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.


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