Mustafah Diouf in a field in Djilakh, Senegal. On Reuters assignment.
So Thursday I was on my way to meet a reporter at 7 in the morning. We were going to go out to a village outside Dakar to do a story, and I was scheduled to take photos of Spanish melons. Yeah, sounded weird to me, too.
When I got into the taxi for the ride, I decided to sit in front. Sometimes I sit in front, sometimes in back. Usually if the taxi guy is nice, and we had a friendly debate over the price rather than a heated discussion over the price of gas, then I sit in the front. He seemed nice and smiled during the negotiations, so today I jumped in the front. I had just bought a croissant for breakfast, and I asked him if it was okay to eat in the car. He nodded and looked at me in an “Of course, have you LOOKED at this thing?” manner.
Brief digression on the state of taxis in Dakar: They are all four-door, yellow and black, compact, squarish cars that look like a 1987 Toyota Corrolla — a 1987 Toyota Corrolla that somehow has been driven around since 1947. Only one door in the back ever opens. EVER. The windshield is usually marked by a huge crack in the middle, that spreads its spider tentacles all the way to at least one edge of the front of the car. Inside, the original upholstry has obviously been replaced three or four times. The front pattern often does not match the back. There are at least three tears. It’s hot in Dakar, so the first thing you go to do is roll down the window (no air conditioning). But when you go to grab the roll-down knob, there is nothing there but a round plastic piece that looks like it’s lost its companion. So then you need to ask the driver for “la truc” (Truc is kind of an obscene way to say “thing..” It’s not THAT obscene, but it’s the best replacement word when you don’t know the real word, thus I use it a lot).
He hands you the roll-down apparatus, which you then fit into the empty round plastic piece. It fits, and you rolll down the window, then hand it back to the driver. Then you enjoy the prayer chants/Mbalax/news in Wolof that is blaring way too loudly from the radio with bad reception. THAT is a taxi ride in Dakar. Digression OVER.
As the taxi driver drove to my meeting point, we were listening to news, and I could hear the word “Obama” being said over and over again. Then, they started playing Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, in English, with translations every few seconds.
“Who’s that speaking?” the driver asked me.
“Martin Luther King,” I said. I smiled.
We listened a little more. Then the driver turned to me.
“That dream, it’s true you know.” he said. I wasn’t sure if he was ASKING me if it had come true in the States, or telling me.
“Are you asking me what it’s like in the US?” I said.
“No, I’m saying his dream, it’s come true. Black and whites work together, live together, they even get married.”
“Oh…” I said.
Then MLK’s speech continued.
“It’s only been like fifty years since he said that stuff,” I said (It’s been 45, found that out today).
“See, that’s what I’m saying,” he responded…
“I’m American, you know,” I told him. So many times people say you should be “proud to be an American.” I SO was in that moment.
Now, I’ve gotten a lot of negative reactions to that story. People, mostly white, laugh it off as ridiculous, because obviously things are not all pretty roses and every race reaching out, holding hands and singing Kumbayah.
Of course, things aren’t equal for everyone — that’s for sure. But when people say they long for the “good old days,” I think they should think twice. Consider what happens today, and how much of it couldn’t have happened seventy or even fifty years ago, in regards to human rights. My grandmother’s mother could not vote for much of her life. That’s THREE Generations. THREE.
So in a glass-half full attitude: that was a good way to start the day for me.
Oh, I so have my pulse on the news of the world today. Okay, so maybe Nico, the one who suggested the story I did today has the finger on the pulse thing.. details.
Today I did a radio story for VOA about how Senegalese feel about Obama. It was fun. And I got to interview Cheikh, the butcher down the street from the office.
If you want to listen to my breathtaking report, well, you’ll have to wait, because it hasn’t been posted yet — ha! If you want to meet Cheikh, go, here…
I was outside the other day after a rain, and I found a bunch of these little guys running around.
Not having much else to do at the moment (okay, having a lot to do at the moment, but whatever), I decided to get some snails in action. I’m not much of an animal photographer (or animal lover really. I know this means something horrible about my soul or something, but there it is).
Little did I know this brief encounter would put me smack dab in the middle of the ummm..circle of life?
But then, and here’s where this gets inappropriate… I know my dear grandmother reads this blog, so I’ll try and keep it PG.
After I was there for about ten minutes, this one snail approached this other snail. Very slowly. (Duh). The other snail kind of played it shy. Then I’m pretty sure I heard some Barry White start playing, and I THOUGHT they started mating.
Now, according to Wikipedia, all land snails are hermaphrodites. Interesting. Also interesting, most of them perform a courtship that can last anywhere between two and twelve hours. (Insert snide comment about how some men might think this is way to long a time period to put in effort). Also, they are “prolific” breeders. The kind sources at Wiki did not give me specific stats to qualify this term, but I thought the term prolific definitely needed to be included.
I have a why problem. I need to know why something is the way it is to accept it. I need answers. Until I was 15, I was going to be an engineer or an architect, but then I encountered some problems with Advanced Algebra – I wasn’t getting any of the whys.
Ten years later, I’m a photographer/journalist. Behold, the power of why (or rather, the power of the lack of why).
