Thursday, September 07, 2006

Arthur goes hippo hunting

I get up at 6 o’ clock, find my way towards the shower in the dark avoiding a collision with a goat (which isn’t as easy as it seems) and devour a marmalade roll in a quickie. Already on my way to the gare routière as it is always best to be there early in the morning. Unfortunately I’m the first of seven who’s looking for a 7-places to Mako. It’s my lucky day: 4 Guinean cyclists (without ID of course) show up and along with the rest of the horde we’re off. Not even 45 km, which is probably why the driver got stuck with this rusty metal box on 4 wheels that ignites by pulling some strings under what’s left of the steering wheel. We make it! I walk towards the spotting point along the river Gambia. Halfway I meet Ousmane who takes me along on his bike. My bum‘s crying as he rides the rocky roads of Mako. When we arrive we discover that the hippo’s are bathing in the waters on the other side of the river bank. Me…surrender? Never! Ousmane and I make it all the way to the other side after a two-hour walk in the forest doing all I can not to step on a snake. My thirst for hippo’s is quenched as Ousmane makes a discovery in the shades of the massive trees (covering the banks): two dwarf hippo’s at about 5m are staring in our direction! By the time I get into a decent position for some pictures they flee the scene, but still! Wow!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Senegal on pellicule, part XII: "People and... non-people"

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Senegal on pellicule, part XI: "Family and ... friends"

Njam njam...

This moment had to come one day: the first day of the my last month in Senegal. I've loved my stay here and regret not for a second my choice, but you can imagine the idea of coming home sounds like sweet music to my overheated ears. Sorry dear friends, but what I’m looking forward to most is… the fooood! Oh, I can’t wait to have my sharp kitchen knife in my right hand chopping it into some shii-take mushrooms and frying them in some extra vierge olive oil, garlic and parsley (as a first step to a fine risotto or wine sauce, hmm!). Damn am I spoiled as I hear myself talking about a decent variety of good food. But seriously, I can’t help thinking about throwing their rich-in-manioc Thieubou dienne right back at them when they serve it to me with that big smile you always get.
Portobello’s, cherry tomatoes, coriander chutneys, raw tuna, Thai Pheu, balsamic dressings, pumpkin lasagnes and spiced up pastas, Irish rib-eyes and Belgian fries… Here I come!!!

Your crazy gourmand friend loves you all…

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Ah... c'est l'Afrique!

Mum & bro visit: part I

Mum and bro left yesterday night with ‘some’ delay at the airport due to Senegalese tradition. The opportunity provides me with the time to pin down my experiences of the last 3 weeks. So hold on tight, here we go.

Upon their arrival we escaped the busy airport scene by asking Antoine (who is Joyce’s father) to drop us off at Hotel La Madrague at Ngor. Dakar is a place you can’t get out off fast enough, which is why I won’t elaborate on this part of our journey (Britt and others will no doubt know of what I speak). So, the next morning we were off, Kédougou that is. Negotiating the taxi 7-places that is to take us there is quite the ordeal. Being a toubab here really sucks during those moments. As if that isn’t enough the taxi man decides to nag about how Senegal sucks and how he wants us to get him to Belgium. I tell him to step on it and wonderfully he does: 10 hours later we’re in Kédougou. (part missing, updated soon!)

Niokolo Koba. It’s a rainy morning and the idea of visiting the park doesn’t seem that a good idea anymore. We take off anyway, with Mamady and his air conditioned 4WD. Once inside the park we head for Simenti where we get rid of our luggage at the hotel and check out some hippo’s and crocs. Fact is that the hotel is set on the banks of the river Gambia and provides an splendid view from its terrace. The forest surrounding the place is packed with baboons – barking and arguing all day long – and green monkeys who show much interest for the bread on your table while you lunch (grr… I know what I want for dinner tonight!!!). We’re on the road again and our guide takes us to vast planes that (thanks to the rain) are now filled with monkeys, warthogs and antelopes: bliss. Amazing how the rain in this case turns out to be a success during our visit. Driving back the good Lord above even puts a dozen of grazing gazelles at less than 10m from our vehicle! I feel blessed and shoot away with my camera. The male however kept at a certain distance. Due to the rain the grounds of Assirik is impossible this time of the year. Too bad, I would have loved the elephants and jackals that are said to rule the area. We leave the park the next morning and head for a village called Mako (which is on the road back to Kédougou): Hippo spotting! But first some zoological facts...

