Monthly Archives: December 2013

Senegal and Gambia

Seneguli

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Senegal, some claim the name meant ‘the pirogue’ but not clear from which language is driven. In any case Senegalese can be associate with water and boats, with long coast of Atlantic and many deltas even those who came from main land learn and master water quick. It is hardly to pass two days without having meal with no fish. Fishing industry employ may people but also these huge pirogue become the means to find new opportunities across the ocean when fish become scarcity. Stop at one fishing neighborhood as I cycle through Dakar, I chart with folks, mostly about my curiosity of these young people throwing their life into ocean for one hope of better life in the other shower. Surprisingly people didn’t seem to find it a big deal at all. I was told that it is only option for may as there is no more opportunity here. The elders and religious leaders would conduct prayers and offer blessing as the young mens set off on open fleet to immense ocean. Now it is business whereby people own sever fleets and charge hug sum of money.

Farewell, cycling days for Mandela…

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On 6th the day I had to cycle out of Dakar before I left my comfortable bed (Thanks to Nathalie and Helene for such amazing help). My new cell phone a donation by Tigo Tanzania beep indicated new message. In that morning I had several messages from friends announcing the depart of Mandela. I was shocked with news though wasn’t surprise, I’m not happy either sad because I think it was near his time to depart. I have write about Mandela in the previous blogs as the roll he played to me as an inspiration since I was a boy in the village. May have been said but I think even himself he would prefer actions.

As I was cycling in Senegal for two days with national flags half a poll as tribute to Mandela, I ponder the roll of this individual to may Africans. Though Senegal is far even with boundary of language didn’t seem to stop the legend of this man. And for the farewell I told myself I will cycle for Mandela in these days.

I cycle out of Dakar though traffic congested and extreme polluted urban Dakar. Along side the chains of villages the end of hot day brought me at another urban of M’bour. Watch sun down at Atlantic coast and enthusiastic football players. Very notable Senegal evening activity is football/soccer playing, young till mid ages have unbeatable spirits of footballing. Ball is played everywhere, in the dust, sand or tarmac or concrete fields. At schools seem like they play anytime wherever opportunity present itself. Boys and even girls dress sportily often with jersey bearing names of famous players, Mess is common one. Also in Senegal is where I see people with personal motivation for physical exercise; running, push-ups, weight lifting (reciling is popular here) and last but not on the list is walking.

Next day after breakfast of omelet sandwich with condensed milk by roadside, my common Senegal breakfast and sometime lunch I pedal gently climb from the ocean to mainland. On the busy road leading to Mali with no shoulder fifty kilometer of head wind end at Fatik where I turn right toward the Soloum delta. Sharing the road with horse, donkey and bull chariots and running children I arrived at ferry cross to Foundiougne. The ferry was broken so was replaced with emergence military floatia supported by two boots on the side. In every cross the engines needed some repair which took a while, solder wonder around and mingle, seemed to enjoy the social life. Waiting for about three hours watching this show I decide to choose pirogue instead. Five minutes the pirogue drop me on the other side, I managed to find accommodation at lovey Baobab camping site.

If I had education…
In the evening I had a chart with Amadu (31), a father of three children. Amadu came to talk with me when he saw me reading a book, he told me he couldn’t go to normal school because his father send him to learn Quran. He spend his childhood and pre-adult in this school which are established by religious leaders who are known as ‘Marabour’. The payment for school is for children to wonder around begging for thing; food is common but money is preferable. Amadu left to look for a opportunities to support his family while other remain to be servants. Though he is ambitious he end up working as gardener because lot of opportunities require certain training.

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I have seen so many children in the streets with a port begging. It quite disturbing situation to see these young people who are not receive adequate education to confront their environment. Mean while the religion situation of Senegal is quite complex, the muslims which is main religion here are most belong to certain establishment of local leaders. I often see pictures of these leaders in the car,houses,neckless, etc. Some of these leaders become rich and powerful with great numbers of followers in this case they also have huge influence in politics. It seem like there is mix of African animalistic with Islamic here, most of people were a charm or put several of them in their door, business places, in the vehicles, etc . These charms are blessed by religious leader. There lot of belief in bad spirits (vudoo), people associate decease their have with vudoo.

