Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Consultation with a Traditional Marabout III

A.'s mother has been quite ill for a long time, so we drove her down to Combol to consult with the marabout Yorro Diallo.  The photos above were taken on this trip, and you can see a few video clips of the landscape en route on BOT (Gallery 12).

Cudos to Brad P. for offering to drive A. and his family, in what turned out to be a very long day, which included two police check-points, and a unpleasant encounter with a intoxicated truck driver.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Births, Deaths & Remembrances 2


Portrait of an American family.  

Photo1 was taken in the early 1950s in Lompoc, CA, where I was born.  My mother, father, and big brother Mark pose beside dad's plane.  He was a private pilot through much of his life.  Photo2 was taken in our living room in Hollywood, Florida, where my family moved in 1962 after dad bought what was then a little start-up business, Everbest.  I was 8 years old.  While our home was only a few miles from the beach, we spent several summers residing at a seaside motel, the Dolphin.  Photo3 was taken in our little two-bedroom apartment.  In 1966 we moved to south Hollywood Beach, into a condominium a block from the beach.  The sea was the center of gravity.  We stored a little aluminum boat on the beach, and rolled an outboard motor down from the house.  Photo4 shows my father out on the reef, where we spent hundreds of hours fishing, diving, collecting and observing.

Births, Deaths and Remembrances 1

My father passed away on Monday, March 9 at 2:15 AM while in Hospice care.  He was 93 years old.  Two days later, on Wednesday, my niece Renee gave birth to Maia Gabrielle, a healthy 7 lbs 2 oz baby girl, born two years to the day after Renee's grandmother, Randi's mother, died, also at the age of 93.

Dad was cremated on Friday.  My brother, Mark, and his wife will be driving up to Monterey from San Diego to pick-up his ashes and his few remaining belongings.  Mark and I will be carrying my father and mother's ashes (she died in the spring of 1997) to Hollywood, Florida this summer, where we grew up, and have many fond memories.  It is a ritual of closure for the living.  We will sprinkle their ashes on the beach, at the foot of a lifeguard stand, symbolic of our time in Florida, and a tribute to the influence of a certain lifeguard, fondly known as Big John.   

Mark and I are all that remain of our little family, neither one of us having had children of our own.  Neither do we have a family home to attend to, my parents choosing to reside in assisted living in their retirement, before moving to nursing care.   After several serious strokes, I chose to bring my father to our home in Carmel Valley, California when his physician advised that he had no more than weeks to live.  He lived another four years.

It is an inevitable circumstance of those fortunate enough to be long-lived to witness the passing of our parents.  We fall apart a little, or a lot, and are put back together again, to move forward through our own lives.  

My brother and I, and our respective spouses, did good work in supporting my father after mom's death.  We committed ourselves to seeing that he remain as independent as possible, for as long as possible.  However, dementia was at work impairing his judgement long before we attributed his erratic behavior to anything more than Dad's stubborn willfulness.  It just wasn't on our radar.

Now I wonder about the nature of habit, and the trajectory our lives take.  Were my dad to know his fate, what might he have done differently, if anything?  I expect that he would have dismissed it as so much nonsense.  

The lessons here are for the living.

Prehistoric Senegal 5: Faleme

We have moved on to eastern Senegal in our documentation of prehistoric stone tools.  The rock varieties used are markedly different than here along the coast, reflecting a completely different geology.  The Faleme River marks the border between Senegal and Mali.  

For the complete collection of photographs, see BOT (Gallery 11).  

Many thanks to Mr. Pryce, Damir and Will for assisting.  As always, thank you to Archaeology Lab Manager, Mr. Camara, for his continuing support, and willingness to respond to our many questions.  

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Arrival of Spring


If the weather today was any indication, spring is on the way, with warmer temperatures, calmer winds and seas.  I've not seen the seas this calm since November.  After several months of dusty air and strong, cool winds, the change is welcome.  

