It seemed as if we figured out the Forum just in time for it close.
Wednesday was a particularly good day. Steven and I began with another
Secours Catolique-Caritas France session, tried a full lunch – rice and shish ka bob – at the “food court” a string of tents offering complete, traditional meals at a fraction of restaurant prices, that were operated by a mix of local families and university organizations. Then we joined in a meeting with
Peace Women, a program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) that was crashed by student protesters. After the excitement ended there, we listed to a talk by
Naomi Klein on the African land grab at the Climate Change tent.
We were not the only ones struck by the absence of Africans in attendance at Ms. Klein’s talk. One of the other speakers on the panel, a representative of an indigenous land tenure food sovereignty organization based in Mali, explained that many Africans do not understand how affected they are likely to be by climate change. Nor do they associated problems, including economic pressure to sell their land to foreigners and relocate in cities, with climate change.
Now for a word on
bathrooms. Although all of us – Steven and I as well as the other dozen or so Americans in our transnational social movements research community – drank a lot of water, I don’t recall anyone having to use the bathroom with abnormal frequency. At some point between, the student protest and the Naomi Klein talk, we had just long enough to both realize that we had to “go” and find a bathroom. Steven and I had been fortunate to stumble upon a UCAD graduate student in English and American studies who showed us the way.
Of course, I’d been aware that public bathrooms in Senegal, as in many developing nations, amount to “holes in the ground.” Still, I’d been spoiled by the spiffy new toilets at the hotel. Add to that, with the exception of bar soap and lack of hand towels, the women’s restroom in a relatively new building at looked exactly like those on my home campus. The difference was that each stall featured something that looked like a shower with a handle placed high up on the wall to open the drain, and a pitcher of water to rinse one’s excrement down it. My facility with wilderness bathrooms and prior experience with a “hole in the ground” or two aside, I frankly could not fathom negotiating a scarf, long shirt, shoulder bag, and skinny jeans to a successful pee. I held it until I was safely back in the hotel.
Thrilled by our success at mastering the Forum, by Thursday, I was nonetheless frustrated that I had yet to walk on the beach. (Granted I’d been warned sternly and often by the campus travel nurse NOT to let my bare feet touch the ground or go anywhere near the water.) Steven and I opted to walk part of the way to the Forum. Our imperfect navigation took us far from the main streets along cliffs over-looking the ocean where some swanky hotels and the embassies are located…right across the street from where goats grazed outside shacks at the cliff’s edge. We hailed a cab along the main stretch of beach that parallels and upscale residential area between the city and the university.
I noticed that even up close (as opposed to through a speeding cab’s window), there were no women on beach. Men jogged and worked out, but the few women I saw anywhere in the vicinity were at a smallish fish market adjacent to where the fishing boats lay on the sand at the end of the day.
This was the day of convergences. Groups met most of the day and attempted to reach some kind of foundation for moving forward. The crowd following
events organized by Secours Catholique-Caritas France, for example, were looking for something that the African and Latin Americans could agree on as a basis for solidarity. Those following events emanating from the
women’s tent similarly sought a foundation for cooperation and collaboration in achieving greater human rights. I’m not sure what was accomplished. By the end of the first tour, the Forum was literally coming apart. Some tents were dismantled and packed up; others were falling down and blowing away. Pick up trucks and moving vans had arrived and were being loaded with the many vendors’ wares.
I realize I haven’t commented much on the evenings’ affairs. Communal downtime, before I retired to my room for all-night research on cultural history and current affairs in Senegal and greater West Africa, was spent networking and strategizing about the next day’s transportation to and from and activities at the Forum. Thursday afternoon/evening was typical. I enjoyed my daily petit bouteille de van blanc while I worked and the foodies in the group selected a place to dine, made reservations, and asked the concierge for directions. Those of us staying at the
Hotel Novotel shared two cabs for a short ride to the
Hotel Saint-Louis, where we met up with members of our extended group on the patio. I had yassa au poulet (rice with chicken), which I must say is currently my favorite Senegalese meal.