Tooting My Vuvuzela

What else is a proud mama to do?  Our oldest son, Jordan, is now a month into his southern Africa summer adventure.  He finished his freshman year at the University of California at Berkeley in mid-May and a few days later, departed LAX for Johannesburg, SA.  Jordan has spent the past four weeks traveling in Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Swaziland.  Now, he is probably on a bus heading back to Jo’burg.  We’ll meet him there next Tuesday, for a family vacation and plenty of World Cup action.  For the past few months, Jordan has worked as a reporter for the Daily Californian, Berkeley’s newspaper.  Here you’ll find a list of his articles.  While on the road this summer, he’s posting to the newspaper’s travel blog.  Here’s his first installment.

Trials of Travel

By Jordan Bach-Lombardo June 16, 2010 | 9:29 pm
Posted in: Africa

When I return in the fall, people will want to hear about the awe-inducing power of Victoria Falls and see pictures of the crags and plains of Mount Mulanje and of elephants crossing the Zambezi River.  But what probably won’t be related is the work it took to reach these amazing and often remote locations.  Such stories tend to describe discomfort and decaying patience and are usually only brought up as horror stories.  But to write a true travel blog, and not just one for destinations, the ardor of travel must be acknowledged side-by-side with its joy, for without one there is not the sense of accomplishment that accompanies the other.

Almost four full weeks of my trip around southern Africa have elapsed (So far I have gone through Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique and am heading towards Swaziland and South Africa in the next few days.), and the ultimate combination of toil and triumph to this point has undeniably been the excursion to South Luangwe National Park.  The park’s situation between the Muchinga Escarpment and Luangwe River in Eastern Zambia places it 715km from Lusaka by road (A “torturous” trip, as our indispensable friends at Lonely Planet say) and $220 away by plane, a price which even for the shoestring college student dangled sorely tempting in front of my as my patience and backside still hadn’t entirely recuperated by the beginning of the return leg.

The trek began early on a Thursday morning when we broke down the tent before dawn to arrive at the bus depot by six for our seven o’clock departure (this per the advice of the bus company employee from whom we bought the tickets the night before).  When we arrive at the station, we found the bus already idling and the seats a third full, an excellent omen which portended a possible timely departure.  What was left of these hopes completely sublimated around 9:30 when most of the “passangers” got up and left.  (They had been paid to fill the seats and make the coach appear more full to attract passengers.)  At 10:15, as the third bus to Chipata left since we had been sitting on the stationary coach, any hope of reaching the park disappeared and we resigned ourselves to losing a day.  Several games of chess and a few arguments with the bus owner later, we finally pulled out of the bus station, six and a half hours after what we thought was the departure time.

To be continued…  Click here.


Teaching 101: 1 x 1

One of the best parts of being a teacher is working with students individually.

A popular student study spot, in the shade of a law faculty parking lot.

Classroom teaching is fun, of course.  I’ve enjoyed this year’s classes in human rights, comparative health law, and climate change.  Putting the syllabi and readings together, conducting class discussion (as I do my best to reorient the students from the system of dictée), and writing and grading essay exams – all in French – has been a challenge but a welcomed one.  Per my first impressions, the students are marvelous:  motivated, industrious, and always kind to me.

Future subject for a memoire? Burning UCAD trash.

Since finishing my last seminar, I’ve served on several master’s juries.  These take place so that 5th year students may present and defend their memoires or master’s essays.  I enjoyed reading them, with topics ranging from sanitation programs in Pikine, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Dakar, and the bioethical implications of minors giving consent to pharmaceutical trials, to environmental regulation of the Port of Dakar and the governance of cross-boundary waterway conflicts on the Senegal and Niger Rivers.  Suffice to say, in preparing for these sessions, I learned a great deal about Senegalese environmental and health law, which provided more context for my research of the country’s climate change laws.  Conducting the juries gave me more insight into the instructional program.

At the Dakar Millenium Rotary Club, with student Dr. Omar Fall (to my right) cheering me on.

Helping the environmental health law students organize their June 5th celebration of World Environment Day gave me an opportunity to work with them outside the classroom and within the larger context of the university.  Lots of insights about them and their place within UCAD, as well as opportunities to talk about their next educational steps.  Likewise individual advising I’ve done on their masters essays and recommendation writing I’ve done for their scholarship applications.  Giving a talk about U.S. health care reform at a local Rotary Club came from a request of  a student in my Comparative Health Law class.

Binta Awa Toure, listening to a translated lecture and taking notes.

All terrific ways of getting to know individual students better AND for them to work one-on-one with a professor.  One student continually comments “you do too much for me.”  To which I reply, “no, I’m only doing my job.”  Whether it’s due to the crushing student numbers (recall 9,000 in the first year) or the plethora of consulting opportunities (government, UN, NGO) or the “culture” of student-teacher relations, the bottom line is that professors do not spend much time with students individually.  And so ANY amount of my time spent doing this is seen as “spoiling” them. Tiens!

I’ve come to work with two students closely in the past few months.  Binta Awa Toure was a student in my first FJSP class at the Human Rights and Peace Institute/Institut des Droits de l’Homme et de la Paix (the one conducted without electricity).  She was one of the handful of women in the class and was quiet even among this small group.  When she spoke, it was with clarity and thoughtfulness.  After the last class, I caught her alone and told her that I knew that she was a very intelligent and serious student, from whom I would’ve liked to have heard more.

Binta Awa with Tom and Diane Geraghty.

