Listening - watching
taking a moment
drawing the world
finding the way to connection
again and again.

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Monday, January 21, 2019

Under the Mango Tree

I spent two and a half weeks in Guinea, West Africa this December into January -
dancing, painting, batiking, conversing in French, engaging with this completely
different world.

One morning we got up at 5 am to drive from our house in Conakry the capital to
the town of Kindia (four hours away). We needed to leave before the main road
was closed for the monthly sweeping. Filling two big cars, along with police escorts
and drivers, we hobbled over rutted roads and through thick traffic in the dark.
But we were stopped just one car back from the barricade - almost made it, not quite.
There would be a four hour wait now until the road was re-opened.

The sky slowly began to lighten. We were surrounded by crowds of milling people.
Eventually we got out of the cars and walked ten minutes (a fortunate proximity)
to our balafon teacher's house on a quiet street. Her extended family began to gather -
first wife, daughters and husbands, children and grandchildren of all ages.

We sat in the open courtyard under a big mango tree as Djeli Guineé graciously
served us Nescafe with Gloria evaporated milk, boiled eggs, baguettes and sweet
rice pudding.

We sat - and watched - and were watched.
Others in our group began to engage with the family.
I held back. I relaxed. I waited.

Then I pulled out the sketchbook and held it on my lap.
Could I chance it - opening to this visual dance with the world?
What to draw ? How to connect ?

I caught the eye of one of the boys and gestured that he come near.

He hesitated, "Moi?"
I nodded and he stepped towards me.

I opened the book and then, as the other children gathered around, began to draw
the big Mango tree arching over our heads.

Quick fresh pencil lines of branches (bois)
and lively clusters of leaves (feuilles) appeared. A noisy rooster and chicks took shape
near the trunk. I drew the roots and remarked that they reminded me of serpents
and then I drew one among the meandering lines, head lifted and alert.
Everyone was quiet viewing this - a shadow presence showing up.

I began to write each child's name in the space around the tree.
The boy who had first joined me called out each letter and corrected my spelling.
Each child watched intently as their written presence magically appeared on the page.

Then I opened the watercolor set, brought out my brushes and started to paint.

I did not color in the serpent. I told everyone that it was a phantom - "fantastique" .
I knew something had shown up that was unsettling for them yet needed to be honored.

Then I mixed a transparent wash and painted over each name with a brushstroke like a wave.
I let each child choose what color they wanted to adorn their name.
The name waves floated around the tree.

I wrote "MANGÉ" in the center and the place and date in the corner of the page.

The children gathered around me as I held up the completed spread.

All of us gathered - under the tree - on the page - in this moment - complete.

(Thanks to Elise Gold for taking the photos ! )