Sunday, November 29, 2009

Impressive Pics From A Local Fishing Tournament

These very impressive photographs were taken during a recent fishing tournament. I am told that the top photo was not manipulated.

Billfish are one of many varieties that migrate along the Senegalese coast with the ebb and flow of the seasonal upwelling.

The beach in the bottom two pics is N'Gor, where high-end sportfishing charters moor in the lee of Ile de N'Gor.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tabaski With Arona & Alamamy

Photos (top to bottom): photos 1-8: Arona & his family at their home in Ouakam; photos 9-11: with Almamy and friends.

Video clips: clip1 clip2 clip3 clip4 clip5

Randi and I shared the Tabaski holiday with the families of two Senegalese friends this year. We spent the morning with Arona and his family in Ouakam, then headed to Almamy’s in the afternoon, joined by the Saalfeld’s, the Stearn’s, and two ISD teachers, Karen and Becca.

Many thanks to Arona and Almamy for their kind invitations.

Note my previous entries regarding the meaning and significance of Tabaski:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tour of Ouakam Peche


clip1: lobster, held in aerated tanks, had recently arrived from the Casamance (southern Senegal), to be exported that evening to Portugal; clip2: Frederique speaks to the aims of the business, about quality and pricing; clip3: F. talks about packaging and shipping; clip4: F. speaks about the history of the business and its connection to the community; clip5: overview of the holding tanks and plumbing; clip6: exteriors of the building

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Proposal of a Project With Ouakam Divers' Groupement d'Interet Economique

Randi and I moved to the neighborhood of Cite Africa this year both because it feels a little closer to Africa, being that it’s adjacent to the Lebou village of Ouakam, and for it’s proximity to the sea.

Plage Ouakam (Ouakam Beach) is situated in a little cove just to the south of two long-dormant volcanoes, the Mamelles. The plage is home to the Ouakam fishermen, whose colorful piroques are stowed side-by-side along the beach. It is a working beach: nets are dried and mended; divers in wetsuits, armed with meter-long spear guns, return with bags of fish; men haul heavy pirogues out of the water, rolled across large gas cylinders, or chunks of wood, positioned well-above the water’s reach.

The plage is home to the Mosque of the Divinity, a beautiful white mosque with two prominent minarets. The view of the mosque, the cove, and the high bluffs of the Mamelles, is very dramatic and much photographed, certainly of one the most picturesque landscapes anywhere.

The few tourists who visit the plage draw little more than mild interest from the locals. There are no tourist-hungry sharks selling carvings or jewelry like you’ll find in other areas of Dakar. Here, people are just making a living.

Our flat is an easy 10 min walk to the water’s edge, so access to diving is relatively simple. I’ve been in the sea snorkeling around the Mamelles almost every weekend, and believe I’ve progressed from being perceived as the toubab-diver (toubab refers to someone who is not Senegalese, and generally wealthy; the term is not necessarily a pejorative, but it does suggest being assigned to an abstract category), to the toubab-diver-who-comes-here-pretty-often, to the guy-with-the-camera-and-we’d-like-to-know-what-he’s-doing, to Tod-who’s-a-nice-guy.

Arona was assertive enough to engage me a few weeks back, and then had the interest and presence of mind to call for Frederique when he discovered I was a language-handicapped American. His willingness to inquire, I’ve come to learn, is what sets Arona apart, and what makes him a young leader on the plage.

The meeting was fortuitous, for all of us (coming three days after being robbed on the way to school on the Corniche).

Arona is in his late 30s, tall, over six foot, and thin, carrying virtually no body fat. Arona attributes it to poverty. It attribute it to a exceptionally healthy lifestyle, diving everyday, eating a diet of largely fish and vegetables.

Arona is married with three children. He is the sole wage earner for his family, including two unemployed brothers, and his father.

A week ago Arona sent me an email, through Frederique, which said this:

You can help us to develop our GIE of divers.

I want to speak with you for building a project for divers and the family. Some divers have no money enough to make them children go to school. They have no money to buy combinaison to dive. With the cold, last year, one of us die.

If you can help us to get combinaison and all materials for diving, we could find a solution.

Also, for security of children and people, we want a little boat (as the white and blue on the beach) to do offshore stroll.

The boat can belong to the American school that use the boat for free. And divers have the right to use it for tourism to get money for the GIE.

Then GIE will use the benefit for make children go to school.

What do you think of that ?

I really need to speak with you.

And I know a woman who has a kinder garden school but parents have no money enough to pay her. She pays teacher about 10 000 to 25 000 FCFA per month. It's very difficult.

Randi and I sat with Frederique and Arona last Sunday at Ouakam Peche (a start-up business exporting live lobster and fresh fish) to discuss his ideas. The divers of Ouakam are organized into a cooperative, a GIE (Groupement d'Interet Economique). Their livelihood is diving, and harvesting fish, whether as an individual, or a team working with nets from a piroque.