Months later, when a friend who works for Unicef told me about a research project on child-friendly legal assistance in Africa, I immediately thought of Binta Awa’s passion for children’s rights.  She researched and wrote a terrific memo for U.S. law professors Tom and Diane Geraghty about conditions in Senegal, who then included her work in their own.  Moreover she was invited to attend a recent UNDPUnicef rule of law workshop for its regional partners, where she met people working in Unicef (a dream job) from Mali and Burkina Faso to Mozambique and Zimbabwe.  We both hope that these experiences will lead to an internship where she can marry her honed legal skills with her passion for protecting children.

Saa Pascal Tenguiano is one of the responsables for the environmental health law masters program.  He is also a very serious student.  (Which makes sense, for I recently learned that these class leaders are chosen based on grades from the previous year.)

Pascal accepting his scholarship from the foundation president.

Pascal is determined to continue on to a PhD and to receive funding to do so.  Happily, he’s been successful!  In March he asked me to be his encadreur or advisor for research and memoire-level writing on regional fishing law and climate change for REPAO (Réseau sur les politiques de Pêche en Afrique de l’Ouest). This non-profit organization seeks to develop West African researchers and scholars in a variety of disciplines who are focused on sustainable and coherent fishing policy in the region, and so offers scholarships to both masters and doctoral students.  Pascal (and I) honed his thesis and methodology for the year-long project.  I attended a fascinating meeting held at REPAO (and explored a new neighborhood in Dakar) with other scholarship recipients and their advisors, where we were the only lawyers at the table.

"Getting by with a little help from my friends."

More recently, Pascal honored me with an invitation to a ceremony where he accepted a scholarship from the Kéba Mbaye Foundation.  Kéba Mbaye was the president of the Supreme Court of Senegal for almost two decades and a member of the International Court of Justice.  The foundation honors his legacy by supporting promising law students.

Despite the odds – first year classes with thousands of students, lack of amenities like books, toilets, and electricity, hundreds of hours lost to navigating administrative mazes and seeking out professors, to name a few –  these students stand ready to lead the next generation of Africans.

Journée mondiale de l’environnement

While we in the United States tend to celebrate Earth Day in April and then call it a year, most of the rest of the world also celebrates World Environment Day (WED) or la Journée Mondiale de l’Environnement (JEM) on June 5.  Created by the United Nations in 1972, the year of the Stockholm conference:

WED is one of the principal vehicles through which the UN stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and encourages political attention and action.  Through WED, we are able to give a human face to environmental issues and enable people to realize not only their responsibility, but also their power to become agents for change in support of sustainable and equitable development. WED is also a day for advocating partnerships among all stakeholders or perhaps, even more correctly, among all species living on this one planet and sharing a common future.”

Unbeknownst to me here in Senegal, my last African home, Rwanda, served as this year’s global host.  Again according to the UN, “Rwanda, this year’s global host for WED, organized a vivid celebration in the Volcanoes National Park that brought together a Hollywood star, the Rwandan President, environmentalists and businesses alongside 30,000 people.”  For more details about the day, including Rwanda’s green economic growth initiatives, see here.

We here at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal celebrated la journée mondiale de l’environnement last Saturday with a day-long program of activities (see photos in gallery at right).  The morning began with a tree planting (actually done the day before; Saturday was more of an instant replay for picture-taking purposes) and set setal or clean-up.  Then there was an expo of student work on biodiversity, this year’s theme, with individuals presenting posters on their research ranging from definition and examples of biodiversity in Senegal and green economics to mangrove restoration and the laws governing biodiversity.

After lunch, a group of panelists from NGOs, government, and the university presented their perspectives on gestion de la biodiversité et developpement durable en Afrique or biodiversity management and sustainable development in Africa.  Modou Thiam spoke about conservation and biodiversity management, focusing on his research of coastal fishing for GIRMAC or Gestion Intégrée des Ressources Marines et Côtiéres.  Ablaye Ndiaye of Wetlands International focused on land-based conservation efforts, both here and in other African countries.

My colleague at the Faculté des sciences juridiques et politiques, Ibrahima Ly, presented a comprehensive comparative review of African biodiversity laws, noting the differences between civil and common law countries.  Marie-Christine Cormier-Salem, a researcher at the Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement (IRD), spoke about biodiversity and sustainable development at the local community level.  She offered the term glocalisation to indicate the decentralization efforts to put natural resource management into the hands of various levels of local authorities.  Each presenter taught the 200+ attendees a great deal and a lively debate ensued, both as a group and individually at the reception that followed. Thanks goodness for the moderator, Moctar Niang, former director of the Centre de Suivie Ecologique and in the Ministry of Water and Forests, whose firm hand on the time coupled with an easy going manner kept the trains running more or less on schedule.

The celebration continued into this week, when the law students I had in my last class, Les aspects juridiques des changements climatiques, organized a showing of Home (see photos in gallery at right).  This film, based on the aerial photos of French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, presents a stunning concrete visualization of the planet’s biodiversity and human impact on it.  (Some would say that this film presents the equivalent call to arms for French audiences that Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was to the U.S.  While the take-home message is similar, they are night and day in feel.)  A lively debate ensued after the two-hour film, with a common theme about needing to learn more about what Senegalese can do about climate change and what actions these students could take.  A promising outcome is the number of students who attended – some 50 – during the middle of a Thursday at the busy close of the semester.  Student leaders hope to channel this energy into a relatively new NGO, Association Sénégalaise pour la Defense de l’Environnement or ASDE, based at the faculty.

And so la Journée Mondiale de l’Environnement 2010 comes to a close in Dakar, with a promise of continuing impact beyond this one Saturday.

