giovedì 26 gennaio 2012


Last night we strolled around the small harbour of Ziguinchor, a lovely sunset with a quiet nature, birds busy with fishing activities and along with Ale, Carlo 2 Swiss guys and his friend Pascal we had an interesting talk about African geopolitics. He is a really professional and uptodated guy and told us that countries have no friends, just interests as well as we can be friends as far as on the table there is a good cake we can share. With these simple but effective sentences he explained us the hard but hopeful situation of Liberia and the strage colonization of West Sahara by the Spaiards before, by Morocco now.
While talking the sky was a trhrilling reservoir of shining stars and our restaurant floor was made of shells, a lovely African night in oher words.
This morning we got up early enough to be taken to the Guine Bissau Consulate by a friend (there was a taxi strike), and with my big surprise, the nice counselor sticked the GB Visa in my passport in 5 minutes at the reasonable price of 15000CFA. Now Lets see if these Ilhas Bijagos are as beautiful as it is said.
We finally set off to Oussouye, 35km from Ziguinchor, we stayed in a typical, fresh, mudmade campement for the tiny amount of 3000CFA, then we started to visit this hamlet inhabited by Djiola ethnic who is considered along with Sere one of the friendliest and most hospitable; e had an interesting talk with several french who dcided to live here the most part of the year with their African woman and kids. Then we just walked around the village to discover a wonderful landascape of ricefields, mangroves, branch of marsh water crossed by handmade canoes, too many birds extremely able in fishing and almost everywhere zebu and pigs, we dropped by the Bolongs Campement where we relaxed on their hammocks sipping cold ginger drinks. Here too we met  nice old frenchmen who gave us some more tips about our next canoe excursions, its just a pity we are hurrying too much despite this is no doubt the most beautiful part of Senegal I have visited so far. 

martedì 24 gennaio 2012

Chasing the Malian Embassy

This morning we got up early in order to get the Visa of Mali since we thought that Guinea Bissau requires lot of time to vsit the Bijagos islands whereas we have good contacts in Bamako and in another village.We got off the taxi and immediately started our search realizig mmediately that it woud have not been an easy task. Almost everyone seemed to know more or less where te embassy was: go there, ask here, go near the Sierra Leone embassy, enter that palace, look up searching Malian fag.... and many more suggestions that adter & hur gave not result. Finally an old alian man dropped in a garage where there was a bus servce to Mali, he explained that there was no more embassy in Banjul and that he was doing a kind of walking Consulate service, collecting passports to give to the embassador coming from Dakar twice a week from Dakar, obviously we decided to get my passport stamped in Dakar or directly on the border. At 11 Lamin gave us a lift to the Sept Place garage and fro tere we got in 45min at te border with Senegal. Everyting was fine but almost everyone on the car started to pray his God asking to protect us.... we were entering a very tough zone of Casamance guerrilla zone, we all knew of it. Despite it took us more tan 2 hours to do the 90km until Ziguinchor, we got there shattered but safe. We had to drop off the car, show our passport and eventually pen our bag not less than 6 or 7 times, not to talk of the many garrisons, checkpoints and trenchs on the route. This is not just because of Casamance insugency t also because we were in a very strategic position with weapons and drug illecit traffic entering Senegal through the narcostate Guinea Bissau. However the landscape was great, lot of lakes and huge rivers, many mangrove plantations, everywhere a lush green and a fresh air. Ziguinchor revealed to be a pleasant, quiet, inexpensive and friendly town and as a prize for the tiring trip, last night we had the inspiration to go to the Alliance Franco-Senegalaise that organized a marvellous concert called Berimbaobab. As you can imagine it was a "melange" of Brazilian (especially from Joao Pessoa and Maranhao regions) and African music and cultures, a return the Brazilan origins of the slaves coming from Africa, a wonderful mix of dances, percussions, sweet guitar Bossa Nova style and trumpets and Djembe. The rythm was so powerful that finally even the old African guardian, even the students come there climbed the stage and started to dance wildely, such a great night. Africa I a loving you.

