Sunday, August 30, 2009

Surf Video at Plage de Ouakam


With a lull in the rain, I went for a swim at the plage with the underwater video cam, both for the exercise, and to work out a few of the logistics: carrying the gear to the beach, getting in/out in a shorebreak and currents, managing my gear in the water, buoyancy, etc.

The visibility was zero, largely I think due to sediment transport through beach erosion. There was a swell, perhaps a couple of meters high with the larger sets, and I swam out of the cove to film along the Mamelles cliff.

Note the following two clips from the swim, uploaded to you tube: OuakamPlage1 OuakamPlage2

I was on lunch duty Friday and witnessed an interesting event taking place above the athletic field at ISD. Large numbers of swallows were swooping in low to feed on what appeared to be a hatch of dragon flies. Note the video at BugHatch@ISD.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Return to School: Unmasking My Selves

For the complete set of mask-making images, see BOT. This area of the class website is password-protected. Contact me for a guest pass.

We've returned to school, having just completed week 1. There are some teaching years that hum with a strong sense of community and shared purpose. This feels like one of those years.

I have an ideal assignment, teaching science and history in a series of 8 large inquiry-based units to two groups of 6th grades, 14 in a class, all sweet and interested. As I've mentioned to several friends, this may never happen again in my career.

I'm teaming with a very strong teaching partner, Deb H, from Alberta, Canada. We match nicely, sharing similar views re pedagogy, complementing each other in style. We're supported by a full-time TA, Niassa, a veteran at ISD. A great team.

We began with a project that required a high level of trust, reflection, and creativity. Students worked in small teams to construct masks of each other using plaster gauze, a material I've much enjoyed messing with over the years. The base masks would serve as a canvas upon which students would share four aspects of their lives -- their home country and culture, their family, their personality (the public side and the private side), and their interests/hobbies.

Deb and I are pressing the kids to go deep in their reflections and expression, avoiding what is easy and superficial. The masks will hang in our classrooms yearlong, like museum pieces, in time for Open House next week, for all to see.

We're off and running in what promises to be a relatively relaxed, fun, memorable 6th grade school year.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sunday Afternoon Hurricane-Maker

It's the rainy season here in West Africa, and it has been just that -- rainy. The ground is saturated, widespread flooding and coastal erosion is a serious issue, and diving is on hold while the runoff flows untreated directly into the sea.

We've sent several tropical storms into the west Atlantic and the Caribbean this far this season, with two earning names, Bill and Danny. Tropical storm 1, shown in the National Hurricane graphic above, passed over us this past week. See video highlights at storm.

For the science-minded, see weather for an overview of what drives the monsoon seasons in Africa. Also checkout the Africa weather-related resources: animation1, animation2, animation3, intellicast, weather on-line, METEOSAT.

Addendum We're headed out for dinner tonight into downtown Dakar. A check of the satellite images indicates a serious system passing over Mali, entering eastern Senegal, about the size of Senegal itself. So we'll take the umbrella tonight. Bob (in Ft. Pierce, FL), wax up the surfboard, swells will be up in 10 days!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Whale/Porpoise-Watching Senegalese Style


Thanks to former grade 6 parent, current ISD PTA President, and intrepid ROV explorer Colin P., a group of ISDers set out in search of marine mammals yesterday morning, armed with motion sickness remedies of various types, medicinal, nutritional, and psychological.

We booked a couple of piroques through Momodou, an older Lebu fisherman extraordinaire, and charter piroque captain, out of Plage de Ouakam. The plan was to head out deep, some 15 km from shore, nearly out of sight of land, with dreams of being surrounded by hundreds whales and porpoises.

Whale watching has, in my experience, always had a endurance aspect to it, both with respect to the pitch and rolling of the vessel, and the likelihood of seasickness, and the needle-in-a-haystack luck required to find critters willing to be observed, before they sound and vanish.

I get nauseous just recalling two whale-watching field trips with second graders a few years ago, during which I got to know a parent on the fantail while we took turns puking over the back. The conversation went something like this: Yes, I agree. Pardon Me. Pllllllluuuuuurgggggggg.

While we had a dry trip, as it were, I think it's safe to say that we were all green at one point or another, and it would have been very entertaining to fake getting sick to see if the rest would have reflexively begun chucking their cookies. An experiment for another day.

We lasted about three hours. Wayne spoke for all of us when he said, I don't think my kids would be disappointed if we headed in sometime soon. Of course the rest of us were thinking, I find the regurgitation of my breakfast to be just a tad distracting.