The pics above were taken at sunset tonight.  Photo 1 is looking west toward the sea and the Mamelles lighthouse;  photos 2 & 3 are looking south toward the Plateau District and downtown Dakar;  and photo 3 is looking east toward the rising moon.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tivaouane Gamou: The Birthday of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)

I enjoy being anonymous in my private life; I am content to be relatively invisible.  I do own some dressy clothes:   a tie (one), a pair of black dress slacks, a few decent dress shirts.  My mom would have referred to them as church clothes as opposed to the slightly less formal school clothes.  (She also made a distinction between going out for dinner, and eating out.  The former required that I be presentable -- school clothes and a comb;  the latter allowed for shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops.  The former typically included a waiter, who escorted you to your table, cloth napkins and coffee in a cup with saucer;  the latter featured wait-to-be-seated vinyl booths, paper napkins out of a dispenser, and coffee in inch-thick mugs.)

I own some dress clothes, but not many, certainly not a suit.  I had a suit.  My parents made me wear it for something, when I had to impersonate somebody important.  

I own a brown belt, but my church slacks are black.    I have two pairs of shoes:  a pair of junky sandals, still wet with saltwater, and a pair of sturdy, dusty hiking shoes, brown.  There is no matching outfit here:  red tie, blue shirt, brown belt, black slacks, brown hiking shoes -- a nice combination if you're going to church, then camping.

So when G., an ambassador (not from the US), invited me to accompany he and his son to the Gamou in the holy city of Tivaouane amongst the elite of the Tijaniyyah Sufi Brotherhood, I was both flattered, but hesitant.  "But G.," I said, after he suggested that I wear a suit for this formal occasion, "I don't own a suit.  But I do have a tie . . . I think."

The Gamou refers to the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, which is celebrated on the eleventh day of the third Muslim month.  Nightlong prayer vigils (and street parties) are organized by the four Sufi Brotherhoods in communities throughout Senegal.  The town of Tivaouane, holy city of the Tidjane Brotherhood, draws a million pilgrims for the celebration of the Gamou.  

I was working in the dark here, cretan that I am.  I had never heard of the Gamou, Tivaouane, or the Tidjane Brotherhood.  I had never attended a formal event of this type, or any type, other than my high school prom.  Here I was, traveling by motorcade, escorted by Senegalese police, out of Dakar, zipping past diverted traffic.  We were dignitaries being whisked off to a formal gathering of very important people, for a very important occasion, in the heart of a holy city.  And there I was, in my mismatched outfit, pretending to be one of the gang.

Once in Tivaouane, we -- the dignitaries (ahem) -- were guided into a large tent by a cadre of men in green boubous,  disciples of the Tidjane Brotherhood.  We were seated and offered refreshments.  While G. chatted with other diplomats, I hung out with one of G.'s assistants, behaving like two kids who'd snuck backstage for the Grammy Awards.  The fried spring rolls were to die for.  We should have brought doggy bags.  Hey, we could load up our pockets?!  No, the grease would probably bleed through.  And then someone might notice my brown belt and black slacks.

I was happy that I'd worn black socks without holes.  G's son, Y., explained that we might be in a setting where protocol required removing one's shoes, and the last thing I need was a big toe sticking out of a sock.

After snacks, refreshments (this isn't Denny's, Tod), we were escorted into another large tent where the main event would take place, which would consist of speeches and prayers by religious leaders.  I kept my eyes lowered as I walked along the red carpet, lined with onlookers, probably thinking to themselves, brown belt, black slacks, you've got to be kidding me, or, he must be the ambassador's mechanic.

We were seated up front, in a section reserved for visiting dignitaries (ahem).  G. sat in the front row, we had B seats, three rows back, but who am I to complain?  We got better seats than a bunch who arrived after us.  Too bad.  Programs were distributed, but we -- Y., G.'s support staff and I -- were not offered one.  I suppose we were outed from the start.  

