From 21st of December 2012 to 2nd of January 2013
Age is just a number, marry me!
When leaving it behind I noticed how much The Gambia has a slight negative effect on me. Maybe therefor I am cursed with an infection on my ankle and decide to go to the doctor before I leave the next day for Senegal. Because that I am leaving is a fact! After 6 weeks of The Gambia I feel the surroundings weighting down on me heavily. The teacher’s energy, the villagers vibes (perhaps burdened by the political situation or poverty) and the overall feeling is becoming apparent, although I did enjoy the country. And I still do when I meet doctor Samba.
Doctor Samba asks me what I have done to the little wound on my ankle. Well, I always try to heal things myself first and then, when that’s not quite working out, I visit a doctor. Samba and me are now playing nurse and patient, it seems. He even propose to me and I have to laugh because of so much very good acting. I do feel way better when he actually cleaned the infection and treated it properly. Except for the lack of hygiene, but that’s secondary in a clinic. Priority is attention. We had good fun and I did not expect anything less in a country where people still talk to one and another.
The total costs were almost 8 euro. That’s a lot if a local monthly income can be as low as equivalent to 25 euro. Thankfully I got loads of gauze, a bag of cotton and a full roll of plaster for free. All having an expiry date of somewhere near December 2012. All coming from The Netherlands…
With a swollen ankle and a flowing wound, with a sleepy head because of all the writing previous days, lack of energy but a belly full of beans I start the journey from Marloes’ house. Woken up with a cat sleeping between Marloes and me, the day can possibly not disappoint me. However, kids from Senegal are smashing unpredictable and the surrounding nature is doing it’s very best to compromise with those little mean human beings. So while I am cycling through lush nature where bushes spreading a delicious perfume, where giant trees dwarfs each and every house underneath it, I try to avoid the arms swinging through the air. Arms aiming at me, hands gripped around a sucked orange which is going to be thrown against my head. Melon peelings will do too and loud shouts of toubab, ‘give me’ and ‘donnez moi’ are hovering in almost every village.
First you will think: ‘I must be the manifestation of their sweet dreams,’ because the little mean beings all yell at me in happiness and hysterics and all I can make of their ‘Toubab Cadeau’ can not be else than me being a present to their daily playground. And indeed I am. I am a great toy for them. One to seize, one to attack in childish onslaught. Damn, what do I dislike those children. Not only the children can be a great annoyance, also the military check posts are. Those boys with an authoritarian look on their otherwise beautiful faces want to stop me while I am in a very fine flow. They want to know my name and country and all I want is to avoid them. It cycle past them until their dominance overwhelms me, then I do stop but only at such a distance they have to walk up to me. And they do, with the least vigor.
On the other hand am I able to keep the spirit up, even though my ankle is swollen and I have an headache. Every time I pause to eat a banana some one is stopping while passing on his cycle or moped, just to make sure I am without problems. The nature is so overwhelming, it simply is asking attention and by having a closer look at it, one can not ignore that nothing else matters. Nor these little mean humans, nor the oranges they throw, neither the toubab screams.
I am a toubab. And so are Boaz and LaRae. For those who do not know: a toubab is a white person. And Boaz and LaRae are white. I have come to know them through an American friend I met, some years back, in Yemen and who’d asked Boaz to host me when I would arrive in Ziguinchor. A little lack of foresight made me come into this very relaxed town on Saturday with only one day in between the weekend and Christmas. But with the task of obtaining a visa from Guinea Bissau. I succeeded quickly.
For those interested: go to John Paul II roundabout in the center of town. There are two petrol stations, cycle of it up to the road with the Total petrol station to your left. Cycle up this road and you’ll go past a small yellow mosque and soon after that the pharmacist Santhiaba, both left. Take next left after that (small sandy street) and the consulate is on the left after about 50 meter. It’s a pretty looking house with a wall and the country flag. Single entry, one month valid 15.000 CFA (these notes come from Lonely Planet Thorn Tree).
