With a breakfast of yoghurt, real good muesli and acacia honey (a present from a friend, Gora who visited me here) I start my search for the embassy of Ivory Coast.
From 9th of November to 20th of December 2012
Because I am aware that writing in Dutch is not for every one, I do an effort to write in English. Perhaps I gain more readers, more awareness for the cause I cycle, besides that I just love to feel the world on a deeper level: Focus on Education. But most of all I think I write in English because it seems I’ve got the possibility to do it.
With a full chalk bag of dried apricots, raisins and dried coconut with ginger dangling down from my handlebar I speed up against the harmattan headwind, up to Banjul. Because here’s where the Ivory Coast consul supposed to be. I got four directions so I am pretty sure I must find it easily. I do. But not after I ask directions at the Sierra Leone embassy where Mohamed greets me in recognition. This is the second time I am at his doorstep and he is of course very willing to help me. A lady on a bicycle is a nice difference from the usual visa application crowd. But unfortunately he does not know where the Ivory Coast consul’s situated. Then suddenly Mohamed’s eyes falls on a boy cycling past, it’s an Ivorian -‘hee, boy, come here’- and he comes but doesn’t know where his country consul is situated. But he does make an effort and is calling his friend and with new directions I head back to where I come from.
With only three directions I am at the Nigerian embassy where another man directs me very precise with street name and name of the consul and color of the gate where I should knock at. The Ivory Coast consul is hiding in a compound without noticeable signs, only a flag is catching my attention and so I end up, 15 minutes before closing hour, at the consul’s desk. A young boy who studied IT is replacing the consul because the man is sick and for every question I have he has to go and ask. Only to find out that this visa is also ridiculous expensive! No way I am going to buy this!
Ivory Coast visa fee: 100 euro for three months, single entree. 120 euro for six months, multiple entree. Address: in Bakau, one street before Kofie Anan road. Left side at a white gate with a flag in it’s compound (of course it depends which side you enter).
Sierra Leone visa fee: 100 dollar. Address: Daniel Goddart street opposite Mauritanian warehouse and Malian bus company.
Guinea Bissau embassy address: Kololi, on Bertil Harding Hwy. Coming from Palma Rima direction, past the Kotu police station, past the bamboo furniture stall on your left, turn left right after the red sea container. Follow the sandy track, it lead’s you to the white Bissau building.
Guinea Conakry visa fee: 2100 dalasi (50 euro). Address: Kombo Sillah road. Standing with your back at the Serekunda market, go straight and take the left sandy road when at the fork. The highest building on your right has the Conakry embassy at the top of the building. Visa issued at the spot, valid for 3 months from the date of issue (I could choose a date of entry and they gave me 3 months because I am on bicycle)
Finding the consul let me move fast and continuous in order to make it before 12 o ‘clock. I think I made another record: 90 kilometer without break, without lunch, without pee break nor contemplating break.
And so the Gambia experience comes to an end. It’s about time; all these 6 weeks I could stay for free in a beautiful little red house at a school compound. There’s a kitchen and most of the time electricity too. I even had a little pet, until the headmaster Tamba killed it. With two firm strokes of a broom he ended the life of an innocent bat. Obviously a boy. Staying at this school was organized by Marloes, a friend of Marijke and Jacques for whom I do voluntary work and The Gambia was the first place where I had work to do, initially visiting one family. After a little over 5 months of cycling I start working on the school where I’m staying at. And I can assure you: let me cycle through desserts instead of being a teacher of little Fatou’s and little Muhammed’s and little Bubacarr’s! Being a complete inexperienced teacher of 25 three-year old’s is hard work. Particularly if you choose to be an art teacher without having the supplies to put the art onto. Specially if you choose to be an art teacher in front of children who are taught not to be original. Who are taught to repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat. Oh… excuse me.
Is what I said when my parents arrived on the Banjul airport. I did not say this to my parents but to lovely Sera, my teacher too. To my parents I said quite something different: ‘No, that’s not possible, you’re supposed to be at home,’ I uttered to my father when a funnily recognizable man is shaking my arm quite violently. ‘Hm, this man seems to want my attention?’ is what I think when I enter the airport unknowingly. But then, when I look at this man who’s holding my arm more closely, again and look at him once more, I see it is my dad! My dad and my mom have come to surprise me, and with their stay of two weeks they made it impossible for me to continue as a teacher. Even though I must say I don’t mind, I have enjoyed the children. Standing in front of a class was mentally hard work, it was also very rewarding because children are just fresh young beings. 25 little ones and all with their own character and own beauty made it a lovely experience for me. Being part of the teachers, even though they could complain quite a bit about their life, and probably with a reason, was fun as well. Just because we are so much the same, it really does not matter where we are or where we come from or what we do, we’re all equal. And to find this out, each and every time in each and every country is one of the greatest joy in traveling.
The village where I stay, Tujering is small and has no paved roads. When I take out the bicycle I plough through deep sand while my chain collect sand over again. Especially if I visit my parents on the beach. The village has one mosque and a market where not much more than tomatoes and okra’s are available, I find out there’s a working internet cafe while rice, oil and ‘other commodities’ are always available. At 8 o’clock in the morning the school bell’s gotten to a long sound by an older student just outside my doorstep. Most of the time I am already awakened by the donkey’s wake up call while birds, hens and chickens sing long before the dawn breaks into the day. It’s a heavenly sound to wake up by.
