Le Pont

La canicule du Presque-Saint-Jean pèse lourd. Trois Polonais, torses nus, se sont installés à pêcher sur le banc du fleuve, au-dessous du pont ferroviaire qui traverse le fleuve. Avalé par la végétation et tagué de cris politiques depuis étouffés, le pont est moitié caché sous la dense verdure. L’eau du fleuve est aussi jaune que je m’en souvenais, il y a quoi? Cinquante ans? Le train ne passe plus ici depuis des années, les gens ont acheté des voitures. Personne ne marche ici, sauf les Polonais. Et moi. Les trois hommes ont leurs cannes à pêche dans une main, une canette de bière collée dans l’autre. Ils se méfient de moi comme si je les avais surpris en train de commettre un délit. Pourtant, je suis devenu un étranger ici, moi aussi. Je les laisse tranquilles, eux ils prétendent de m’ignorer.  

Nous avions grimpé la colline juste au-dessous des rails, nos têtes entre les traverses, pour regarder un train s’approcher. Celui qui se retirerait la tête le dernier serait gagnant. La fin du monde! Notre nouvelle drogue, bruyante, nous faisait rire et hurler et trembler nos intestins, jusqu’au jour où quelqu’un nous informait que les trains pissaient un liquide, couleur bleue, qui traversait tout, même ta petite tête si tu avais la malchance.   

– Qui t’a dit ça ? 

– Peut-être la même personne qui m’avait prévenu que le monstre qui habitait aux profondeurs du fleuve aimait attraper des enfants pour petit déjeuner ?  

Je serre un sac dans ma main. Il y a ma future chemise de pionnier, cousu par un ami tailleur. Coton vert, épais et dur. Je la porterai avec un foulard rouge avec des pinces attachées à la hauteur du coeur. Malgré nos moyens, j’avais insisté sur la chemise. Sans l’uniforme, tu risquais de perdre toute crédibilité, et j’avais convaincu ma grand-mère d’investir. Arrivé au pont, je marche sur les rails avec une concentration aiguë, par peur de train. J’imagine l’irréversibilité de mes actions: qu’est-ce qui m’arrive si je jette la chemise dans le fleuve ? Dois-je inventer une histoire d’un train qui m’a presque écrasé ? Tout cet effort pour une chemise, en vain? J’ai peur de mes pensées. 

– Tu l’as fait ?  

– Non. Je l’ai portée lors de nos réunions hebdomadaires et aux événements culturels où on accueillait de jeunes camarades de Leningrad. 

“Sale communiste !” Les gens chuchotaient à mi-voix dans le bus. Je m’en foutais victorieusement, je voulais marquer mon camp, à dix ans. Puis, la chemise est devenue trop petite. Les murs sont tombés, la ligne de train a été fermée. J’ai quitté mon pays. Les petites têtes de Lénin en métal sur ma poitrine coton vert, arrêtaient de trembler de nos rires et hurlements. Le monstre qui habitait le fleuve et qui mangeait des enfants s’est endormi. Peut-être que les Polonais allaient le faire réveiller?

Rue de Longue Vie

The first novel in my upcoming trilogy has a working title Rue de Longue Vie – or: Street of Long Life – and it tells a story that happens mostly in Senegal, with backslashes in Brussels and Nouakchott. Yesterday I went to collect some visual support that I can later use when I write about Brussels related events and now I feel like I should do this more often! This was a quick hop to the Midi station and Gare de l’Ouest, then a ten-minute-walk around two blocks in Ixelles with a fast-paced point-and-shoot tactics. A couple of times I felt like like a voyerist or private eye (too much TV maybe?), the essential thing was to capture something essential that I need in the story. The devil is in the detail!

Afropolis Dakar: A New Nexus

I’m sharing with you a teaser for my upcoming short film in the series on urban space and city dwellers. This film will discuss the status quo of urban planning and the Dakarois civic activism in times in which the public space seems to be growing more and more private with often foreing investments. The teaser was filmed at the beach in Nord Foire in Dakar.

As it happens, the pandemic ruined most of my plans in regard to film making (and I would like to shout, like I am sure you would too: in regard to so many things!) so I have postponed this project for now, in wait of better days and unmasked faces. In practise this means that I will focus more on writing during the summer, so chances are good that it will also affect my future posts on this blog, possibly with random snippets of texts.

Afropolis Dakar: A New Nexus

Afropolis Dakar: A New Nexus. Teaser, 00:59 min.

