PISTOIA – A place in the historic center of the city, where you can chat, drink a carcass together, browse among the products of African crafts and discover the artistic wonders of a continent that is so culturally rich and varied.
“Djam Rek” by Ibrahima Aladij Gueye, in via della Madonna 83, is much more than a simple ethnic craft shop: for almost twenty years – it opened in 2003 – it has been a reference point for those who want to get closer to the various “worlds” that make up the great mosaic of ethnic groups, peoples, and cultures that are Africa, with the certainty of always being received with open arms by Ibrahima’s smile.
A place where you not only go in to buy, but also to talk, to take a little break from the stress and chase of daily commitments, to find the peace today that is so fragile in our hectic lives: the same name of the store, “Djam Rek”, In Wolof language – one of the most widely spoken languages in West African countries – means “peace only”, to emphasize this dimension of peace, meeting and social relations that underlies the opening and the experience of the store.
But how was “Djam Rek” born in Pistoia? First of all, it is necessary to recreate the personal story of its owner Ibrahima Gueye, 56, originally from Senegal, for 22 years in Italy and in his twenties in Pistoia, which has now become his adopted city (“here my family grew up, I feel like a pistoian for everything in the world, ”he says smiling).
Ibrahima was born in Dakar, where he completed his studies up to the degree of law; for four years he worked as an employee of the Ministry of Finance, but at the same time ran an entrepreneurial activity with his family.
“At work I like to be self-employed and have my freedom – he explains – for this reason I decided, despite the good salary as a public servant, to open with some relatives a utility company: the business went well, we worked a lot with offices public or with private companies, including foreign, for the supply of office supplies, clothing for skilled workers, building materials, spare parts for cars and hardware.
This job also allowed me to travel a lot in West African countries where we got supplies or delivered: I have been to Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Niger and Gambia.
Sometimes I was absent for seven or ten days for these business trips, but by leaving the commissions to others, I lost track of the company’s progress: in my absence, employees worked a little and poorly, delays in deliveries began to accumulate, and in commissions, the company began to incur debt and eventually went bankrupt, and I lost almost all the money I had invested in it ”.
From this bitter professional disappointment, the decision to emigrate and find luck elsewhere. “My first intention – says Ibrahima – was to go to Germany, where my relatives already lived and there were good job opportunities, but one of my friends, who had moved to Bologna years earlier, suggested that I should spend a couple months in Italy, to more easily get the European residence permit.So I arrived in Italy a little randomly and I certainly did not have the slightest idea of staying here, it was just a crossroads.So it went differently and I have never set my legs there in Germany! ”.
Ibrahima remembers the difficulties in his first months in Italy when he started working as a bricklayer and dishwasher in Bologna and Ravenna, and then moved to Ponsacco, where he was a bookseller and attended trade fairs and markets around Versilia and the centers. Upper Tuscany. It often happened in Pistoia, on Piazza Mazzini: and here a meeting took place destined to change Ibrahima’s life.
“I met Marco, a boy from Pistoia, who often came to visit me there in the square, we started talking about literature, music, philosophy; it was very pleasant to talk to him and we quickly became friends. One day he told me that he and his family would help me realize my desire to start a self-employed business: I have always had this mistake of wanting to be self-employed at work. They gave me a big hand in acquiring this small commercial fund, and from there arose the idea of an African handicraft shop, which at that time was lacking in Pistoia “.
Ibrahima then illustrates the spirit with which “Djam Rek” was born: “I was not interested in opening a shop just to sell, I wanted to create an African cultural center: a space designed for Italians, and for Pistoia in particular, where those who feel like can stop for a few minutes to talk, listen, taste a tea or coffee, read a book, relax with ethnic music, take a moment break and peace during the day to exchange a few words and learn something about Africa.And it is possible in a city like Pistoia, a quiet city where the dimension of personal relationship and mutual greeting survives: The shop also acts as a listening desk, those who have some problem, need advice or just want to let go of the steam, stop by and be sure to get help.
I like Pistoia and I feel good here because it is a quiet, peaceful city where I can stop and talk to people. “
Entering the small space “Djam Rek” means taking a journey into the arts and crafts of Africa. A definition that can be deceiving, however, as the African continent is configured as an extraordinary and very rich mosaic of peoples, languages, ethnic groups and cultures, with very different traditions within each country: hence the impossibility of talking about a ” Unique “African craftsmanship and the need to make the European guest understand the ethnic and cultural complexity of this continent, which in some respects is still” mysterious “and unmanageable in our eyes.
“The handicrafts displayed in the shop – Ibrahima explains – come directly from the villages of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and other West African countries; I get them sent to Italy thanks to contacts working in the import / export sector or through associations operating in these These are objects made with handicraft techniques of very ancient origin, which use local raw materials or waste materials, and which reinforce the work of these small village communities, isolated and far from the big cities.
There are woven palm leaf baskets typical of Senegal’s Wolof villages, hand-painted fabrics with natural colors, ebony wood carvings, earrings and bracelets of wood and rope, forged copper pendants, colorful prints with traditional scenes of villages or animals on the savannah, bags in multicolored fabrics , often carrying Pan-African colors, tea and coffee handmade by farmers in Guinea and Ivory Coast.
“Djam Rek” is a small but welcoming, lively and colorful space where you immediately feel at home, thanks to Ibrahima’s smile and warm welcome.
His calm and peaceful manner delays us from staying in the store, he conveys a sense of inner calm so much that one wonders what the “secret” of such a philosophy of life is. “First and foremost, faith – confirms Ibrahima – I am a very devout Muslim, but also open to Buddhist philosophy, which made me reflect a lot on relationships with others. And then there is patience. My motto is: patience has no limits. In my opinion, the worst load is envy: We should not be selfish, but wish the best and good luck to others too, and would not do everything and only for ourselves.
This is a bit like the secret of inner peace, to live in empathy with others and to be happy for the happiness of others. “