The hippopotamus is an extraordinary mammal that can go under water and stay there for up to 8 minutes. They swim using there four legs like a dog would, this show takes a lot after ballet according to my brother. Considering their weight (which can be over four tons!) they move extremely fast in the river, which is also where they spend most of their time since their fragile skin dries out in the sun. at night they come out to eat: ca. 100kg of plants and corn/day. Generally speaking the hippopotamus is a peaceful animal, but once aggravated he could bite a prawl in half as if it were a toothpick. I love them though… especially when they’re heads come out and they flip their tiny ears. Hippo’s are like huge pigs when they communicate: roaring!

We head back for Kédougou, but not without checking out an unfortunately dead black mamba. « Ah Kédougou, tu vas me manquer… », a unique place that would have been forgotten long time ago had it not been the other end of the Dakar roadway cutting Senegal in half. My arguing family members, my same talks with the same people everyday and not even a light breeze to drive the mosquitoes away at night. I’ve gotten used to it and am gonna miss it… damn it! When I was with my brother and some friends at the Black & White last time the military chief came to close the place down around midnight. Allegedly because those decadent parties would be the cause for the lack of rain. In the old days it would have been raining buckets this time of year and the rice fields would already have been emerged. Now everything is as dry as dust. The fields are ready, the tools are wet. Everything waits. In Diola culture it is said that sacrificing 6 black buffaloes does the trick (cfr. Zangeres op Zanzibar), I wonder…

Mum & bro visit: part II

Casamance, a beautiful ensemble of mud huts, dibiteries and mission posts scorching in the midday sun. Stepping out of the plane I sense a humid but surprisingly comfortable climate, one could say it feels…cold! We jump into a 7-places that takes us as far as Cap Skirring. Unfortunately the driver cannot be persuaded to continue the road for Diembereng, another 14km of so called rough roads. After a lot of negotiating/babbling another guy in the end decides to take us there… overcharged, why not! In Diembereng we meet a French couple which introduces us to Loulou, a Spanish graphic designer who decided to leave behind the homelands in order to start a new life (and B&B) with her husband in this extraordinary place on the coast of the Atlantic. Her husband Totti we meet later that evening. But first things first: lunch… crabs to start with and fish beignets.. Hmm! The rest of the day I’m useless due to heavy cramps. A klamboe, our one and only protection against the night. The next morning I get up with the same pain, and then all of a sudden it vanishes as quickly as it arose. « Strange things can happen to your body here », a Dutch volunteer once told me. The beach is wonderful, but not on an empty stomach: Loulou serves crunchy rolls with home made orange, mango and bissap marmalade. It’s August 15th , which means as much as party time in Senegal. My brother Hector takes off at night with Jean Pierre, Kélountan en Amouna towards the village with only one thing on their minds: shaking their and other people’s booties (if you know wot I mean…). The next morning Jean Pierre, a fisherman who works for Loulou and Totti, takes us to the church mass. My mother and I are goose-flesh all over when we hear the chants coming out of the church, beautiful. We enter and take a seat close to where the choir stands. The service takes about two hours and is followed by the baptism of a métisse girl, half Diola… half Belgian! After the ceremony, upon leaving the church, I meet Chantal the nun (who’s apparently married) and the Belgian woman who married a Diola. We join them home where a celebration is held. Music is being played… loud! Again I take out my camera and shoot away, it’s not every day that you get to see your mother shake her bum with an African dude to Zouk music. The 17th we leave for Kashuanne which is about a 2 ½ - hour walk, Jean Pierre accompanies us so we wouldn’t get lost… or eaten. Mighty kapok, mango and palm trees look down on us while we struggle our behinds through red ant colonies (damn those bastards bite). We pause near an animist fetish place, covered in all kinds of weird object compositions. Before taking the prawl to the other side of the river we devour a big fish. Next stop: Carabane. I ask the prawl captain to drop us off at Hellene’s campement, since Carabane is a small isle (connecting the river Casamance and the Atlantic Ocean) this poses no problem whatsoever. I had already spent a couple of nights there in June. The campement itself is all you could wish for… at a very decent price. Taking three steps out of your doorway in the morning and already feeling your feet sink away in the white sand is simply lovely. Chimer – my dude over there – passes by and gets introduced to la famiglia. Each of us has a single room. I go to bed early, as always. Really, you will hardly ever find me outside my keur passed 22h. My brother decides to check out the local djembéh band playing at a bar nearby. The next morning I enjoy my late breakfast on the porch and spot a couple of dolphins in the ocean opening. I alert my mother who’s already on the beach, under a tree, in the shade. Later on at Chimer’s I make some attaya while we chill under the massive trees of Carabane’s tiny port. Roxya, his wife, is beautiful as always and the little Bouba has already grown up to a little boy since my last visit. He’s 7 months old now. After tea (of course! As the English would say…) we visit what’s behind the façade of Carabane’s beaches and fancy campements: the catholic church, slave house and even a short visit to Chimer’s grandmother (who is said to be the oldest woman of the region) is included. At night we go to Chimer’s again as we are invited to feast on Roxya’s famous couscous! I am touched, for I know how hard it must have been to find decent beef on this island. Hmmm. The following day we’re off again, direction: Ziguinchor. First taking the prawl to Elinkine and from there on the mini car to the capital. We stay at le Perroquet. A storm huffs and puffs and… almost blows away all our food during lunch. At night we go to the Tamarinier for dinner, Chimer joins us and I call Papis and Tony (two great guys I met in June) to come on over and have a drink with us too. The last day we go to La Promesse for lunch (which is where’s Papis and Tony work) which has been taken care of by Moussou, a good cook and warm person indeed. As a dessert we get Tony and the maid singing “Niwelela” for us, which means as much as… damn I forgot! Time to take the plane back to Dakar. Hope to see you soon Casamance! Back in Dakar I ask one of the taxi drivers (for fun) how much he charges for a ride to Saint Louis (considering we’re at the airport I knew he was going to exaggerate)… but damn, the guy dares to pronounce the words “100000cfa” (fair price = 30000cfa). We’re able to get one in the end for a lot less and make it to St. Louis just in time for bed. Saint Louis is Jack’s home town and he is proud and delighted to show us around his city. And that’s about all folks. We had another fine, crunchy and juicy pizza in Dakar at Saõ Brasil upon return, but the next day it was “bye bye” mum and bro.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Senegal on pellicule, part X