The sea temperature is cooling now, and it will continue to drop as the prevailing offshore winds drive upwelling. Wet suits are necessary, particularly for bodies carrying little to no fat. (The Senegalese divers wear hooded wet suits even in the summer when the water is relatively warm.) A poorly insulated body easily goes hypothermic, and the cost of a new wet suit here can run upwards of 150,000 CFAs, or about $300 USD. No one here has that kind of money. Arona explained that a Ouakam diver died last winter due to exposure.

Arona has asked me to help find wet suits. Bulk neoprene is also an excellent option, being that tailoring is a very common business here. A cottage industry might arise from this.

Arona has also asked for my assistance in locating sources of GPS units and depth sounders, to improve the efficiency of their fishing – standard equipment on millions of American fishing boats.

Fishing is not a luxury for these people, it is their only livelihood.

* * *

The issues facing the people of Ouakam Plage are complex.

I can support Arona personally, out of pocket. I have an extra wetsuit, probably exactly what he needs. I can provide him the funds to fuel his boat, feed his family, and send his three children to school. But Arona is working on behalf of his community, not himself solely.

I believe I can get a dozen wetsuits here without too much trouble. I’ll simply put out the call:

Send me a hooded wet suit, size medium or large, must be tall, 7mm. A used wet suit is fine, but a new one is better. Send me a simple Garmin GPS/depth sounder device. No frills necessary. I’ll send you the mailing address.

Are you willing to purchase some bulk neoprene? I’ll arrange the shipping.

This equipment will directly support the health and safety of local divers, and indirectly benefit their families.

It is understood that this is a modest, short-term solution. Wet suits and GPS units will not address the sustainability of resources. They will not target the treatment of wastewater, which flows through the plage, and fills their well. They will not lead to a political savvy community able to fully assume control of its fishery and its future.

I suggested that Arona consider three big overarching questions on behalf of the cooperative:

how do we work smarter (less work, more money) while preserving and protecting local resources?

what strategies and methods proven successful elsewhere might experiment with here (from fishing practices, to artificial reefs, networking with other communities)? how do we identify sources of expertise?

how do we prepare for the future, given our local realities? how do we raise our children to live and work successfully in two cultures?

In the near term, I would like to produce a short documentary film focusing on the lives of three Ouakam divers, profiling their work, their families, their challenges, and their dreams. With this product in hand, I can then begin contacting manufacturers.

A meeting with the divers’ GIE has been arranged for December 6th to discuss these and other issues. I’ve been invited to attend, a real privilege for me.

Charlie Bit My Finger! Ow, Charlie, That REALLY Hurt!

Meet four 6th grade girls, with who I have the pleasure of working: Cecile (Belgium/USA), JC (Burkina Faso), Ada (Senegal/USA) and Carlota (Spain). Four sweet kids -- smart, friendly, funny, and nutz -- all on the middle school soccer team. While the season is now over, the girls hung around together after school, awaiting practice, entertaining us with their well-polished, finely-crafted dramatic skills.

By example, you may have heard of the much viewed You Tube video titled CharlieBitMyFinger. Yes, it was funny, and yes, it was somewhat entertaining, but check out the refined interpretation by Cecile, Ada, and friends:

It is true: all children of 11 and 12 years old, by virtue of their biology, pass through common maturational stages of intellectual, emotional, and physical growth that may best be characterized as sweet chaos. I enjoy them for the same reasons I enjoy watching gibbons.

ROV Dive Ile de Madeleine

A bunch of us (25 ish) headed out to Ile de Madeleine yesterday for a day of ROVing and snorkeling. Despite the short circuit in our main battery (which smoked, and sparked, and flamed), the new ROV demonstrated that:

the wrapping of the batteries in electrical tape was successful
the hydrophone works
the two-battery configuration works

This was a very important and necessary step in the advancement of the technology.

My immediate involvement in ROV-related activities will be put to rest for awhile now as I invest in forming an ISD Kid Dive Team. I'm working with water babies, no question, and the energy of enthusiasm has clearly shifted to the more direct experience of swimming with fish.

Now, where to find wet suits?

Orientation With Google Earth


I've included these Google earth images as orientation to locales referred to in recent entries:

Image1: NW Africa. Interesting to imagine that the mountains of Mauritania were once attached to the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern US, and the mountains of Scandinavia. But it's been a while . . .

Image2: Senegal, with the Cap Vert Peninsula (and Dakar) jutting out into the Atlantic.

Image3: Dakar and the Cap Vert Peninsula. It's as small as it looks. It takes about 20 minutes to drive from Yoff in the north to the Cap Manuel headlands in the south, depending traffic.

Image4: Our immediate area. ISD is maybe a half mile from Plage Ouakam, an easy walk. The Mamelles, two extinct volcanoes, are prominent features on the landscape, aptly named (mamelles is French for breast, as in mammal).

Image5: An oblique view of Plage Ouakam and the Mamelles bluffs, where I've been diving.

Image6: The cove of Plage Ouakam, and the Mosque of the Divinity.

Image7: A wider view with our flat in the upper right, a 5-10 minute walk to the beach.

Image8: Ile de Madeleine is located about a mile from the peninsula, to the west of Dakar.