This past week I've been working on my back-up plan, in case the unemployed English major thing doesn't work out--so far I've found my calling in bronze-working. I tried batik, but mostly I just splashed hot wax on myself and everyone around me, so I had to give up that dream. We were in a government-sponsored village of artisans in the middle of Dakar. Our bronze workshop was a little ways outside the main village, so we walked down this wide red dirt road--past the woodcarvers and the recycled art garden, and to what looked like a barn without sides. Out front was an enormous bronze hand, lying discarded along the path---next to one open-side was a huge, unfinished bronze statue of the torso of a man, his face looming large over us. There was blood painted running out of his nose and eyes and his mouth was open in a yell, and a perfectly circular hole under one arm for a tamana, or talking drum, that was going to be added later. It was artistic and angst-y, and like most artistic and angst-y things, I didn't really like to look at it.
The bronze workers (there were three men--one old and crazy and very Rafiki-like, one who literally could have passed for any age but who I think was maybe in his early 30s, and one who I thought was 12 but turned out to be 23....embarrassing) packed us in around a metal table with a big square cut out in the middle for this burning hot grill of burquettes where they heated up these hot metal poker rods. Then they put slabs of wax in front of us--it smelled like honeycombs exactly, and that was the extent of our initial instruction. So first I made some shapeless nothings, then I brainstormed at least 70 different things that would be impossible to sculpt (I thought I was onto something with a candelabra, but then I remembered that someday I would be flying home, inshallah*, and when I made that trip I'd have to make it with 50 pounds or less. Needless to say, the candelabra got the ax. Thanks United.) I settled on crafting a bird's nest, which wasn't that difficult but necessitated a long and elaborate skit on what I was trying to make, Rafiki the bronze-worker and I were not jiving when it came to my vision. After many attempts to describe the nest of a bird (which included flapping around, pretending to sit on some eggs, and shouting THE HOUSE OF A BIRD, which in hindsight, might have hurt more than helped), I came to understand that the birds here make a different kind of nest than I was making, and then we were able to settle our creative differences. I think I'm going to either use it as a door stop or paperweight depending on how heavy it comes out. We'll see.
Then I made a Christmas ornament of Africa, because Lord knows I'm not buying that off the street here---thanks Islam. And then I carefully crafted a mini-goat/ram** statue, in honor of the one at my house, with whom I share an ever-evolving and very complicated relationship.
Sidenote: last night the mouton caused an uproar at my house. Everyone got all excited because he somehow pulled an empty box of feminine hygiene products out of the trash (which I have never, coincidentally, seen--they're hiding it from me). It's not that he was eating cardboard, because that's a pretty normal occurrence, and usually they just rip it into smaller pieces for him instead of taking it away, but apparently there was plastic on this box. Cardboard, fine. Plastic, bad? You learn something new everyday.
But I digress. Back to bronzing. So after my somewhat rocky start, we settled into things, and after some more skits we came to understand the process that our wax sculptures would undergo. We were creating bronze sculptures using the lost wax theory--basically you make the sculptures by molding hot wax, and then around the wax you pour a plaster/concrete mix. Once that hardens, you put the plaster mold into a smokin' hot brick oven and let the wax melt out. After the wax is all gone, you pour the smokin' hot bronze into the mold you've created out of the plaster. Voila. Bronze statue. Amateur hour is over.
I might have also found my calling in professional dancing--what I lack in skills I make up for in uncoordinated, white enthusiasm. We were being instructed by three Griot siblings--Tutti, the sister and dancer, the brother, who had a lisp and an unpronounceable name, but who was quite the djembe drummer, and another brother whose identity also escaped me but who wore dark aviator sunglasses the whole time and beat the sabar like nobody's business. Tutti reminded me of a a cartoon character, but I don't know which one, and I couldn't quite tell you why--but her face was so animated and her body so atypical for a dancer that there was something altogether unbelievable about it. She was fun though, she rarely talked unless she was singing or yelling at her brothers, and she didn't really smile that much--mostly she just got in front of us and started dancing, and we started following along and praying we could keep up.
We were at a studio in the National Theater of Sorano, but we were still shufflin' around in about six years' worth of dirt on the floor and narrowly avoiding several missing floorboards and some very suspicious weak spots. But the dance itself was intense---we spent a lot of time in big, wild motion. It was, more than anything else, liberating to be caught in enough pounding rhythm and exuberant movement that language barriers and heat rash stopped mattering. Well. The heat rash became an issue once we stopped moving, and you were instantly so sweaty it was like being submerged underwater. Not even like getting out of a pool wet--because then you're in the process of drying off. Submerged in sweat.
But it was fun and life is good, and my host family still likes me (or just likes laughing at me, but you know, whatever works), and today I washed my underwear, and I'm at a fancy toubab mall right on the water using the internet and catching the breeze, and tomorrow we're leaving for a cross-country adventure into the Southern part of Senegal to go see us some wildlife and tribesmen, taking on what every comes our way with a sense of humor and (fingers crossed) a strong stomach.
*a word on Inshallah--it means God Willing, and you say it everytime you talk about the future. I find it wildly unnerving. What do you mean I'll see you tomorrow, Inshallah? What do you think is going to happen to me? **It's up for debate on the species of this fine creature. Is it a goat? Is it a ram? No one knows for sure. ***Really you should just call me Lala because everyone does now, including all the other Americans. I don't think anyone, including the administration, could tell you what my real name is. Lala's takin' over.