15 February 2009

fete des apprentis

15 February 2009
Starting the day with a shot of rum and ending it with a bowl of gin makes for deep sleep.

Working with the apprentice couturieres is one of my favorite things to do. Despite the lack of a common language – very few of them speak any French – I always have fun doing workshops on business skills with them.

I woke up and got up at 5 am, put on my headlamp and stumbled around getting dressed, feeding the kitten etc. I have such a hard time getting up when it’s still dark so I was pretty pleased with my productiveness.

I was out of the house by 5.50, ten minutes later than I’d hoped, but I have learned to expect that people will be 30 minutes late. I’ve never walked through the village this early before. It was nice and quiet, although I was disappointed to not find anyone selling bouille and beignets, I’d been looking forward to the sweet fried doughnut-like things since Friday. I arrived at the designated meeting place and started to get worried.
I was all alone, hungry and already sweaty from the small amount of exertion for the 15 minute walk. Did I miss the bus, was everyone gone already?

The girl sweeping the front porch looked up and I recognized her as one of the apprentices. She greeted me and told me to go inside the compound. I called out a greeting but no one heard me over the radio. I entered to find 6 women in various states of undress, making breakfast, sweeping or otherwise slowly but purposefully going about the daily tasks of the morning. I began to wonder if I’d gotten the day wrong. “Wasn’t there supposed to be a taxi here at 6?” I asked.

The eldest daughter, who I knew from school – she’s a bright 4eme student – laughed a little and said “l’heure Africaine... six heures à l’heure Africaine”. I sighed, imperceptibly I hope, and accepted her offer of a chair. Over the next three hours, I finished crocheting a little purse out of plastic bags, was fed two breakfasts, and drank a sizeable cup of rum.

Various women and men trickled in, wearing different styles all in the same pagne that I wore as well. I accepted many compliments on my outfit and oohed and ahhed over the hairstyles, jewelry and tailor’s skill of the new arrivals.
Finally our chariot arrived – a big red van that I see often going and coming from Mission Tové. Painted on the side of the van is a silhouette of a dogsled team, underneath which is written Huskies à bord. I wonder how this van made its way to sub-Saharan Africa. It’s been redesigned here – the original seats ripped out and replaced with small benches squeezed together so that what would have been a 7-seater van before now sits 12, if you have only one person in each seat. We fit at least 20 in there by adding a wooden bench to the very back, placed above the huge pots of rice, sauce, ablo etc for the picnic.
For some silly reason, we took the rough path that leads straight to Tsevié – a path that I have biked twice, but that is definitely not suitable for a van, even with the new alternative path that bypasses the broken bridge. I was find in the front, squeezed in next to the large and lovely Da M who loves giving my food and drink and complimenting me on how beautiful my “grosse” (fat) form is. I feel skinny next to her. Together we absorbed the shock of the terrible road with no problem, but there were frequent gasps and squeals from the poor quintet of girls stuck on the wooden bench far in the back.
We sang and chanted to announce our presence in all the tiny little villages along the path. Although I’m sure a huge red van chock-full of girls in bright yellow complets is pretty noticeable even without the harmonious shouting.
We sand about the Syncoutat – the trade association of tailors – in praise of our local president, and of the patrons, and Mawu (God), for blessing us with talent, determination and clients.
We sang all the way to Agbelouvé – the site of this year’s regional Syncoutat fête. We gathered in a large circle at the lycée, rows of school benches set out and labeled for each village represented at the fête. I profited from my novelty (being white) and was given a seat at the front of the Mission Tové section where I could see everything. I drank baobab and banana juice, took tons of pictures, and danced until I felt like I might take off into flight from pumping my elbows chicken-style and my booty jiggled so fast even Beyoncé would’ve been impressed.
Then we watched skits, ate a huge meal (accompanied by both pastis and gin) and rested to join the dance yet again.

Current reading: Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan

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