Saturday, March 22, 2008

First sail in Dakar

Our Mennonite friends invited me to go for a sail. The 4 boats are all home-made in Dakar.

This is one way of putting 4 sailboats on the road. 3 PDRacers (Puddle Duck Racer) and one Marisol skiff.

Launching the PDR. The PDracer weights less than 30kg and is made of hardware store materials.

PDRacer ready for boarding with a "reef" in the sail, i.e. the sail is wrapped around the mast a few times before the sprit boom is lashed on.

And they are off! Watermelon made it back to the beach a few minutes later but the rudder was broken (design flaw - not construction).

The 12foot Marisol ready for a sail.

This beautiful little boat seats 4 people comfortably, is very stylish and practical with deadeyes and belaying pins and few concessions to modern gear.

It was breezy enough to put in one reef (smaller sail area).

Under sail, passing a wreck run agound.

This wreck also serves as a good bird perch. But swabbing the decks on the moored boats at tehe local marina must be a pretty dirty job!

It has a gunter rig (which stows inside the boat) with 3 reefs. Jonathan's mother even hand-stiched this sail.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

March 2008 newsletter from Dakar

B&G March newsletter from Dakar, (click on links to see photos or hear music)

We are all well and we have now been in Dakar 3 months. It’s a great place to spend the winter with blue skies, temps in the mid 20C and the blue ocean nearby.

For the first 2 weeks of January, we did a few touristy things with RenĂ©e, B’s mother. We went to once beautiful but now forlorn St Louis, the first capital of the French colonies of West Africa and to the nearby world famous Djoudj bird sanctuary (thousands of pelicans and many other species). We also went to the Pink Lake (Lac Retba, 10 times saltier than the ocean, previous end-point of the Paris-Dakar rally and occasionally pink from a salt eating algae) and to the Benedictine monastery of Keur Moussa for the Sunday mass with a successful blend of African and Gregorian music (but no dancing or hand clapping).

After that fun interlude we have continued to look for employment locally. We knocked on many NGO doors and applied for many internet jobs but have had only limited success so far. Unfortunately the few major national food security projects recently finished and all that’s going now are food relief projects. Furthermore, unlike Cambodia, there are many competent and educated West Africans (interestingly there are very strong academic connections with between Senegal and the US), so the need for expat skills is low. Fortunately B has part time but interesting work assisting World Vision in planning a long term project for rural economic development. This has involved a 4 day field trip in villages, attending a 3 day regional conference on fair trade (all good in theory but a few major issues for developing countries, such as high cost of certification) and meeting with people and agencies for bits of information (information in developing countries is always bitty and has a short shelf-life).

In a nutshell, my observations that Senegalese village life is very different from that in Cambodia:


Huts in clumps in the middle of the sandy soil
With luck some public piped water from deep water wells with electric pumps (>300m!)
Low round thatched huts in fenced compounds
Many sheep, goats and donkeys around (pigs only in Catholic communities), horse carts with tires
Baobab and other large trees and large birds
Little personal transport (too sandy for thin wheels), no engines
Monochrome and bare mosques and not many schools
People very shy of a camera
Pretty quiet except for the pounding of grain, animals and the 5 daily calls of the muezzin
No public eating places
No flower bushes

Houses all along roads and waterways
Pond in front or back of each house, several hand water pumps around villages
Rectangular houses on stilts
Dogs, pigs, cows and water buffaloes (some with carts with wooden wheels)
Small trees and not much wildlife
Many bicycles, small motos, small engines (for milling, battery charging, pumping, etc.)
Colourful and decorated pagodas, schools
People very happy to be photographed
Always some noise from pagoda, ceremonies, engines, radios/karaoke, …
Always some public eateries with customers
Colourful flower bushes around houses

But there are also similarities: hordes of curious children and chickens, women working and men talking/sleeping, few young adults around (trying their luck in the cities), stacks of straw for animals and plastic bags littering everywhere (even stuck in tree branches).

We have also gone to the very colourful and melodic international Anglophone church service with a monthly organisation rota by country, and each nationality tries to out-do the others. We have also gone to the more formal mass at the beautiful Dakar Cathedral, with a successful mix of western, orthodox, and islamic architectural elements and beautiful stained glass.

Driving here is generally much safer and more predictable than in Cambodia, as long as one gives a wide berth to the numerous beaten-up taxis (they only have 2 speeds: 1) when looking for customers looking anywhere but forward: too slow, weaving and stop anywhere, anyhow and 2) with a fare looking only straight ahead: too fast and stop for nothing.

On the cultural scene we have greatly enjoyed a concert by Habib Koite & Bamada, one of Mali’s best current groups. And we have also been to a few other concerts and modern dance. One of the nice local art form is called “sous verre”, a painting done in mirror image directly on a piece of glass. For B’s sister’s Tiphaine birthday we got one made of her cats.

For fun (and sometime exercise), B goes regularly to the wonderful olympic swimming pool (shh, one of Dakar’s best kept secrets), we can go to a nearby nice beach with rollers where on windy days there is a bevy of kite surfers. We also went kayaking once and we hope to go again.

Dakar just had the grand jamboree of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OCI). It was supposed to happen here in 2006 but was postponed due to construction delays. Well, they barely got the main roads usable the day before the opening and the few huge new hotels are still at skeleton stage. So they had to rent a huge cruise ship and close the harbour for a week so as to have enough secure high class hotel rooms and a large enough conference rooms! Our nearby thoroughfare had been taken over by hundreds of polite but firm and fully decked soldiers and a stream of speedy all-lights-flashing unmarked black vehicle motorcades.

As we live by the airport we had a few rare visitors: huge black USAF C5 Galaxies transports when G.W. Bush was about 1000 miles from here (!) and now with the OCI, first a few huge white Russian AN124 transports, rumoured to bring fancy cars, and then a slew of planes ranging from small private jets and prop planes to a variety of old and new private Boeings and Airbuses.

A couple of recent interesting reads have been: “the white man’s burden” about understanding the failed efforts of western aid for development (these good books are often written by former World Bank staff who primarily fault the WB, the IMF and other government-to-government programs) and books by Lamin Sanneh, a Gambian Moslem turned Catholic scholar with an enlightening analysis of the social-political-spiritual issues surrounding western and Moslem cultures.

For vicarious travels check out panoramic views of famous sites.

That’s all for now and best wishes to all your northerners for a nice spring! Bises,

Bernard and Gina and the ZZs.