Monday, September 12, 2005

In Limerick (Luimneach) / recap of Dakar trip

I guess that the "journal" or "diary" facet of blogging would lead people reading this blog about a trip to Dakar and Limerick to expect a bit of a travelogue. In fact, there is much and not much to say. Moreover not much time to say it...

Nevertheless, I'm in Limerick (Luimneach in Irish Gaelic) - with a fast broadband cable access at the University of Limerick - and will have more on Shannon (Sionainn) and Limerick later, but will first catch up on Dakar.

One was immersed in certain realities of the city of Dakar for several days - unusually heavy rains and urban flooding; rides in beat up taxis, immersed in the fumes of badly maintained motors; feeling the heat and humidity; relying on "cabines téléphoniques" for phone communication; trying to situate myself with regard to places that I got to know a little in several visits in the mid-1980s. What makes it all worthwhile is the people and the sense of doing and learning something as I go. Would have liked to have time to get out into the countryside, but not this time. On this trip to Dakar - my first in almost two decades - I lost the sense of a center to the city, though it is there, and found some parts that I knew before seem to have deteriorated. On the other hand there is new building in various places in town as the city - like cities all over - spreads.

Re the taxis, the drivers' lot is a hard one, if for no other reason than the breathing of exhaust fumes constantly. There was a story about France and Britain putting an excise tax on airfares to help the poor. Well leaving aside questions about the effects of transportation taxes generally, one could make a case for some sort of surcharge on somebody to pay for health problems from this urban vehicle pollution. And while we're at it some program to alleviate the hidden tax of broken roads, which all vehicle owners and operators pay daily (and they're not all rich). And so on. Transporation is not so far removed from communication as a concern, but it is a bit offtopic here except that in town it was fundamental to getting to see people and visit offices. But enough on this aside.

Anyway, as previously mentioned, having shifted gears while in Dakar to staying with friends and not at a moderately upscale hotel, opportunities to connect were rather catch-as-catch-can. Did note among other things, that the going rate for most cybercafés here seems to be 300FCFA/hour (a little more than half a dollar and less than half a euro). Used one in Point E for an hour on the 8th; noted in the same area (where there are several offices I visited) that a power outage in the middle of the day (9th) simply put them out of action (the ones I saw were smallish - 2 to about 20 computers). Connected briefly at WARC (see below) but the speed was slow, and also using the ADSL connection at Charles Becker's office. Noted that the Sofitel in town has a good wireless conection on its lobby level (had to wait for someone there). The Meridian Président (fancier than Novotel or Sofitel) had a decent wireless connection but you have to pay 2000FCFA per half hour or 3500 for an hour (decidedly a worse deal than Novotel or Sofitel where the wireless connection was free). My hosts Anne Dodge and Chuck Kennedy have very graciously let me get on line at their place (but I was not able to hook-up to their ADSL connection because there was apparently some additional software necessary to connect via USB cable).

I will recapiltulate the past days in reverse chronological order as best as I can now, and return to today later... [this is still a bit rough and I need to edit/add some more later]

Avec mes excuses aux francophones, je ne vais pas tout traduire en français, juste les parties concernant la réunion Unicode/IDN.

Sun. 11 Sept.: Last day in Dakar

Finding people on the weekend is never easy. For this day I got in touch with Ibra Sene, a grad student at Michigan State (history) who is doing his dissertation research. The timing worked out ideally for me to meet him and several of the Michigan State faculty. However, after walking down to the hotel (Ngor Jambe) I found that the location had been changed. So via taxi (again after negotiations and not reaching agreement with the first 2 drivers) to the Meridien Président. There, saw Dan Clay (director of the Institute of International Agriculture at MSU) and Anne Fergeson (among other things director of the Women and International Development program there, both of whom I knew previously) and Irv Widder (director of the Bean-Cowpea CRSP) and ? who I had not met previously.

In the afternoon visited the Baha'i Centre back down in Point E. Hadn't realized it was so close to two other locations I visited in previous days. Saw an old friend among others, Aboubacrine Ba. Spoke Pulaar a little with them. This trip has had a lot of opportunities to practice my rusty Fula language skills.

Sat. 10 Sept.: More visits

Visited Sonja Fagerberg at the ARED office. It rained again as I headed down to that part of town. Interesting discussion of their work on publishing materials in African languages (notably Pulaar). Sonja, who did her linguistics dissertation on the Pulaar of Fuuta Tooro (mainly in Senegal), authored some instruction books on the language that I found very useful in my learning of Fulfulde in Mali and Pular in Guinea.For a number of years she has been working with the NGO "ARED" (Associates for Research in Education for Development) in Senegal. Aside from publishing a lot in Pulaar and other languages of Senegal, ARED has an expertise in education in these languages and the dynamics of publication in them. In fact she and others have completed a series of books in French about publishing in African languages.

