Saint Louis - the last stage of our research in June - an emblematic place

Even its location makes it a landmark. Sheltered from the ocean by a long sandbar "Barberie Tongue", which is host to the traditional fishing village Guet N'dar – the history of St. Louis, an island surrounded by the Senegal River, is a monument to the aspiration and impressive colonial sense of the past with every step we take along its narrow streets.

St. Louis was the last stage of our research in June - and it seemed to me that the varied and intense experiences of this month - had begun to flow together in a river that can not wait to unite with the sea, where correlations are waiting in the waves to jump into the transparent air.

For three days we were there - and every day we crossed the bridge to the majestic and generously landscaped history of St. Louis to reach Guet N'dar, to pursue our research. Here few white men get lost here - but we could enter freely because we were accompanied by one of their sons (Aliou Sall) who is committed to the fishermen in Senegal since he returned from his studies in Switzerland - now more than twenty years ago. That was why the doors for us the doors turned out to be open, in a way that on the door step, we have been transformed from a foreigner to a friend.

Every time I had to stop a while in the middle of the bridge to watch the banks of Saint Louis on one side and Guet N'dar on the other side. And with every long look this place has become more and more of a metaphor for the collision of cultures - even if the time of colonialism is past: the "other side" still has no opportunity to move out geographically – at the end of the bank of fine sand, the sea spells the stop on one side and the river on the other. And the bridge, so short, between St. Louis, a tourist attraction, and Guet N'dar, the vital founding village - seems to offer no way to reconcile these two worlds.

It was in St. Louis that even the meetings had taken an emblematic character, mainly caused by the incredibly dense population of the traditional village in which at every step, each entry and stay in a house the social pressure is palpable. Again and again arose the question of the dignity of the people - even in the poor households there was a shine that had led the perceptions towards substantial things. And there can be no doubt that this is rooted in their culture, which gives them the strength to endure social pressure with dignity. But how long can this work? We know that living conditions are not allowed to go below a certain limit.

The meetings in St. Louis were impressive, even if basically we had not discovered entirely new problems or other conditions. We only had the chance to hear many representative and very strong voices, which led to the creation of an fuller image of diverse views, already heard before.

In addition, we developed an understanding that it is not modernity itself that threatens an ancient culture - as long as modernity does not threaten the tradition, vitally present in the culture of fishermen and the women working in the fisheries sector. It is rather the known effects of globalisation or - as it is now on everyone's lips - the globalisation that disrupt the established and proven rules in the cultural, social and economic fabric of fishing communities. Due to the reduction of inputs (fish resources), but also the fact that more and more fishing areas are granted to investors, not just foreigners, alienation is spreading - first at the economic level - with the potential to grow in the social and cultural fabric.

"The poor are tired" - these are the words of the wise old fisherman Malick Gueye - and what that means, we are witnessing in countries of the Maghreb, where one after another people started to rebel.

Malick taught me that in Africa there is an age to speak, an age where the words carry weight, one where they scold, one where they mollify, one where they scream, mourn, soothe. And one where they are furious ...

Awa SEYE - National President of CNPS Women's cells - fish processing operator and midwife. CNPS is the National Collective of Fishermen in Senegal. She offered hospitality and generously shared experiences about the many challenges and successes of her life.

Read on to get to know Awa SEYE and click here for a slide show on her living conditions as she narrates the many challenges of her life in Guet N'dar.