Katherine and I arrived in St. Louis Wednesday afternoon after the one of the worst sept-place rides of all time. I literally sat on my right hip the entire time because the back seat was so small, a the giant woman sitting next to us decided to needed to jiggle her baby most of the ride, and the 2.5 hour trip actually took a little over 4. The only thought that sustained us during our sept-place ride was: Rice Krispie Treats. Katherine’s mom sent us some last minute food supplies and we brought a lot of it to St. Louis, most importantly the Rice Krispies. There was obviously no gas at the Peace Corps house in St. Louis so we foraged for sticks. On the side of the road. In a major city. Once we collected what we thought was a sufficient amount of stick on which to cook Rice Krispie treats the magic happened. Fortunately, butter and marshmallows don’t take too much heat to melt and before we knew it we were indulging in the gooy delight that is Rice Krispie treats. Making ourselves sick for what would be the first out of two times on Rice Krispie treats we hid the remnants in a plastic bag and then put it in our luggage to enjoy later/ hide from other PCVs because we’re fatties.
In a sugar coma, we walk across the bridge to the island to meet Amanda and see the gallery for the first time. We also walked through the artisanal stand section to find our booth and prepare to help the artisans find the booth and set up Thursday morning. The gallery, like the one in Dakar, was beautiful although they received a giant shipment of goods while we were there and actually didn’t get everything set up and open for business until Friday, which was a day after the actual festival started. Everything seemed like it was under control and Katherine and I left the island feeling like the artisans could pretty much fend for themselves and our roles would be minimal. We made a delicious Mexican fiesta over some more sticks, ate some more Rice Krispie treats, created a PST presentation, and went to bed thinking that the apocalypse probably wouldn’t happen the next day. We were wrong.
The gallery was supposed to open at 9am so that’s when Katherine and arrived to find the first floor of the gallery overrun with product to the point where we could barely find a path to walk. The first day at the gallery was a bust because it never opened, but it did provide us with a reprieve of the absolute hell taking place outside. I went to the stand to search for artisans and ran into Ndeye, a boutique owner from Kaolack, on my way there. She couldn’t find the booth. Ndeye was the first artisan to show up followed by the women from Kebemer who make bags and then Mme. Ly. It was obvious at this point that we were in trouble. The artisans were not happy about the space or the congestion in the “artisan” area. We had warned them about the space. At the last artisan meeting we actually mapped out on the floor the dimensions of the booth and reiterated to everyone that they could not bring their usual amount of goods/ baggage. This needed to be an event where we worked together to make the most of our space. This obviously didn’t happen.
The three women started setting up and pretty much filled the entire space and four artisans had still not yet arrived. I had had several discussions with Mme. Ly about only bringing her best goods and only bringing a couple necklaces, bracelets, and earrings in each style. This obviously fell on deaf ears as she brought her normal/ ridiculous quantity of goods. I was really annoyed she completely disregarded my recommendations and then that she refused to reduce the amount of goods she had on display so other artisans had more room. The day really only got worse from this point.
Katherine and I had to move our bags from the Peace Corps office to the house our stage rented for the weekend so we did this and had lunch, leaving the three artisans who had actually arrived at this point at about 12:30. We returned at 2pm to hell. The male artisans had finally arrived and the amount of bags they brought with them had brought all of the artisans to a complete standstill. It was like they were paralyzed. No one was continuing to set up. Everyone was just sitting there, complaining about the lack of space, and staring at the unpacked goods. While we were hoping to have a minimal role, Katherine and I jumped in and started unpacking; there was nothing else to do. We moved as much as we had been OK’ed to move into the gallery to create more space and we attempted to have the artisans work together in creating displays.
The Peace Corps Artisan Association is supposed to be a practice in collaboration. There are already several products where artisans work together and several have become good friends, but when it comes to money and showcasing goods all bets are off. Each artisan wanted his or her own space. No one wanted to or accepted the idea of displaying a piece of jewelry in a bowl or on a basket. There was just an explosion of goods and it looked terrible. Fortunately Amanda came over to play bad guy and arrange goods for them. The artisans are terrified that the one product they put away is the one thing that will sell even if they already have the same product displayed elsewhere. Amanda helped us work with the artisans for several hours to create a space that looked semi-decent, but which was still overflowing with products.
The artisans and especially Mme. Ly did not like what we did. At this point it’s 6pm and we’ve been working on arranging things since the early morning. Most of the artisans traveled to St. Louis that day. Everyone is exhausted, it’s incredibly hot, and the conditions are just terrible. The artisan exposition is more like a bazaar. The vast majority of booths were filled with random crap from the market, goods made in China, and cheap knock off goods. There were 100 booths and maybe 20 had actual artisanal clients. The majority of the clients were Senegalese school girls and there was a constant crush of humanity milling along the road at all times. Loud music was blasted and the organizational effort put in by the mayor’s office was nonexistent. I went to a boutique to buy drinks and donuts to make everyone feel better, but most of the artisans didn’t even want it. That’s how angry and exhausted everyone was. With nothing left to do and the artisans definitely not wanting to talk to us, Katherine, Alys, and I left around 6:30 for a much needed and deserved beverage.
Friday morning wasn’t all that much better. The gallery finally opened and served as our oasis from the chaos outside, but since the chaos outside stretched to the front of the gallery we barely had any customers. What we were able to do was bring the artisans inside the gallery so Amanda could talk to them about product display. Unfortunately when she asked them what the biggest difference between the booth and gallery was they said space instead of set-up, but they did she how nice and clean and minimal everything looked. Space was definitely tight at the booth, but if they had worked together to display everything they would have been much better off. The men really seemed to get this lesson and take the entire debacle as a learning experience. I’m not so sure about the women. Next week I will talk to Mme. Ly and have a short de-brief to learn what she really thought. Hopefully she’ll have cooled off by then.
Friday night was the big Peace Corps party night. Richard, the volunteer in my stage in St. Louis, had his favorite hangout hold a Peace Corps Appreciation Night and he was the DJ at the event. The party was really fun…too fun and I paid the price yesterday. We had planned on leaving yesterday morning to come to Dakar, but that turned into yesterday afternoon as Katherine and I had to spend most of the morning in bed and finding my phone. For some reason I gave Katherine my phone who put it in the safest place to put some of value: her bra. When we woke up yesterday morning the phone was gone. We went back to the hotel where some PCVs were staying and looked around. Nothing. We asked the staff at the hotel. Nothing. My phone was ringing and no o ne was picking it up so we thought there was a pretty good chance that it was laying somewhere for us to find. On the walk back from the hotel Katherine decided we should check the beach as she had gone out there with Emily and tripped several times. With Katherine calling my phone and me following behind scanning the beach, I saw Katherine’s entire body shake in excitement and then bend down and pick up my phone. The phone was still on the beach at 12pm. That’s a Peace Corps miracle right there!
Phone in hand, we headed back to get our bags and then to the gallery to meet Alys. A delicious greasy hamburger later, I felt like I could survive a 5 hour car ride to Dakar and we were off. A fairly easy car ride later we met Tamar at the regional house, took showers, and made delicious pizza. I’m extremely happy the expo in St. Louis is over. The planning and the event itself was extremely stressful, but it also marked my last project of my service. I’m definitely disappointed it wasn’t a big success, but I hope the artisans learned something and that future expos will be better. The event didn’t destroy the association, but seemed to make it stronger which is good. I’m now relaxing and recovering in Dakar at the regional house before moving to a hotel this afternoon to start my COS conference! Let the craziness continue…
Pictures will be up eventually.
Messy, but Warm
10 months ago