Thursday, February 3, 2011

The African Walk Away

Wednesday February 2, 2011

Mini Expo: Day 1

This morning I woke up bright and early to get ready for the mini Artisan Expo. Actually it wasn't bright, it was pitch black, and I felt like had been run over multiple times by a sept-place without an exhaust pipe. In the dark I carried all of the artisanal products that had been hanging out in my room for the past week out to the road, threw all of my dirty clothes into my bag to wash in Dakar, and then finally flagging down a cab and heading to the center to re-load everything into the Peace Corps car where Kerry was already waiting. We then went to pick up Madame Ly who, unsurprisingly, did not take my advice to reduce the amount of product she brought to the MINI expo so the car was absolutely packed.

A quick and comfortable ride into Dakar later, I picked up more artisanal products at the office and then we headed down to Hotel Savana, which is the site of a Peace Corps training conference and therefore the expo. Mamadou, the wood carver from Diourbel made famous from Katherine's and my trip to pick up our chairs, met us at the hotel with giant chairs and huge drums even though I specifically told him that people would be traveling and therefore only want smaller products. Oh well.

After trying to smooth out some miscommunication issues about where, when, and why we would be selling, Madame Ly, Khady, Mamadou and I started setting up the expo outside. This would normally be fine since we are in Senegal and Senegal is usually damn hot, but this year we are actually experiencing a "cold season." While I was able to survive the sub-zero temperatures of Michigan while I was home for vacation, I am unable to function when it dips below 75 in Senegal and am reduced a blithering idiot wrapped in a scarf and blanking sitting in the sun. And no I've been refusing to have pictures taken of me. Thies has been experiencing the cool temperatures much like Dakar, but the Hotel Savana is right on the water and the wind is BRUTAL. My debilitating cold probably didn't help.

This Expo was put together at the last minute as a way to test Madame Ly's ability to organize artisans and sell other peoples' products as well as see if the artisans could trust Madame Ly and myself with their goods. We had a pretty good representation of Senegalese artisanal products. At the event: Madame Ly and her jewelry, Dioss sent small paintings and cards, Madamou has wood products, Matar (Katherine's artisan) sent bags and pret-a-porter clothes, Tamar's women's group sent batick (tie-dyed cloth), baskets from Tivuouane, and Demba (Alys' artisan) sent leather products. I thought it was a pretty good showing. The Expo is also a departure from what we've done in the past because we're selling mainly to Africans (they are Peace Corps employees from across Africa in Senegal for a training) and before this I didn't understand what that would mean.

Apart from feeling terrible while we were selling in the morning, I also thought the Expo was going to be a spectacular failure. No one was buying anything. People were upset that they couldn't bargain for all of the products (I ended up selling for the artisans who were not present and I did not feel comfortable reducing the price lists their volunteers had given me). I was really, really, really worried that I had wasted Madame Ly's, Khady's, and Mamadou's time and that this little foray into other Expos was a horrible terrible idea. As time slowly crawled by and I resigned myself to the fact that we weren't going to do any business, I realized that they were pulling the Africa Walk Away on me!

The African Walk Away: A very important and useful price negotiating technique. When one does not like the price simply walk away and have the seller run after you with a lower price or upon realizing that the price will not be reduce you, as the purchaser, finally give in and pay a slightly higher price.

The afternoon selling sessions really picked up and I think the artisans are happy. This expo is nowhere near as large or as well publicized as the Expo this past December, but the artisans will still make several hundred dollars for two days work, which isn't a bad deal. Apart from the African Walk Away, it was very interesting to see what people were buying. At the Expo in December we sold to a mainly Peace Corps Volunteer and Ex-Pat audience who were interested in Dioss' cards and art as well as wood products as gifts for their friends and family at home. The African Peace Corps trainers attending the conference were much more interested in the dyed fabrics, apparel, and jewelry (although Madame Ly also made bank at the PC Expo in December). It was definitely a good lesson for me.

The day was excruciatingly long. I was dead tired and really sick by the time we packed up and I got in a cab headed for the regional house. Fortunately, the house was dead and I made a delicious pasta dinner with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and basil. After eating my home cooked meal and watching Love and Other Drugs I felt a lot better, but who wouldn't feel better after watching Jake Gyllenhaal romp around naked for the better part of two hours?


  1. Alyssa,

    Jake doesn't do anything for me, but always interesting to see the artisans progress and hopefully this will become one of many opportunities for your group of artisans.


  2. Wasn't on my Oscar list....guess I will reprioritize!

    'Lys' I'm sorry you are feeling under the weather but aboslutely nobody in the USA is feeling bad for you sitting the 75' sun;)

  3. Alyssa, Sorry to hear you have a cold, but I will trade our weather for yours. Glad to hear you did well at the Artesian fair. Love Ma