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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Leaving Africa

After a failed attempt to leave Dakar yesterday morning, we woke up even earlier this morning to stand in even longer lines for our return flight. Changes in cabin pressure on takeoff gave me a tremendous migraine which I’m still fighting. Somehow Delta messed up their flight schedule and listed the Dakar flight arriving to JFK almost 2 hours earlier than it realistically could in the currently existing physical universe. As a result, Delta booked a group of us on a connecting flight to Atlanta that was scheduled to leave JFK at the same time as we arrived from Dakar, obviously leaving no time for clearing immigration and customs and reentering security. Such are the impacts of neoliberalism when corporations run bare bones operations that privilege profit over human needs or comfort. I don’t think Delta made any fans on this flight, with many disgruntled passengers vowing never to fly the airline again.

Coming into New York, immigration pulled one of the graduates from Portland State who I met yesterday in the Novotel into secondary. Her traveling partner standing behind her in line had a very concerned look on his face. I wonder what that was about. If anyone knows, please let me know what happened. I don’t have her name in order to check on her.

Although its no longer -25C, snow is still on the ground and (worse) the political climate here is way too cold for my tastes. And I’m not even home yet. Because of the Delta problems I lost my connection on the puddle jumper and have to spend another night in a hotel. It does not feel like a vacation right now. No, it’s not good to be back. I would have rather stayed in Dakar.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Delayed in Dakar

I woke up early this morning and took a taxi to the airport only to find out that our pilot is sick. We will not be flying back to JFK today. Several years ago we were similarly delayed leaving the Nairobi forum (because the engine was falling off the BA plane, in that case), and we groaned and wished we could have been delayed someplace safer and more interesting. In contrast, spending an extra day in Dakar is perfectly fine with me. After booking my flight I realized that my schedule would easily have allowed me to stay an extra day in this nice tropic weather rather than returning to the frozen north so soon, and now my wish is realized. And, to boot, the extra day vacation at the Novotel is courtesy of Delta Airlines.

I'll go walk around the town for a bit now with Roxanne and hopefully do dinner later tonite with some friends, but mostly I'll be doing what I would be doing if I were home instead: working. Maybe that is lame, but rather than freezing my butt off I'll be doing it hanging out by the pool.

West of West Africa

The forum ended today, and instead of going to the closing ceremonies, as I should have done, I followed my NIGD colleagues to Les Almadies, the westernmost point on the African continent. Unfortunately, the point is part of a capitalist hotel that has privatized the commons to the exploitation of us humans, so I could not actually step foot west of West Africa. Farther west of Les Almadies is Recife, and apparently planes from South America used to fly via Dakar to Europe. Nevertheless, being out on the coast, even if it is surrounded with seafood restaurants, is much nicer than being back in -25C snow. Visiting this point was the last remaining thing I wanted to do in Dakar, so it is maybe as good as any way to spend my last hours here. I thought that somehow coming to Les Almadies should be representative of my time at the forum, but I’m not exactly sure how.

For a variety of reasons I have not spent much time blogging on this trip, and I feel as if I have less to say about it than I have on previous forums. In part this is perhaps because after so many forums it feels as if the most interesting things I might say I have already said before. In part, it is because I have been spending my evenings when I would normally write hanging out with people instead (which also plays complete havoc with my malarial medication–I’m supposed to take it at the same time every nite and two hours after I’ve eaten, but that point in time has not existed once yet on this trip).

It seems if at least I should go back and summarize what I’ve been doing for the last week. Let’s see, I think it must have been Monday nite, February 7 after I posted my last blog post that we found out about a reception at the Brazil embassy. Brazilian diplomats gave long winded speeches about the good work that they were doing while we became more and more hungry, but at least by the end of the nite we were able to plow through the free snacks for dinner. Lula had spoken earlier in the afternoon but we couldn’t figure out when and where he was soon enough to catch him.

