Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Just When We’d Figured it Out…

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

It seemed as if we figured out the Forum just in time for it close.

DSCN0177Wednesday 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.

DSCN0203Thrilled 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.

DSCN0215I 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.

DSCN0295I 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.

Almost Dangerous?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011


One of my dinner companions tonight at the restaurant in the St. Louis Hotel in Dakar, Senegal was Marc Becker, Professor of History at Truman State University and one of America’s most dangerous professors, according to David Horowitz. Assuming you can stop laughing over that oxymoron, you may want to know that Marc’s inclusion is premised on his opposition to the Wars in Iraq. I’m afraid that if that’s dangerous, then I’d say he’s in very good company – both on and off campus. Does that make me “almost dangerous,” by association, if not deed?

Another Couple of Days at the (World Social) Forum

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

By the end of the evening Monday, I was unable to form complete sentences in English, let alone French. I slept in until 2PM on Tuesday.

DSCN0190_2Thankfully, that was Africa Day at the forum, which is more cultural fair than seminar. Although I’d previewed the online program to get an idea of which events Steven, a UC Riverside graduate student who attended with me, and I might like to attend, I didn’t expect the actual program to conform, and was excited to find people carrying around a printed version. A volunteer directed us to the library but there were no more to be had. We made a valiant attempt to find some of the events and sessions I’d noted, but NONE were actually taking place where they were supposed to be. In one case, we found a lecture or exam in progress. More often, we found ourselves searching through rows of poorly numbered tents with no luck.

Later we would learn that the usual scheduling snafus associated with the piecemeal and fluctuating schedules common at previous Forums were complicated in Dakar by a strike earlier in the school year that forced classes to meet during the Forum. Organizers responded by erecting tents to house the many self-organized speeches, discussion sessions, meetings, and other events, yet many of them remained difficult to locate if they weren’t finally canceled.

DSCN0151After a quick lunch of fataya, a kind of meat pie that sells for about a quarter (to be honest, Steven played guinea pig, while I stuck to my granola bar and fruit leather), we headed for the big red women’s tent.  Inside, it was packed. Most of the women in attendance appeared to be African, and wore traditional dress: long, often quite close fitting skirts with short boubous and matching head scarves. The discussion was conducted in Walof, French, and English – depending on the speaker –with sequential translation via tuning to the appropriate station on transistor radios available at the door.  We’d learn that this combination of fixed location, well-organized presentations, and translation services were keys to successfully navigating the Forum.

I ended up staying up very late. Not yet convinced that there would never be any clear correspondence between the online schedule for the Forum and what actually occurred there, I spent more time than I should have identifying at least two sessions that I’d like to attend during each tour, or time period, as well as multiple, nearby back-up options for these sessions.

Don’t laugh, but I also searched the Internet for instructions on how to tie a head scarf. After two days spent walking in the heat through sand storms with every patch of uncovered skin coated in sunscreen and bug spray, I needed functional style tips. In the interest of complying with local expectations for modesty, I’d brought a stack of scarves with me, but had no practical experience in how to use them effectively to keep the sand out of my eyes and deal with what was shaping up to be a week of bad hair days. By the time I crashed into bed, I’d developed a modest level of expertise in the art of tying and wearing a head scarf.

On Wednesday, duly caffeinated with schedule in hand, I was ready for the first day of working sessions. Steven and I scored a dilapidated cab that had just dropped off a fare, and quickly settled on 2,000 CFA for the trip to the university. On the off chance that: a) there would be an updated, printed programme du jour, and b) it would bear some resemblance to what was going on in the tents, we started at the library. No luck on either account.

DSCN0155After a handful of false starts on the basis of my hand-written schedule, we tried another tack. We headed for the Secours Catholique – Caritas France (a faith based humanitarian association) booth to find out where their tent was. Navigating by the ribbon they’d used to mark their location, we found the tent and walked into a discussion on human rights in each of a select number of countries in Latin America.

