Tailoring with Mane

Jahshana Olivierre - Senegal


May 6, 2014

If you know me then you probably know monotony and I do not get along, so I’ve traded in my days teaching English at the school (for other reasons as well, which is a whole other blog post) for sewing at Mane’s tailor shop.

Tailoring is a huge market in Senegal. In Kebemer, the majority of clothes people wear are traditional & tailor made.

From Monday to Saturday, I wake up around 8 or 9 am and go grab my bread from my family’s local bread seller. I usually either get mayonnaise or ndambe ( a bean mix) from the bread seller as well or if Im feeling really greedy I’ll wait until I get to the market to get an omelette.

At 10 am I am weaving through the market trying to get to the tailor shop I work at. The market is like a never ending maze lined with ateliers (tailor shops) and jaay kats ( people who sell goods, fabric, cooking items, beignets, cafe).

Four months ago, I was a lost puppy trying to find my way to the tailor’s shop, walking in never ending circles but now I am master of the market maze.

Around 10:15/10:30, I am sitting inside the tailor’s shop.

I hardly sew during my morning “shift” (10 am – 1 pm), unless I am working on a personal project.

My boss is usually present but 3 days out of the week she has “lunch duty” at her home, so on those days my “co-worker” Maty and I usually just sit and joke around until our shift is over or finish up work from the day before.

The second shift begins after we return from lunch at home, which is about 3 pm or 4 pm and ends at 6pm but can last until 7 or 8 pm if we are extremely busy. Lately, I have been working until this time, helping Mane finish up the crazy amount of orders she has, and the clothes we designed for the children’s fashion show I organized at Case Des Tout Petits!

 

Working at Mane’s tailor shop has been one of the highlights of my time here in Senegal, not only have I rediscovered my love for sewing, I have gained some of the most beautiful friendships. My boss Mane is truly my best friend, we discuss and laugh about every single thing, because of her my Wolof has been progressing beautifully. We also make magic when we sew together!

Mane, Maty (my co worker) & the customers that come along all call me a “cinema” and tell me I make them laugh until they’re tired. Bringing joy to the people around me especially in a different language is truly a beautiful thing.

 

During the beginning of my time here, I struggled with being productive and trying to live up to people back home’s expectations of what they think I should be doing here.

“What am I doing here?” was an unsettling question that often tried to sneak up and attack when I least expected it. A question that appeared out of nowhere and reared its front teeth when I was in the middle of overcoming one of the many challenges that came with navigating a new culture. I am simply being, and not only am I simply being, I am a part of something, a part of a community. As a Westerner I am no longer a stranger on the outside looking in rather I am their equal, their friend, their family member.

Friends and family back home think I am here to save the country, to help the starving children, to civilize the locals. They cannot grasp the concept that I am simply here to be. At first, I was unable to grasp the concept. “Doing” an attitude that is so deeply rooted it’s almost instinctual to ask myself as a “human doing” – WHAT AM I DOING HERE?

Here in the town of Kebemer, I am a part of a community, I have relearned community.

Here in the town of Kebemer I have made beautiful friendships and have learned countless lessons on collectivity and sacrifice for the good of the community.

These lessons are priceless.

Jahshana Olivierre