Earning Sovereign Trust

Interesting op-ed in the NYT today (6/12/10) by Pomona College African politics professor Pierre Englebert, entitled “To Save Africa, Reject Its Nations.”  He (admittedly radically) advocates derecognizing African countries that perform poorly in delivering basic democratic norms to its people (defined as safety and “basic rights”).  On the ground this means that the United Nations and other international organizations would expel non-performing states.  Bilateral relations, as conducted through reciprocal embassies, would also shut down. And with both, the macroeconomic, budget-supporting and post-conflict reconstruction aid programs that keep these regimes afloat.

Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Sudan are Englebert’s poster children.  His thesis results from a clear-eyed look at the track record of 50 years of independence celebrated by many African countries (including Senegal) this year:  Because modern African states were recognized immediately upon independence by the international community, they gained instantaneous status as sovereign nations without developing internal habits of sovereign responsibilities to its citizens.  As Englebert frames it:

“[B]ecause these countries were recognized by the international community before they even really existed, because the gift of sovereignty was granted from outside rather than earned from within, it came without the benefit of popular accountability, or even a social contract between rulers and citizens. Buttressed by the legality and impunity that international sovereignty conferred upon their actions, too many of Africa’s politicians and officials twisted the normal activities of a state beyond recognition, transforming mundane tasks like policing, lawmaking and taxation into weapons of extortion.  So, for the past five decades, most Africans have suffered predation of colonial proportions by the very states that were supposed to bring them freedom. And most of these nations, broke from their own thievery, are now unable to provide their citizens with basic services like security, roads, hospitals and schools.”

Interesting proposition, but a bit too radical for my taste.  Aren’t civil society organizations, both international and grassroots national varieties, working internally to build these norms of democratic responsibility, to forge a modern social contract in each state?  Isn’t that what most of the aid dollar is really spent on, in the end, whether seeking improved security, transport, health care, and education – the personal tools of independent judgment and engaged accountability that, when collectively exercised, lead to good governance?  This is very hard work.  NGOs in the trenches do amazing things day and out to light these democratic fires.  I’ve seen my fair share in Senegal.  50 years on, I think the horse is well out of the barn when it comes to recognizing African sovereignty.  Instead, I’d advocate using international norm-setting tools like the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)  and international and regional institutions like the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the African Union (AU) to correct the extreme cases of African countries who have not earned their peoples’ trust and thus not lived up to the world’s gift of sovereign recognition.

Ahhhhhhh Attaya

Attaya is the Senegalese tea drinking ritual.

I’ve seen it labeled as a ceremony, but for me that formal-sounding word conjures up visions of tea-time in England and Japanese tea ceremonies. Instead, here you see attaya preparation and degustation everywhere:  on sidewalks, in gargottes or improvised street-side restos, in formal restaurants and homes, all day and all evening.  For me, attaya will forever be associated with my work day at CREDILA.

Wherever it is served, a constant is that it always appears in three rounds. The first is strong and bitter, the second more sweet with a little mint, and the third, very sweet.  Why?  Ah, there appear to be as many explanations as there are attaya makers in Senegal.

Mbaye Faille, CREDILA attaya maker par excellence, in the staff room.

One blogger wrote that attaya’s three rounds are “supposed to reflect friendship: The longer we’re together the sweeter it grows.”

Another turned more literary, citing to a passage from Native Stranger: A Black American’s Journey into the Heart of Africa (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), where Eddy L. Harris learns why Gambians always have three cups of tea:

“Do you know why we always drink three cups of tea?” Peter asked. “And do you know why the first cup is always the sweetest?”
I slurped my tea.
“No, why?”
“The first cup is the love of your mother. The second is the love of your friends. The third is the love of your love.”
I laughed.
“It’s true,” he said. “Ask anybody.”
(The Misfortune in Men’s Eyes)

A third blogger I located, a young Dakarois back from university in the States, gives his darker, modern spin to attaya’s social significance:  “Why do young able Senegalese men drink and make tea all day and all night? BECAUSE THEY HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO! and because it tastes good…The unemployment rate in Senegal is about 46%. Schools are multiplying, so are young people with numerous diplomas. We have the most qualified and unemployed people ever…. So what do we do? We drink tea to keep ourselves busy, to kill time, to be useful to someone and get recognition for it: there is often a designed tea maker who just seems to have special tricks that make their tea taste better. That person is often praised and asked to make some more. He is the man and we not drinking if he is not making it… For that person, tea isn’t just a hobby, it is a lifestyle!”

A fourth blogger provides some history and personal observation that rings true with my experience of the past 9 months of attaya drinking.

“Attaya’s variation really depends on who brews the best attaya. The dry leaf measurement, sugar, water all has to be proportionate to the number of people drinking it, The leaves are bitter so the outcome of the taste too depends on whether it should be made strong, medium weight or light like some chamomile tea. Making it requires some skill.  Whatever the outcome, the taste of the attaya will largely depend on the brewer.

Attaya occasions can be simple, often behind house under mango trees, or elaborate at naming ceremonies. Attaya sessions are good past times for family members and friends. Best served after lunch, especially after palm oil stew, beef stew or peanut butter soup. It is high in caffeine and can be used as an energy drink but if taken in an empty stomach, can cause stomach upsets, nausea or some sleeplessness if taken taken late evening.

Night watchmen, drink attaya to keep them awake and the brewing scent can send robbers and night mischiefs away.”

Her comments about time and conversation surrounding the tea drinking/slurping parallel my little universe.  “All 3 rounds of attaya can be made in an hour or three hours. But it’s best to have at least 40 minutes in-between.  . . . Some drink quietly and others will slurp noisily depending on how good they think it tastes. You will be commended if it tastes good. Others will complain if it’s too strong and others if it’s too weak. After the three rounds no matter what the outcome, you will hear all kinds of stories, mostly depressing, some inspiring and others outright incomprehensible. Every story gets audience over attaya. Wonderful wonderful feeling. You all can call it a day!!”