Tuesday and Wednesday were my main work days. On Tuesday, the first and second time slots had CACIM panels on the future of the forum and Axis 12, and for the third slot I attended a session that Deborah James organized on the WTO as part of Our World Is Not For Sale. On Wednesday, Thomas and I spent the morning organizing our NIGD session for later in the day, and in the afternoon I attended the launch of Geoffrey Pleyers’s new book Alter-Globalization. In the last slot we had the main NIGD session we have every year on the future of the forum. I have notes from these sessions that sometimes I’ve posted on my blog, but I don’t have the where with all to clean them up this time, and I am not sure they are worth anything in their raw form. I do have audio and photos that I’ll post as soon as I have better internet.

The schedule came out in bits and pieces which made it very hard to plan out a schedule, and Wednesday nite I could not verify what was happening on Thursday, so I did one of three more historical (touristy) things I wanted to do in Dakar. Just off the coast is the island of Goree that the French used for the export of slaves. After visiting the slave forts in Ghana, I was very curious as to what the slave island was like (more of the same, perhaps). The island, nevertheless, was a nice quiet retreat from the bustle and pollution of Dakar, even though I did get rather sunburned.

I planned to just go to the island in the morning and return to the forum in the afternoon, but instead I followed a group to the Monument to the African Renaissance. It was a waste of time because it looks the same close up as it does from our house, and I wasn’t about to pay 10 euros to take an elevator to the top of the statute.

I returned to the forum in the late afternoon in time to catch Milla’s session on e-publishing, which was well done. This (Friday) morning we had our NIGD meeting, and in the afternoon I returned to the forum but the session on assembly of social movement assemblies was not meeting where and when it was listed in the program, and instead of attending the closing ceremonies I came to the coast.

After playing for the last 2 days instead of foruming I find out that despite the chaotic schedule interesting stuff did happen at the forum, including some interesting social movement assemblies that I wish I had attended. My German farmboy work ethnic kicks in, and I feel guilty for not being more productive. now the forum is over, and what do I have to show for it?

Everyone will say this was the most chaotic forum ever, and different stories swirl around why that was the case (the official story line is that Senegal’s president replaced the university’s rector a couple days before the forum in order to sabotage it). The program came out day by day (and finally time slot by time slot) with some sessions not even including locations, which made it incredibly difficult to find stuff. A couple of my observations for what they are worth:

Different forums have had different levels of security, but this was perhaps the most open. Anyone could walk onto campus and into sessions without showing any credentials. The only time I need to show mine was to get into the press center where I used the internet.

As the week of the forum wore on, more and more craft vendors descended on the forum which made it a real pain to navigate the grounds because of the added bustle, human compression, and constant hassle. At previous forums this was always controlled a bit by the need to have credentials to come on the grounds.

The NGO vs. grassroots divide seems to be as large as ever here, and unfortunately I have spent more time with NGO-type groups than with the grassroots. I’m in a very international setting, but few of my companions are from Senegal. I’m not sure I’ve actually been here.

On the other hand, this is West Africa and on the surface at least it does seem very much like Ghana. I had planned to buy souvenirs, but did not because everything looks the same as it did in Ghana. Dakar somehow seems wealthier (I need to check the UNDP’s HDI ratings), and one person told me that the president Wade has spent a lot of money on the roads. It’s still a pain to navigate the city, but not nearly as much so as Accra.

Ghana was the most religious, most christian place I have ever been, but Dakar is a much more secular muslim country. Even so, the Imams crying out early in the morning to bring out the dead is very annoying. Do muslims suffer from chronic sleep deprivation I wonder?

The weather here has been beautiful, though a wind has picked up the last couple days that makes it feel a bit chilly. Dust is swirling everywhere, which makes my throat hurt.

Ok, maybe later I’ll have more comments and reflections, and maybe more useful and meaningful ones at that. If so, I’ll add those later.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Che, Africa Style

I haven’t had a lot of mental space or internet connectivity to be blogging much here, or doing much else either. The typical WSF chaos is perhaps at an all time high (or at least that is what others are saying; to me it seems normal). I didn’t bother going to the first day to get my press badge because I heard rumors that they were not open–which turned out not to be the case. So I’ve spent hours over the last 2 days trying to get my press kit, but I just acquire it in bits and pieces (it is still not complete).

