Our ten-day residency in the fishing village of Toubab Dialaw was a collaborative project by Hector Aristizábal’s nonprofit ImaginAction and the Senegalese theater company Kaddu Yaraax, under the direction of Mohamadou Diol. Eight “internationals” from the US and Europe lived with Senegalese colleagues from different regions of the country, all of us engaged with using theater–especially Theater of the Oppressed (“TO”)–to promote positive social change and community health. None of this would have been possible without the help of Angelo Miramonti, an experienced TO practitioner who lives in Dakar while managing UNICEF projects in West Africa. Here’s Angelo talking to Marie, a wonderful visual artist who lives in Dakar. After she joined the group, we took full advantage of her as a Wolof-French interpreter. (And there will be better photos of her–she’s beautiful–in the next installment.)
I say we were playing telephone because in addition to potential misunderstandings due to cultural context, our communications went through three languages, translations from Wolof to French to English and back and what I think I understood…well…you remember the game of telephone. Senegalese documentarian Moustapha Seck (who is also the author of a forthcoming book on Malcolm X–known in Senegal as el Hajj Malick) and I are going to try to parse some of this out in a collaborative bilingual essay. For now, I will give just a more touristy account of the trip as so many people have asked about it.
Much of the group assembled in Dakar on May 16 for the minibus trip to Toubab Dialaw, about 50 km south of the capital. Here are Hector and Carmen.
Tiel looks out the window as we travel.
I saw many more horse-drawn carts than private automobiles.
Here’s Dior whose name is pronounced more like the Portuguese name João than like Christian Dior.
Mornings, we came to life hearing her song.
We shared a house–basically a hostel devoted to our group alone. Basic rooms with a mattress. Four bathrooms which were wonderful when there was water. Looking down into the patio from the second floor, you can see the sandy area to the right. Getting acquainted.
You often find this, like a big sandbox that serves as a gathering place. It’s where we played theater games, exercises, did improvisations, created a play and rehearsed it.
And where we had circles for checking in and discussion. In the Senegalese tradition, such circles are called pinch (in Wolof, spelling unknown by me). We did quite a bit of pinching.
People draw diagrams in the sand or just, as you see with this boy, make designs with shells and stones.
Mornings we had bread and coffee prepared and served by Adama and Dame. Here is Fax. Pronounced Fox. I forgot he didn’t speak English and so didn’t understand why I kept calling him Monsieur le Renard.
Exercise on the beach led by Marianne.
Day by day, more and more people got curious about us. Children peeked over the wall.
People came in the door.
Here comes lunch.
Oilcloths get spread on the floor, we sit around sharing large platters of thiébou dienne, usually a short grain Thai rice that’s almost more like risotto or couscous topped with stewed vegetables, mostly squash and cabbage, topped with a fish and sautéed onions, flavored with some sort of spice. Eat with a spoon or with hand.
The very pregnant cat who lived in the house loved us most at mealtimes. We left before the kittens came.
Her relatives invited us into their home
and let us draw as much as we wanted from their own well.
Marianne joins the procession of women carrying water.
She lives in the South of France and did a valiant job as French-English interpreter. Marianne was concerned about how she would be seen as a Frenchwoman. There’s resentment toward the colonial power and, in addition, in Toubab Dialaw for example, many French nationals are seasonal residents, escaping the winter, and spending months but never socializing with the Senegalese. Marianne shattered that stereotype.
Some members of our group who did speak French preferred not to. Babacar called Wolof the happy language, as opposed to French which was imposed.
Moi? It was a trip to recover some of my high school French. I thought it was perfect. I could usually make myself understood but I spoke it so poorly no one could conceivably mistake me for a French person.
We returned able to flush the toilets. And even the cat was happy.
Next installment I’ll write more about people, developing our play and performing it in the village.