The first speaker was from Mexico and provided sequential translation into French; he spoke so fast in Spanish that I found his French easy to understand by comparison! As was characteristic of the better-organized and more accommodating events, there was a brief period of reorganization between speakers so that translators could be repositioned appropriately. Steven and I moved to sit beside the English translator, even though the remaining speakers all spoke much more slowly, and were fairly easy to understand.

Following on this great success, we spent the remainder of the day beginning with organizers’ booths – smaller tents providing literature and other information about the groups and their activities at the Forum – where we’d note scheduled updates and get directions to the appropriate venues. Failing that, we watched for updates and looked for maps on a centrally located bulletin board.

Although I “worked” more, the day was less exhausting. I even had time to check out fabric prices. Wholly enamored by the gorgeous traditional outfits the local women were wearing and well aware that I wouldn’t have time to find a tailor to make one for me, I’d just about decided to purchase fabric that I could make into clothing once I returned home. I was shocked, though, by the prices. The price quoted for pre-cut pieces of no more than a couple of yards ran around 10,000 – 20,000 CFA (up to $40!)

DSCN0224Consequently, I spent another late night up researching the sources and costs of “resist dyed” fabric, which constitutes much of the brightly colored prints associated with traditional clothing in stylish West Africa. Applying wax or paste to cotton fabric is one of the chief means of creating a print by  “resisting” or preventing dye from permeating an entire piece of cloth. Manipulating cloth by tying (as in tie dye) or stitching it also works. Although resist-dying originated among the Soninke and Walof in Senegal, nearly all of this kind of fabric available in the market there is imported from Holland and Indonesia. And it’s more expensive in Senegal than nearly everywhere else in West Africa to boot! In fact, I found wax prints manufactured in Holland available through an American wholesaler for as low as $5.49/yard. Only the most expensive prints available online matched the prices I encountered on the street in Dakar.

It’s a Small World, After All, Despite the Odd Faux Pas

Monday, February 7th, 2011

DSCN0089Less than 48 hours in Senegal and I’ve already committed my first faux pas. Apparently, I mistook a stool/seat for a “foot” stool/ottoman in the hotel bar. I was sitting back in my chair with my feet up after a very long day on the Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (UCAD) campus attending the World Social Forum, checking my email and sipping my glass of wine, when the bartender very quietly asked, “Mettez vos pieds sur le sol s’il vous plaît” (put your feet on the floor please).

This breach of social norms is particularly significant because the Senegalese are so very well known for their social tolerance, willingness help, and high regard for relationships. I hated to think that I’d unwittingly been impolite to these amazingly accommodating people. They are so unwilling to respond, “Je ne sais pas” (I don’t know), to a question, that it is not unusual to get incorrect information – from directions to store/restaurant hours to the ingredients in food.

Senegal is a smal nation (76,000 square miles) located on the Westernmost tip of Africa; its capital, Dakar, was once the administrative center of French West Africa. Thanks to Senegal’s colonial legacy as a predominantly agricultural nation and victim of Structural Adjustment Policies, Dakar is currently poorly maintained outside of a small, upscale residential area near UCAD. Dakar was selected to host the World Social Forum, an international meeting of social movements and activists for many causes, including environment, social justice, human rights, indigenous peoples, immigrants, etc. specifically to draw attention to Africa.

DSCN0216Although Africa is, quite literally, a world a way, it’s not that much different here than in Southern California. In addition to the weather and the view of the coast, there are the budget issues, including the underfunding of public education and the inability of new graduates to find jobs – any jobs, let alone those that would be lucrative enough to help pay off student loans or otherwise. Some of these students demanded the floor during a session sponsored by the Peace Women, a contemporary incarnation of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) associated with popularizing and implementing United Nations Resolution 1325, which requires that women be included in post conflict agreements. The women sang and chanted them out.

DSCN0164Later, a UCAD student explained the protesters’ position. And he should know. A Ph.D. student in English, he is currently teaching English in a local secondary school, he says that he is “very lucky.”

Small world, indeed.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

I Arrived in Dakar, Sengal just before dawn (could see we were approaching dawn on back-of-seat map of our trip), and just as my third in-flight movie was ending.