The funniest thing is seeing heavy loaded military caravan who are common in Casance region with big charm in the their cars. Machine guns, lunchers, etc can’t go beyond big charm, which I assume cost more!

Corruptioniess…

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From Foundiougne I pedal the bumping and dust twenty five kilometers before join half tarmac, half pot holes and and half sand road to Toubacouta village. I spend night here with young Senegalise and French who work for Oceania, the NGO which doing amazing work of mangrove habitat restoration. We discus deeply the challenge of conservation and need of sustainable development. Walking back from almost clandestine bar, under the clear lighted sky with moon and stars after big bottles of Gazeli beer (63 mil miter!) we agreed that there is huge need of green evolution whereby the new economy will be ‘Green Economy’ which will possibly encompass all social classes.

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In the next morning I rod to Kerang border post, after smooth exit in Senegal, I was received with arrogant custom offices at Gambia side. Despite the fact that there bunch of them hanging around they wanted me to unpack my bike and bring all bags inside just to be told ‘OK pack up, No problem’. This is for us who appeared to be ‘shoes string budget travelers’ and peasants for those with car and looks like they can give something officers give them personal service.

There were no one answer for Gambia visa for Tanzania, embassy at Dakar said I need visa. I call the border post where visa is cheaper than at consulate and they said no problem. But at arrive seem like no one has clue, after passing the passport around to several officers . I was told that I need clearance latter signed by Gambia president. What a privilege? but at the other hand means this is mission impossible and if possible the price will be high in terms of money or waiting days and communication. The options was go back to Dakar and took boat to southern Senegal or detour 200km and try free transit of about 20km across Gambia to Senegal. I gambler with transit I worn marginal after defeat the attempt of getting 1000 CFA from me as payment for stump.

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This is the same thing happened in the entree to Senegal. I have seen corruption mostly in African countries but this one here in west Africa is almost normality. Officials often give quite suggestive service or reception, unusual enthusiasm or passiveness of law and orders claim ‘No problem’ which means you can pay me for facilitate this. In other cases they will make scenarios to buy time then people especial foreigners they have to pay for the time if need quick and fast. For the case of Gambia is like information is belong to single person who then will exploit this opportunity. It is likely that they got this position from relative or so.

I think corruption is like decease which haven’t named scientifically yet, consume individual sense of worthiness, character, proffesinalism, etc. Then it move to others, corrupted police and other officials appeared to be quite ill people corrupting from poor peasants and people who they were to assist.

This system kill everything, for Africa where personal act as individual who receive education is so important people with corruptioniss burry the last hope. Though I didn’t see much of Gambia but the stories and atmosphere of corruption from top bottom in the leadership reflect the progress of the country. As the continent Africa facing big challenge of eradication poverty and bring about quality life, corruption remain a deep mud which slowing down everything else.

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I made it to Ziguinchor now, the town of Casamance delta. Already sorted with Guinea Bissau visa which seat record as fastest visa in this trip, less that 10 minutes with requirement of photo and 20,000CFA. Enjoying home comfort from Augustin, a businessman and community development activist. Augustin, invite me at his village where he run a camping and small hotel in the beach (www.casamance-ecoparc.com)

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Nouakchott to Dakar

The boundary…
The capital of Islamic Republic of Mouritania, Nouakchott it is bourder between two distinctive Africa, these two Africa seem to exist with minimum tension but never the less go along. Established after independent, nothing of particular in this city apart of primitive system fighting again modern system; extreme poverty with middle class, bitten up donkeys with bitten up vehicles and few new and expensive one, Illiteracy with half way to or literacy. In the middle of this there is good numbers of international organizations, foreigners, embassies, etc who I assume do their best to deliver this community into bright future. At certain point I wonder if this country didn’t had natural resources on demand could probably left alone just like venus or mars.