The program was LONG, but the milieu was fascinating.  We were surrounded by religious leaders, many quietly reciting prayers while awaiting the arrival of the most important marabouts.  As speech followed speech followed speech followed speech, Y., an exceptionally thoughtful student in my 6th grade class, gradually began loosing it.  He squirmed and slouched and twisted and made shadow puppets in the lights of the television cameras, which roamed the audience, the images broadcast live, including to a JumboTron screen outside the venue.  I found Y.'s disintegration quite humorous, a nice counterpoint to solemnity of the event.  I wondered how many around were wondering the same thing:  a chocolate shake would taste pretty good right now

On the way back to Dakar after the event, Y. complained that he was  s  t  a  r  v  i  n  g  .  Truth be known, we were all starving, but leave it to the kid to state the obvious.  To his plea to stop at a restaurant on the way home, dad reminded him that we'd have to remain in the convoy.  Y., ever the inquirer, uncovered a forgotten box of holiday treats in the back of the car, so we all shared marshmallows, chocolate bars, and sugar wafers -- a sweet close to a very pleasant and interesting afternoon.

Randi was asleep in bed by the time I arrived home, despite the all-night Gamou-related festivities taking place in our neighborhood.  

I think I'll pick-up a black belt this summer.  Skip the suit.

Prehistoric Senegal 4: Sebikotane, Kedougou & Niokolo Koba

A group of us returned to the UCAD Archaeology Lab to continue with our photo documentation project, today focusing on artifacts from southeastern Senegal.  Randi and I were joined by Yoel and Selma (artifacts washers supreme), and Selma's grandpop, Steve, shown above.

Many thanks to mums Jodi and Eke for assisting with drop-off and pick-up.  We return to the lab on Thursday to focus on tools from eastern Senegal.

Note BOT (Gallery 11) for the complete collection of images from this day's shoot.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cartes Postales Anciennes Senegal


I had been hoping to discover a source for old photos of Dakar, to get a sense of how things have changed on the Cap Vert Peninsula.   While doing a image search of Rufisque this week, I stumbled upon an old post card image, which lead to the following sources.  There are some great images here, as photo 5 above, looking south from Yoff.  

A Sunday Afternoon Visit to Ile de Madeleine

Photo 1:  cove at Ile de Madeleine, low tide;  photo 2:  sacred baobab;  photo 3:  shipwrecked boat, Mamelles in the background;  photo 4:  bored basalt stone discovered today;  photo 5 & 6: Selma S. and Damir P. climbing in baobab;  photo 7:  Kemper S. on boat returning to Dakar;  photo 8:  Damir and his pop, Colin, Selma and Kemper's mum and pop, Jodi and Scott.

Randi and I joined two ISD families on an excursion to Ile de Madeleine yesterday.  Selma's grandpop, Steve, an archaeology buff with expertise in Mayan hieroglyphics, was visiting from the States, and the trip was a nice opportunity to explore the prehistory of Senegal.

Our English-speaking guide, Ibrahima, was exceptional.  He majored in environmental science, has been recently studying business management, and volunteers for the national park on the side.   Ibrahima is Lebu, from Dakar, another remarkable bit of serendipity, for his knowledge of the sacrifices associated with Ile de Madeleine and the local jinns.  It is Ibrahima's opinion that an increasing number of young people are loosing contact with traditional values, an idea I'd been wondering about.  He offered to help with contacts in the Lebu community familiar with the history of the Lebu, and the location of sacred places.

On our walkabout, I discovered the basalt stone shown in photo 4, which had a hole bored on one side, certainly an artifact, but for what purpose and how old?  I shared the image with Mr. Camara, manager of the UCAD Archaeology Lab, who showed me another object in the collection of a similar shape, thought to have been used for grinding grain, of Neolithic age.

The baobab tree, shown in photo 2, is considered sacred.  A guide on a previous trip explained that a marabout from Dakar periodically comes to the island to conduct ceremonies next to this tree.  He described the place as a mosque, sacred, where one should remove one's shoes out of respect for the jinn.  Ibrahima confirmed the accuracy of this.

I'm inclined to obtain permission to spend the night on the island, just to sleep in that spot, and invite the jinn to visit.  Want to come?

Consultation with a Traditional Marabout II

Photos (top to bottom):  image credited to Pulaar;  Almamy B.;  village of Combal south of Kaolack, with traditional straw-roofed, mudbrick-walled structures.