My first impressions of Dakar? The stench. It invaded like a ghost in a low budget sci-fi movie so that I not only smelled it, but also felt it clinging to me the same way the drizzle does in England. Despite my lack of sleep and enduring the first moments of what I now understand is a level of chaos characteristic of West Africa, I spent an inordinate amount of energy picking apart the constituent parts of this new “scent.” The closest I could come is a dry, gritty combination of sweat, sewage, and exhaust.

Note that in stark contrast to the veritable seminar on disembarkation provided on-board international flights into the United States, there were absolutely no instructions provided for entry into Senegal. Rather, the airport foyer featured a long thin shelf along the wall like you’d find in an American motor vehicle office littered with disembarkation forms that my fellow passengers and I presumed should be completed before proceeding to the glass-encased immigration officer.

DSCN0089Duly welcomed to Senegal, I climbed into the complimentary shuttle to the Hotel Novotel, located in Dakar’s central business district (equidistant from the upscale Supermarché Casino and the street market), with a view of the Île de Gorée (if you spring for a premium room), and only a five-minute walk to the Place de l’Indépendence (if the street names actually match the ones on your handy tourist map). The hotel itself is overtly modern, both in the sense of standard Western accommodations and design, complete with an abundance of geometric shapes, stainless steel and glass, and stark colors – orange walls, black and white furnishings. I took this all in rapidly and headed upstairs. With only a couple of hours remaining before mustering for the march that traditionally opens the World Social Forum (WSF), I needed to rest.

399px-Minaret_mosquee_dakarThe march was scheduled to begin sometime between 1 and 3 PM near the Grande Mosquée, a short walk from the hotel by way of the Place de l’Indépendence. Accompanied by fellow WSF veterans also lodging at the Hotel Novotel, I engaged on what turned out to be an exhausting five-mile trek through the less scenic parts of Dakar to the Université Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD), where the Forum was held. Our march to the march proved to be our first experience with Senegalese hospitality. Everyone clearly wanted to help, but their directions were rarely direct, or and sometimes wrong! We navigated through one of Dakar’s larger street markets and across the Place de l’Indépendence toward the sounds of a call to prayer emanating from the Grande Mosquée. Finally, we approached what appeared to be participants gathering for the march.

DSCN0119We fell in behind a group of predominantly men in white traditional dress playing music and drums before beginning to move more quickly than the organized groups of marchers by stepping on and off the sidewalks along the march’s route. Estimates for participants in the march and other Forum events would ultimately range from 30,000 to 50,000 or, at most, a third of the last WSF in Belem, Brazil. The modest turnout in Dakar was notably dominated by women! Maybe as many as three-quarters of those marching were women from Senegal and other parts of West and North Africa. They included representatives for “peace in Casamance,” “women’s rights,” and “indigenous land rights” (la terre est notre vie). En route, we saw Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, who would speak at the rally culminating the march.

DSCN0127On campus, I was struck by the condition of the buildings up close. From a distance, they appeared typical of the 1960’s and 1970’s university (and prison) construction, but seem to have existed with little to no maintenance since then. Student housing, in particular, is particularly bad. Laundry hung outside of window frames (where there was glass, it was more often cracked or broken than not), paint was peeling, doors hung loose on their hinges, and there was trash everywhere.

We negotiated a 5,000 (CFA, African Francs) fare (about $10.50, down from the $14.50 initially demanded!) back to the hotel, only to learn that the standard fare for tourists is only 2,000 CFA.

Why doesn’t this surprise me?

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010


So…THIS is my Christmas gift from Maz this year. Yep, that would be “happy birthday” paper and duck tape. When I posted the picture on Facebook, one of my “friends” commented that Christmas is Christ’s birthday, after all. Somehow I doubt that’s what Maz had in mind. I can’t help wondering if Maz put as much time and thought into the gift as he did to the wrapping…

Wedding Vultures

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

wedding planner

Wedding Planning Part I: Wedding planners see Black and White and are very structured, aka vultures.

Seriously. A vulture is a person or thing that preys.

