Thursday, March 28, 2013

Life Lately, Home in Senegal

Hey peeps. I thought I'd say hi with some current happenings... take a little break from the scheduled programming, so to speak.

I'm still kicking it in Senegal, and I'll be here a whole three weeks before its off on another work trip, this time to Uganda and potentially Egypt ohmygoodnesssssss. Unfortunately the Egypt part of the trip isn't confirmed because of political instability, so we'll just have to wait and see. I am excited to add two new countries to my list of travels! And to compare and contrast Uganda/East Africa with the West Africa cultural terrain with which I'm much more familiar.

This Egyptian fabric on display in Maryam Montague's Moroccan 
guesthouse looks quite promising for my potential trip to Egypt
 in a few weeks. Would love to snatch up some local textiles ;)

The past two weeks have been kind of quiet, just falling back into my routine and dealing with some rather stressful work stuff on the homefront. I think I've made some progress in managing my stress, in that I don't want to gouge my eyes and rip out every strand of hair due to work anxiety. I'm just accepting that shit can be hard, people can be complicated and terrible at communicating, and I can only do my best. I can't control anyone besides myself and as long as I feel good about my own actions, I have nothing to feel guilty or stressed out about. Easier said than done, but I am trying.


I was really with the times
these past three years, no??
I'm very, very slowly starting to promote my blog. To be honest, it puts me totally ill at ease—the fear of failure and judgement, putting myself out there for the world to see, questioning whether anyone will find anything I have to say interesting. Also, I admit that as a result of living abroad for the past three years I am a tad out of touch with some social media (read: twitter). I mean, I literally just got my first touch screen phone THIS WEEK, let alone an iPhone. (Before moving abroad my most cutting edge cell phone was a blue Razr. That's right.)

Anyways, I'm not looking to build a large following or become super involved with the blog world... my only wish is for some sort of audience, no matter the size! I love to write, I love to share some of my unique experiences living in West Africa, I love to explore the intersection between Africa, design, and culture, and I love to connect with others. So I'm slowly tucking away my reservations and putting myself and this blog out there, in hopes that a few friendly folks will hop on board. We shall see :)

Another exciting piece of news is that I signed up for this online course in interior styling, led by Justina Blakeney, one of my favorite design bloggers! The class starts on Monday and for two weeks we'll be learning the tricks of the trade when it comes to styling on the cheap and taking high quality interior photographs. I'm really looking forward to learning a lot, making some much needed improvements in my living space, and sharing and collaborating with over 300 other participants (and some more promotion perhaps?? *cringe*). Plus I really need to devote more time to my hobbies in an effort to achieve the much sought after work-life balance ;) I have so many interesting and beautiful knick knack that are still stored away nine months after moving. I need a push to get the decorating ball rolling!

I am so inspired by this three dimensional gallery wall peppered
with ethnic artifacts. I can think of a few things I could include in a similar display
(a bag, basket, ceramic plate, photograhs). I'm excited just thinking about it!

C. and I might go away for a night or two this weekend, but its not confirmed with work things up in the air, as usual. I would love to escape the city for two days and lounge on the beach with a delicious drink in hand. Also, our two year anniversary passed by while I was last traveling, so we have some celebrating to make up!

Well, that's officially all I have to update, friendsicles. Until next time...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

AfricaStyle: Juju Hat Update :)

Awhile back, I gushed over the Bamileke Juju Hat from Cameroon, and its (semi) recent popularity in interior design.


I mean, what more could you ask for in an ethnic statement piece? Color, texture, tribal origins, wow-factor, portability?!?! Considering I travel to Cameroon on the regular, its safe to say I need to find myself one of these beauts.

Well, about a month ago (oh my goodnessss, how has it already been a month?!) I was back in Cameroon determined to make some progress on my hunt for the elusive juju hat. From what I can find, these feather headdresses retail for anywhere between $300 and $1000. I also have to wonder if they are all authentic, considering the variety of color options and quality (I would think the real deal might appear less perfect...?).