I cycle trough lush green nature which is becoming grander since I am in the Casamance, where it’s supposed to be a little dangerous. All I can feel is a very relaxed, smooth atmosphere and cycling through mangrove and silent waters reflecting the plants they embracing, I have to stop and soak in the quietness and specialness of being here. I am still amazed at where I am. The fact that I have reached this on my own is enhancing the feeling to a much higher level. So when I reached Niagius after about an hour cycling I ask the villagers where the toubabs are. A tall lean man in long djellaba walks up with me to the doorstep of this American couple who runs a dispensary. Very soon LaRae and me are discussing the problematic issues of this country, in fact whole black Africa. Why they are not able to rise above poverty?
Not that I did much research on this subject but by my own observations I can say that I think it’s because lack of decent education, if at all any education. Teachers are often not well educated themselves, let alone be dedicated. Children often go to school with an empty belly which is not doing any good for the brain, which they still need even when the education is low. I also think one of the reasons for not being able to rise above poverty is the way people connect with their religion. Traveled so intensively I can say that in countries where they have a little more religious lifestyle, or in other words, where the people rely on each other because that’s what religion ask them, there’s less hopeless poverty. And no, I am not talking about Afghanistan (although the Afghans themselves are not extreme in their religion), but when you have a closer look at countries like Sudan, Mauritania and even Yemen, there’s a huge difference to be seen. With no ‘donnez moi un cadeau’ at all. Maybe there’s still a lot of poverty but yet it’s different. Anyway, I am straying from the subject…
LaRae serves a delicious lunch. Being a vegetarian herself she knows how to make a few good salads of beans which we eat on toasted bread made by herself. After we do a little cleaning of the dispensary and then I am off to my hotel. A nice place where I got a discount and being spoiled with enormous plates of rice and fish always followed by another plate completely covered with papaya, watermelon, bananas and mandarins. ‘To become strong,’ they say. I must look skinny and weak…
The crisp clear mirror I look in
Here I meet Judith, a Dutch woman. When I meet Judith I see myself. When she talks I hear my very own words. She likes her tea with a little cloud of milk. Like I do. She has not just a little disliking for synthetic clothing, but like me, it is a deep mental issue. Synthetic clothing makes a man smelly and itchy. Judith also shares the deep rooted dislike against people who makes noise when they eat. We have so much the same opinions and beliefs and thoughts and feelings that we use each other as a mirror. When we meet we talk non stop about love. We need each other right at this moment. We discuss everything as only Dutch women do. Everything. We take part of the Senegalese mentality: we discuss, both feeling a philosopher, we analyze and we gain new insights. Thanks Judith!
One of these evenings, the one before Christmas, we spend in her lovers apartment, a television screen keeps the men and youngsters occupied while Judith and me keep discussing. Our tummy’s become bloated by the enormous quantity of food, fruit, bissap (hibiscus flower drink), bouye (baobab juice) and ginger juice while plastic flowers and a plastic duck add to the Senegalese atmosphere. Not only do I learn more about myself, also about the culture. Not only we analyze and view through each others eyes, we both learn. Some people who know me well shall have noticed, Judith is a Pisces too.
Christmas eve left me with a package of dates and masala tea. Yes indeed, my favorite combo. The cook isn’t in the hotel and I don’t want to go out and find food.
After 5 days of being in Ziguinchor my ankle has recovered enough to continue the journey. From now on it will be less luxurious, I will have less (bucket) showers and less hygiene to keep a wound clean. A little uncomfortable though that I have my periods while camping wild in Guinea…
I enter Guinea 20 kilometers after I have left Ziguinchor behind me. The border crossing at São Domingos goes without any trouble, as smooth as the road has been. Even though I have received a GPS, I don’t use it because I don’t know how. The only thing I find out is to see where I am in case I wonder about the direction. Not that I can go wrong because there’s only one road. By the time I have come upon a cross point it shows a faded, broken sign which gives two directions ‘Ingore’ and ‘Varela’. Standing still to rest a bit, a few guys immediately come and want to help me.