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It is conservative and religious community, at least in front of each in certain things but behind the scene it normal humans with his lust, greed and beauty. In my arrive I wish to live the city as soon as possible but I end staying for 14 days, I find lot of fascinations solitude and simplicity. It remind me a good story of ‘100 years of solitude’.

On my lazy days in Nouakchott, I will sit in front of cafe in the evening watch busy bustling life. In one scene there were a white man enjoying his shisha pipe, looked quite relax feeling the circulation of the smoke. This enjoyment didn’t last few minutes before interruptions; hawkers enthusiastically they will demonstrate their merchandise, after several honest refusing effort with no success he turn to like the show. Cripple of different sort will pass by to demonstrate their physical disability but hardly took him out of his relaxation. Woman with young babies in their backs makes him deep on his pocket to give away his coins.

This is country which declare slavery to be illegal as recently as 1970’s but ironical there is lot of sense of freedom than can be imagined. Slavery is like cast though legal abolished some slaves accept to be slaves as life fate some took their freedom but can’t stop enjoying the link of family and security linked to the master family. Some masters are addicted to this exploitations, in several cases I will see folks drive in front of shop/store and honk and ask for their needs while sitting in their cars. I some cases the shopkeepers will leave me or with other customers to deliver service to the man on the vehicle. Police and military especial of arabs descendent will do the same as I pass by with bike, they will wave and call me to follow them under the tree shade. Being so tired under the burning sun I can’t find my sense of obedience neither respect to the authority some will let me go some will run to me charging like buffalo.Though most claim to enjoy the sense of freedom I think in this kind of system the price is paid with ranks, the low your the more you pay.

Spirit renewed…
I didn’t realize how the immense Sahara swallowed my spirit and energy until I was back on the saddle again. Cycle out of Nouakchott with the landscape coved by grasses and trees which kept grew dense as I pedal south, this gave me a feelings like I was startling once again with new energy. Father south I pedal along dense wetland of Senegal delta inside Dawdling National Park. This place is full of life, so many birds, time to time warthogs will run in front of me with their erected tails. I end up laughing watching these short fat creatures with wart running for a while before realize they can reach very far and decided to hit the bush. There are so many warthogs that I though it could be better to change the name of the park and call it ‘ warthog national park!’ That was my suggestion to park conservator MR. Zein who host me for the night at park’s headquoter.

There are few fishing villages, people show minimum curiosity to a man on the bike, when I shop for a chat they will address me formal because I speak French with them.

I cycle the long bridge across might Senegal River with child excitement of another achievement, it is the bridge to familia environment, it is bridge to the familia Africa. At the small border post of Diama, the office after check my passport instruct me to wait, when the queue finished he wanted me to pay 20 Euros. This irritated and unwelcome officer said it formality but the tone was betraying him. I took a time to explain to him that this visa took me a while to get and already cost me 50 Euros, there were no information that I have to pay extra to be registered into his books. He said for his authority he will no let me in the country, I can try to go through Rosso a 70 or 100km north west. I sense that this man is trying to use the remoteness to get money from me, i suggest making calling to the authority in Dakar. I call my friend who use this border ofter to ask if he has to pay for this fees, the answer was NO. I went back to officer agree to pay with receipt. He said no receipt, I can pay 10 Euros and leave peaceful. I told him that is impossible but I can agree with him that he refuse to let me in the country, he turn to be more hungry and throw me my ready stumped passport. No smile no welcome to Senegal!

20131201-203050.jpgI pedal 35km of humid through the nice no traffic tarmac road along villagers and acacia trees. Children waving enthusiastically, shouting ‘Cadeau, Cadeau!’ but break into big laugh when they can close pointing to my cycling short.