domenica 22 gennaio 2012

Wow Gambia

yesterday we visited Banjul, the small capital where the Govern house is located. As usual there were lot of soldiers around and some of them were controlling the download of soybean oil containers, later I discovered that strangely enough Gambia has abandoned to use and produce the peanut or sunflower oil. If Senegal is producing very very little of what it uses, Gambia is at the nearly nothing level despite it has a very green and fertile soil (for example we bought Morocco mandarin at 3 euro per kilo, which is much more expensive than in Italy)where we can see lot of cabbage, salad and other vegetable to be cultivated. As soon as we dropped off the van a young Gambian guy, Alpha, approached us and asked us to be our official guide, well despite I was quite suspicious, I understood that once more Ale took the right decision in letting him help us for little money and the promise of some more future clients. He showed us the little market, the colourful fruit and vegetables stalls, the awful smelling meat rooms (I would dare you eating meat coming from here..), the few small fishes. He was really brave to bargain, convince and sometimes help me steal some good shots during our visit. Especially I enjoyed the sight of the many fishes salt-dried on the beach and mainly ready to be sold in Ghana where they are a national meal. We met fishermen repairing or building new boats, other sewing new nets and finally we got into the smoking beach where lot of medium size fishes were processed (boiled, cleaned, scales removed and smoked) in order to become smoked fish ready to be sold on the street or sold abroad. The place seemed a dark, smoky and rusty colonial factory the beach. Everybody seemed to know and respect our guide but even so we had to be fast with these poor people who were doing a very tiring job for very little money. We finished our visit with a decent meal (food is not a topic in Gambia in my opinion)in a Libanese restaurant.WE returned to Lamin house and had a cold shower and a couple of hours relax, talked with Lamin and some friends who all had voted for the president although noone of them seemed to like the economical situation of their country. Eating, transport, services are quite expensive in Gambia and are tailored with the Tourists needs. In other words tourism seems to be the only part of Gambian economy that works quite well. The night we went to Senegambia where we entered Tottis and then Wow disco. I enjoyed a lot the loud music and the mix of people inside. There was a incredible number of Afrina girls inside and soon I discovered that most of them were coming from Nigeria, Sierra Leone or Ghana (a kind of language brotherhood allow them to have a try in Gambia) but also from The French Guinea. All of them smoking, drinking and searching for..a good client. There were also lot of African men dressed in a rasta or rapper style, enjoying the music or searching also for their chance to a better life in fact I was not the only Toubab inside. I am not a psotitute fan but I do love the energy and the variety of these places, I spent the evening chatting with Maria, a lovely 24yo Gambian girl, who worked in a Coiffeuse Salon and spending the night in the hope to meet her Blue Prince.She was extremely disappointed when we announced her we were going to bed but I promised I would have called her the following day. During the evening there were several gulf of cold winds, as the previous night and I could not understand how was it possible to suffer from cold weather in West Africa. Maybe 18 degrees can sound as a ridicoulous cold but when the temperature drops of 6-8 degrees in a few hours you do feel it really unconfortable. The tin roof and doors of Lamin house (no glass in its windows) gave us small protection and although I was sleeping wearing shorts, shirt and socks, once more I woke up with a freezing feeling.  Cold in West God!
Getting connected in Gambia requires  an Inshallah pray more than technical trust, considering that not so rarely part of this country are without electricity, without any explanation or advance planning.