A juju hat folded up in its own protective storage. Genius!

I was soooo busy on my trip I almost gave up all hope of finding a juju hat or at least finding out where to purchase one on my next trip. On my last day, I hesitantly brought it up with the taximan, and ohmygoodness, HE IS BAMILEKE (the ethnic group that makes these headdresses). P.S. Cameroon has approximately 250 ethnic groups! The Bamileke reside primarily in the West and Northwest of the country. While you can't find the juju hat in Douala (the administrative capital and where I am based for work), Olivier told me that they make these headdresses in his village, and he travels there regularly to see his family. On his next trip, he will find me a juju hat and bring it back to Douala for when I am next in Cameroon (and I'll pay him, duh). We exchanged phone numbers so he can tell me what colors I have to choose from, and the price range.

How freaking perfect?! And also, Olivier is the nicest man ever. He was our driver for the week and bent over backwards to help us with business and navigating Douala. I cannot wait until my next trip to Douala when I willfingers crossed, inshallahbe reunited with my very own juju hat! I'm also super-curious to hear how much they cost in Cameroon. I'm hoping for something under/around $100. Wishful thinking perhaps? We shall see...

Now I would really love to visit the Bamileke region of Cameroonthe grasslands. Apparently they are renowned for their craftsmanship... right up my ally!

A map depicting some of the ethnic groups in Cameroon,
including the Bamileke who are bit north of Douala.

I just started browsing through some pictures of juju hats and I am so overwhelmed with the possibilities! I can't help but link just a few more images, all from a blog/shop run by a French couple that work with Cameroonian families to resell these headdresses all over the world (and other antiques/art work). Check out their blog!

That right there is a juju hat TABLE. A table.

The pastel color pallet... these remind me of ballerinas for some reason. Love.

Juju hats plus antique pieces? Gorgeous.

A mélange of natural tone juju hats, three different sizes.

I could go on, but I suggest just visiting for a plethora of interior inspiration featuring the juju hat!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

African Textiles and International Women's Day 2013

My last West Africa trip spanned from the end of February to mid-March. Little did I know International Women's Day falls on March 8. Maybe its been too long, but I don't remember this day of celebration and recognition being that big of a deal in the U.S., or in Senegal for that matter.

Well, after arriving in Douala, Cameroon, I started noticing blue and pink fabric on display throughout the city. Near the end of the first leg of my trip, I decided I wanted a dress in this popular fabric and stopped by a boutique to check it out:

Love the dress on the right, but unfortunately it was custom-made for a client.

Sidenote: I really like Cameroonian tailoring. The dresses are far more laid-back and modern than the popular styles in Senegal (matching wrap skirt with top). I still think Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire has the most fashion forward and avant garde tailoring I've seen in my travels, but something about Cameroonian style really jives with me. Hmmm, maybe I'll do a future post comparing trends/styles in the various countries I have visited ;)

Anyways, on closer inspection, I was THRILLED to discover this fabric was in honor of International Women's Day 2013. I could not believe my luck that the fabric I had been admiring was in honor of women, in a color I liked, with some pretty bomb nationalistic phrases and imagery in English and French (Cameroon has two official languages), and could serve as a memento for this trip and day of celebration for the rest of my life. Jackpot!

I am seriously giddy over this fabric! Cameroon chose to focus on women and the environment for this year's Women's Day, so the fabric features the Cameroonian countryside and the trees/lumber for which it is famous, as well as phrases like:

All of these quotes were printed in both English and French.
(Please excuse the semi-crappy color quality.)

So, I made my way to the incredibly hectic fabric market in Douala (with absolutely no other expats in sight). Dresses and outfits made for men, women, and children were all over the place! I almost bought a ready-made dress, but decided to purchase the fabric instead to make a dress and have some left over for a pillow? A wall hanging? I'm not quite sure yet.