Pierre Thiam, owner of a Senegalese restaurant in Brooklyn called Le Grand Dakar and author of Yolele, a Senegalese cookbook that we brought with us, describes les trois normaux in symbolic terms of life’s three stages:  the first is bitter like life; the second is sweet like love; and the third is gentle like the breath of death.

Having witnessed up close and personal the Senegalese passion for talking and expressing one’s opinions, I am confidant that all of these versions are “true.” I remain smitten by the one I (think I) first heard:  the first round is bitter like death (amère comme la mort), the second is gentle like life (doue comme la vie), and the third is sweet like love (sucré comme l’amour).  Eh bien.

Attaya at CREDILA is an institution.  Our attaya maker is Mbaye Faille, who I think is one of the law faculty gardeners.  He shows up in the late morning/early afternoon and starts the process of gathering water, firing up the hotplate, and washing the small glasses used both to make and serve the tea.  Even if I miss his entrance, my ears perk up when I hear the tinkle of glasses jostling one another in the wash bucket.

People from around the faculty start to drift in.  Secretaries from adjoining offices, other buildings and grounds workers, the center chauffeur and security guards form the core group.  Newcomers regularly come and go, with the degrees of separation from CREDILA employees not more than two or three.

I know their faces and voices more than their names and positions.  Mostly their voices, for the object of attaya is talking.  My afternoons of reading and writing at CREDILA or meeting with students is against this backdrop of Wolof wafting from the break room.  Back and forth debate is the norm.  Raucous laughs regularly punctuate the conversation.  Sometimes angry outbursts occur, but are short lived and eventually translated into laughter before returning to equilibrium.  French words sprinkled here and there catch my attention.  My three glasses are served to me while I work, as well as to other faculty members who stay in their offices during this 2 – 3 hour break.

At first, the CREDILA attaya posse hesitated to include me in the ritual.  They worried that the first glass would be too strong and asked me repeatedly if I preferred skipping straight to the second.  I’m drinking the second glass as I write.  Its minty taste with just a touch of sugar is my favorite.  (I see Mbaye coming back between rounds 1 and 2 with a bunch of mint in hand, and keep my eye out for the secret patch somewhere in the weedy courtyard.) Nonetheless I drink all three when I’m here, for you can’t really know sweetness unless you’ve drunk the bitter.

My first big hurdle was trusting the boiling process to kill whatever could make an afternoon in a faculty sans working toilets unpleasant. The three sticky, brown stained glasses are used by everyone, in shifts.  The washing in between is perfunctory, and in water from the tap.  So far, so good to the last drop.

I also had to learn to do drink attaya correctly.  My usual practice is to watch everyone else (e.g. hang back at a market and figure out what locals pay, watch others signal the car rapide driver where to stop) and mimic.  Given that I can be a bit focused on my work, it actually took me a week or so to realize that Mbaye was checking regularly on the half full glass lingering at my side, for many minutes on end.  Yikes, with only 3 glasses, the point is not to savor! You drink it efficiently so that others may use the glass and savor the time in between rounds by talking at length.

Vincent savoring the second glass.

But when it comes to attaya drinking, I learned just as much by listening as watching.  Rather than taking dainty sips bit by bit, one uses the frothy top or mousse to buffer your lips and tongue as you draw in the piping hot liquid with a loud slurp.  I love doing this, if nothing else because my kids would die laughing seeing me so out of character.  I also had a great time explaining to colleagues how making this sound in the U.S. wouldn’t go over so well.

Although I rarely enter the inner sanctum, I do pop my head in occasionally when returning my glass (a practice that Mbaye has come to accept, even though his preference is to serve me at the table and pick up the empties).  We were low in numbers last Friday, when I took all these pictures. Vincent and I were in the middle of a vigorous debate about American society and capitalism when the second glass arrived, and so I joined the circle for the last two rounds.  It’s a lovely thing, especially as departure deadlines loom, to let go of my Western work of ideas and reason and focus instead on the Senegalese travail of maintaining social relations.

Me slurping with abandon, yet unable to suppress the pinky.

Here’s a recipe for attaya offered at this blogger’s site, that looks to be adapted from Thiam’s cookbook.

Round one (Lewel)
In a small tea pot (brada) put one cup water, 1 small glass (Kas) of sugar, and 1 small glass (kas) of tea leaves (warga). Set the pot on the fuurnu (small grill or gas burner) and bring the mix to a boil. Remove from heat and pour some of the content into each of the four small glasses. Begin pouring the liquid back and forth between the glasses until each glass has foam on it. Keeping the foam in the glasses, pour the liquid back into the brada and bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and pour into the glasses. Mix again until foam is even bigger then serve round one.

Mbaye enjoying the fruits of his labor.

Round two (Niarel)
Add water to the brada (warga should still be in the pot). Add mint leaves (nana) and/or pastilles (a mint candy similar to gum drops) to the pot. Bring to a boil. Add two generous kas of sugar, bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and pour some of the content into each of the four small glasses. Begin pouring the liquid back and forth between the glasses until each glass has foam on it. Keeping the foam in the glasses, pour the liquid back into the brada and bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and pour into the glasses. Mix again until foam is even bigger then serve round two.