sabato 21 gennaio 2012

Travelling into the Gambia

WE spent one extra day in Dakar in order to rest a little after our continuous rush among Dakar, Kaolak and Touba, then on thuersday morning we left early in the morning toward kaolak. It was not so easy to find the station of the departures to kaolak because the Bus service to casamance and Gambia was temporarely suspended due to some independentist assaults, however finally we got on the "Sept Place" wichi is a very old station wagon that has been modified in order to let 7 passengers travel unconfortably. Before leaving the driver did his prayers and despite the awful road until Fatick, despite the goats, the cows, despite some crazy overtakes toward crazy motodriver, Inshallah we arrived shattered in Kaolak where we decided to stop one day by Ale family in order to restore and to catch the fisrt boat to Banjul. We spent in a lazy way the hot afternoon in Kaolak trying to have a bath in the Kundham branch of sea but the sea level was too low, such a pity because last time although the water is really really salthy, I enjoyed its freezing waters. In the night all the pubs and discos would have been desert thus we prefered to go to bed early.
The crossing of the Senegal-Gambia borderr was fine but as usual we have been assaulted by moneychangers, 3 strong women who sent Ale in a total confusion making us a horrible exchange rate, however no problem. The boat was old, rusty and filthy but anyway filled with any kind of people, truck and animals. The heat was really strong and there was very little shelthering option however I took some nice photos (a gambian policeman asked me who had I been given the authority to take them...anyway as soon as I excused me he disappeared, probably he just needed to affirm his power)and to chat with a fine tall gambian girl who was just coming to visit her siuster in Serakounda. Finally we got in Bakau where we have been hosted by Ales friend Lamin, an artist, or better a genious of traditional music instruments carving. He continued the tradition started from his father and I am always ecstasieted by his ability to build Djembe, Lakora and Xilhophones. His house is a small, simple, clean and friendly apartment connected with his relatives small apartments so that every time in its courtyard there is a noisy and happy sound of women doing their houseduties and kids playing and shoutings. The toilets are openair so that while showering by a bucket I can enjoy the marvellous sightsee of the stars or of the blue sky.

Yoff Tonghor

This is one of the most typical places I have visited so far in Senegal. We returned here with Ale and his wife in order to buy a good fresh fish and as usual we have not been disappointed. The taxi left us in front of a sandy cul de sac with some tiny shops, small fish restaurants and a busy taxi and clients traffic jam. As soon as we stepped into the beach a huge, happy, shouting colourful crowd called us to catch our attention in the hope of a good business. When you get here in the late afternoon all the coloured fishermen boats are resting on the beach while the fishermen women and children have set tiny wooden stalls . I am always astonished to see such a variety of fishes: barracuda, butterfish, kingfish, snakefish, parrot fish and many more, from small to huge 6 or 10kg weight. When you start your choice and you bargain immediately a young woman approach you, keep silent and just follow you wherever you need to say that her behaviour confused me so much, however as soon as we bought our 5 kg fishes I realized that she is one of the beach cleaners who support her family and her lovely kid (who is always scared of me) by cleaning in a very professional, but also dangerous way, the fishes that many clients come here to buy. Her knives are extremely sharp and she wears no protection gloves...of course we are not in Europe! It seems that Yoff is a very conservative district of Dakar, thats why it is even more difficult to take a photo if you are a Toubab, let s say that I needed the help of Ale to have some photos taken, except for the women who sold us the fish who were satisfied enough to let me take as many photos as I wished. Next to the seaside there are also many horsecarts where the women upload the fish they were not able to sell. Yoff Tonghor is definitively one of my favourite place as much as I know that Dyenoba will transform this fish, some rice and some vegetables (Tamarind is a must in senegalese receipts) in a huge and delicious Cepbujen that we have eaten all together with Ale brother Selin Touba, a Senegalese friend girl of mine, Fatoumata, and our Italian friend Carlo who is currently doing some research about Senegalese fight Bore, in order to write a reportage for an iItalian magazine. Of course Dyenoba kept some food for the apartment keeper who is quite poor, this is a strong part of tradition and solidarity typical of Senegal a country who can be considered poor but which is actually extremely rich and interesting.