On a whim, I had the dress made in Abidjan and it turned out just okay, unfortunately. I'm really, really picky with custom-made clothes and it bothers me a lot when they don't turn out exactly how I imagined. But I'm getting over it and maybe I'll model the final product for the blog one of these days. Côte d'Ivoire also had its own Women's Day fabric, but I didn't like it as much. Most of their national/event-inspired fabrics are printed in the country's colors, orange and green, which happen to be my two least favorite colors. I'm kicking myself I didn't at least take a picture though! I was actually in Abidjan on March 8 and I definitely spotted some people sporting the fabric, but the celebration wasn't overwhelming.

And lastly: Burkina Faso. Ohmygoodness. If I thought the Cameroonians seemed pumped up for Women's Day, the Burkinabés put them to shame. I arrived in Ouagadougou after the holiday, and the fabric was still all over the place: men, women, children, teenagers, dresses, pants, button-down shirts, suits. You name it, this fabric was dominating the Ouagadougou streets in March 2013:

Entreprenariat (typo on their part!) Féminin et Croissance Économique or,
Female Entrepreneurship and Economic Growth

Actually, I started noticing people wearing another popular fabric with a similar design and a taxi driver told me it was the previous year's textile for March 8. I absolutely love the enthusiasm for Women's Day/Month! Of course, I snatched up some of this vibrant fabric as memorabilia and future home decoration of some sort!

The same taximan told me that back when Thomas Sankara, a Marxist revolutionary, was president of Burkina Faso, the Burkinabés celebrated International Women's Day by sending the men to the market to do the grocery shopping.  I asked if they also did the cooking on March 8 and he giggled, "Yes!"

Love it!

P.S. The flower design on the Burkina Faso fabric looks oddly similar to this upscale Vlisco design...

Especially when this fabric featured blue flowers.
Quite the resemblance, don't cha think?? ;)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Welcome to Modernity, and Burkinabé Goodies

Today has been an exciting day! C. gave me an iPhone (thank you thank you THANK YOU!!!)..... oh my goodness, my life is changed! I've been putting off joining modernity on this front because I have a tendency to lose expensive items (like fancy cellphones!), but its already so amazing that I can text with my friends all over the world for free over the 3G network. I feel soooo much more connected. And yes, email access at all times has its perks ;) (And draw backs, though I haven't linked up my work account yet which is probably for the better.)

And. And I'm in love with Instagram, and the camera capacity in general. I'm still in the very early stages of getting the hang of things, but follow me as I learn! I always see things out and about that I want to photograph, but I forget my camera at home or feel awkward busting it out all the time. Now that its easier to take every day photographs, I'm seeing Dakar in a whole new light. I wish I had had the iPhone on my recent trip! Next time ;)

The King of Morocco is coming to Senegal and its a big deal. 
These signs are all over the place! 
Gotta scratch the backs of your fellow Big Men.

I wanted to share my "loot," so to speak, from my last trip... but there's a fair amount and I haven't been able to photograph it all, so I guess I'm going to reveal the goodies in batches. Let's go backwards and start in Burkina Faso :) I was thinking about buying a bronze figurine, but I chickened out/couldn't make up my mind. I also didn't discover the AMAZING artisan market until hours before my flight home, so I didn't have much time to browse. I'm still thrilled with the surprise items I did pick up!

First, this awesome necklace. It was a bit on the pricey side by African standardsbut still under $20 (and Megan probably could have made it for me!), but I loved the color and I was really looking for something out of the norm for me. I very rarely wear necklaces; in fact the only jewelry I change day to day is my earrings. Otherwise I wear the same three rings and the same bracelet every single day, and I never take them off. I was drawn to this necklace for the red/teal contrast and the beautiful beads and decided it would be a lovely statement piece for the right outfit. I wore it today!