Monday, July 17, 2006

Kedougou: recent updates

Part 1 : Tambacounda, visiting family of friends

I’m staying at Ndeye Fatou Ndiaye's, Chimer’s mum. My resort for the next 2 days. Very basic, extremely lovely! I shower in the moonlight, serve carbonara while watching the World Cup semi finals and I sleep in the garden (no worries, I put up the mosquito net). There is however the issue of Khadi, the daughter, whom I apparently have to dine with in private – as if I'd been personally confiscated by her, a privilege I say must have arisen out of the desire to live the European dream…

Part 2: Au revoir busy Senegal...

I arrive Chez Moise, my favourite campement where I had spent a couple of nights during my stay in May. I greet Papis and meet Jean and Fanta. Jean is another Belgian dude working in the AGEM gold mines of Senegal and Mali; Fanta is the 16-year-old daughter of Assane and Rama Ba, my host family to be for the following 3 months. Jean invites me to dinner at La Calebasse, where I have steak frites followed by a less appreciated diarrhoea that same night.

Two days later I move to my new home where I get to stay over for the total amount of 60€/month, 3 meals per day included: Alhamdoulilahi!

As if that wasn’t enough I have 5 beautiful sisters who follow me in every move I make making sure I have everything I need. And that’s how I end up here today – in an open spot in front of my house – at 17h, updating my journal while enjoying a soothing sunset. Damn, somebody thank God the sun decides to set at the end of the day; the heat over here – intense as she is – is pretty energy consuming. It’s good Thor decides to pass by every now and then adding some thunder and lightning to our dried out lives.

About a week ago I started working at the medical centre of Kédougou. Assane introduced me that first day to principal doctor Sen as well as to his second wife. I cooperate with Moussa Fall, who is in charge of the city’s education which takes into account hygiene, family planning and basic maternity facts. I have to be ready at 8h in the morning at his office, where we work untill 9h only to discover that there is no more work… Hmm! I think I’m gonna start looking for a second job; I don’t experience this dolce far niente as heavy as when I’m in Europe, but still...

Yesterday I went swinging with Ndeye Ba at the Black & White, an open-air discothèque where every now and then parties occur, that is if the ballroom isn’t being turned into an Olympic shower cell.