My first impression of The Gambia was not a positive one. The whole sex industry made me look at the whole country in pitiable disgust. And because I was more to find on the beach now my parents had arrived I also had more unwanted attention of the so called bumsters. Walking, always fully dressed, with my dad on the beach we would ever attract a boy walking along with us. Often a very attractive one with a body built up by solely muscles, gleaming in the glittering sun and perfectly proportioned. Always asking the same boring questions until I ask them to please leave us alone because I want to spend some time talking with my husband. Later on I got to see the very attractive Gambian boys adorned with fake happiness and the sad looking young Gambian girls not trying to hide their disinterest as people who are making a living of mostly elderly Europeans in search for love or lust. And sometimes it does work out well, I should not be too prejudiced of course.
The whole country seems to float on sponsors and Europeans who are building, donating, giving and dumping, in good will. There’s an overflow of water puts, refrigerators, teddy bears and shops full of second hands European clothing. Besides there also seems to be an overflow of schools, many built by Europeans as well, and that’s the source of knowledge. That is, if the teacher is. Soon I find out that The Gambia is a real poor country, the average income can be as low as a 25 kilo bale of rice, where an average family can eat three weeks from. I start to visit more and more local families and seeing the same man sitting day after day on the same bench, waiting and perhaps wishing, is not always what it seems like. He whispers to me: ‘When you want to find out more about this country and it’s politics, come to me, I can tell you a lot.’ It’s a most sensitive subject, and most people do not want to be caught by others while talking about ‘him’.
I find the people of the Gambia open, very humorous and they love to talk. They’re really friendly, although I doubt the boy who come to my Little Red House with a bag full of green oranges (yet ready to eat). Or Lamin boy, who visit me early morning exclusively in his short, pondering closely around the chicken fence walled house to see if I am in it. Since the Little Red House consist of an iron mosquito net surrounding it two outer walls, only fenced by iron bars, it gives eye access to each and every one who walk past. And so it happens that I hear: ‘Hi my lady friend, Cindy,’ some one’s walking past and seeing the light -yes, there’s electricity burning. I hope he’s not a self invitee, as a few boys are. A woman alone needs company, preferable a man, ain’t it so?
Going around Tujering town, where I stay most of my days, always comes up with new contacts and can be a source of great interaction. The boys have outstanding insights, full of emancipation for their women and seemingly endless love and care for their wives. They have objections against me for not being married and I can only hope their declarations about love are genuine and lived by. But I doubt about that!
Since I appear to stay here longer than I intended more people decide to come over. Without really waiting my approval a ticket is booked and my parents and me are happily surprised with the coming of Gora, a friend from Denmark. I leave my sandy village to stay closer to both and we enjoy cozy evenings together. We go to the beach where only Gora and me are fully dressed, except when we swim, then I undress into my mothers unattractive bikini, just a wee bit too wide and prone to loose it from the waves.
Gora and me are having a competition on our bicycles in the pleasantly busy traffic of Banjul. I am surprised he’s that good at it, we use the pavement swallowed by sand, driving between the cars and maneuvering from all sides. He obviously comes from the country of bicycles: Bangladesh, and he does justice to it! We combine our tour with finding the ever shifting embassies, and do find them all, just before the sun turns into an orange bullet, ready to leave the horizon.
Although the average speed is not much higher than when my parents and I took part of the traffic, a poor 13.7 kilometer per hour. But I am happy my parent and me cycled together in The Gambia. We visit a family connected to Marloes, who arranged my stay here, and saunter with the man to his back yard: the wild and unvisited coast of the Atlantic, where only cows and vultures are to spot. We come over by a lonesome boy who’s building a mud structure where a large television’s standing proudly. Before I see it coming he hugs me in recognition (and hope) because I am almost as old as he is and still unmarried. We stroll along the coast where dogs accompany us happily until we reach a fisher village. And I am amazed how much fish is still in the ocean, it’s carried out by hundreds of wheelbarrows, boys are waiting in line for their turn to fill up.
My only reason for coming to this country is because of Suleyman. A man who made his dream come true with the help of the organization I volunteer for, Focus on Education. Suleyman has now his own Botanical Medicinal Garden and able to teach women about tending vegetable gardens. And as soon as I meet him I feel a connection. A natural link, while we sip tea in the sand under a white barked tree caressing the Little Red House (yes, it is indeed painted red). A man with 5 children learned the skills of curing remedies and sickness by nature from his father. I find it tremendous interesting and am soaking so much information from him, while at his garden, that I get dehydrated and sunburned and of course end with an headache. But with a deeper understanding of what nature does for us. And oh, how much am I missing the silence and the meditative properties of it! Being in a house, however little and red and simple, automatic keeps the mind occupied with not so important issues. A house forms walls for the mind, keeps it occupied like a shiny floor which needs to be swept every day, or a stove which needs to be cleaned after each meal. I visit his house several times and also stay one night over. The lack of electricity makes us go to bed at nine after having kissed the pitch black sky adorned with diamonds good night.
Being in such a plain environment is natural for me after all those years of traveling, although Suleyman excuses himself for offering me such a simple stay. No electricity, nor gas, neither chairs to sit on is quite my lifestyle. Although I am aware that this is my choice, not theirs. I am very aware of how much work’s involved in their lifestyle. They have to make large efforts to have the basics in life, such as to prepare food. Sallah, the lovely wife of Suleyman shared a recipe with me which I noted down step for step. So you can try it as well, but mind you: it is not coming from an easy to prepare package nor it is made quickly, it is an African recipe!
After all, I am happy I got to see this country at a deeper level. It is small, easily done in one day by bicycle but I stayed 6 weeks. I am eager to push the peddles again, on to Congo, a destination probably not possible any time soon. But first there are the two Guinea’s. I skipped the issue of the Sierra Leone visa and the Ivory Coast visa as those countries are not cheap to travel in. I will try to avoid them and going around through the bottom of Mali. Although I am aware that a Frenchman is kidnapped very recently and most probably have to travel by bus there. Keep on reading this blog and you’ll find out.
Total kilometers cycled while I stayed in the Little Red House: 600 km.