I returned to Sine Saloum, accompanied by A., for my follow-up visit with Yorro Diallo.  Note the earlier entry regarding my first visit at Marabout.

The trip to Kaolak, via sept place, was eventful.  Unlike the prior weekend, when brokers arranged seats for us immediately upon arriving at the gare, this week it was first come, first served, elbows and all.  It was an unfortunate start to the day.  A. kept a wary eye out for the next available car to Kaolack, and, once spotted, we rushed for the door, pushed our way into the prime middle seats, and paid our fare.  I would have been lost without A.  Pity the poor toubab.  Despite the Senegalese turanga (hospitality), being polite here would get you nowhere.  

That wasn't the end of the hassle.  A. left the car to purchase some cookies from a street vendor.   While he was waiting for change, the taxi begin rolling out of the gare, at the insistence of impatient passenger, who had little sympathy for either A. or his clueless toubab traveling companion.  I opened the car door, stepped out, and shouted, but the driver continued rolling out of the gare, and even edged out onto the main road, at which time A. arrived.  What ensued was a hard-edged shouting matching between A. and the impatient passenger, who had no use for foreigners, or locals who hang-out with foreigners.  A. was not about to take that kind of crap.  There were no fists thrown, thankfully, and after an hour the mood had becalmed.  The driver was cool throughout, and got us into Kaolack in good time.

Having had the bus experience the week prior (we waited a dusty hour for it to fill), I suggested we catch a taxi from Kaolack to the village, which we did.  A. asked me to wait while he looked for one, knowing that the presence of a toubab would inflate the price.  (For all things, there is a rice for Africans, and a price for toubabs.  Considering the difference in affluence, the price hike is understandable, the Peace Corps volunteers being the exception.)  A. found a taxi, and the driver was from Yorro's village, so we arrived in short order.

Yorro was sitting outside the family compound when we arrived.  After greetings, we moved to his room.

He asked how I was feeling, then checked my hands, sternum, throat and neck as before.  He pronounced that the treatment had been successful, but that I was to continue two further three-day cycles of tea and medicinal water over two weeks.  He commented that the color of my skin had improved, was now less pale.

I had anticipated his asking how I was feeling.  In fact, my symptoms had significantly lessened during the week.  (I'll spare you the details.  I doubt you're interested in qualities of snot and phlegm.)  Was my improvement attributable to Yorro's treatment, to the power of belief, suggestibility and placebo, or the natural course of an illness?  I imagine many of you would say that it doesn't really matter.  I agree.

We remained with Yoro for another couple of hours asking about his practice.  He was generous both with his time and responding to my questions.  Here's a summary of the salient points:

Recall that Yorro's clients are all provided the identical herbal remedies, and that he imbues each prescription with a prayer, specific to the person and their condition.  The prayer literally powers or energizes the herbs.  I asked Yorro about the nature of these prayers.  

The prayers are not from the Koran.  The prayers were given to his grandfather (referring to his ancestors) by forest animals, and passed from father to son across generations.  The prayers are in Peul, the language of the Pulaar people, an ethnic group found all over West Africa.  According to Yorro, Peul is an original language, and his ancestors were the first Pulaars in the Sine Saloum region.  Interestingly, many are buried in the area surrounding the village.

I wondered about the energy associated with the prayer:  Was it contained in the words themselves;  was the energy channeled from Yorro, through the words;  was the power channeled from God through the words to the patient?  Was there something about the quality with which he spoke the words, as one might refer to the quality of prayer?

Yorro explained that the power was in the words themselves, that I could be taught the prayers and use them myself.  There was no reference to channeling energy independent of the words.  While the herbs themselves probably have medicinal properties (my assumption), the prayer is active ingredient, and include the patient's name, thus they are client-specific.  This has important implications for the disposal of the herbs after use, being that they have the mystical fingerprint of the patient on them.  Yorro instructed that the herbs should be buried, and I wrongly assumed that the purpose was to return the spirit of the medicine back to the earth, or some such thing.  I learned that the herbs could be taken to a marabout and the fingerprint used to channel a curse back to the patient.  Not a god thing.  Throwing them away in a dark plastic bag in the trash would suffice.  I thought:  I really should have buried the first batch a little deeper . . .

