Heather in Senegal

Friday, March 21, 2008

Weavers have the best work places of anyone around here. They set their looms in a brush of mango trees, moving up hill through the year as the field beside them floods. It is quiet in the weavers's grove, save the sounds of passing animals and the clacking of thin wood hitting wood, coming from the pedals and, I think, the yarn-wrapped sticks the men toss through the weave (I appologize for my lack of terminology). To me their looms look like brilliant contraptions of economy. With stunningly little wood and metal they construct foot-powered weaving machines. They stretch their yarn maybe 200 feet ahead of them in the sand. As a man creates fabric he rolls it onto a spool in his lap.
In Dakar I have seen weavers working on busy sidewalks. While the men in Kolda only make a plain white cloth, weavers in Dakar employ young boys to help with patterns. As the men work the pedals and toss the yarn back and forth through the weave, the boys, one per machine, insert and remove cards at lightening speed, changing the colors that are encorporated in each row, creating beautifuly geometric paterns.
Ordinarily people are delighted when I want to take their pictures. The most common complaint I get when I take out my camera concerns not giving people fair warning and time to change into their fancy clothing. The weavers, however, were a stickier bunch. The first man I chatted up demanded cash. He scoffed at my offered sum and wouldn't suggest an amount, so with a dozen men in the mango grove, I walked away. The second, after the usual greetings and teasings about my becoming his third wife, asked about my religion. He was not hostile to Judaism, but he said I really should be Muslim. When I asked about taking photos he said he would only allow it if I first prayed like a Muslim. Ibrahima, the boy in the photograph was by far the youngest of the weavers. I expected him to follow his elders's model, but instead found him shy but agreeable about being photographed.

Nov 1
Everything is finally drying after the rains, so people are now burning the trash that collected all summer, and then setting extra fires to get rid of termites and other bugs. The air around town stinks. I can't bike anywhere without going through a few clouds of foul smoke. It was gratifying to have a conversation about this with an old man whom I'm friends with. He agreed it's absurd how many fires are going these days, as well as the things people are burning. Tires, batteries, plastic, anything. "Don't they know about cancer?" he asked. Many of the streams of smoke make my nose burn.
Along with the start of the dry season and its smoke comes the cold weather. Never mind the actual temperature, it feels cold to me. I've had the sniffles for weeks. Locals have been laughing at how badly I'm handling the cold. My sister and I had a wonderful exchange about this yesterday. My sniffles grown into a fever, and I've been bumbling around in a fuzzy blanket and a ski hat. I went outside to sit in the sun and warm up, and found she was heating tea for herself. The changing weather made her sick too. She completely understood when I said the cold was making my body feel like it's closing, and that I missed the way my body opens in the hotter months. She bemoaned the lousy weather situation of Senegal, how we get months and months of heat followed by a sudden cold spell, too brief to allow acclimatization, just long enough to mess with us and make us unhappy when the heat returns. I'm suspect that back in my NY life this temperature would've been cause for shorts, but now I am bonding with my Senegalese sister about how we wish the sun would hurry up and return us to the warm sweaty weather in which our bodies thrive. Hurrah for acclimatization.