The Freedom Artist

To those of you who read books: here’s another recommendation of a compelling examination of how freedom is threatened in a post-truth society. Ben Okri says that he had wanted to write this book “for a long time, maybe all [his] life.” Reading it now in these crazy times is bound to put an even heavier weigh on your chest.

New tales were encouraged. New myths were created by the most highly decorated artists of the land. To be like everyone else was the highest distinction a citizen could hope for. All the new myths promoted this ideal. Uniqueness, individuality, curiosity, became invidious qualities. They made enemies of the state. Anyone who stood out in some way was suspect. To be different was to condemn your fellow citizens. Those who were tall learnt to walk with a stoop. The intelligent learnt to be foolish.

I started this book in an aircraft full of passengers from Freetown. Half of them had full body protective suits, gloves and plastic hoods on throughout the flight. At times, when I had a break from reading and looked around me, I felt I was still in the story! It was one of those powerful moments when you think you escape this world into a book, into that famously mythical world by Okri, and yet everything that is happening around you looks even more fictive and absurd.

Ben Okri: The Freedom Artist (Head of Zeus, 2019)

Can you see the sea?

From the series Nappkat (2017)

What will Dakar look like in 50 years from now and who will then have access to the sea? This and some other thoughts about the situation with coastline in Dakar will feature in my next documentary film that I am starting to work on. For reference, here is a cross post called Corniche – Live Your Dream from my other blog with a couple of photos from Les Mamelles, and another link to a 59 seconds long trailer for Afropolis 2021 Dakar, the film-to-come. Stay tuned!

Chez Relax

I made a documentary about my hometown recently. In the film I am asking people to tell me about their relationship to their town, Saint-Louis, in the north of Senegal by the Mauritanian border. In its final stages of post production I came to realize that I may have chosen to shoot with mini-DV quite subconsciously: it creates a rather rough but at the same time soft view of the footage.

Truth to be told, this town is dirty.

If you have been to Saint-Louis, a town that still carries the Unesco World Heritage label, you may have wondered how it is possible that the river has become a dumping site for domestic waste. In the old days people used to give food as offerings to the river spirits but these days it is just trash, and more trash that finds its way into the river. Ngagne Dabo Ndiaye, who has traveled extensively in his life and who returned to Saint-Louis, had enough of this and has transformed the river side into a small oasis, right next to the bridge and opposite to Hotel Sunu Keur. Now there are plants, tables and chairs and benches for anyone to have a break. He took the initiative to clean this area and planted trees and set up a place where you can have a coffee and snacks and just sit back and relax.

Ngagne Dabo Ndiaye

Ngagne Dabo Ndiaye’s dream is that he will find collaborators with whom he could create more activities for everybody with canoes, paddling boats, games for children and so on. He has been running Chez Relax now for a year without any support and any small gain from selling coffee goes to keeping this place running. If you are in town, please do visit him and stop for a chat and coffee and maybe a sandwich! In case you show up there in the hot hours of the afternoon and he is nowhere to be seen, check under the bridge: he might me having his siesta down there in the cool river bank.

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View from Chez Relax coffee tent

The Jungo: Stakes of the Earth

I finished two books recently: The Book of Khartoum – A City in Short Fiction edited by Raph Cormack and Mack Schmookler; and The Jungo, Stakes of the Earth by Abdel Aziz Baraka Sakin. The former is a collection of stories in a series named “A City in Short Fiction” and it is a very poetic ride and a peak in some contemporary Sudanese fiction. I would have appreciated an edition with longer excerpts though and I’m also asking: why, almost as a rule, are the original titles in literature translated from the Arabic so often missing? Anyway, if you know who is Mehdi, you will have a good time with these excerpts.

I am already missing Baraka Sakin’s novel. It’s one of those stories in which you hate to get closer to the finish because you would like the sesame-picking seasonal workers in al-Hillah, close to the Sudanese-Eritrean-Ethiopian border, to keep you company on and on. I had a few good laughs out loud with this book! The strength of this novel is in the way it is told, almost circularly with a hint of repetition on whatever strange topic or incident shakes the lives of these people.

Abdel Aziz Baraka Sakin: The Jungo, Stakes of the Earth. Africa World Press, 2015. Translated by Adil Babikir.

We headed back to the market, leaving Alam Gishi behind to get ready for her new job. It was noon, and the bank workers were hard at work. The bank would surely be up and running before the next agricultural season. Rumors were circulating that the bank was destined to change the map of wealth and power, and restructure production relations in favor of those in lower income brackets, small-scale farmers and the poor. It was meant to extend interest-free Islamic loans to every producer and farmer. Some analysts interpreted the word “producer” to be an all-inclusive term that embraced literally everyone, without exception. Based on that analysis, it included, without limitation, the big endaya owners, peddlers, ladies selling date arrack, and charcoal sellers. Wad Ammoona thought about opening a small bar by the river bank, similar to the existing one on the eastern bank of the Setit River overlooking Hamdeyit village, which was frequented by clients who would have to swim their way to the other shore, into the Ethiopian territories, carrying no passport, ID, or even a paper with their name on it. Wad Ammoona’s bar would be a blessing for those pleasure seekers and would spare them the risk of drowning in transit.” (p. 85)