One of the ideas that occurred to me (and there are many, such as pushing forward work on the Pulaar <-> English translator,

From there went to have lunch with Charles Becker, a researcher, historian, and longtime resident of Dakar. He also edits the H-West-Africa list. Gaelle Loir, a student of law and African studies, and currently an intern at the French embassy in Dakar, was also there. So discussions ranged over a number of topics related to Senegal and Dakar.

I called Ibrahima Thioub of the History Department at UCAD (he is someone that David Robinson and Ibra Sene of MSU know well), but unfortunately he was out of town. Found a number for Ibrahima Bob of OneWorld but the people answering said I'd have to call back on Monday. Unfortunate that it turned out that way but on the whole I think I had a pretty good percentage. (see earlier days, below).

Fri. 9 Sept.: Busy day

In the morning went down to Fann to see the West African Research Centre / Centre de Recherche Ouest Africain. I called Ousmane Sène and he was free so the timing worked out. We talked briefly about the WARC/CROA activities and future program. I also met Abdoulaye Niang who is the computer technician there. One of the things WARC is involved in is preparation of materials for the African Language Materials Archive (ALMA), of which I am on the board, so I took some time to discuss aspects of Unicode and WARC's hope to present ALMA documents in text format rather than only PDF.

After lunch tried again to get in contact with Ken Lohento of Panos-West Africa, but there was still a problem with the number - when I checked information (dial 12), which I should have done earlier, I found a slightly different number, but still no luck (it being Friday, they probably were off).

I had a meeting at IDRC/CRDI's Dakar office at 3, and discussed various aspects of their programs and also the PanAfrican Localisation project with A. Camara and Ramata Molo Thioune.

Following that tried to get in touch with Mme. Sylla, the director of the Digital Freedom Initiative in Senegal. Unfortunately she was already out, but I did get to talk briefly with her later on the phone. She was heading out of town on a trip, so no other possibilities of meeting.

I then got in touch with Tunde regarding meeting Ben Akoh. Ben had returned from a trip but was in a meeting on Gorée Island. Ben planned to come back later (Gorée is just a short ferry ride from downtown Dakar). In the meantime went out to the Sacré Coeur area to meet him and visit the West African Democracy Radio project headquarters. This is an interesting initiative financed by OSIWA to use radio for information and

Thurs. 8 Sept.: Heavy rain in Dakar; in town

It rained hard in Dakar in the morning of the 8th and for much of the day there was flooding on roads. Apparently there have been a few such heavy rains of late. In any event, the morning therefore provided an opportunity to catch up with some work. Also spoke with Mamady Doumbouya and Michael Everson re some aspects of the conference and their respective plans. Mamady plans to meet with some N'ko management groups in Guinea. Michael has some meetings of standards groups in Europe.

I had lunch with the Peace Corps country director, Malcolm Versel. I had corresponded briefly with him a couple of years earlier and he apparently worked with my former doctoral advisor, Jim Bingen, some years ago. Interesting opportunity to find out his perspectives on development in Senegal (he has been in and out of the country many times over the years) and learn about his approach to the PC program there.

Visited the OSIWA office in the part of town known as Point E (not far from the Universite Cheick Anta Diop, UCAD). Tunde Adegbola is working there on contract and introduced me to some of his colleagues including the director, Mme Tanko, and Mme Ly.

Wed. 7 Sept.: More on the Unicode/IDN meeting / plus sur la réunion Unicode/IDN

Some conversations and after the meeting 9/7 and at the dinner. Got to present aspects of the PanAfrican Localisation wiki to Adama Samassekou, in particular the language profiles. Spoke with him and others about aspects of localization.

Asked Anne-Rachel Inné about the situation in the north of Niger. She is from Niger, although based internationally. She had recently visited Niger and said there is some improvement but the price of millet is extremely high. Grain aid released on the market (which is often how it is done these days so as not to undercut local farmers who have produced grain) apparently assumed a high price very quickly (~30,000FCFA/bag) - higher even that rice, which is unusual. It is certainly tempting to say it is merchants who reap the advantage. On a broader subject, the importance of education for farmers and rural people generally (and the necessity of doing that in the farmers' first languages. This conversation brought in some other people too.

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