West Africa, 1973


Janet studied and traveled in West Africa for almost a year in the 1970’s. Her research took her to Ghana for 3 months & then to Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Benin, Nigeria and across the Sahara to Algiers.

“My first journey in West Africa remains a pivotal experience of my life and is still a source of inspiration and resonance for me. In Africa I was relieved to find, as I had suspected, that there are many ways to organize life.”

From Woven Journey
What was I doing in West Africa in 1973, at the age of 20? You could say, I had nothing better to do. Really I went on a whim. Dissatisfied with the limitations of academia,
I was looking for a place to study weaving far away. I remember that the woman on the phone told me that she could send me weaving to Italy, Greece, Ireland or Ghana.
Although I had never been to any of those places, I decided on the spot that Ghana was it. I’m the kind of person who orders the unknown item on a menu.

The heart of my journey was Mali.The boat trip from Mopti to Djenne was supposed to take 12 hours & instead it took 3 1/2 days. There was so little water in the river
that we kept having to get out of the canoe to lighten the load and push the boat down the river. There were only 4 of us on the boat and lots of burlap sacks of grain
Besides me, there was a woman passenger on whose hands and feet were painted beautiful red designs in henna. The woman and I sat facing each other on the lumpy sacks for 3 days & each curled up on them to sleep at night. I fluctuated between being enchanted with the river, the motion, the people, the skinny cows the encampments of huts made of woven raffia mats & pissed I had ever started the whole thing since it was taking so long, bored, physically uncomfortable. Continue reading

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