We did meet up with a small group of porpoises, for a few minutes. They swam beneath the other boat, surfaced, took a few deep breaths, and adios, that was it. The piroque, being close to the water, made it difficult to track the porpoises, along with the five foot swell. Still, it was something, and we didn't capsize, despite the rather hair-raising beach landing in a moderate shore break.

Note two videos of the day uploaded to You Tube at video1 video2.

Almamy Badiane: Tour Guide, Translator, Drum Maker

A year ago I realized that in order to see Senegal we would need a cultural interpreter, a guide, and thus we met Almamy Badiane. In the time since, Almamy has become a close friend to many of us at ISD. It was through Almamy's generosity and kindness that the contact with Yorro was arranged last winter, as well as the exploration of the Medina fetish market. He has become an increasingly important asset to the ISD community, arranging excursions for staff, classes, and families.

I have appointed myself Almamy's business manager (lower case), setting myself to help expand his guiding opportunities, beginning with the printing of a new advert, shown above.

The photos above were taken with Plage de Ouakam and the Mosque of the Divine in the background.

The Dakar Diet: Exercise, Fish & Rice, High Humidity, Power Outages, & Diarrhea


Randi & I have moved to a new flat in an area known as Cite Africa. Having had several weeks to settle-in now, it's clear that we've made a good choice. We're a 10 minute walk to Plage de Ouakam, a gorgeous little cove on the south side of the Mamelles bluffs, where the Lebu community have a fishing village, adjacent to the very picturesque Mosque of the Divine. (Note photos of the plage taken last year at Ouakam1 and Ouakam2.)

The flat is large -- 3 bedroom, 3 1/2 bath -- room enough for us and all of you who would like to visit. The photos above were taken from our roof (a three story, 6 unit apartment building), and east-facing patio:

Photo1: from the roof facing south; photo2: facing north toward the Mamelles (one of two dormant, Miocene-age volcanoes, where the North Koreans are presently erecting a Statue of Liberty-height monument -- in exchange for fishing rights); photo3: detail of the same; photo4: facing the plage, level with the mosque's minarets, and the Mamelles bluffs in the background; photo5: facing west toward the sea; photo6: facing northeast, with the Mamelles monument in the distance.

Photos 7 & 8 were taken from our east-facing balcony, and deserve a little more explanation. Whereas in our former neighborhood, in Sotrac Mermoz, our street was lined with house guards, here there are few. We are, as it were, a little closer to Africa, as is demonstrated in photo7. We might use the term squatters in English, though the term doesn't quite fit here. As Almamy explained, when a family owns an unimproved lot, it is better to occupy it, than it becoming occupied, whether by people, or debris. The lot owner might rent the space to a family or, more likely, an extended family, whether Senegalese, or outside Senegal. So we have directly across the street a taste of village West Africa, occupied by a family, or families, as yet undetermined, whom we are getting to know, gradually, through the children, who enthusiastically greet us with bon jour! Our relationship will certainly be the subject of many more blog entries.

This lot is but one of three similar areas down our side street, each very tidy, each reminiscent of a village life-style, each group growing corn, amid stacks of gathered wood. They do not live in squalor; the negative associations of poverty don't quite fit. We might well be as foreign to them as they to us, as they listen to our air conditioners rumbling throughout the afternoons while they congregate in the breezy shade of a large mango tree.

There is an older man across the street whom we often observe doing chores. We met him on the way home this afternoon, and exchanged a handshake and greetings in Wolof. This is the power of understanding and relations in Senegal: the feeling was one of equality, as if there is an unspoken acknowledgement that I happened to be born Tod Spedding, to American couple, and he to another family, in another place, but the circumstances of our births do not obscure our equality as human beings in this unique moment. Such experiences are commonplace here. They are very leveling, and humbling.

Observing him pass beneath our patio last week, it occurred to me that it would be in this guise that the wisest of spiritual teachers pass through our lives, and they are thus the least likely to be recognized. When we ask, what is the right path to God, he replies, help me collect water for my family, because I am an old man. And when I resist soiling my hands, he wanders away, and the opportunity is gone. This is the real world.

Photo8 is the home of a French family, about whom I know nothing, save that they enjoy meals outside, and entertaining.

It's a neighborhood of fascinating contrasts. We're pleased to be here.

African Dust in South Florida

While vacationing in south Florida in late July, I was pleased to hear on the local news of an Saharan-borne dust cloud approaching the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area. Ah, a taste of home! I took the above photos on the morning of its arrival, revealing little more than a haze. Still, local news was cautioning residents with asthma.

Note the following two related media articles (article1, article2), and links to two previous blog entries re dust events in West Africa (entry1, entry2). Enjoy, but hold your breath.