sabato 14 gennaio 2012

The Clean Face of Islam

Last night I, Ale and Dyenova enjoyed the wonderful nightlife of Dakar. Almady is a quartier famous for its countless and often expensive discos and restaurants, pubs and bars. We decided that 3000CFA could fit our budget and entered Le Passio Disco. Good loud music, gigantic wardrobesize security men and as usual lot of pretty local women dressed up and sometimes accompanied by other Toubab. I had a short talk with Binette who I suppose was “working” there in search of tourists, in Brazil they are called “piranhas”. Then we moved toward the Centreville and tried La Scala, local owned by a french man, entrance free, not so many clients, some good local dancers, a few  etrangeres. Here I had a nice chat with Awa, a lovely bargirl who work almost every night until 5 or 6AM, her parents live and work in Thies, not far from Dakar. The following morning Ale gave me the opportunity to visit the sacred city of Touba, the heart of Mourism, religious movement connected with the Islamic Sufism. Touba, 1 million dwellers, growing 15% every year, is known all around the world and thanks to its devotes the huge mosque has been built with marvelous marbles coming from Italy and Portugal. No money has been asked nor given by the local nor nationals politicians. Touba has a special status, no douane controls can happen inside the city, the roads are astonishingly clean, where really NOONE starve. This mystical center attracting people from all Senegal, during the Magal, which celebrates the return home of the first Marabout, sent abroad by the French colonialists, can increase its population until 3 or 5 or 8 million (I was there and do believe me when I say I never seen before so much people) and contribute to the country eceonomy with several millions of CFA. What really impressed me is that the Marabouts are respected and devoted for their tolerance and hospitality and peace word they always teach, here the bad side of Islam is miles away, here are slaughtered too many cows and goats, not a nice spectacle especially on the corner of the streets, with the only purpose to feed all the pilgrims, here no one will have to sleep on the road because the doors of each house are open to the visitors, even more they will be given the best food and the most confortable bed. This is really the Clean side of Islamic world, Khadim, brother of Ale, is totally right.

Senegal Style

Finally Senegal time has started. My first contact has been at Dakar airport where a local crowd of shouting vendors and awkers has puzzled me and other passengers not accustomed to Africa a lot. Luckily enough Ale since the first time demonstrated me to be not only punctual and clever, but also deserved all my trust. In fact he was waiting for me with his lovely and amazing cuisiniere, Djenova, in the car park. Dakar is a huge, hectic, colourful, interesting and sandy city. Only its main and city center roads are tarred, whereas the smaller ones are just sandy, as well as there are very few road signals and road lights,its also amazing to notice how many buildings are in progress waiting to be completed. No need to say that traffic jam is a normal side effect of a metropolis, however even during these unpleasant moments you can taste the quiet and friendly attitude of this people in fact although no rule seem to be respected by car and motorbike drivers or pedestrians,  when they are on the verge to crash each other, they put one arm outside of the window, ask, talk, or greet something and the result will be a peaceful agreement about who and why one should pass and the other wait . I assisted in Saly/Mbour a scene in which a man risked to be stirred under an enormous truck tyre, well the driver excuses have been perfectly accepted by the poor pedestrian who risked a serious accident! Another interesting mean of transport in Dakar is a kind of collective Minibus called Car Rapid, which is a wonderful piece of road art, filled with colours, eyes and paintings, as for other cars and taxis, my main wonder was how could these already died European or American car continue to work sturdily in Dakar, even with wooden windows, even with multilayer tyres, even with  pieces of different other cars. The best happened to us last week end when, after a night at La Passio, in Almady, we had the bad chance to take an Iranian taxi, I neither suspected that the ayatollah country was producing and selling cars abroad. The car seemed in a very good condition, if not luxurious for Dakar standard, but just a few kilometers we punctured a weel, and after the driver bravely changed it, he could not get off the handbrakes, then he used a hammer and after a long 5 minutes he succeeded. Dakar has a lovely mild climate in January with hot but windy bearable temperatures in the day and cool nights, the city is safe, except for some banlieu like Pikine,and mosquitoes are not that worrying problem I was afraid of. Ile the Gore, where 15 million slaves waited to be deported in central or south America if did not die before, and the huge statue of African Renaissance are the only 2 touristing spots, both worth a visit, I have so far experienced. Yet last week Ale brought me to buy some fresh and inexpensive fish to Yof Tongor market, directly on the beach. The spectacle of fishermen, women selling it after long bargaining, women cleaning it up, kids playing around, was great but locals were not so friendly and didn’t accept to be photographed by a white Toubab, Ale who was and still is the knife that let me enter into local culture, could take easily  as many photos as he wished, but even so, he always politely asked the permission. Although my 20 years of travelling abroad, since I can not speak any word of Wolof and since I don’t know at all this expensive city, I could not appreciate as much as I am doing it now, Senegalese culture if I had not Ale and his wife next to me.