That’s what I feel like right now.  The drama that goes along with wedding planning!

I don’t understand why companies feel the need to squeeze every single dime out of you because “it is your wedding.” I am finding that it ISN’T your wedding at all!

Yesterday, my sisters Jeanna, Juliann, and Francine went to see my reception venue and to sign all the paperwork and finalize the date of my wedding.  All is good. They also had the opportunity to discuss in detail some of the choices I will have for MY wedding, including (pardon the paraphrasing):

Okay, here are the colors of the linens you can choose from. If you don’t like these colors, then you can go to an assigned outside vendor and pay more out of pocket to get the “right” color for you. Oh, you don’t like the beer we provide? Well, we can provide the beer you want and charge you extra. No, we won’t refund you the open bar tab that you are already paying for.  So, I am paying for an open bar and for beer that no one will drink? I will bring in some drinkable beer and you will charge me for AND charge me for the beer you provide? Oh, okay. After all, it is MY wedding.

I just get so upset with companies taking advantage of my emotions.  We want choices! Yes, it easier to get a whole package deal and this place is affordable, near the beach, and accessible to Jeanna, who’s pregnant and handling my out-of-state wedding planning.  But it’s already over our budget, and I can’t imagine spending more money to make it better.  Why can’t I provide some necessities and they can give me a refund on some of the services I won’t use?

Stay tuned for more wedding planning woes.

Side Note: I do appreciate everything Jeanna is doing and I do trust her, I am just a little emotional right now.

Cross Training Part II

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

I’m with Terri. Hiring a running coach aside, there’s likely no way to increase our chances of qualifying for the Boston Marathon other than cross-training. Not only were we just plain burned out by “just” running during our training for the 2010 San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon, but I also suffered the onset of iliotibial (IT) band pain. Certainly, cross-training will help to develop muscles oft-neglected by running exclusively, and – hopefully – prevent (additional) injury. It will also combat boredom in what promises to be yet another long, hot summer.

Terri has taken up mountain biking and bike commuting. Although my current “recovery and training” plan include biking, my tack is a little different. I’m just going “back” to how I trained for my previous marathons: biking to work as often as possible, walking nearly as many miles as I run, practicing yoga daily, rock-climbing, and getting in the pool on most of the truly hot afternoons.

Bicycle commuting: In addition to reducing the stress on my joints, generally, riding to campus and back will require me to use overlapping sets of muscles in distinct ways to help limit my chances of injury.

Balancing walking and running: Amounts to “time on my feet.” I’d just tried doubling my workouts a couple of times before my IT band started hurting, but I like the idea of increasing my cardiovascular conditioning and running economy by getting more workout in each week than there are days. For now, one of my “runs” is a fast-paced walk.

Yoga: Without it, I’d be even less balanced. In addition to increasing the frequency and duration of my practice, I’ve incorporated asanas that stretch the IT band – Pigeon, Reclining Hand Foot Pose, Square Pose – and strengthen the core.

Rock Climbing: While climbing doesn’t have a direct impact on running, it’s a great way to improve the mental fitnessmental fitness long-distance running requires.

Swimming: Another low-impact route to cardiovascular fitness and alternative way to build upper body strength. I haven’t been able to find an adult class that suits both my budget and my schedule, so I’ve been swimming pretty sad looking laps at the community pool while  kids SPLASH and play nearby.

Two weeks into it, I’m on a roll.

Dreaming of My Running Comfort Zone

Friday, June 25th, 2010

I’m probably just making myself unnecessarily miserable by even thinking about designing a training schedule for my next marathon, but what else am I supposed to do while practically at a stand-still, waiting for my knee to heal?