Italian espresso comes my way
I am released from the hysteric screams of the witches of Senegal. Released from the ridiculous demands and discharged from the uncomfortable feeling when approaching a group of children. I have reached Guinea and people here are a whole lot different. They are soft in their approach, sweet in their talking and generally just very laid back. It feels good to be here. Cycling over tarmac roads, past cashew plantations and mango trees I am now called ‘branco’ or watched in silence and admiration. Then I enter Ingore and do not doubt a single moment when I see a big signboard with ‘Irmas Adoradoras do Sangue de Cristo’. This is becoming my home for the night. I speak to father George Emanuel from Tanzania, who just returned from Bissau with sister Elda from Italy. They decide to leave my tent packed and instead they offer me a room. Complete with a large bucket of water, toilet paper, blankets, pillow cover and a towel. Do I feel welcome? Yes, I do!
The next morning things get even better because a good breakfast is waiting for me. As did the dinner the night before but because I went to bed early I had already made my own meal. Now, however, I sit here enjoying the fresh bread, the Italian hazelnut paste, the little bananas and the real real Italian coffee with milk. Oh, am I spoiled. And oh… what do I enjoy this!
After the delicious breakfast I need to fill my heart with pig love. The sisters having a big fenced pig garden and I arrive at their breakfast time. Great! Then I set off, rather late, cycling through slight hilly savannah, and a lot of palm trees. I pass little settlements where laundry is done, hanging neatly and crisp on lines, their yards swept perfectly. Minivans pass me, the sides of their vehicle having big round holes cut out so passengers can breath. It’s hazy and cold in the mornings, I feel I enter a more deep Africa.
Then I need to take a break. I choose a baobab tree to sit against and start writing my diary. My head is full of thoughts and they need to be emptied. I have slept very well, almost 12 hours. When my head touched the pillow cover I was in dreamland: found myself on a little island surrounding by large oceans and all I could think was: why did I get off here? I don’t want to be here. I am stuck on this island. I rather move around. Probably it are my thoughts and not reality where my dream’s about.
Because when I wake up I soon sit in the dining room of sister Chantal, where sister Elda comes to greet me. I am truly enjoying the breakfast and silently I thank the Lord. His crucifix right in front of me. I feel so at home. More so, I feel so welcome in Guinea Bissau. See me sitting here, I have a breakfast of fresh and filling baguette (not these empty break like in Senegal), I put butter on it and a layer of Italian hazelnut paste, combined with real Italian espresso and milk. Sister Elda is, as you might have guessed, from Italy. Her blue headscarf molded around her head, partly covering her ears, is handing three bananas, she talks Italian to me, while sister Chantal talks in French and all the rest Portuguese.
I am in fact enjoying so much that I immediately think of also joining some catholic movement. The one in India perhaps, a project of where I hope to go to. Or what about the ashram in Pondicherry? It all comes to my mind while previous day thoughts went about having either a cat or a dog or both. Previous day was not a good day, I had set off without enough rest. This day is a good day, having set off with enough rest and a good breakfast. Having had the rest to let the bowels do it’s thing I feel released from previous day strange breakfast of avocado and a whole papaya. I even managed to remove a few items I am sure I will not use in the very near future, and so I set off slightly lighter.