I have a problem when people seem to do things all the time, as a culture, without asking why we do it. Maybe it made sense to do certain things hundreds or thousands of years ago, but maybe we should ask why we do it again. Maybe it’s time to adapt.
For me, weddings represent the ultimate example of this why question that is often not asked.
Living in another culture, you’re placed in a way of life that you’re not used to, so you tend to ask why more. Whereas maybe you wouldn’t ask why if that’s the way your mom, dad, grandparents did things.
So sometimes we tend to ask why people in these other cultures do these seemingly silly or innocuous things, but if we turn the mirror around, let’s ask why we do things, too.
Please remember, I love weddings. But now, allow me to rant—there’s flower throwing, girls in uniforms (ok – matching dresses), dad walking down the aisle, gift registry, SO many showers, certain time allowances for Thank you notes, veils and such. Long list of things everyone does, without necessarily asking why.
So I’m not sure WHY Theo’s family did a lot of these things: the aunt waved a towel at the couple as they made their grand entrance..
The cousins all wore matching boubous to serve the food,
One of the greatest things was when Theo’s cousins hoisted Naomi up on a chair and carried her off down a dirt path, because they knew that was a Jewish tradition. From what I could tell, they didn’t know what to do once they carried her off, so they just dance around her for a few minutes before carrying her back. Both parties seemed to be having a good time.
So to me, that begs the question of why not. Why not carry the bride on the chair, if that’s what her tradition is, even though you might not understand it? And for that matter, why not do something that other people might not understand? Why not give up your full time job you like and move to West Africa? Why not try something you’ve never done before? You just might like it.
There’s this ballad song I like called “The Sun is Shining Down,” by this Florida band I like called Mofro.
It’s bluesy and a little gritty, and the lyrics kind of go with these photos from last week’s pilgrimage.
All those simple thoughts.
All those peaceful dreams.
Share the space with a hard-worked, hard-worked day.”
Something about they way he sings the “Glory” and the “Hallelujah” and the “I’m alive.” It’s like you know he means it.
For the second-leg of Naomi and Theo’s wedding, they of course had to do the party in the village thing.
So on Friday, I left Dakar at 7 in the AM, and thanks to some very friendly US Embassy workers who were going to the wedding, too, I got a ride out to Theo’s village.
The day started out very Holy, as it was the Catholic holiday Assumption. In Theo’s village, which is mostly Catholic, this means a huge mass at the church, followed by a mini-pilgrimage to the top of a local hill where one man, in a dream, was told to build an homage to Mary.
So Friday I went to my first mass in Senegal. My first reaction? The music of course rocked. It was unlike other music I’ve heard in Senegal – Gospel Wolof, with a distinct African base. There was a lot drumming.
And I could take pictures inside the church during the mass, because it’s such a celebrated holiday. Yay!
Church always reminds me of childhood. The most vivid memories I have are the fact that it was one of the few times in a public settting where families sat together. At sporting events and high school plays, kids sat with their friends and parents with parents.
But as I sat in the pews, with my sister on my right and my mother to my left, I would usually rest my head on my mother’s shoulder in an attempt to hide the fact that I might be napping (sorry, but true), and I would look at the back of heads, all together in a family-set. Many of my friends went to the same church I did, and there was something I liked about seeing them all there – the shoulders lined together as they sat four or five people together.
In this church, most of the women were sitting on the right side and the men on the left. We were told this isn’t a rule, but it seemed to be the accepted seating arrangements.
After the 2.5 hour mass (2.5 hours!), the pilgrimage was on its way. Some women carry the small Mary statue in the front of the group, as the rest of the congregation follows up the hill.
Monday was a wedding. Two of my bestest friends in Dakar, Naomi and Theo, got married.
How to describe Theo and Naomi? They’re the kind of couple that likes to invite friends over and cook dinner for them. Sometimes Theo cooks or sometimes Naomi, but I’d say it’s often a group effort. When the officiate for the wedding read the official language of the marriage license, which said Naomi would be a good wife, and take care of the home and the children, everyone laughed. They both run the household.
Naomi cooks Senegalese food with an American touch. Theo is quickly learning English with a Senegalese accent. Theo smiles a lot. Naomi is good at taking care of business. I guess on the surface you might call them an odd couple—a Jewish American girl from the Northeast suburbs and a Catholic Senegalese boy from a village outside of Dakar. But after they host you for a dinner, you get it… they work together.
For the wedding, Naomi’s parents and a couple siblings flew in from the States. Here’s the parents group shot.
While we were out on the edge taking photos, all of a sudden I looked over and Theo’s mom was throwing something ( a stone?) into the ocean. She was (I think) making a wish for the couple’s happiness. That’s what I think was going on here.
Dakar has lots of night guards. They sit outside of gates leading to gardens leading to homes. Usually the guards are plain-clothed, and they’re often playing cards or making tea. But this man is pro-fess-ion-al. I saw the moon behind him and asked politely for a picture. Afterward he had me take a close-up he wants to use as a badge-id photo. But of course. Now, where to find a quality printer in Dakar….
I was going through old photos today, trying to archive (ah! my achilles is organization!), and I found this photo of my younger Senegal Siblings
I haven’t been to see the family in a couple weeks.. I think I’m gonna stop by and have some ceb this Sunday. yum.