Both Terri and I realized before we ever reached the starting line in San Diego that we weren’t having nearly as much fun running as we used to. We talked about cross-training, and I started reading about the mental foundations of running, especially as it might relate to running a faster marathon. Among the blogs, books, and magazine articles I’ve been reading, Matt Fitzgerald’s RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel hit on a couple of points - in addition to running A LOT and ENJOYING every run - that got me thinking.

p1_mammothOne of these really hit a nerve: comfort. Fitzgerald argues that in addition to familiar, repetitive training programs, your entire lifestyle can be used to create a comfort zone to foster the psychological momentum necessary for reaching running goals. Indeed. Just listening (internally, as I read) to long distance champion Deena Kastor describe her daily routine lulled me right into a marathon PR:

I wake up at 6:00 AM and then eat breakfast and then take the dog for a walk…As soon as I get back, my husband will stretch me out and get me ready for practice. At 8:30 AM everybody meets for practice. Whether it’s a hard day or an easy day, I’m usually back at around 11:00 or 11:30 AM. I’ll eat a snack and then take an ice bath and then eat lunch right afterwards. Then I take a nap. When I wake up, I eat another snack, walk the dog again, and do my second run. At 4:30 PM I meet my trainer at the athletic club for a gym session. Then I come home and prepare dinner for my husband and myself.”

Wow! If only.

And note those second, and third (at the gym) workouts. Fitzgerald emphasizes the value of multiple runs, in addition to gym workouts and/or plyometrics, in a single day. I have a hard time getting ONE run in, and it’s rarely packaged in the arcadian routine Fitzgerald suggests is optimal for improving mind-body connection and increasing speed. He does emphasize that in addition to living in the runners’ haven of  Mammoth Lake, “Kastor “makes a good living as a runner and has no children.” No?!

Today, I got up and walked the dog too! This trek necessarily “counted” as my first workout. Then I stretched, completely unaided, before getting on with a day that included supervising the kids’ chores, preparing two meals, completing heaps of school- and business-related busy work, chauffeuring the kids to their activities, and last-minute shopping for Fathers’ Day. All day, I sincerely thought about a second workout, but it’s after 11 PM now. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

Flexible (Marathon) Goal Adjustment

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Or “How I Made Peace with ‘Wogging’ the 2010 San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.”

Ignore for a moment my lack of mental fitness on the morning of the marathon. (That is, I very rationally, albeit pessimistically, believed that only a miracle would get me to the finish line.) My goal was to finish the marathon in as close to four hours as possible. Before I stopped to use the bathroom somewhere during the second mile, I’d fallen behind the 4:00 pace group, but I managed to keep up with the 4:15 pace group for 12 miles. Then my knee locked up. It took me six hours - only 5:29, if you discount the half hour I spent with paramedics along the route, discussing the pros, cons, and possibility of catching a shuttle to the end. That I managed do so with a smile on my face and increasing appreciation for marathon walkers is testament to the power and merits of flexible goal adjustment.

Flexible goal adjustment is an accommodative coping strategy that involves “downgrading” goals or expectations when they become clearly unattainable. It is strongly associated with levels of psychological well-being needed to avoid depression when faced with physical injury, pain, and/or disability. In my case, the now-familiar nagging pain associated with Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) prompted me to “downgrade” my gait from respectable running pace, to “wog,” or a kind of quick walk-jog that felt like a walk to me, but enabled me to pass a lot of marathon walkers. I was severely disappointed, even teary-eyed as a I reluctantly agreed to sit down on the back of the paramedic’s truck at mile 16 and put an ice pack on my knee. Three miles later, I’d resigned myself to “walking” the remainder of the marathon and – slowly – began to enjoy myself.

It was wild. I’m far from shaking my attachment to “the "idea that I am a runner",  yet once I let go of the idea that I was going to run that particular marathon, I settled into a respectable pace that generated a bearable level of pain. Almost simultaneously, the heat abated, I could feel the ocean breeze, and I could hear people around me talking to one another, stopping to take pictures along the way, laughing at the aid-station themes, and encouraging one another – after all, 26 miles is a really, really long way when you know it could take the whole day and not just a few hours. Who knew the actual marathon, as opposed to the starting line festivities and other, associated events and activities could be so much fun?

I’m nowhere near ready to hang up my running shoes or abandon my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, but I’m now fairly certain that if the day ever comes when I can no longer experience the many joys of running, I will be able to experience the joys that accompany any number of other athletic pursuits.