The country is having a relaxed feeling to it. The road’s quiet, there’s not much traffic. People seem to be either rich or very poor so there’s only minivans and big fat jeeps. I am greeted ‘branco pelele‘, and never so often have I raised my arm and waved ‘bon dia‘. I am not using my iPod anymore, that would only disconnect me from this friendly folks. Cycling past the villages along the main road I see people doing not a whole lot more than in neighboring country Senegal. Many young men play boardgames. Girls are just hanging around, after they pulled out water with their bare hands from the wells, their beautiful bodies wrapped scarcely in colorful clothes transported from European places. Women ever doing laundry, sweeping their compounds neatly, cooking and caring. Men tending the land, doing small business. Guinea is a poor country, the difference with Senegal is obviously, mostly by the lack of concrete houses. Although there are some concrete buildings, some being surprisingly ‘discoteca’, some right opposite the village mosque. People are blending with nature and for me cycling is like going into an ever changing picture. I feel traveling on bicycle is experiencing rather than going through.
The route that I am taking seem to work out itself. I take roads which are not on the map and I am on routes which I was not intended to cycle but seem to be the best option. Men at check posts draw little maps for me and I ask passerby’s which route is better since I am avoiding the capital. It’s all real easy.
Why do I cycle?
A question which cross my mind while cycling is: ‘Why do I cycle?’ This question has been answered by myself time ago and the response has not changed: to experience the simplicity. Cycling through Africa is a whole lot more primitive, more demanding too. I see the Guinean laughing at me, and that’s very understandable. Although I do have money -a lot according them, which is a lot compared with their annual income- I choose to struggle through their country. Even if I slipstream with a speed of 45 kilometer an hour down their roads. My lips becomes dry again when a cloud of dust lands on it while a speedy minivan passes me. I feel a current of air when a luxurious jeep passing me even faster. I receive acknowledgment from the poor man on his stripped down bicycle. Traveling like this there’s no pressure on my mind. There’s no distraction. It is simple and basic. It makes it easy to enjoy the very little gifts I receive. The Italian coffee taste surprisingly well. Just like the unnatural sweet condensed milk with too little bit of Nescafé to let it taste like coffee. Bread here’s full of taste, filling and thick. The omelet oily but because I did not see it approaching while I was becoming hungry, such a treat! Or just being able to call my mother while eating this oily breakfast.
The Israeli dates I ate in the Netherlands are just as well such a treat. No less than the little prayer Liz and Wiliam gave to me. Where I would find this earlier a bit amusing, I now do appreciate it a lot. It gives me goosebumps to hear her pray for my safety, followed up by the village woman, where I put up my tent. She prays in Creole, being a Muslim she speaks out the word Dios. This unity is why I travel. The speed is why I cycle, together with the strength I have to supply myself. Seeing Bafatá lying on a low hill gives me a whole different experience than would I have reached it by minivan. Standing in the old town of this same former Portuguese ruled city, watching over the abundant bush below me, the slow moving grass of the savannah, where pigs wade through, where men dressed in ripped, dirty clothes step out onto the road, carrying their huge machetes, where girls in miniskirts pass by. There have I been cycling past. Watching over Africa it looks like a green sponge from where alfalfa grows. The bush is covering everything. All poverty. All problems. All careless parents. All children who become an unrequested parent. All these human who have to find out how they get their daily food. The country is rich. It foresees in every demand. But people need to work for it in order to have food on their plate. There’s little else to live for than this, life itself.
I think therefor sex is a wonderful, delicious change of many people daily life, especially for the boys. Big signboards adorn the roadsides near the villages. How to avoid HIV and AIDS. Girls are dressed to impress the boys sexually and when I drink a Nescafé I am amazed how much naked skin, pushed up breasts and sexy legs are to be seen. Still, this is an Islamic country where woman in purdah also pass me by.
People are surprisingly positive, which is good to notice in a country torn by war, colonization and big business in hard drugs. Cycling through this country I feel extremely rich, and not only because I carry so much electronic devices or cosmetic beautification’s or simple the bicycle I sit on. I feel rich because I am able to make choices, because the infection on my ankle is healing so well, because I see my sister’s handwriting in my diary, because my health is just fine. See, the bush is opening for me, I just have to start peddling and the route’s leading itself…
One of the nice features of this country are the many pigs. This is the season they’re released from their cages in order to eat what ever they can find and become fat and tasty. While cycling they cross the road, sometimes check the situation and their noses peep out of the bush, make me laugh and suddenly I see the country resembles their animals: Guinea pig country.
