Brief introductions to Guedé Chantier and Damanhur communities
Guedé Chantier is located in the north of Senegal, 480 km from Dakar, on the bank of Doué river and about 12 km close to the Senegalese border with Mauritania. It is an oasis in a semi-arid region with a short rainy season between August and October with less than 400 millimeters. The dry season is the rest of the year. Peak heat is May, and June can reach 45-47° C during the day.
Guedé has a population of around 7,000 inhabitants who came from various villages around, and also neighboring Mali and Mauritania. The village was created in the 1930s to experiment with irrigated farming. With its farms, its family and community orchards, the village has the greenest landscape in the region. In the cool season farmers produce a lot of vegetables, but any part of the vegetable production that is not consumed or sold locally rots and is often lost. In the hot season, very few vegetables are available in the markets or the inhabitants’ daily diets.
Damanhur is a multilingual community of 600 residents and about 400 non-resident citizens expanding in an area of 15 kilometers; a Federation of communities with its own constitution, social structure, culture, art, music, currency, schools, daily newspaper and uses of science and technology. Founded in 1975 from the inspiration of Falco Tarassaco, né Oberto Airaudi (1950-2013), his vision created a fertile reality based on solidarity, sharing, love and respect for the environment. Damanhur has attracted attention from around the world as a laboratory for experimenting with sustainable ways of living in harmony with nature and its elements and forces.
Damanhur citizens cultivate organic food and livestock, restructure and build according to green building principles, and some citizens have created companies in the fields of renewable energy, eco-clothing, food production, and much more. Damanhurians also prefer natural healing methods and a holistic view of wellness, but not to the exclusion of science and medicine. Damanhur is best known for its extraordinary subterranean work of art and architecture, a cathedral known as the Temples of Humankind.
How the twinship between Guedé Chantier and Damanhur started
The idea of the twinship between Damanhur and Guedè Chantier was born during the annual meeting of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) Europe in 2013. One day talking about their mutual realities Ousmane Aly Pame – President of GEN-Africa and at that time mayor of Guedé Chantier – and Macaco Tamerice – at that time President of GEN-Europe – started to imagine how exciting and mutually advantagious a twinship between Damanhur and Guedé Chantier could be.
In 2014 Ousmane arrived at Damanhur together with Hamet Thiam, the Director of Agriculture for the whole region. Ousmane and Hamet talked about the Eco-Comune of Guedé Chantier at several events, including a public meeting at the municipality of Vidracco, which was also interested in a collaboration with the Senegalese village. The high point was the beautiful and moving traditional dinner on May 29th.
During this visit some points to help the twinship become concrete and not just an exchange of visits were identified. The first really important one was the transformation of food, which is crucial for our Senegalese friends. Ousmane and Hamet were hosted at Cornucopia and Dendera, two Damanhurian nucleos, and at Cornucopia they saw a huge amount of pickles and tomato sauce in glass jars prepared by the nucleo. In Guedé and in the surrounding area, for two or three months a year, there is an overabundance of tomatoes and vegetables and tons are thrown away, but for the remaining eight or nine months, there is a problem with malnutrition.
It took two years until Pellicano – who is a real expert in food transformation – was able to bring his workshop from Damanhur to Guedé, but finally the project became real. At the beginning of March 2016, Macaco and Pellicano arrived in Guedè Chantier.
Damanhur and Guedé bonding in joy through songs and dancing
The festive welcoming ceremony began 2.5 km outside Guedé, at the intersection between the national and village roads. From there, a car with flashing lights on escorted us down the sinuous and dusty laterite road. As we were slowly driving to the village, the people we met on the road waved hands to greet and welcome the guests. At the village square, there were about 350 people; some of them were sitting on chairs in a big inner circle and others standing up behind them. It was a big joyful crowd, clapping and dancing to the tickling rhythms of the tom-tom and drums. There were community elders, fishermen, griots (traditional singers and poets) and many young men and women and children. When Macaco, Pelicano and Ousmane arrived into the circle and started to shake hands with community elders, the crowd’s excitement got to its highest point: the MC, the songs, the clapping and waving got more intense and wild, some spontaneously came into the circle to dance wango, the typical dance of the region. The guests joined the group of dancers. The dancing created this way a powerful emotional bond with the whole community.