Round three (Nietel)
Add water and a little more warga to the pot. Add mint leaves (nana) and/or pastilles to the pot (be generous, this is the yummy round!). Bring to a boil. Add three generous kas of sugar and bring again to a boil. Remove from heat and pour some of the content into each of the four small glasses. Begin pouring the liquid back and forth between the glasses until each glass has foam on it. Keeping the foam in the glasses, pour the liquid back into the brada and bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and pour into the glasses. Mix again until foam is even bigger then serve round three.

What’s law got to do with it?

Yes, Tina Turner is crooning plaintively on the sound track in my head.  Nine months in, pushing myself to draw tentative conclusions from my research on how Senegalese law is adapting to international climate change law.  My first impression of law’s otherness in Senegalese culture keeps resurfacing.  In other words, what’s law got to do with it, got to do with it?

Initial introductions and explanation of my interest in climate change elicited questions about technical solutions like cloud seeding and biofuels.

The new global masters program in development practice at UCAD barely mentions law in its description of an interdisciplinary curriculum.

National plans to implement UNFCCC obligations/opportunities, created by Senegal in conjunction with UN bodies and NGOs, include one short paragraph on legal aspects. That then appears to be forgotten.

Women protesting in front of the National Assembly mid-May in support of a gender parity law.

Meetings with government policy makers lead to discussion of the cadre juridique (legal framework) for specific climate change policy development, but then dead end because the bill setting this out has not yet been passed by the national assembly – and until then, it’s a secret!

Planning for our university’s celebration of World Environment Day (la Journée mondiale de l’environnement, the UN’s equivalent of Earth Day), an environmental studies institute of geographers, biologists, and other hard and soft scientists has a difficult time making space in its program and planning for the lawyers.

While helping the Senegalese defense team for an arrested and imprisoned American, the judges follow the extradition statute’s dictates on proof and proceedings, but then bar the attorneys from attending and representing their client.

Is law but a second-hand discipline?  Just a handmaiden to policy (maybe philosophy in another era), often equated with politics, which is really just words without actions behind them?  In a country with a dependent judiciary (inherited from the French tradition – judges report up to the Minister of Justice, who is named by the President), how does the rule of law become established? Survive? Engender respect? Inspire adherence?  Pull us out of the mire of constantly bending rules based on who is in power and who one knows?

The CREDILA cabinet housing JOs.

Senegal has LOTS of laws on paper.  I sit surrounded by them every day in my research center.  Yellowed pieces of paper in a ribbon-tied folder, JOs (Journal Officiel, the equivalent of the Congressional Record and U.S. Code combined) with broken bindings, are dusty soft-covered compendiums paid for by foreign donors.

Senegal has signed and ratified lots of international treaties too.  The JO is littered with presidential orders recognizing them as the supreme law of the land.  Various ministry websites, as well as those of the NGOs, display plans and strategies resulting from well-intentioned workshops and conferences aimed at transplanting international obligations and best practices into the national legal culture.  And there they sit, waiting.

Dak’Art 2010

Just when I thought it was safe to focus on that last month of work, the visual arts stepped in to complete the sensory sweep in culturally simmering Senegal these days.

Dak’Art 2010 is the 9th Biennial Contemporary African Art show.  It opened on May 7 to great fanfare and daily events, and will close on June 7.

From the Biennale’s websiteUnique manifestation d’envergure en Afrique à consacrer exclusivement sa sélection aux artistes vivant sur et hors du continent, la Biennale de Dakar poursuit son chemin. Instituée depuis 1989 avec une première édition dédiée aux Lettres en 1990, elle sera réservée à l’art contemporain lors de la deuxième édition avant d’être définitivement consacrée à la création africaine contemporaine à partir de 1996. La toute première édition de DAK’ART date alors de 1992.

As Biennale Director Ousseynou Wade explores the show’s past and future more deeply, given this year’s theme, Dak’Art 1990-2101: Retrospectives-Perspectives:

Il y a déjà quatorze ans, la biennale de Dakar entreprenait une mutation importante. La biennale des Arts et des Lettres cède définitivement la place à la Biennale de l’Art Africain Contemporain. Cette mutation a généralement été bien accueillie aussi bien sur le continent qu’en dehors de l’Afrique. La communauté artistique disposait désormais d’un espace de communication et de légitimation.

Il s’agissait moins d’un repli sur soi que de l’expression d’une réponse à de nombreuses attentes légitimes, celles de voir l’Afrique s’engager résolument dans la définition et la mise en oeuvre de stratégies pour la promotion de ses productions cultuelles et des auteurs de celles-ci. De nombreux acteurs de la scène artistique, de par le monde, ont activement pris part aux instances de la biennale aux côtés de leurs homologues africains.

Le dialogue autour de la production africaine, entretenu au sein de ces instances comme au sein des rencontres professionnelles de la biennale de Dakar, a beaucoup participé, depuis, à élargir de façon notable la place des artistes africains sur la scène internationale. Pour la rétrospective, il est important de saluer le travail remarquable de femmes et d’hommes de qualité qui ont permis à Dak’Art de figurer en bonne place dans l’agenda culturel international. Ils sont commissaires d’exposition, collectionneurs, responsables de musée et de galerie, critiques d’art ou amateurs.

La Biennale de Dakar n’a que vingt ans pourtant. Elle se maintient par la volonté de l’Etat du Sénégal qui en est l’initiateur. Elle se réalise avec la convergence de plusieurs volontés, individuelles et collectives. Elle doit une reconnaissance méritée à Iba Ndiaye et Paul Ahyi les maîtres qui nous ont quittés à quatre-vingts ans, respectivement en 2008 et en 2010. Dak’Art est aussi reconnaissante à Amadou Gueye Ngom dont les lignes qui avaient été sollicitées de lui pour le catalogue du 20ème anniversaire de la biennale n’auront pas eu le temps d’être écrites.