So, I have a thing for purses and bags (and baskets) in general. I was first leaning towards a tote bag made from recycled rice bags (still want one), but I decided that this shoulder purse was more unique to Burkina Faso and a useful addition to my existing bag collection (I have one other very used leather shoulder bag from Morocco). I of course love the teal and purple, and the leather color is new for meits kind of a chartreuse but somehow it totally works as a neutral. I also love the purple accent fabric, a piece of "cotton tissé," a traditional woven fabric common in Burkina with some metallic accent throughout. Finally, that tiny pointed peak over the back of the purse, plus the pretty stitching.... I can't help but admire this bag out of the corner of my eye ;)

Ahhhhh, the Burkinabé baskets. They are gorgeous. So colorful and practical. I saw some small Burkinabé baskets in Senegal when my mom was visiting and I knew I had to find the real deal on my next trip to Burkina... the bright colors, the useful size and shape, the pretty handles, the intricate pattern and details on the sides. It is perfect! It is also ideal for storing and displaying my growing collection of African fabrics. They had previously been tucked away in a suitcase, and now they're right at my fingertips and pretty to look at, even before I use them in an upcoming project. I think these baskets would be perfect for storing blankets by the couch in a living room, or magazines, or books, or toys. I'm quite smitten :)

I also got C. a woven leather belt (not pictured—sorry!) and myself a very special textile I will feature in an upcoming post dedicated to fabric. In the future, I would still love a bronze figurine, and now I know where to find a good selection. The problem is I have so many small decorative items, part of me wants to start looking for larger statement pieces. But the larger bronze figurines are a) crazy expensive and b) kind of over the top. I also think it would be really great to find C. a handmade leather briefcase. The leatherwork in Burkina is beautiful.

And I think that wraps it up for Burkina Faso? Coming up: fabric, books, and magazines from Ivory Coast, and more fabric and coffee from Cameroon! I started with the best, I guess :)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I'm baaaaaack! :)

I am back in Senegal—at long last!!!—after my three week jaunt through Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso. I totally failed on the posting front while I was traveling, even though I was actually super inspired and thoughts for blog posts would run through my mind all day long. The obstacle was putting these thoughts to paper after a long days work or a shitty internet connection that proved super frustrating (cough*Burkina*cough).

So I’m back! And I have soooo much to share—anecdotes from my travels, new design ideas, amazing craft discoveries, all my LOOT, a look back on my mom’s trip to Senegal (still!), and upcoming plans for the blog and life in general.

The view from my bed out the window. The blue sky and breeze fill me with so much joy!

Right now I am focused on the GORGEOUS weather outside.... blue skies, a breeze, ocean air, 79 degrees... I am in HEAVEN. I felt so incredibly recharged yesterday, driving home along the coastal high way. And now that I’m home, I cannot wait to sleep IN, maybe go to the beach, eat a homemade meal (Pasta! Cheese! How I have missed you!), watch some TV, and catch up on a LOT of administrative work. Its going to be difficult but soooo satisfying to get it done and out of the way, at long last. 

My roommate's dog, Guinee, planted her paws right on my leg and I felt soooo at home.

I also can't wait to update this blog with some lovely findings, but right now the real world is calling me. Babeneen yoon!!! (see you soon in Wolof)

Monday, March 11, 2013

AfricaStyle: African Textiles + Furniture = Shockingly Awesome

I am so pumped for this post! I have another update post in the works, but in the mean time -- I have a feast for the eyes to share with you :)

It all started when I saw this chair on a design blog the other day and was blown away:

In the past, I've found that upholstery done with African fabric was a bit... much. I don't know, it just seemed a little too wild for my taste... and how do you "match" other pieces with such a crazy piece of furniture?? More and more, I am getting away from the concept of matching in design--though I have to fight the urge! I still lean towards teal and coral, and jewel tones... but I'm working on diversifying ;)

Well, something about that chair just spoke to me. I don't really like the yellow, but I love the contrast between a traditional armchair and the wild fabric. In fact, that fabric reminded me of the celestial blue fabric I bought a few months ago, and still haven't done anything with. The wheels started spinning, and then the fun began: oh my goodness, the gems I found searching for African textile furniture online! I am SO inspired to find something to upholster with fabulous cloth as a statement piece. Just check out these lovelies....

