Market Vendors, Senegal

Senegal is the tragically impoverished country on the extreme west of Africa that was the exit point for many slaves on their way to America and the Caribbean. Just south of the Sahara desert, this land, a former French colony, bakes in temperatures in the 30’s Celsius range. Strong winds from the interior hurl sand and plastic debris everywhere. In a country where life is so harsh, there is no money for trivials like sanitation or garbage collection. There are, however, 350 miles of beautiful white sand beaches.

As a regular customer at the Waterloo Farmers Market, I couldn’t help but contrast ‘my market vendors’ with their overflowing stands to the ladies who gather in this village square to sell their meager supply of fruits and vegetables. This produce must come from gardens that are watered constantly by hand because the blazing temperature in Sub-Sahara Africa would burn out a garden in a thrice. Obviously the clothes of eye delighting colour also provide a strong contrast to the somber colours of the Mennonites at our market with which I am so familiar. The vegetables and the kaleidoscopically hued costumes add up to a colour concussion for this Mennonite-raised painter.

My wife, Marilyn, who specialized in textiles during her time in art college, was most appreciative of the bright and energetically patterned clothes that the people wore, but sadly these fabrics were not offered by the vendors on the docks. Only imports from China and India that certainly were lively but lacked the animation of those true African designs were proffered. The whole scene made real the photos that I had seen as a child that returned missionaries showed of their foreign fields.