Further conversation revealed this:  Yorro inherited the ability to discern illness, and this sensitivity has been similarly inherited by his children.  (I must admit that I did not ask about gender difference here, if his daughters were similarly gifted.  It just seemed that we were talking about fathers and sons.)  Along with this gift is the knowledge of the prayers.  Yorro is a marabout from a family of marabouts.  There are certainly mystical elements to his work, but are no feathers, incense, and rattles here;  he is exceptionally pragmatic.

Yorro explained that he collaborates with a Western-trained Seneglese physician living in the area.  He's practicing complementary medicine.  While he is able to treat a wide variety of conditions, he is not able to treat all illness, and thus occasionally refers patients to his Western-trained colleague, and vice versa.  Even the hospital in Kaolack refers patients to Yorro.

I asked about his points of contact when assessing a patient: the hands, sternum, throat, and the back of the neck.  What was special about these points, wondering if there was any correspondence with chakras in traditional Chinese medicine.  Yorro explained that the sternum represents the location of the mother, suggesting that it was a very important center, but discounted any correspondence to energetic channels.

I asked if his father and grandfather advise him now, despite having passed away.  He explained that their influence was confined to life.  

Yorro does not wear a grigri.  Though he understands and appreciates the power of juju and jinns, it is not his thing.  He is focused on patients' healing, through his method, and does not delve into the world of jinns.  Twice a week, however, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as prescribed by tradition, the family prepares water grigris, in which patients wash, as we observed at the lutte Senegalese.

I asked about the source of my illness, being that he treats the cause, and not the symptoms solely.  Yorro explained that typically such conditions are inherited from the father, that I carry my father's blood, and that my mother was more a passive receptacle.  (A. apologized before he translated this.)  This confided that my parents were older when I was born, and heavy smokers.  Yorro agreed that inhaling second hand smoke creates problems.

When in doubt, blame your parents.  Remember that kids!

 While he requested a 600 CFA fee (the equivalent of about $1.25), I left Yorro with 10,000 CFA.  By his reaction, I realized that the value of 1000 CFA here in Dakar, the center of commerce, is quite difference than its value in the village, where 25 CFA coins are necessary.  Yorro was grateful, and offered to treat any of my friends and colleagues in Dakar gratis.

I asked if I could take a photograph of Yorro, but quickly dropped the request when the convivial mood of the room dipped slightly.  Yorro explained that Saudi Arabia, in keeping with Islamic doctrine, channels charitable funds into Senegal, and that a grant dispensing organization in Kaolack had been out to film in the area, the intent being a document the need for funds.  The problem is that no funds have ever reached the village level.  Yorro suspects corruption, and the village feels used.  These being his associations to photography, I dropped the matter immediately.

This will not be my last visit to the little village of Combal.  At a minimum, I'm inclined to accompany A. down for his monthly visits.  I've also broached the idea of a student exchange with his son, who teaches 9-10 year olds in the local village primary school -- 40 students to a class!  A. also consulted with Yorro regarding his mum, who is quite ill.  I'll be putting pressure on a few of my ISD colleagues with cars to assist with transport.  Stay tuned. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Changing Face of Dakar: Several Must Reads

Photos by Michael Chavez, Washington Post.

Note the following articles profiling several aspects of life in Dakar:  lutte Senegalaise, sexuality, and the music scene.

A profile of lutte Senegalaise by Washington Post reporter Michael Chavez.

Graphics illustrating population growth in Dakar and rural areas of Senegal in the past 50 years.

Slideshow profiling the culture changes in Dakar as rural Senegalese move to the city.

Slideshow profiling the urban music scene in Dakar, combining contemporary and traditional elements.

Essay by Francis Nyamnjoh, Associate Professor and Head of Publications and Dissemination with the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA).
A poignant article profiling changing sexuality and sexual roles in Dakar.  Enlightening and very entertaining.