Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Artisan Association II

Today featured two big events. The first was totally fun and the second, slightly annoying, but overall effective.

The Thies/ Dakar region finally has our very own Health/Environmental Education PCV and today was her inauguration lunch. Lisa was thrown into the deep end since almost everyone was able to attend and when we all get together it's hard to stop us for even a second to do introductions or explain anything. It is a special kind of bond when everyone can talk at the same time about myriad topics and start in the middle of stories and we all understand everything.

I've been eagerly anticipating today's afternoon event, the artisan reseau meeting, for several weeks. The meeting marks the second formal meeting of the association and also provided me with a forum to speak directly to the artisans instead of over the phone where we've all suffered misunderstandings and miscommunication. The association meeting started at 3pm so that the artisans had the majority of the day to travel to Thies and so that the PCVs could meet to discuss the Jazz Fest and other artisan things over lunch and perhaps a beverage or two to take the edge off.

When Katherine and I arrived at the center about 15 minutes before three 3pm I was stunned to find several artisans already ready, waiting, and mingling. Madame Ly threats regarding timeliness seem to work for some... they definitely don't for others. After a brief powwow with Talla to go over the main points of the meeting we were ready to start.

I was very pleased with the turnout. An artisan for PCV was present for each artisan attending the St. Louis Jazz Fest and one artisan from Kaolack who isn't even going to the Jazz Fest also came, which I thought was a bonus. I have to admit that I have been hoping that a female artisan from Kaolack named Ndeye would drop out. I'm not impressed with the plethora jewelry and weird cloth things she makes and it's just harder to coordinate with someone further away, but she's fantastic and deserves all the credit in the world. Katherine and I imposed fairly difficult restrictions on her about money for Jazz Fest, getting to the PCV in Kaolack in a timely fashion, plus she will have the greatest costs getting herself and her goods to Kaolack. She's been up to the challenge and is a very sweet woman. Ndeye is obviously hardworking, entrepreneurial, and independent woman. All that being said, there are still only two booths and seven artisans. It's going to be tight.

We discussed how there is only a limited amount of space that the artisans have to share and about the importance of at least attempting a somewhat cohesive look for the tables. After a long and drawn out discussion about space we finally got how to break down the costs of the tables. Since there are two tables and seven artisans, we were thinking one table of 3 and one table of 4 with the 70k price tag split amongst the artisans at that table. At first the artisans were going to split it evenly, but they finally figured out that they should split it amongst the table members. This lead to an infuriating discussion over who would be at each table led by Katherine's tailor, Matar. It was very important to him that he and his boy posse of Demba (Alys' leather worker in Mboro) and Mamadou (April's woodworker in Diourbel) be the three man table. I don't really know how this conversation spiraled out of control since no one was against Matar's idea, but it did. I just hope that the artisans don't freak out when they actually see the booths. We told them the exact dimensions and kept reiterating the small space and that people (aka Mme. Ly) can't bring all of their usual stuff. I'm expecting disaster, but we'll see what happens.

Division of tables and costs lead to what I knew would be the most frustrating part of the meeting: dues collection. I've been singing the praises of the women from Kebemer (cloth bag makers who don't have a PCV) because they are well organized even without a PCV and really know what's going on. At the last meeting I was pleased that they wanted to head up the Treasury because I thought they could handle it. Turns out, they don't actually write things down when keeping track of dues. Excellent. I ended up writing everyone's financial information on a giant sheet of flip chart paper so the treasurer could re-write it and all of the artisans could be sure that no one was getting cheated and that everyone was paying the correct amount. The amount of back and forth this necessitated was amazing. There was also a huge discussion over whether dues paid by members not attending Jazz Fest would be going to pay for the event. Lets just say that the idea of a communal pot and the true idea of an association has not quite taken hold yet. The money issues were solved as best they could. PCVs are still out money that they fronted, but I'm prepared to play bad guy at Jazz Fest to make sure that everything balances. Talla was instrumental in getting the money issues understood and solved. We couldn't have done it without him.

Amanda, the third year based in Dakar who works with the West African Trade Hub and who connected the reseau with the gallery owner in St. Louis, attended the meeting to explain the gallery. I was really happy she could come to explain the level of quality, creativity, and professionalism the gallery owner demanded so there was a separation between myself and that aspect of Jazz Fest. Especially since I didn't want it to appear that Mme. Ly was receiving special treatment since she will be exposing at the gallery and I'm largely seen as the PCV in charge. She did a really good job and I hope that she inspired the other artisans to take a look at the gallery and think about how they can improve their products so they could potentially exhibit in a gallery one day.

Three hours after the meeting began Talla, the artisans, and the volunteers were getting restless and we were done. A couple of minutes after most of the artisans left and I was sitting around with Katherine and April, Mamadou and Demba arrived. Three hours late. They were flabbergasted that the meeting was already over. Fortunately, Matar was still there and rehashed the meeting for them because I was too exhausted at that point to explain everything, again.

The meeting was definitely a success. I feel much better knowing that everything has definitely been relayed to all of the artisans and that there were no communication problems since Talla was there. I know that there are going to be problems with transportation, lodging, food, and space in St. Louis, but now that those problems have been presented and are out in the open they are no longer my problems; they are the artisans problems. Hopefully everything will go well. Now, my only St. Louis challenge, until the actually event, is to convince Mme. Ly that she absolutely cannot bring her giant/ ridiculous amount of product. Good luck to me


  1. Alyssa,

    It is nice to see a plan come together and that some of your worries may not come to fruition.


  2. You guys are going to be great! (And Madame Ly will absolutely bring all her things.)