Birdsong and antelope masks

Work has been pretty demanding over the past couple of weeks, leaving me no time to post an entry here. In fact it also left me without the time or energy to do anything worth writing about. Everyday life for many people, I guess: get up and eat, go to work, go home, eat, wind down in front of the TV for an hour and go to bed again. Only the time in front of the TV was mostly spent searching through the channels to see which, if any, had any reception, and so was more likely to wind me up than down.

But through all of this I was still reminded of the many differences in my life here. In the early hours of the morning, trying to push work out of my mind and get back to sleep, I could hear the call to prayer from a nearby mosque. The banging of large but not-yet-ripe mangoes hanging from one of my trees being blown against my metal roof in the strong winds we’ve had all week. Then, much later, the persistent and demanding sound of a vehicle horn – the signal to householders or their maids to bring out their rubbish and take it to the rubbish truck making its way very slowly down the main road.

Birdsong, too, is different, from the cheerful ‘chuk chuk twiruwe’ of the common bulbuls, the harsh call of the long-tailed glossy starlings, to the wheezy, plaintive ‘kheeey-errrr’ of the black kites circling overhead – always to be seen over my house as a pair have a nest in a tree around the corner.

The starlings were in a tree outside the IFAN museum in Dakar – a museum of West African tribal art, with some wonderful masks and other wooden sculptures. Some friends reading this will know my love of the elegant chi-wara mask from Mali (a representation of the antelope spirit that taught agriculture to mankind, with associations of harmony between man and woman, and between humans and the earth), and so would understand why I went around the top floor display three times. But in addition to a lovely collection of different styles of chi-wara were some amazing nimba sculptures from Guinea – enormous, heavy and yet graceful representations of female fertility. My scheduled trip to Guinea in late February was called off because of the civil unrest there at the time, and this reminded me of how much I am looking forward to the rearranged trip later this year.

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