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’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.
For a couple of weeks my home street has been going through some serious sewage works that started from the main mosque in the north and has been approaching our house ever since. For a few days they have now rumbled the earth right in front of the house and left a terribly noisy water pump to run through the night. Goodbye quiet nights of curfew!
I felt extra confined today for a short moment when I could not walk out of the house because of mountains of sand that had been piled up along the front of the house. But that was only a good sign. It meant that the loose earth was soon going to cover everything that had been opened up earlier, and then the works would move on in the street towards south, away from the house! When that work was done, the guys had a lunch typically in the Senegalese way on the spot. No fuzz!
Today has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. It affected me very strongly to read the news in the morning about Senegal keeping its borders closed until 31st of May. This means I need to change my plan again, in other words I will stay put yet another six weeks (!) alone in the house. I tried to find out about possible repatriation flights with Air France and Air Senegal and found out that Air France has one flight on April 27 to Paris. I waited on the phone line for over an hour to find out if I could reserve a seat and it appeared that there were some places left in business class. A one-way-ticket would have cost 1800 000 fcfa, in other words over 2700 euro. That was a bitter call.
On a more positive note, I interviewed a friend called Aziz today for my video installation that I am preparing for Afropolis. It’s a work in which I chat with people about their home town. I will edit a short clip shortly and upload it on the Afropolis website and on social media on Ello. It’s a start for a series of interviews in my home residency that has been supported by The Kone Foundation. This project has a fresh and timely side vein: as I am being put on hold from shooting video material in Dakar or Nouakchott thanks to Covid-19, my focus is now on Saint-Louis full time. I am taking snapshots of people and will publish little stories in relation to these snapshots and post them in this blog. Keeping busy, are we? Six weeks will be but a blink of an eye!
Yesterday two things happened that made me very cheerful. The first one was the news that I had been selected to take part in the Kone Foundation Home Residency. It’s a fantastic opportunity to network and communicate with other artists and share your work-in-progress with them in these difficult times. This piece of news gave me a real boost to keep on working on Afropolis – my long term project on African urban space – in whatever way is possible right now. According to the original plan I was going to shoot video in crammed buses and other public transport, and later on travel again to Diamniadio in Dakar and to Nouakchott and film in some of its suburbs. In these exceptional circumstances I will now focus on interviews either from distance or on the spot here in Saint-Louis, whenever it’s possible. This is also a chance to experience another form of residency that operates on social platforms – I’m thrilled!
The other good news was that a friend of mine knocked on the door and brought me two very fancy pairs of face masks! Now I have some extra pairs and I don’t need to wash that one mask all the time.
To spice up your day with some Senegalese ambience, here is a short clip that shows how the local mayor Mr. Mansour Faye distributes face masks in a local market. Social distancing is not included.
Senegal’s borders are closed and the President has declared a state of emergency with travel restrictions between cities and a partial curfew for evenings and nights. Big gatherings are no longer allowed and that has created a rather rare situation in Senegal and in my neighborhood: as children are not in school, there is still the reguar and very noisy afternoon football match on our street, but apart from that life has suddenly gone very quiet!
I am in a self imposed confinement since three weeks now and strangely just now, when we are socially deprived in so many ways, also Facebook has abandoned me. I am locked out of my account because of the malfunction of their two-phase authenticity system upon logging in, so I thought perhaps I would share some of my thoughts in this blog instead. I am not going to count days and bore everyone with statistics about how many have fallen ill and how many died – we are already very much informed of this every morning in the media. Rather, I will write short observations about how life unwraps in Saint-Louis in these strange times.