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.
Thankfully, 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.
After 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.
After 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!)
Consequently, 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.