Le temps est aujourd’hui venu de considérer toutes ces énergies positives pour mettre en perspective les nouveaux enjeux de la biennale de Dakar. Les prémisses sont bien prometteuses. Elles se situent dans une mobilisation de plus en plus grande du secteur privé local. On les retrouve dans la permanence du soutien de nombreux partenaires. Elles sont aussi au niveau de la communauté artistique qui investit de façon intelligente les contours de la Biennale avec des projets qui transcendent la question des frontières.

La biennale de Dakar a vingt ans. Et après ?

The show is juried, with 28 artists (18 men and 10 women) having been selected from a pool of over 400 candidates.  Two Senegalese artists made the cut, Barkinado Bocoum et Papa Amadou Khoudia Tounkara dit « grand père ».  The remaining artists come from 15 countries:  6 from South Africa; 3 from Nigeria; 2 each from Cote d’Ivoire and Morocco (+ Senegal); and 1 each from Algeria, Burundi, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ile Maurice, Kenya, Madagascar, DR of Congo, Tunisia, and Zambia.

The range of art is stunning:  paintings in oil, acrylics, and all sorts of mixed media; sculpture (again with all sorts of material); fabric and weaving; and lots of video.  I’m no contemporary art maven.  But I love to look, see, read titles and manifestos, look again, see some more (or try), reflect.  But the video entries – all of them – left me in the dust (and not motivated to photograph, obviously).  As Brian remarked, having done his share of puzzling over the videos of a choir of naked men singing a Shaker tune in Wolof and a woman dressed in white walking back and forth in front of an old building (and splits of herself), we really aren’t of the video generation.

And that’s just Dak’Art IN!  Given the tight selection, Dak’Art OFF developed years ago as a parallel exhibit of those who didn’t make (or try to make) the cut.  This movement has taken off, with the number of OFF exhibits vastly outnumbering the number of IN.  They’re set in regular expo spaces, like the Institut Francais (renaming of the CCF) Galerie de Manege (where the photos to the left and right below were taken), as well as office buildings, commercial centers, and hotel lobbies.

In addition, maybe due to its outside status, Dak’Art OFF publishes an excellent catalogue of its expos and places huge green OFF signs at its sites, so that you can’t miss it and can easily include a daily exhibit as you go about your regular business around town.  Our post-stadium concert outing to Ile N’gor included one, a work dinner out another, doing downtown errands still more, last weekend in St. Louis even more – the list goes on and on.

On balance, I liked more of the artwork that I saw in OFF exhibits than in the IN display at IFAN (Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noir) Museum.  But happily, Dak’Art 2010 got me off the dime and into this museum, a classic French colonial architectural legacy on the outside housing a classic French colonial anthropological legacy on the inside (most well known for its collection of West African masks).   I didn’t explore it fully, but have put it on the to-do list for my next trip downtown.

Marching in to St. Louis Jazz

Senegal’s music scene expanded another notch with the 18th annual jazz festival in St. Louis this past weekend.  This  town up north, just a tad below the Mauritanian border and spread over an island in the mouth of the Senegal River, is a colonial gem (to some; others see it as remnants of the colonial past, best suited for turning one’s back on). We combined the grit of urbanity in the evening and early wee hours with sleeping and daytime lounging by the water in the peaceful Langue de Barbarie National Park, at the campement we visited during our Tabaski trip last November.  Three families in total: 5 adults and 5 teens and pre-teens, enjoying the last three-day weekend in the school calendar before final exams and the summer scattering take hold.

While many bands played at local bars and restaurants, the Quai des Arts main stage presented a varied program each weekend night.  On Saturday, big band music started off the evening, with a technically impressive German youth band, the Jugend Jazz Orchester Nordrhein Westfalen.  Perhaps I’ve been here too long, but to hear instruments that produce such clear, beautiful tones and instrumentalists who are so skilled (and at such a young age) was very welcome.  The second band, the Sylvain Beuf Quartet, was led by a saxophonist who composed most of the music, backed up by piano, bass, and drums.  This concert was classic free jazz, and was very interesting at the outset.  But whether it was the heat or the late hour or the repetitive pattern (begin with the sax, cede the lead to each member in turn, return to the sax to close), I was ready for its conclusion between midnight and one.

When we exited the venue, we were met full force with a religious gathering across the street called by one of the Muslim brotherhoods (a gamul).  Busloads of worshippers were still arriving at 2am, and the streets were a festive hodgepodge of people gabbing, food vendors and stuff sellers hawking, diesel fumes spewing, the colorful landscape of everyone’s Saturday night finest, and the omnipresent backdrop of the imam’s chanting.  We went in search of other music venues around town, but instead followed our noses to a local bread baker selling hot, crusty baguettes out a small window in a cement wall.  We would have walked right past the unassuming boulangerie, but for the arresting smell.  En principe we were buying bread for tomorrow’s picnic lunch.  Good thing we started out with 6 loaves, because only 4 made it home alive.

Preparing to paddle: from L to R, Stefan, Omar, Matthew, Cecile (behind Matthew), Ada

The next day Brian and I outslept the crowd, including the teenagers!  Then it was a voyage across the river in a flotilla of kayaks and canoe to the actual spit of land from which the Langue de Barbarie takes its name.  Sun, sand, and raucous waves awaited.  Showered and dressed for the evening, we first sampled some of the expos celebrating both the 350th anniversary of St. Louis’s founding and the Biennale of Contemporary African Art/Dak’Art (see next post), which had moved beyond Dakar’s borders for the first time.