I am blown away by these chairs... I think they might be my favorite. 
Modern chairs and a mix of fabrics that somehow work together. 
Imagine these around a kitchen/dining room table 
in an otherwise understated room? To die for!

Close up, in NEON!

Wow. Antique mud cloth fabric (with some wear and tear) coupled 
with the antique chair, also imperfect. I love it! And mud cloth,
 from Mali, might be a more feasible option for the color-shy out there.

Well, this set of (discontinued!) chairs from Anthropologie is genius. 
And if Anthropologie jumped on the African textile bandwagon... that 
definitely means the trend has stuck :)

Neutrals and primary colors. The options are endless!

But this one... this one is my favorite. 
And look how lovely it fits right in with 
this simple and classic room?!

Here, a real life upholstered chair from an expat home in Dakar
She chose to go more neutral. Not too shabby, eh?!
You can't argue the classiness of these mud cloth chairs in 
this Western kitchen. Am I right?!

And last, but not least, this doozy of an armchair
Now, this one is still a bit wild for my taste, 
but check out the mixture of textiles on the chair itself. 
I also love wacky fabrics (ie. rando motifs), 
and this chair does not disappoint.

I am so full of inspiration! I love the classic earthiness of the mud cloth upholstery as much as I am drawn to the bold wackiness of mixing African wax with traditional furniture. I think, though, that a room can only handle one of these chairs, unless you go with a variety like that first set of four chairs. I don't know, I can't imagine mixing more than one African wax chair in a living room, and although I'm trying not to be so concerned about matching... I do think picking a fabric with a good color pallet will be super important for the balance of the room in question.

Things to ponder, plan, and execute!

P.S. Changed my blog name on a whim. I will explain (still haven't decided if I'm gonna keep it) and make the necessary changes (about moi, links, etc) as soon as I have a free moment!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Weather, A Most Interesting Topic

Alright, I've started several posts and haven't actually published any in a few days. Its not for a lack of material, but really not being sure where to start or how to organize my thoughts! I'm determined to finish this one, even if its just a few random tidbits.

I'm in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, flew out here Sunday night. Yesterday was our first day of work and it was hot. as. hell. One of the posts I started yesterday went on a weather rant for several wordy paragraphs... I will try to consolidate those thoughts as weather isn't the most scintillating topic ;)

Let me just say, when it comes to being in West Africa in March--what I always thought of as a mild month in Senegal, and a thawing month on the East coast--here, I am out of luck. Take a look at this map:

No idea what that black square is for!
The map shifted from yesterday, when Burkina Faso was literally the hottest place in all of Africa... and where I will be next week! Its still in that super duper hot segment in the middle stretching across Central and West Africa. I will be watching this map closely and trying to mentally prepare for 108 degrees weather that awaits me. I have never experienced that kind of heat before!

As for right now, I am looking on the bright side. Yesterday it was over 100 degrees here in Abidjan, with 92% humidity. I was tired, cranky, sweaty, and depleted. But, thanks to the weather Gods, it finally, FINALLY rained... all afternoon and all today. Its still in the 80s but what sweet relief! I like to think Mother Nature had me in mind when she decided it was time for the heat to break and pour down on us. And I only had to suffer one day!

Sweet, glorious rain!
And a view of the slightly strange hotel courtyard... I'll get into this hotel in another post!
Not to mention, I really love the rain. Not every day, but a good rainfall helps me sleep deeply at night, comforts my cozy bones, and reminds me of home. I am now relishing the weather here in Côte d'Ivoire, and I won't take it for granted when I look ahead to the sauna that awaits me in BF :(

Moving on from the weather. The week in Cameroon last week concluded nicely. I have some exciting design/decor tidbits to update you on, but for the sake of organization (and length) I'll save that update for a different post. Work-wise, things are moving along as they should although I am definitely losing steam a week into the trip. We worked all weekend so I'll chalk it up to that. 

Two more weeks to go... Sorry, this post is boring (I mean, its about weather.) but I'm clicking publish because I said I would and the "interesting" things I have to say will come another time!
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