A One-Minute-City

Fresh meat, open in the evenings”

Have you ever taken part in a community design process in some way? As far as I remember, I did such things in the seventies every time there was a need to embellish the neighbourhood together. The reward for doing this was usually a soft drink of red or yellow colour, someties maybe even some snacks. 

Now with the current pandemic, policy makers have been more actively rethinking of how to make a city more livable. A common tendency seems to be that those smaller neighbourhoods with active communities are something that is worth getting back to. Recently I read about Stockholm and how they would like to take into consideraton “the space outside your front door — and that of your neighbors adjacent and opposite.”* So much so that the immediate surroundings within one-minute range from your home is what counts the most. I’ve seen glimpses of something similar – at times – in the policies by the commune of Saint-Gilles/Sint-Gillis in Brussels, where some streets have been transformed according to teh wishes of the inhabitants. (I will probably come back to this at some point later.)

Stockholm’s own one-minute city plan aims at having streets that have been strategically designed by the immediate local community. In many ways this is how Senegalese cities seem to work, allthough so far you may need to replace the word “designed” with “taken over by silent anarchy”. Within the one-minute radius most of the neighbourhoods here are formed organically and as such they represent the immediate needs of the population in an informal wayr. Carpenters, welders, shoe makers, fruit sellers.. you name it! This is what the article refers to as “open, generative street culture”* and what the policy makers in Sweden are looking for.

Positive signs are in the air as far as community design process in Dakar is concerned. Save Dakar, a civic movement has been actively pursuing the idea of turning the city greener. To add to their campaign, I would like to suggest, for starters, that sidewalks should be claimed back for pedestrians instead of their being occupied by giant 4×4 cars. This problem goes back as far as I can remember… New political imagination about urban planning does not seem to be too high on the agenda of the decision makers but let’s hope that the civil activism that we are now witnessing will be able to change that!

As far as urban planning in Saint-Louis is concerned, it has – surprisingly – manifested in a very active way since March 2019 with sewage works and new paved streets. The work is still ongoing and when things get ready we may have a rainy season without long-lasting giant lakes taking over entire neighborhoods. But what may be missing is a dialogue between civil society and the decision makers. It seems that there is a plan but few people know what it is. If, for instance, you are a small entrepreneur, the street may be dug up right in front of your shop or restaurant etc. and then everything just stagnates for days. 

The good thing with both the one-minute city plan and the Senegalese “organic model” is that essential services are easily accessed from people’s homes. Yet, Senegal may be going to the opposite direction and this one-minute lifestyle will be endangered: in Dakar and some other cities the French supermarket chains are gaining ground and popularity while markets and small butiks suffer. The supermarkets don’t beat small sellers only with prices and wider range of imported goods but also with this certain halo of luxury about going to a supermarket, that they have been able to generate. You can park your car right next to a Casino or an Auchan, and as we know, whoever that has a beautiful car will have whatever excuse there is to show it to the rest of the world.

*Make Way for the ‘One-Minute City’ article by Bloomberg (link copied 23 January 2021)

Afropolis 2020 Saint-Louis

Afropolis 2020 Saint-Louis

What makes you remember a street? Is there an area in town to which you return often? Why? We all know how specific areas within any given city have their own feel and pace, depending on the time of the day. I was always a walker and in whatever town I lived, I always developed a fast understanding of my own favorite neighborhoods. In the case of Saint-Louis, it’s the northern part of the island, or the sandy stretch of land further north by the Mauritanian border in Goxum Bacc and Sal Sal. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic I started my days by walking around the island very early in the morning, and the first thing I do is check the surface of the river as some sort of a fortune teller or weather forecast. I would also choose my first walk or bicycle route of the day always by the river even in the non-pandemic times. 

With Covid-19 the pace of life has changed and even more so with the Ramadan in full swing. This change will – I hope – manifest also in my video installations for Afropolis. I have chatted with friends and listened to them talk about their hometown and it has been very interesting to hear what they like about this town and how they would change it if they could. I chose to shoot on the streets with a mini DV camcorder on purpose as I have come to realize that digital does not always convey so well what I am hoping to show. I like this extra-economical boundary of 60 minute-cassettes because that puts me in a completely different mood with planning my work. Additionally, it has been my interviewees who gave me ideas for locations to shoot.  

Afropolis 2020 Saint-LouisA Takkusaan Production (2020), Duration: 45:14 (In French & Wolof)