a manicure kit in the middle of traffic?”
Then, three weeks later you need a manicure kit. And you end up searching for three hours without finding one darn kit. But I digress.
I went to take some photos of girls who crotchet and sew clothes, shoes and other things for a living today.
I had to call a last-minute taxi because of transportation confusion, and on the way out there the taxi got a flat tire (the drive was about an hour long). We immediately pulled over so Abdu could change the back right wheel, and I took the opportunity to run into the nearest station and get some water.
This little episode is only significant because I feel like six months ago I would have freaked out about this little bump in the road and worried about getting there late or missing the opportunity to shoot. But flat tires and breakdowns and detours are such an every day part of life, I almost expect them now. And instead of freaking out I was actually kind of happy to have the chance to buy some water. I’m hoping this slightly more laid back version of Ricci is a permanent fixture.
Anyways, back to the photos. Most of the girls were between 14 and 18. I don’t want to post the ones I was hired to shoot, but I can give you this story and photo.
After I had been there for 45 minutes, the girls were still kind of teasing me. I have to admit – and I hope this doesn’t come off the wrong way – but Senegalese women for the most part intimidate the hell out of me. They seem so stoic and graceful – always in their bright, wrapped dresses and skirts, stealthily balancing an array of objects on their heads while simultanesouly carrying a child on their back and exuding such a feminine air of : “I’ve got all this under control. What did you do today?”
They’re usually not as outgoing as the men, so I haven’t had as many conversations with Senegalese women, besides those in my Dakar family. This combination of graceful strength and feminine secretiveness makes me feel at times like a rag-tag tomboy running around in a clumsied chaos.
So before I met the girls today – the teenage girls – I tried to tell myself not to be intimiditaed. I could run around in a Senegalese wrestling match among 6 foot 6 muscular men who almost stepped on me, I could hold my own with a hundred stampeding journalists at the Islamic Conference, so why was I timid around these girls?
While I shot around them they giggled a lot and spoke in Wolof about me. My Wolof is getting better, and I can actually understand bits of conversations now, so I know they were teasing me a little bit.
But just as I was about to wrap it up, one of the girls asked me if I could dance. Oh dear lord. Dancing is fun and all, but have you ever seen a Senegalese woman dance? No.. then here, watch this….this
(and then this is just something I found while searching.. you should watch it, too).
So one of the girls started dancing toward me…
I know how to move my legs in an Mbalax type fashion somewhat. I knew just a few seconds of moving around would get them laughing at how bad the Toubab was at dancing, but also be enough to let them know I wasn’t a COMPLETE intruder in their world.
So I danced. And they laughed. It was all good.
PS: I posted the prostitution video at the bottom of yesterday’s blog if you want to check that out. Thanks, yo.
This weekend I finished my first video piece. For now it’s just a sample, but it will be published in a different format after Nico edits it.
I filmed this piece about prostitution while I was in Burkina Faso back in April. I spent all night with the VOA stringer riding around on the scooter in Ouagadougou and going from place to place trying to find someone who worked as a prostitute and would talk to me.
It is obviously a delicate and touchy subject, and so the stringer was telling me the best ways to talk to people. I got so wrapped up in my efforts just trying to find a woman who would talk to me, that I think I forgot about the severity of the story. Then, when this 21-year-old girl, Rabi, sat down and told me her story, I just sat there and listened. I hadn’t prepared myself for how sad her story was or how innocent she would seem to me.
I’m in the midst of publishing the video right now, so for now here’s Rabi, and a link to the radio story I did on the issue.
Ok, so I know it’s not THAT big of a deal that I haven’t blogged that much this week, but I really liked that title so I decided to run with it.
I’ve been a bad blogger this week. Sorry. But I’ve got excuses – promise!
UNICEF recently hired me to take photos for them, so I’ve been on that and trying to get at least a couple of radio reports out for VOA this week.
For UNICEF I’ve been photographing new mothers in a hospital and child laborers this week. I don’t want to post them on my blog (at least not yet, anyway), because they’re delicate subjects.
So the last couple of days I got to go around Dakar with Pif (nickname), a UNICEF driver. The highlight of this? Pif likes The Blues. So Pif and I spent an hour or so on the sandy roads of Dakar listening to James Brown telling us to Try him begging Sloopy to Hang On.
I must clarify my last post. My friends have not all moved away. They are just on assignments or on vacation in those places. Don’t worry about me, they’re coming back. I think….