Arriving late from a riverside dinner, we caught the last two pieces performed by the African Jazz Roots Quintet, a collection of artists united expressly for this festival. Ablaye Cissoko is probably Senegal’s most famous kora player and was a delight to hear and see.  His duet with floutist Ousmane Ba was haunting, but very abstract, and I feared losing the kids before the concert really kicked off.  Fortunately, the next band, the Jerry Gonzalez Sextet livened things up with salsa style music.  Fueled by the pulsing congas and mellow trumpet playing of the Gonzalez (not simultaneously), one could see many a person chair dancing for that hour. Pharoah Sanders batted clean-up, kicking up his 70-year-old heels (literally!) during his 1 – 2am time slot while dancing to the local drummers performing with his band.  His sax playing is still plenty smooth, although some in our party thought it would have been nice to hear it more.  I was bowled over by his voice, on the few songs where he crooned (vs. shouted out a la Louis Armstrong):  deep, smooth, mellifluous, very young!   The Gonzalez sextet pianist, “Caramelo” Javier Gutierrez Masso, and bassist, Alain Perez, had been particularly stunning to listen to.  And we, the few (3), the mighty, sleep-deprived souls who lasted till the post-concert improv session at the neighboring after hours club, were treated to hearing them again, this time with the guitarist who had somewhat quietly backed up Sanders.  Lots of cigarette haze and beer-induced mating rituals, but very fun to watch and listen to the music spontaneously erupt.  And of course, our final night of the jazz festival was completed by a second run to the boulangerie, where the bread was so fresh that we could barely palm it, it was so hot at first.

Having our ice cream and eating it too!

Although we missed the group sponsored by the U.S., Freddie Bryant and Kaleidoscope , because they kicked off the festival on Thursday night, we were lucky to hear them at a private concert in Ambassador Bernicat’s living room on Tuesday night.  What a treat.

Simmering Senegal Goes Full Boil into the Wee Hours at Stade de l’Amitié

Thus far the famed music scene in Dakar has been on a low simmer for me.  The specter of carving out time to take a nap so that I can go out at midnight and return as the sun rises, then crash or pull an all-nighter at age 48, has proved to be a mirage on my Fulbright horizon.  Thanks to Scarlett, we know we can always think about those things tomorrow.

Ah, but tomorrow came.  Yesterday, er, well today!

Youssou N’Dour, Baba Maal, and Omar Pène forced the plunge, by headlining a concert for Peace, Tolerance, and Understanding at the big football stadium named for Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sedar Senghor.  Les Concerts pour la Paix, la Tolérance et l’Entente took place in New York, Washington, and Dakar during the past two months, with the Dakar spectacle co-sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and Senegal’s Ministry of Culture.  Concerts on both sides of the pond sought to promote cultural diversity and understanding.  As described in local media:

Les concerts pour la Paix, la Tolérance et l’Entente qui ont eu lieu aux Etats-Unis ont permis d’exposer et de faire découvrir des talents établis et surtout de jeunes stars à un public Sénégalais et Américain confondu.  De retour à Dakar, ces artistes, Positive Black Soul, Abdou Guite Seck, Titi et Ma Sane, vont partager cette expérience Américaine avec la jeunesse sénégalaise et rejoindre une panoplie d’artistes légendaires tels que Youssou N’dour, Baba Maal et Omar Pene, ainsi que d’autres stars montantes comme Pape Diouf, Mame Balla et Abdou Thioubalou pour un concert unique au stade de l’Amitié (Stade). Ce beau panache d’artistes se mobilise pour promouvoir la Paix, la Tolérance et l’Entente et encourager la jeunesse à s’ouvrir à la force que représente la diversité culturelle qui existe au Sénégal mais aussi aux Etats-Unis et de par le monde, à travers la musique, langage universel du cœur des hommes.

What a scene!  The stadium probably holds some 60,000 people and by the time we arrived a few bands in, around 9pm, it was 2/3 full.  We were shepherded into the VIP section, that coveted spot in African football stadiums where a concrete overhang protects you from rain (which we haven’t felt in Senegal since last October) and the metal barrier manned (literally) by beefy private security guards protects you from the crush of the crowd.  The music was all Senegalese but varied with each performer:  pure mbalax, reggae, pop, hip-hop, and rap.  So did the audience’s response:  hand clapping and waving, line dancing on the field and in the stands (the visual equivalent to the wave at U.S. baseball stadiums), and lots of movement of hips, feet, and almost every other body part you can imagine.  Although there were many more whose names I didn’t catch, three “young” performers caught my attention:  Positive Black Soul, a rap duo of Amadou Barry, alias Doug E. Tee, et Didier J. Awadi, dit DJ Awadi; Abdou Guite Seck, whose voice reminded me of Baba Maal and face made me think of N’Dour; and Titi (the lone female I saw perform that night).

Sometime around midnight, the cocktail finger foods eaten earlier in the evening had worn off, so Brian and I went to the VIP lounge in search of vittles.  There we found sweet tea, three very sweet young men holding down the over-air conditioned fort, and empty boxes of food.  On to Plan B.  A young woman, bringing in a new jug of hot coffee, took charge.  Vous avez bien mangé? she asked courteously.  No, we explained, we missed the food.  Suivez-moi, she commanded.  And so we did.  Down the stairs, through the tunnel, out on to the field, behind the stage, and into an area reserved for the performers.  Patientez un moment, s’il vous plaît, she advised. And so we did.  We watched a flat screen t.v. projecting Senegalese music videos on the local equivalent of MTV.

Our new friend, Ibrahim, is in the white pants at right.

