Heather in Senegal

Monday, May 22, 2006

May 11,
On Monday I went to an art gallery near my house to buy a painting as a wedding gift for Osei, my friend in NY. I’ve visited the gallery before, and I really like the artist’s style. He uses bright bursts of colors, oil paints I think, and it looks like the paint is laid on very quickly. He makes swirling bubbling backrounds, and above that he has women with bowls on their heads, boys playing, or musicians. I had hoped to buy and mail one of his paintings on glass, but he was certain it would arrive in shards. The women are lovely, and the musicians are fitting for Osei, a guitarist, but I liked the playing boys best. The artist, Issa, had none on paper in the size I wanted, so he agreed to make one for me. He told me to come pick it up the next day. On Tuesday I sped to his gallery after school. The painting was not ready but it was a great visit. I had my violin on my back, and the artist asked what it was. This led to me asking if he played anything, and soon I was harmonizing with his guitar strumming. We played together for about thirty minutes, during which another man stood by listening, (inspiring in me a brief fantasy about him being connected to someone like Baba Mal and inviting me to quit Peace Corps and go on tour with the band.) Mostly we improvised, but also Issa taught me the melody to a Senegalese lullaby. When I started accompanying him I was in tune with myself but not with him. This forced me to find a position on my violin where my hand would play notes to match his, but where I could not comfortably name the notes. My improv teacher in Atlanta suggested doing this, or retuning the violin to something other than a series of fifths, to force myself to lose some degree of familiarity with the violin and thus approach it instrument slightly differently. It worked. The playing ended with us both enthusiastic about doing it again. Wednesday the Urban Aggies went Youssepha’s house for dinner. Youssepha is our trainer, and he’s a sweet, softspoken, huge, very enthusiastic man. To hear him speak, his life is full of nearly exclusively extremely wonderful people and opportunites. He has been talking of having us over for a while now, so last week when he asked what we wanted to do in our last week of training, I said I wanted to eat at his house. I liked taking a tour of his house, meeting his family, seeing him play with his three year old daughter, and eating the veg plate specially prepared for me, but the best parts of the evening were getting to talk with him and getting to play violin. He had asked that I bring my violin, and after dinner he invited his family into the room where we were eating so they could listen. I played a few very short tunes solo, and then played sing-a-long tunes for the rest of the night, ranging from “the chicken dance,” to songs from “the sound of music,” to 1980’s pop music. Very strange to find myself in Senegal playing accompaniment to a gang of folks singing Madonna. I had so much fun. Today the compliments Youssepha gave me from his wife felt merrily like a love song. It’s a pleasure to hear I’m liked.Today I went back to Issa’s to pick up the painting. I unintentionally arrived just before he, another artist, and a young boy were about to eat lunch. For them it was a foregone conclusion that I would eat with them and then play violin. When I told them I had just eaten, they laughed and told me that in Africa if you are at someone’s house at lunch, you must sit and eat. So I sat and ate. We talked of things like African authors, the cultural mix of French, Islamic, and Senegalese culture in Senegal, the value of creating art, and NYC. At least, I think these were the topics. I did my best to nod and smile at the appropriate times. Occasionally I would confess that I did not understand and ask for a repetition, but I’ve realized I find such interactions more pleasant and enjoyable if I stop fighting my confusion and just accept it as my natural state in Senegal. After my second lunch of the day, Issa and I played music for a while, stopping only when another artist offered us a plate of sliced mangos. When I left with Osei’s painting, Issa gave me two handpainted greeting cards for free. I’m loving playing violin here.


At 7:53 AM, Blogger alau said...

I think one of the most important things that traveling teaches us that, no matter how much you know, no matter how smart you are, there are always going to be things you don't know. And that's ok. Confusion is an underrated state of mind.


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