Yesterday we had a good march through the streets of Dakar to the university where the social forum will take place. The newspapers say 10,000. The organizers say 60,000. Who knows; it seemed large to me. It generated a lot of good energy. I took way too many photos, 668 to be exact. I only saw 2 Ches, and one was with the Venezuelan delegation, but somehow their banner had disappeared when I went back to take a photo.

The march culminated with a rally at the university where Evo Morales was the headline speaker. So much for maintaining the fiction of a divide between electoral politics and social movements. The person who introduced Evo said he came from Bolivia, the land of Che and Tupac Amaru Shakur. Evo gave a standard speech: imperialism bad, the social forum is a school where we can all learn, etc. He said some more interesting things, but I was smashed in a group of people and I didn’t have my press badge yet to maneuver myself into a position where I could tape the talk or take notes.

I hadn’t eaten all day, and by evening I was starving (sorry, “famished,” as Deborah James corrected me) and ended up at the restaurant “Just for you” that had incredibly slow service and finally we just left.

Today is Africa Day at the forum. No one had a schedule, which makes it hard to find sessions. Furthermore, the room numbers listed for the sessions in the schedule don’t correspond to the room numbers on the buildings. The program finally came out this afternoon and I was psyched to score a copy, but when I look at it I realize that it just has today’s sessions. No one knows where to go for tomorrow’s sessions. Worse, classes were supposed to be done by the time the forum started (which is apparently why they shifted the forum off of Davos), but a strike in January delayed the end of the semester so part of the zoo is the students trying to finish their exams while we are meeting.

I’m trying to upload some pictures, but my connection is too slow so I’m not sure when you’ll see my Che, Africa Style. But it is nice to be on the most western point of the African continent, and the temperature is perfect here–definitely a lot better than back home.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Arrived in Dakar early yesterday morning for the World Social Forum. Spent yesterday just settling in. Today we came to the press center to get our credentials, but they ran out so we are waiting for them. The opening march starts in a bit and we will go join it. More later. marc.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

World Social Forum

I’m back in west Africa, and it is pretty much the standard zoo. Last nite in JFK, the plane directly across from our gate was leaving for Accra. I felt like a traitor coming to Senegal–I should be going to Ghana instead.

Navigating TSA is increasingly becoming a real joke. Everyone who flies much has 3-1-1 drilled into their heads, but yet leaving IRK one person went through security with 2 plastic bags and another had a tube of toothpaste that the TSA agent squeezed down to 3 ounces and then said it was ok. The irony of ironies is that unlike the failed shoe and underwear bombers that make us strip in front of TSA, the reason for the 3-ounce limit on toothpaste is because the U.S. government knows how easy it is to make a devastating toothpaste bomb because they helped Luis Posada Carriles do so in his successful terrorist attack on the Cubana airliner in 1976. Changing planes in STL, I had to go back through security. I queued up behind a regular metal detector, but one of the TSA Nazis sent me through the invasive enhanced full body scanner instead. When I asked the TSA how they decided who to send through which scanner they said it was “random.” Random my foot. It’s like going back to the bad old days before the TSA when I would constantly be “randomly” pulled into secondary as if I had the word “random” tattooed on my forehead.

Arriving in Francaphone Africa complicates logistics, with massive confusion trying to change money (turns out it was not having enough money to change, but rather not having it in the proper denominations for what I wanted to change). Norm and Molly’s taxi driver said he would be happy to drop me off for a single agreed upon price, but once he left their hotel the deal changed completely as his price just for me now went through the roof. I hate taxi drivers.

But I found the house where NIGD is staying, apparently the only one who was able to do so, and it is nice to be back with this group of people. This afternoon we plan to go to the university where the WSF begins with a march tomorrow to try get our press credentials.

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