I arrive in the islands of Saint Louis go though it central market which is typical black Africa urban areas. I wonder a bit into the islands, cross it bridges which cross from suburbs to old town and then to fishing slums. I was told that there is no toilets in the clusters of slums, folks use baskets and pore the west into the charnels and ocean. The evening view from slams with it bustling fishing activities, colorful pirogues, children playing football, mosque calls and drum betting; leave this place so lively and unique total out of it misery.

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It is here in Saint Louis I lost my iphone, the tools which have been use for almost two years now for maps and other useful apps. The phone fall from my pocket in the lonely restaurant, I walk outside come back within two minutes the phone was gone. The waitress who remove the glass I was using claim never see me with phone though I was in this place for more that two hours and use it.

West Africa has got music…
A day of cycling from Saint Louis brought me to Kebemer, I turn right to Lompol village where there was music festival ‘Festival du Sahel’. I join other four friends and we board jeep truck drive through deep sand and acacia to to deliver us into golden sand dunes. There were nomads tents to retire in if one is tired from the music. The festival had musicians, bands and family crew from different western Africa countries and one from Brazil.

The festival was opened around 9pm, the open was quite dramatic and breathtaking. Under stars in the half illuminated night with gently breeze brook deep chanting and echo flute. The flute was joined by drums from different corner of calm and tentative crowed. These different set of drums grew strong and closer, a sort of light house or watch tower light illuminated the man and woman into Sahara/Sahelian costumes with drums and other music instrument while doing the kind of trace dancing, total absorbed with the bits and rhythm.

The atmosphere was that one which transcend words, the rhythm seem to produce chemical equal to some kind of drugs travel very quick into neves and veins.
Senegalese know how to use their drums their body particular woman who’s some part of their body doesn’t seem to be connected to the rest. Music seem to play big roll of daily life of people here, it very rare to board local transportation which has no music system. Any part seem to be not part without local music which make people go bit crazy. It is like when drums are bitting stimulate and awaken the brain of people.

PRCM Forum….
I am very grateful to FIBA (Foundation International Pour la Park National de Bandarge) and PRCM (Regional Program of Coastal and Marine Conservation of West Africa)

20131202-172951.jpg for giving me invaluable opportunity to address the participant and stakeholder of their seventh forum. Shared the podium with influential folks in the realm of environment high studies, political and governance. Young with no neck tie and suite I was bit unconfident not mention intimidated by nearly four hundred listeners.

20131202-171625.jpgIn the few minutes begin of my speech I could just hear myself but soon I was taken with the words I uttered and there was the end of the talk. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I thanks and wanted to get out of the stage but I had to hold on a bit due to the clapping, I was more thankful not only for clapping but that the message was received.

The forum was of particular interest to me from the opening speech of Senegal prime minister, she emphasize on the need to protect the environment and natural resources as alternative to many challenges include food insecurity. She also explain the need of eduction in the field of environment and sustainable development as important tool especial for the youth.

Although I have never imagine spending so much time into these fancy hotels with air condition rooms, for the duration of five days I participate into may presentations tireless. As for me I have been talking and writing but also take on this challenge to demonstrate the need of action towards conservation/sustainability, education and participation of youth, it feel lonely and distance mission at certain point. But being here listen and see what are actions have been taken with stakeholders from different conners; artisan fisherman organization, woman organizations, donors, academics, governments, etc. Offered lot of courage, reenforce the hope and effluence my optimism.

It was also opportunity to learn new challenges, the development of conservation/sustainability philosophy and general understand of stakeholders especial those who are main effects such as fisherman, woman, etc.

The biggest achievement I saw in this forum is launching of a book which will be used with school children to learn about the science and other aspect of their coastal and marine environment. I think this is something luck in most developing countries as for my case I never learn formal about my surrounding environment.

20131201-203143.jpgNow in Dakar will round up with meetings and get back on the road, I finally modified my route instead of heading to Mali where situation is unpredictable. I will stick with the loop of coast. This will give me chance to fulfill invitations to places like Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Sierra-Lionne, etc.

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