After this highly appreciated bonding moment, we were invited to sit. Now the great voice of young talented singer and rising star of the ecocommunity, Ousmane Camara, rose into the air. His famous lyrics brought a lot of joy to the people. His performance was followed by the beautiful welcoming song of Didi Diop, a primary school director, who proudly performs her tradition role as a griot on special community events like this welcome ceremony. Macaco’s song captivated the attention of the crowd and brought more joy and enthusiasm to all.
The chief of the fishermen, another elder, and a senior woman came in turns into the circle and made welcome speeches. They all spoke in Pulaar and said ‘bissimila e wuromon’ to welcome Macaco and Pelicano and all Damanhurians in Guedé. Ousmane and Macaco shared about the history of the twinship between the communities, the visit of Guedé representatives to Damanhur in May-June 2014, the foundations of Damanhur and Guedé, common vision of the sister communities.
Food processing workshop for women by women
The food processing workshop seeks to help families in the area preserve their vegetable production, improve local diets and generate income in the dry season. 55 women leaders had been selected from 5 different villages. To participate in the workshop, each participant was chosen for her leadership skills and motivation. Each of them was required, prior to the beginning of the workshop, to collect empty bottles of a certain size, clean them and keep them very clean. They were also only accepted in the training after they firmly promised to share their new learned skills with other women in their respective communities.
While Macaco supported with translation, logistics and organization, Pellicano taught the participants general principles of food preservation – the importance of hygiene, the effects of heat and light on the processed product quality. She generously shared her technical experience on how to prepare the vegetables available at that time of the year: eggplants, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber and red pepper. She kept moving from inside to outside the building where a wood fire was made and a big cooking pot was ready for use. The participants followed her in her movements and were constantly encouraged to learn by doing, ask questions and work in small groups. The extreme outside temperatures outside the building did not impact the motivation of the trainer or trainees.
Pelicano also brought a brand new tomato processing machine, which she assembled and operated in front of the participants who were also given the opportunity to use it. Pelicano offered the machine to the women in Guedé, who were both surprised and delighted by such generosity. They all expressed their gratitude to Pelicano for the practical knowledge and the machine she gave them. In the closing ceremony, all participants wished that such trainings would take place on a regular basis. They also created an association, exchanged contacts to stay in touch.
Weeks after the workshop was over, some of the processed vegetables were taken to Diam Sira, a small village in the centre of the country, a remote Serere village which has no market and no access to fresh vegetables. The Guedé processed products were highly appreciated there and the women in Diam Sira expressed the wish to have the same training to improve their families’ daily diets, health and income.
Meeting with Guedé community in the fishermen’s district
The day after the workshop, the jars full of vegetables and tomato sauce were brought to the house of Ousmane’s family and shared between the women of the different villages. Ousmane showed Macaco and Pelicano the whole village including the many achievements that had been made during his time in office as the mayor of Guedé from bringing flowing water and electricity to several districts to building school rooms and renovating a big old covered space that was filled with litter and is now becoming a common space for the whole village.
In the afternoon the important and expected meeting with the whole village, the council of the elders and the women took place in the fisherman’s district under cool mango trees, to learn about our mutual realities and to brainstorm next steps for our twinship.
There was also a film team of the Senegalese second national channel to film the event and an interview with Ousmane, Macaco and Pelicano about the twinship, that was broadcast two days later in three different news editions, also via satellite.
The meeting started with an introduction by Ousmane and Macaco described the different parts of which Damanhur is composed, while the responsible people from the village talked about their fields of competence. The atmosphere became warmer and warmer and feelings of being two sides of the same coin, of being family, was very present again. Soon some possible next steps for the twinship were identified. It was clear to both sides that the twinship wanted to be something concrete, as was this food processing workshop that the women hope will be run again next year.
The Mango trees brought a special flair to the meeting as if nature was embracing the human intentions.
Abdoul Dia, a farmer, said: “Our two communities are connected in their hearts and minds. We are connected with a continuous flow of mutual love, respect and spirituality. We wish a long life to our collaboration. Let mutual understanding and acting solidarity be the foundation our bigger community. We are one diverse and interconnected entity”.