In Guinea, as in much of West Africa, things are negotiable.
There are no fixed prices, for example, and one is expected to haggle. Custom, ritual, and relationships are just a few of the layers factored in sub-consciously. If you know someone well, you will get a better price. Well, why not? If someone is rich, they pay more. Makes good sense to me!

A satisfying negotiation is one in which both parties feel that they made some accomodations, but that they got the better side of the deal.

Money is fluid, and, like time, has a very different quality in Guinea.

One of my favourite anecdotes is from medical anthropologist Katherine Dettwlyer, collecting data about eating habits:

"How often do you eat meat?"
"Whenever someone kills a goat."
"How often does someone kill a goat?"
"Whenever they need the money."
"When someone needs money, they kill a goat and sell the meat to their neighbours. Each family buys a small amount, and when the meat is all sold, the person has the money he needs, and the rest of us have meat to eat." a bank account on hooves...

(Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa, K. Dettwyler)

...back to Guinea

Ok, so I've diverged from my original travel journal mandate (big surprise! but I digress ; )

Before you travel to Guinea with me, figuratively or literally, you need to know some basic Susu (Sussu) greetings. Its one of the ways Guinean folks know we are culturally sensitive ~ learners, not just takers.
And simply because greetings are an indispensable part of daily life in Guinea. They are an important sign of respect and politeness.

"Inuwali" - thank you; also general greeting (as in 'hi')

"Arabaradi?" - what's up?
"Amoura bara kioki" - not much

"Tana mouri"? - basically Good Morning, but as in 'did the night pass without trouble?'
"Tana yo mouri" - no trouble

"Awa" - ok
"Eyo" - yes
"Adeh" - no
"Wo o" - bye

Best meal: "kansi bore" ~ rice and peanut sauce Mmmmmm


To celebrate the beauty, variety, and transformative capacity that is Guinea...

So much media coverage of Africa, or for that matter "information" from governments and non-profits alike, is of death, chaos, destruction. These exist ~ don't get me wrong: I'm not rose-colouring things. But Africa has accomplished what many other groups that have felt the grip of European colonisation have not: they survived! Unlike the Incas & the Aztecs in the Americas, for example,
they survived " with a great deal of their culture, however bruised and battered, intact." (Maier, Karl. Into the House of the Ancestors)

Travelling to Guinea is transformative. Venture forth, and never come back quite the same: inspired, saddened, enriched.
Through this, we come to understand both our commonality and uniqueness.

The moment this happens, we are no longer limited by the confines of thinking. Wherever they were set, the original boundaries of thought are challenged.

This exanding sense of "other" changes who we are, and perhaps more importantly, who we imagine we can be.

One Circle

from Authentic Movement: Moving the Body, Moving the Self, Being Moved
ed. P. Pallaro

"In the beginning Being and Dance were inseparable within the Sacred Space. I see one circle. In this once circle, individuals, in the presence of each other are dancing in relationship to their [spirit]. Dancing, they are healed. I see one circle, whole. Within the one circle, the embodiment of spirit heals. Within this one circle, I see the creative force entering from the Earth through the feet of the one who dances, moving through the body of the one who calls to the [Universe]...circling up...until the world is whole."
- Janet Adler

Reflections on Guinean Dance as "work" of an Artist

Field research – what it means

In culturally-significant work, I feel field research vital because it is not only the Art that is relevant ~ it is the cultural context of the Work that is significant.

Also for me, Guinea, and my family and friends there, are a part of my life and my Community.  It is about relationship building above all else.  I believe the role of Arts runs deeper than the Art itself.  For different artists and groups of artists (including ethnic groups), the underlying functions may be very different, but there is always something larger than the Art itself.

In my work, peace-building is the underlying current.  That can mean international friendships, or it can mean helping someone find peace with themselves by being “in their body” with awareness. 

Cultural understanding teaches us about Humanity ~ we can appreciate how similar we are globally, in spite of so many differences.

The truest expression of a people is in its dance
and in its music.  Bodies never lie.     
     ~Agnes de Mille

Sharing it – what it means

Like Guineans, I believe that dance is for every body.  Whether defying gravity in a skilled leap, or moving arms from the confines of a wheel chair, dance brings joy, peace, health, and wellbeing. 
In Guinea have frequently witnessed dancers in a Circle Dance (Doundounba) without legs, dancing on their hands, or dancing with a crutch, or dancing with no arms.  The Western conception of “dancer” goes quickly out of mind.
Guinean dance meets you where you are at, and through that, allows you to be where you want to be.

Sharing these dances and traditions therefore provides so much joy to me, and to students, audience, and performers…
It is dynamic, high-energy, and interactive.  And, following my deeper thread, builds peace through cultural understanding.  Audiences and students learn experientially what this movement represents: community, transformation, and self-expression.

