Postcolonial Urbanisms in Senegal: January 8th

Schedule change today! We left at around 830 in the morning to head to the main university of Dakar, université Cheikh Anta Diop. We took a tour of the university’s library and talked with one of the librarians about the resources that they provide students and how the books circulate. Then we visited a special area where Islamic texts were preserved. There were incredibly old Islamic texts – dating back to the 16th and 17th century – that curators there were trying to preserve but unfortunately did not have the proper resources to do so. Some of them had been translated into French and also printed in books, but most were only available in their original paper form and were rapidly deteriorating. After this visit, we then visited the IFAN museum, which is the only museum of African art in Dakar. It is a very beautiful white building reminiscent of the art Deco style in downtown Dakar. The main floor had an exhibit of traditional African art in general. A lot of the pieces were from Mali and had to do with initiation rituals. There was an entire section dedicated to fertility and the impregnation process as well. I was reminded of how much I originally wanted to study abroad in Mali, due to one of my linguistics professor’s enthusiastic recommendation. The exhibit on the second floor was also highly interesting because it was the “contemporary” exhibition – divided into three parts, it commented on the juxtaposition of tradition with modern materials and processes. The first part was a critical commentary of the plastic consumption and waste in modern Senegal. A tree was shown strung with and covered in plastic, plastic bags strewn all over the ground. It was not far off from real life scenes while driving through certain neighborhoods in Dakar. In one corner, a table was shown set with entirely plastic ware and utensils. The exhibit was made to force the viewer to reflect on his or her personal plastic consumption and how that contributes to the urban environment. The second part showed the modern version of a specific utensil compared to the traditional, or original, version. For example, next to a woven basket was a plastic tote. Next to a clay bowl was a plastic bowl. I was thinking throughout the exhibit that most of the modern day items were made in China. Although I can understand that some viewers might believe that the exhibit was trying to say that people should use more of the traditional items, frankly, the modern day versions are much easier to access and seemed simpler and just as functional for the most part. I left this exhibit feeling more ambivalent about the message. The third part was a photography exhibit and I rushed through it, thinking that I was late to meet the other students.

 

We had lunch at Rosalind’s house – a beautiful tranquil pink house tucked away in a corner of Liberté 1, a neighborhood just bordering Baobab and Point E. She has a giant mango tree in her courtyard, and we took out some maps to stretch out underneath. This was my first time eating traditional Senegalese food in the giant bowls since arriving to Dakar. We had been eating Senegalese food at the Baobab centre, but in a self-service style. The lunch took a long time to prepare, and once the food came out, I understood why. These were not giant bowls – they were enormous platters, easily big enough to fit three babies. We had tchoube tdjienne, the national dish, a tomato-flavored rice dish with potatoes, taro, vegetables, and beef. There were also beans and a fish yassa dish. Yassa is a sauce made out of onions and spices, and it is addictively delicious. I was in a serious food coma after the lunch, and we all just stretched out on the mats for a while afterwards to unwind. As we left, I saw that the woman who had served us, who clearly had been working for Rosalind, was beginning to eat. It made me uncomfortable that she ate after us, as if she couldn’t eat at the same time or from the same plates as us. There were some other people who joined our circles around the platters as we ate, but they were all men. It just made me think of how in so many cultures, the guests and the men are prioritized before the women who actually labored over the meal.

 

We returned clearly late to the Baobab Centre where we had a lecture on postcolonial development and politics in Senegal. This was the part of the course that most interested me, as someone who aspires to work in international development policy and regularly reads program reports and policy recommendations for fun. We read two peer-reviewed, academic articles about Senegal’s development history post-colonialism and also one report by the CSIS Africa Program assessing Senegal’s political and economic development. Perhaps unsurprisingly for me, the report was easiest for me to both understand and analyze. This was partially because many such reports are in laymens terms in order for Board members, donors, and other members of the public who are not experts in the field to understand. It was also because I am used to reading such reports that are clearly organized with an introduction, an analysis, and a conclusion, typically with recommendations written into the conclusion. Academic articles about development are much harder for me to understand, and often frustrating because I feel that they disconnect so much from the real issue at hand to the point of self-obsoletion. Most academic articles about development issues could not serve as recommendation fodder, for example. That was definitely the case with Mamadou Diaf’s article “Senegalese Development: from Mass Mobilization to Technocratic Elitism” which was more a historical overview of Senegalese political development. Mamadou Diaf also co-wrote another article with Aminata Diaw called “The Senegalese Opposition and its Quest for Power” about the strategies that the opposition parties when Wade was in power used in order to mobilize mass participation in electoral politics.

 

Questions: 1. What are the actual statistics on plastic consumption in Dakar?

2. Is it cheaper to buy plastic houseware and utensils or are the traditional versions similarly accessible? Which are more widely available and distributed?

3. Are servants typically expected to eat after, and separate from, the family and/or guests? Why did men join our meal but not the women?

 

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