African Planet

I will always remember the smell when the plane door opened and we walked on the tarmac. My senses automatically switched to 220 volts. It was dark as night in Africa! Well, that’s precisely where we were, in Togo, in West Africa. We could hear the noisy engines of the cars and their horns; the smells of diesel and savannah mixed together. We could feel the vibrations of other planes preparing to take off and from that dark night emerged a humid heat that stuck on our skins as young aid workers from the Northern Hemisphere. I will also remember forever the thought that crossed my mind at that moment and said : Welcome home Stéphanie.

Then it was the customs officers who said to us : Welcome to Togo! and that’s where it started. It was as if those customs officers during that obscure African night had injected me with a drug that I would like to taste for the rest of my life. The excitement of discoveries and the adventures that come with travelling, accompanied by a shooter of freedom.

I was 16 years old and they had just condemned me there to want to explore all the countries, all the cultures; to discover all the customs of the world. Nasty addiction! Welcome to Africa Stéphanie!

Since it’s summer (still a little bit), I wanted to keep it light. I really like collages. It’s one of the first creative approaches we all explore as kids and that’s what I like, the naive and free side of a collage. Paper, scissors, colored pencils and… tadam! It’s simple and easy to create quickly with images you have on hand. I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping pictures in a box that I find beautiful; old party cards, bits of magazines, children’s drawings or even bits of wrapping paper. Actually it can be quite a lot of stuff actually. This box is like my treasure chest! I also consult it when i’m out of ideas. But let’s go back to my African story…

I was 16 years old the first time I step a foot in Africa. I was in high school five and the school i went to was participating in a cooperation program, a work camp with cooperants from Quebec, France and Togo. For the first time, i was confronted with a culture completely different from mine. I say culture, but I should say “world” because we really believed we had just landed on another planet. Yes, people have darker skin tone, but since my father is Indian and comes from Guyana, that’s not what first jumped out at me. I wish i could have told how impressive the temples dating  tens of thousands of years were or how the fossils of extinct animal species impressed me, but no. I was not impressed. No, what jumped out at me first in our new Eldorado is the authenticity and joy.

The joy that emanates from the ground on which the dancers feet strike in unison to keep the rhythm in a village, a market. The joy in the laughter of the childrens who come to touch our white hair and the same joy that escapes from the young girls who show us how to adjust a loincloth. (and who finds us squealing incompetent)! This joy has also taken us Nordic people by storm. We surprised ourselves to smile when we were taken in monster traffic jams; or to laugh when our shower came cold and that there was no more hot water. Personally, it really went to my head this story of joy and authenticity. I started laughing all the time! We would go to work, i laughed; we would talk with other development workers, i laughed; we would go to the tailor’s to get some pants sewn, OK, i was really cramped! (it was quite an experience that time!).

Twenty-five years later, when I close my eyes, I can easily still feel the energy of those joyful, crazy and completely crazy moments that were part of this journey. The energy of every trip, every place i have visited; this is what is most important to store in my consciousness. This is what I wanted to reproduce in this collage.

We all have a personal baggage full of unique experiences that form the solar system of our lives. My system gravitates around me all the time and I can go and draw memories and sensations from it whenever I want.