-relationship b/w music & dance
-b/w dancer & musician

Authentic / traditional – commitment to traditions in something dynamic

Guinean dance represents all the gifts that dance can offer to a community:  connections, history, communication, and sharing of joy, energy and creativity.  It is a gift that I wish for Canadian Culture: for dance to be part of everyday life, rather than something segregated for “dancers” or for after “a few” on the dance floor. 

Of course, the dance evolves with the dancer, but I define traditional around the fact that these rhythms and dances have been replicated for centuries.  Kuku is said to be 2000 years old.  I believe there is a deep thread in that - - it is in our cellular memory, our ancestral memory.  And that’s enough for me.  I don’t feel the need to question whether or not an anthropological sense of tradition exists.

After all, one of the deliberate functions of West African dance is to preserve and pass on History.  The story is always added to, but the origins still exist, and create the foundation.  The Griot families (oral-historians who sing and dance stories of the past) are the most obvious example of this, but all Guinean artists contribute to this body of knowing.

The question of authenticity comes up over and over.  The misnomer of “the African dance teacher” as opposed to the “African-Dance teacher” continues to plague me after all these years (20 now of studying West African dance) when my white skin surprises people expecting a darker hue.  How absurd that seems, yet it is reinforced by me in a sense, as I seek a degree of cultural authenticity in my work.

As an instructor and performer, I shy away from fusion work.  I feel have an obligation to pass on the teachings as they have been shared with me.  Partly because I’m an “outsider”.  Partly because I value these traditions so much, and want ensure they are preserved for generations to come, in Guinea, and abroad.  With indigenous languages being lost every day around the world, and so much ancient knowing of plants and Nature giving way to our tech-savvy knowledge, I feel there is an urgent place for preservation of diversity.

Preserving culture is still dynamic: it is not about saving ashes, so much as spreading fire.  I feel that out of respect for my teachers, and my lineage of teachers stretching back through time, that I have a commitment to sharing these in the way they have been shared with me.  Engaging in the depths and layers of this Dance to the degree that I do involves an inherent respect for the people of this culture, and for their History and Future.

As an artist I seek to combine these two facets: that unity and diversity can exist simultaneously.  That we do not have to endlessly blend cultures in order to be unified as Humanity.  In fact, the more we honour diversity and “traditions”, the more we appreciate the oneness of all peoples.

I feel Art is pre-existing throughout time and the artist is a channel for that energy.  Working with dance that has existed through so many generations reaffirms that feeling. 

Even the International time-zones contribute to that affirmation: right now, someone somewhere in the World is playing Kuku.  We are not creating the rhythm or dance when we engage in it, but rather joining it.
That being said, as I seek expanding creative outlets, it seems natural that I would incorporate West African elements into my Dance, as I do in other facets of my life.  I am not opposed to fusion; I think it has an important role to play in our evolving global village.  Only that right now, my work is in the realm of preservation. 

Mohamed’s contributions to MD

Along with the enormous skill and body of knowledge that Mohamed brings to MoonDance, Mohamed has allowed me to give more credibility to my own work as an artist of West African dance.  He, as with many of my Guinean colleagues, sees no problem in the fact that I am Canadian, and not Guinean.  Having the skills and the respect for the Dance is what matters.
MoonDance specializes in culturally-significant dance, and we have many wonderful instructors committed to sharing dance and culture in a vernacular way (as in for all people, not only “dancers”).

Mohamed also sees relationship building as central to the role of the Arts, and in conjunction with MoonDance is establishing a sense of community and friendship built around West African Dance. 

Why fly across the world

So why fly to the other side of the World to dance? 
Especially when there are Guineans near by to study with, often among the best in their field ~ that’s what allowed them to get to North America
Especially when the man sitting next to you on the plane is in hand cuffs, being deported.  Crying “Aidez moi!  Aidez moi!”  Desperate not to go to the place I paid thousands of dollars to travel to.
Especially when it is so hot, and the realities of extreme poverty surround you.

Aspects of it I think are true for travel in general:
Stepping out of the reality of known into the shadows of what I may never know, even about myself, I return an unfamiliar person, as if in some sense I never return at all, but remain unsettled by what I have experienced.
This, I think, is a gift of new perception.  As Pico Iyer says, “Confronted by the foreign, we grow newly attentive to the details of the World, even as we make out, sometimes, the larger outline that lies behind them”.

I think that much of what West African dance is is because of the hardships faced by Guineans.  It is a coping mechanism - - a way to express joy in spite of adversity.  We see the Light more brightly in contrast to the Dark. 

© Lynn Weaver, 2009.

Dance and Other Adventures continues...

So we arrived in Guinea (see the first post if you missed that).
However I will leave you in suspense, as Byron will not be satisfied with my story-telling if I leave out the fact that:

The flight from Paris to Conakry was full of refugees being sent back to Guinea.

