When I think about my interactions in Senegal, I become passionate. My chest gets this tight feeling and nostalgia consumes me; it is a very visceral reaction. In travelling to Senegal, I strove to entwine myself into a culture fundamentally different from my own in day-to-day life and I feel gratitude and awe at how the experiences and people I met there allowed me to do so.
There is an open energy I associate with Senegal. If one chooses to embrace it, they can be granted the special opportunity to integrate themselves into the rhythm of the country, in whatever form that takes. This opportunity relies on one’s own comfort and readiness to experience new interactions.
When I travel, I look for meaningful connections — the things that allow me to feel centred wherever I am. Without that, I feel inhibited from being fully present in a place. Additionally, when travelling between countries that move differently, I feel cognitively disoriented, as I did arriving to Senegal from Canada and vice versa — an inability to understand where you are and that you’ve been shifted from one place to another in a short period. Your body doesn’t have time to realize the distance it’s covered and you fail to be completely aware of the scenes around you. I experienced disconnection and disorientation when I arrived. Looking out at the streets, I saw garbage everywhere, broken-down taxis, men on horse and buggies whipping their animals, groups of barefoot children pushing each other in the streets, dust covering everything, fruit stands with thick veils of flies, the smallest kittens I’ve ever seen searching for food on busy streets. Watching the black plume from the vehicles around me, I tasted the diesel in my mouth and felt as if I were being swallowed by the heavy, polluted air.
During my first week, I would go up to the roof tops and take photos from above. The majority of my photos from this time have an aerial perspective — cross-sections of people going about their business on sand-covered streets. Looking at these photos, they have an isolated quality, like someone spying into another’s private life; they seem invasive and unfair, as they should. As I pushed myself out each day into scenarios that had originally intimidated me, I began to meet people and make connections — strong connections in which conversations resonated, enhancing my desire to learn more about and become, as well as I could, part of the culture I had placed myself in. In doing so, the original disorientation faded. In these connections, I had the opportunity to acquire knowledge about the particular practices I was drawn to. As this happened, the perspective of my photos swerved, matching my growing level of comfortability. I would take photos once I felt sufficiently familiar with the people, the trade, the area I was capturing.
From what I have learned, Senegal is a nation filled with people that are extremely skilled in a wide variety of hands-on tasks including textile weaving, welding, and dressmaking. I was interested in the fishing industry, an industry that plays a substantial role in the Senegalese economy. I watched each step of the process, from catching the fish to preparing it to eat. I would go out with the fishermen in the day. Wading up to my waist in a river in the mangroves with a sure current, I would position myself while cradling my camera just above the surface of the water. I watched a fisherman, Alec, throw the fishing net on the children who had followed us to the river. I heard happy shrieks from the boys with their heads tenting the net out of the water, pretending to be fish. Sitting on small wooden stools under the shade of canopy trees, I would watch the women in the early afternoon prepare the fish. As the skin was peeled from the fish, I would see the white underside emerge, covered with dark purple clot spots seeping through the translucent bodies. These photos meant much more to me than those taken my first week.
Driving through streets as my departure neared, I saw taxi drivers yelling, laughing to each other out their windows at stop signs, vendors making tea over small gasoline tanks, women carrying babies on their backs and baskets on their heads with impressive stamina, groups of children sucking candies. I found myself leaving no longer a stranger, but as someone with experiences and ties to people who mean a lot to me. I realize the details I had subconsciously attuned myself to at the beginning and end of my trip were quite different. Nothing external had changed, but my perspective had grown to embrace the new.