Sex, drugs and fast cars
To be safely dropped into the hands of two young boys, one of them scrubbing his genitals thoroughly. Either he did not have a proper wash down there, or things start moving around in what ever excitement he’s having. I don’t know, but it is rather uncomfortable to talk to him while he’s itching so profusely. I have stopped at their house to ask if I can camp here but they themselves have a better idea: a few kilometers further down the road there are living Brazileiro’s. The two boys accompany me on their bicycle and I am once again taken good care for. This time by Brazilian William and American Liz who are running an Evangelistic mission.
William’s preparing a warm bucket shower for me while Liz start telling me about the country after she laughs at my question, ‘I don’t see many schools here?’ There are no schools in this country, really. My very philosophic point of view, ‘What’s the people’s drive in life?’ makes Liz start a deep, compact explanation. People want to leave this country. They want to go to Portugal or Brazil. Their only goal in live is to survive. Believe in God is secondary, although people are believers and in some way religious. Here I see immediately the big difference with Muslims, because is believing in Allah or God not the goal itself?! Will Allah not just provide and decide. A strong believe gives automatic faith. People in more strict Islamic countries have such a strong belief that that’s their main drive, all the rest will follow accordingly. Inshallah, isn’t it. And yet, there’s poverty but on the other side, there’s expectation and hope.
But then again, what do I know about poverty, hope and the will to have a life with less sorrow and just a little bit more easiness. What for god sake do I now, I am cycling? I am a funny woman that’s jumping on a poor men vehicle, a bicycle, and crossing a few countries. While Liz shows her Guinean friend my bicycle she asks if I believe in God? For I must have a believe in Him, otherwise how can I cross so many countries? I tell the Guinean woman, who’s as petite as I am, that I do believe.
Nothing is what it seems, I am not just cycling for fun and the ‘tra la la’ of it. People here might not understand, but most have no other task than survive. There’s no intention, no desire, no goal, no energy, no understanding. There are no schools, no education, no work. How can you have intention or desire or a goal if there’s no ignition? People are hanging around their houses, politicians fighting with drug lords. Trying to gain enormous income. Yes, roads are being built, maybe just to accommodate the large SUV’s drove by cool men with bulking wallets.
The catholic women dress not so decently, I remark to Liz. She totally agrees. Many young girls and women dress straightly as whores. They see it on television and they copy it. Just as I see many of them behaving similarly, wrapping around men, pushing them playfully away, pouting their lips, showing their legs, cage their full breasts like ripe mango’s in a too small basket. No difference here than in most European countries. Parents do not teach their children to dress a bit more conservative, parents have other things on their minds, parents just don’t care that much about their children. The average age of a new mother is not surprisingly 15 years.
Liz tells me that every year in October the locals come knock on their door to ask for money. This time of the year their money is finished, their crops eaten, their food gone. They never learned how to manage, how to think systemically, how to make lasting business. People just do not want to work. Business is done, again, by the Indians, the Mauritanians and the Lebanese. They do the business in cashews here. Will they ever learn if they never being taught how to?