"Aidez moi!  Aidez moi!" cried the man in hand-cuffs sitting accross the isle from us.  He did not relent during the entire eight hour flight.

"You paid how much for these tickets to a place that these people did everything possible NOT to go back to?"
Ah, Byron.  Ever logical, he would say.

Guinea is not easy.  I've never said it is.  But the magic there goes beyond politics, beyond sanitation and disease, right to the core of what it means to be human.  To share this Earth together.
It could be any of us.  We didn't choose to be born in Canada, any more than they chose to be born in Guinea.
And Guineans teach us what it means to truly be human: to live with compassion for one another, and live openly.  To actively share our joys and trials, and to live in Community.

And for any one who has travelled, you know that the learing of self and other takes place because you are completely out of your element.  Everything that is me or mine: my thoughts, my house, my work... are changed, if they exist at all, in Guinea.

Hearing French spill from my lips (albeit poorly) I notice my thoughts following a very different path.  And without home or possessions save what I intend to give away by the end of the trip, all that is "Lynn" gives way to a different experience.

I am changed by the experience.

Many Westerners travel to Africa to "save" her.  I travel to Africa to be saved.
Guinea is my deep personal poem.

A month has passed...

Its hard to believe a month has passed already since Guinea's protest was in the headlines...  Within days, no trace was left in the Media, but for the people of Guinea, there was still fear and uncertainty.
Our friends & family remain safe.  Our thoughts are with them.


Its difficult to even begin thinking back again to that fateful first trip to Guinea, in light of today's events.  
There was a rally for democracy in Conakry that ended with over 150 dead, and many wounded.  Stories of atrocities fly, and meanwhile our friends and family are there.

For now focusing on sending love and prayers.  More on our adventures next month...

Dance and Other Adventures in West Africa




Like my heart beating over and over again. At long last I am here. It feels like a homecoming. The place I’ve always felt tied to - - connected to. The plane descends. We step off onto the tarmac and the wall of heat and pungent smells hit us immediately: Welcome to Guinea.

As a coastal city, Conakry is quite humid. The heat is intense. Burning garbage, inevitable body odour, pollution: the smells are firmly planted in my memory.

Military men with weapons ready greet us. Nothing compared to the L.A. airport: I’m not worried.

“Jeune Fevier?” Now there’s something to be worried about. I don’t have the legally required Yellow Fever vaccine, for ethical reasons. Aside from issues with vaccines in general, this one is synthesised with chicken embryos. Trivial? In the circumstances it appears so. But if one can’t hold true to one’s principals in the Face of Adversity, then what good are the principals at all, if one can remain that firm in a flexible, fluid place like Guinea? How to explain this in a “second language” to an airport official?? Sigh.

I do have a letter, in English, saying that I’m exempt from the vaccine for medical reasons (allergy). It’s not very official looking – not even a seal – - very important in Guinea where hierarchy is central to the organisational structure.

My French is not “coming back to me” the way I had hoped. After nearly two days of travel and sleep deprivation, I am at a complete loss for words.

A small man in military uniform approaches and grabs my arm.

“Lynn? Victoria?”

“Yes!” I respond, and his face errupts into a smile.

Just in time, our soon-to-be-dear-friend, Gigla, has come to the rescue. With a curt word to the “lowly” airport personnel, he leads me through to the luggage area. Bewildered, Byron quickly clutches passports and paperwork from said Personnel, and does his best to follow us through the crowd.

Introductions take place once we are safely in the luggage area, though there is still a good deal of urgency lest someone should be of a different mind regarding the level of Gigla’s authority (it is not a question of right or wrong or rules; simply a question of rank and bribery).
Our luggage arrives. We more-or-less sprint out of the airport, past the group of eagerly awaiting (our flight was delayed by several hours) friends.

Feeling tired and overwhelmed, we wait again in the parking lot: the trunk of the car won’t open. Eventually, someone gains access, and, fearing we may never see our bags again if the same event should re-occur without a successful outcome, we surrender our baggage to the car, and set off from the airport at last.

Drinking in all the sights and sounds, we travel no more than two city-blocks when our car dies. Unbeknownst to us at the time, this is to become a reoccurring phenomenon: virtually every time we set off in hopes of a new destination.

Waiting on the side of the road, we are quickly and fearlessly approached by children wanting to touch my skin (to see if the “white” would rub off) and to have their photos taken.

Stalls with peeled oranges for sale (to drink); our first glimpse of a butcher’s stall: a large hunk of meat hanging in the sun covered in no less than 10,000 flies; a “phone booth” -- a gentleman sitting in the shade with his cellular phone and an egg timer, offering calls to people for a per-minute fee; mothers with babes tied snugly on their backs.

The children, as you would envision, have no shoes on their feet. A sign of poverty, yes. But also, I like to romanticise, a sign of freedom.