We also watched VIPs (very important performers) move about with entourages and body guards (I recognized the rap duo later on stage).  And we met a curious and self-assured ten-year old dancer, who introduced himself as Ibrahim.  In the course of the conversation, we learned that this young man is from Kaolack, dances with his older brother in a troupe (and saw some of his moves including Michael Jackson imitations), and wants to come stay with us in the U.S.!

Baba Maal, in the long white coat atop blue boubou.

Returning to the VIP section, we watched the “senior” performers, especially N’Dour and Maal, work the crowd.  When 56-year-old Baba Maal came on stage, in what I now think of as his Michael Jackson homage look, his distinctive voice harmonizing with the djembe brought the crowd to its feet – at 2 in the morning, no easy feat (bad pun intended). By the time he took off his Western-looking high-sheen long coat and joined his dancers, hands and feet on the stage, the crowd went wild. His message, in song and in words between songs, was clear and repetitive:  Africa is the future and all the young people in the crowd need to be a part of solving its endemic poverty.

Youssou N'Dour, center stage, in white top.

After waiting a full half hour for the roadies to set up the stage, 50-year-old N’Dour’s arrival at almost 4am started off slowly. Literally, with reggae beat numbers that physically underscored the concert’s themes of peace and tolerance.  In disappointment we watched as waves of young people left the football field with each successive song.  But then, about a half hour in, he played his trademark mbalax tune, Japoulo (Undecided), and the effect was electric:  everybody, even we old farts in the VIP section, were dancing and singing and clapping and waving.  This continued on until almost 5am.

And then, with the last notes of his last song, everyone scattered.  No applause.  No encores.  No flaming lighters or cell phones.  We’d been kind of dreading getting out of the stadium, finding a taxi, fighting the crowds.  Instead we hopped into a waiting taxi and were climbing the four flights to our apartment as the imam at the neighboring mosque woke his followers with the first call to prayer.  Now, after sleeping till noon and then spending the day off (a RCH) on the Ile de N’gor walking on the beach, eating brochettes and drinking beer at a café, and playing cards  (the Momster rules at Phase 10 these days!), I can imagine doing this again.  Ah, there’s always tomorrow.

Traveling Companions

The younger Bach-Lombardos in 2003, at the almost-top of Mount Bisoke in Rwanda.

One of the gifts of travel is making new friends and then bumping into them again, physically or virtually.  So when I received an email last week saying that a Belgian friend from our year in Rwanda, Patrick Kelders, had just published a book about his humanitarian work in Africa, called Si peu d’humanité (So little humanity), I was instantly transported back seven years.  Patrick, his wife Sophie Dumont, and their sons Nathan and Sebastien, were good travel buddies.  Although we all lived in Kigali and inhabited the even smaller world of l’Ecole Belge de Kigali (where Jordan and Matthew, then 12 and 7, went to school with Nathan and Sebastien, then 6 and 4), we only first met Patrick when climbing Mount Bisoke in the Virungas.  (This climb was a sort of consolation prize for our boys, who didn’t meet the minimum age for gorilla trekking; on our hike, we were close enough to see gorilla poop and even hear a grunt or two.)  Later, both families traveled north again, to the “Belgian Riviera” town of Gisenyi on Lake Kivu.

With Patrick, at the tippy top.

And so I wrote to Patrick « et notre randonne a Bisoke (avec l’affaire du montre “perdu”) et le weekend a Gisenyi avec M. X sont a quelles pages? »  To my surprise, he immediately wrote back: page 147!

« De petits animaux nocturnes traversent la piste et leur ombre démesurée
s’allonge dans le balai du faisceau de lumière. Où vont-ils ? Que
ressentent-ils ? Quelle est leur petite vie ?

Before becoming a famous author, Patrick knew how to entertain the troops waiting, waiting, waiting for lunch!

J’ai rendez-vous à six heures à l’hôtel Muhabura à Ruhengeri avec une autre
famille américaine, Tracy, Bryan et leurs deux garçons, pour l’ascension du
volcan Bisoke. Une heure de solitude et de quiétude pleinement goûtée dans
l’attente d’une journée excitante. Il fait chaud mais pas trop. Déjà le
soleil s’annonce, je quitte la forêt. La piste longe à présent une rivière,
je franchis des ruisselets sur des troncs jetés en travers. Des ombres
erratiques se dessinent çà et là au bord de la piste : des gens déjà.
Voilà le goudron, la route qui relie Kigali à Ruhengeri, plus qu’un quart
d’heure et je serai avec mes amis.

Who is the mysterious Monsieur X?

L’aube se lève brutalement, Ruhengeri est déjà ensoleillé ! A l’hôtel,
retrouvailles très chaleureuses avec des gens chaleureux. Quel plaisir
de partager cette aventure avec eux. Tasse de thé, anecdotes. Cette
famille, dont le père est médecin et la mère professeur de droit dans un collège
du Vermont, réalise un rêve : une année à voyager et découvrir le monde,
‘learning by doing and travelling’. Ils me racontent leur expérience et
l’extraordinaire ouverture sur le monde dont ils ont déjà bénéficié. Les
garçons connaissent déjà bien le français.

Traveling companions, Gisenyi, Rwanda 2003

While we can’t make this week’s book signings in greater Brussels, I encourage everyone else to attend.  Venez nombreux à une rencontre-débat qui aura lieu le mardi 11 mai de 13h à 14h  à la librairie Tropismes Galerie des Princes, 11 – Bruxelles  02 512 88 52 et une autre rencontre qui aura lieu à  Namur le mercredi 12 mai de 13 h à 15h à la librairie Agora Rue Emile Cuvelier, 53-55 – 081/22 06 32