Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Weavers and Fabrics!

Barry showing Pia dresses in beautiful colours
And so in the sometimes unsettling strangeness of a completely different world one meets a stranger whom one needs to trust and go along with. We met Barry, a young man looking for customers for his family's fabric store. We, Christina the MO, Soren and I walked up a main street in Dakar with Barry to the store, where he proceeded to show me finished garments and lots of fabrics, plenty of fabrics, piles of fabrics.

Søren in front of copious piles of fabric
 Two very persistent dealers were working on my husband to get him to buy ..... anything they thought he might be willing to take off their hands. Shirts, t-shirts, bags, cloth, pants, another shirt. In the end I have to admit that I got a bit rude and told them to leave him alone. I was the one with the money and we didn't need anything for him today, it was all for me, me, me! After having said this fairly strongly in several languages (English and French) a couple of times, they backed off and left him in peace. It was strange, I had come to a place in my head where I stood very firm. I did not want to let myself or anyone in my company be 'bullied' into buying or not feeling too good about where they were. The rules of trading, buying and selling in Senegal were very different from what the three of us in the group were used to.

11 meters of fabric for an as of yet unknown project.
On the other hand though I have to acknowledge the fact that life in the part of world we were visiting is very hard and when we visit we are being viewed as someone of 'means', we may not be according to our standards here at home in North America or Europe but....... in comparison to what the majority of people have to deal with in Senegal, which is where we were fortunate enough to be, we were majorly well off.  And so my mind kept tipping back and forth between slight irritation since I don't like to be pushed (as most of us don't I am sure) to buy anything and trying to calm myself down with reminders that what I was experiencing was not aimed at me personally merely I was in the midst of experiencing another person's survival technique.
This is the 11 meters of waxed cotton fabric which I went back to the ship with that day in my back pack, and as of now it is draped over my rocking chair so I can look at it anytime I want to. Eventually I will figure out what to use it for.
I was really there, am glad to have a photo for proof!
Walking back towards the square where Barry had picked us up he and I talked about fabrics, cloths and .... and we got talking about weaving and he offered to show me weavers - my ears went as long as rabbit ears, I could hardly contain myself. Unfortunately it couldn't happen just that moment since I was on my way down to the ship to go to work. Other people still had to eat although I was full and  satisfied with the bliss of this day and the thoughts of the one to come.

I think that young man could wind spools with his toes!
The next morning Christina and I set off again and met up with Barry who took us on a 3 hour whirlwind tour of Dakar to experience some of this city's amazing ways of life.
We jumped in a cab which took us to an area where weaving work shops were set up along the shelter of a brick wall surrounding some kind of compound or market space.
We stopped and took photos of one small weaving business, a boss weaver, two other weavers and 3 shaft shifters!

The third weaver with his swordsman!
Yes, it was hard to believe, there were only two treadles for the tabby weave, all the 12-16 shaft patterns were being changed by hand and the shed opened up towards the plain shafts with the aid of a weaving sword! On top of this the tabby treadles were merely two stings attached to the shafts and there were sticks at the end of the strings, which as a flip flop sandal was placed between the big toe and the next toe, thus resting a pencil size stick along the bottom of the weaver's toes from one side of the foot to the other.
My heart beat so fast and my eyes couldn't get enough, it was like ....... well, it felt incredible that I should have the great fortune to actually be standing there, on a street in Dakar, Senegal, with a friend and a guide and look at these very fast, precise and diligent weavers.

 We did pay the boss weaver a tip and were allowed to take photos. I used the fantastic button on my camera which allows me to film also and have done two clips of a few very short seconds of the rythm and movement involved in the mechanics of weaving in Dakar, Senegal.
In my humble opinion, AMAZING!
weaving shuttle, spool is a piece of plastic tubing
Looking at their tools I was feeling some hopes and wishes start to move about in my chest and so Barry was kind enough to inquire for me if it would be possible to purchase a weaving shuttle from the head weaver. Lo and behold, it was, I did purchase a shuttle. Barry thought it was expensive, and I suppose that he was right but I thought it over.

Bottom of shuttle,  18.5cm long x 4cm wide
I really wanted and wished to be able to take that shuttle home with me. The shuttles were hand carved and not for sale just in any corner store and it sounded like they actually could not be found in Dakar, you had to purchase them else where.  Once again I was grateful for my 'fortune' in that, although it was not a very cheap shuttle (and why should it be by the way, it was hand carved and a tool in use!) it would have been much more expensive had I had to fly back to Dakar to get it after returning home across the Atlantic to Nova Scotia. So I purchased it and the man showed it to me, picked up a stick to hold the spool into place, then hesitated, picked up a spool of his fine multi-threaded red tabby cotton and put it in the shuttle.
One of these days I will weave some sort of a piece which has a little area of colour and texture coming directly from Dakar.
We walked on along the wall and around the corner came to another little street which had even more weavers set up. Some of these had wider warps than the ones we had seen first, shawl width, but the whole very simple two person loom setup was the same and the shuttles were flying and the swords were sliding up through the warp just the same too. All these impressions and the thoughts which have turned up since then are like golden treasures for me, they can be brought out to brighten up the dullest of days.
I am thankful that Barry was an observant enough salesperson and guide that he picked up on my interests and was able to show me to a corner of Dakar, which I would have never been able to find for myself or have known how to articulate an interest in. I didn't know people would have  weaving businesses in the street under canapes of old sheets to keep the sun out. How was I to know, it was out of my landscape of knowledge until Barry had the kindness to show me.


  1. Pia! This is such a great story. I'm enjoying your trip from my kitchen in Cape Breton!

  2. thank you, Shari, I love reliving it at home on the couch =-) So much to think about!

  3. Thank you so much Pia, for the amazing, beautiful thoughts and stories!

  4. It is a pleasure to write and share. The photos and the words sit behind the skull and then suddenly they have to come out, there is no way to avoid it and the ..... The fingers run on the key board and the eyes find the right photos and voilà, there is peace again :-)

  5. Your experience reminds me of when I traveled to Guatemala last year - lots of weavers and shop owners pushing their beautiful wares/wears on me when really I just wanted to admire the skill, colour combinations, etc. I too paid to take photos and did pick up a couple of special things. My mind waivered on whether I should just purchase to help support the local artisans or hold out for the very special piece that would bring great joy to me on a daily basis. Hard thing to grasp while traveling and not understanding the circumstances of other peoples' everyday. Happy you found Barry to show you such special places. :) I love your stories Pia, and will continue to fill my mind with your travel experieces - thanks for sharing them. :)