I meet African Krishna
When I leave the next morning, again quite late, Liz and William pray for my safety and I am off to the first village to fetch some bread. I eat this alongside the track, the first unsealed reddish earth I am on. While I eat bread with Gambian peanut butter a young boy passes me, returns and start watching me. Although we can not speak to each other we manage to make nice contact. I find his primitive way of beautification just striking. He’s carrying a cow horn as a flute and have to think of him as an African Krishna…
My route continues over quite roads where roots and baobab fruit lay to dry. Even on the main roundabout in Mansõa food is spread out to soak in the sun. Kids watch me pass by in quiet wonderment. There’s hardly any begging, barely any screaming. Guinea is a relaxed, laid back country. Not do I feel any tension nor unhappiness like I did feel in The Gambia. I pass the artwork of Ngala, I stop here to watch it precisely. Men who work on the road talk to me, a boy gestures that this Ngala man is crazy. And maybe he is, isn’t every artist a bit weird anyway? Yes, including myself…
Lonely Planet says this about the artwork of Ngala: He has fenced a part of the roadside and created the world. It’s a small, thought-inspiring universe built from stone, brick and recycled materials. Just like that, to please those who pass, and make them think a little. Christian crosses stands next to a toy town mecca, pace doves flies over huge bazookas, and dozen of wooden sculptures of policemen, soldiers and two headed women people the place. Ngala’s world is certainly marked by the many struggles his country has seen.
It was the only thing I wanted to see in this country, but had forgotten about it until I passed it. Ngala is not at the spot, so I hide some coins in a place where I know he will find it.
Thanks to William And Liz
The start of my ‘one-woman-show’ career
Having passed through lush green nature, fields of water carrying lilies, a chalk bag full of dried papaya and apricot eaten while cycling, I am followed by a little boy on a bicycle quite some time. Until he bends of into his settlement and I decide to follow the young guy. Why not stay in his compound, I think. And so it happen that I have to run while I prepare my dinner, a quick run to the simple, effective toilet in the back of their yard. Luckily I aim well into the little whole in the ground which is also their shower. I have a constant crowd of watchers and one of them, a Gambian youngsters is my translator. They persuade me to secure the bicycle into their home behind a locked door rather than locked outside.
Their house is a simple, yet big, mud brick structure with an iron roof. It has several very bare rooms where the roof is only touching the outer walls, so not much privacy is to be had when it comes to sounds or quietness. They offer me a room but I prefer my tent, where I have the same crowd checking out the one woman show again, until I leave. The woman who seems to run the family follows up Liz prayer and off I am.
With so many blessings I peddle happily but slightly tired into Bafatá. I decide to have some luxury, check in a hotel and check out the beautiful faded Portuguese town and eat fish in the evening while vultures hope’s fixed on the fish heads. I have a very pleasant evening where I enjoy the luxury of running water and electricity, a scarcity in this country. The year’s turning into 2013 with an ongoing party next door.
I cycle into Gabú where I decide to check into a hotel again. I clean and oil the chain, cook my own meal since I can not find any vegetarian dish and make myself ready for the long haul into Guinea Conakry. Although, what is long after the Sahara? I have chosen the long way over the short cut. I have learned while I was cycling with Steve and made a promise never to choose any shorter roads. With a 100 kilometer extra I hope for a slightly better road condition. I am going to cross at Kandika border, not only because I want to see the Fouta Djalon region, the other crossing near the coast seem to be impassable.
The work of Ngala
I wave the country good-bye after a little play with a baby cat and a can of warm mango juice, bought from a Mauritanian shopkeeper. They are impressed that I have cycled through their country, they are smiling proudly when I am mentioning Akjoujt (a terrible place). I hoped to quench my thirst with fresh oranges but have to do with probably a dirty can of juice. Which brings me diarrhea the next morning. But that’s nothing compared with the border official who suffers from gastric problems for a long time. That’s why he asked me for medication. Like I am carrying this? ‘Yes, you do, all Europeans carry all medicines,’ is the border official his reply.
And off I am, into the bush, my second wild camp experiment while alone…
More photo’s are to be seen in the Dutch post.
Serekunda (Gambia) – Bignona: 112 km
Bignona – Ziguinchor (Senegal): 38 km
Zighuinchor – Ingore (Guinea Bissau): 77 km
Ingore – Lemden: 77 km
Lemden – Nchale: 74 km
Nchale – Bafatá: 45 km
Bafatá – Gabú: 55 km
Gabú – Sareboïdo (Guinea Conakry): 76 km (mainly a track)