With the ingredients I’m able to find here and a little help from Assane (spice wise) I was able to present my family with a delicious, though meatless Pasta Bolognese. Which, if I may say so, was received very well indeed leaving no leftovers for our domestic friends: the sheep, goats and partridges.

Yup, Senegalese life to the fullest here in Kédougou. I wake up in the morning, drag my behind to work, afterwards (we all know when that is…) go to the shop, verify my mails, pay a visit to the market in case I am in need of something (anything..), have Thieubou dienne/Mafe/Yassa at lunch, take a nap, get up again insj’allah, shower, go on a little scooter ride with my homey Papis, play some petanque by sunset with Jack, pass by the Bon Coin where we have drinks only to be face-to-face again with my bed a couple hours later. On to the next day!

A couple of days later...
I accompanied Assane to his gold mining camp in the brousse. In the car the driver got stung a couple of times by tse tse flies... fortunately I was spared. It seems however that the flies here are sterile. On our way back we stopped at the place of friend near Saraya. I sit back in a chair, have some karité fruits while having my toes and fingers massaged: oh yeah.
On another day I joined a guy (who married a Bassari woman here in Kédougou) and his family to the Dindéfelo cascade. Our chauffeur, unfortunately, was of the some what tough guy type and wanted to show off with his driving. We consequently got stuck in one of the many pools in the middle of the road. I opened my door and saw a couple of black scorpions floating on the surface of the pool... as the pelican in Finding Nemo would say:"nice...". After a one-hour job pulling, pushing and lifting the vehicle we finally got out and drove on to Segou and from there on to Dindéfelo. We arrived a bit later than scheduled so immediately took off towards the cascade, which is about 30 minutes of walking in a humid forest. Arriving on the scene we bathe, dive and shower under the (what some claim) 80 meter high waterfall. Back at the car, we have ourselves a tiny pick nick and head back to Kédougou; taf taf because it's already past 19h. Half way it was decided that we would take a different route back: it was a piste that felt more as if we were on a pelgrimmage towards some holy city. During which the women in the back decided to sing (comme des casseroles!). After two hours of driving in the obscure bushes and forests of Kédougou by night, we finally found the main road. Santeyallah, it started raining then and not earlier. It was pouring rain that hard we had to lower our speed to about 15km/h because of the cats and dogs that were falling our of the sky! Back home, as mad as a wet hen I took a shower nevertheless to wash the dirt away. After dinner I returned to my room to read some Paul Auster while enjoying the sounds of heaven falling on my rooftop. I assure you, when I say it rains over here... It rains!

Another couple of days later........
Jack Diouf and his colleagues, who I have become quite acquainted with, have become my some what better mates here. He takes me on his Peugeot motorcycle everyday and we drive off to see whatever crosses our path, where we`faire un saut` as Jack likes to say. Consequently we might end up sipping on some Senegalese tea with the Salemata prefect, enjoying the riverside views or playing petanque in front of Bouna`s Cyber cafe. Whatever we do, we do it without rushing on to the next activity. This while at night, I secretly take my Paul Auster novel by the hand and so link myself to a more familiar reality... something I really need to do every now and then, if just so I don`t fall into a too big a hole when I come back home in October. I also bumped into Youssouf again (that`s the guy I met when I was here in May, see mango picture); we meet at the Bon Coin tonight. That`ll be fun. Tata

Monday, June 26, 2006

Senegal on pellicule, part IX: "Rehuel's visit"

Senegal on pellicule, part VIII: "Casamance"

Kassoumay beloved ones!!!

Tuesday june 6 : Kim and I go aboard the ship Wilis that does the trip from Dakar to Ziguinchor. Once seated I ‘m once again confronted with the dominating presence of television in this country; we switch our seats for some comfy couchettes. Later that evening I meet Nadine and Aurélie, two women working for medically oriented ngo’s in Ziguinchor and Saint-Louis. I charge my Ipod on her laptop and she gives me the address of a great (and cheap) auberge just outside the centre of the capital where we could spend our first night. I go to bed, wasted.

Wednesday june 7: Due to the Senegalese addiction to tele and the lack of respect for privacy ...and sleeping people, I wake up around 7h. Hell, I get used to it. Once off the ship I call Moussou (who owns the earlier mentioned auberge) to ask her how to get there and (more important) how much to pay the cab. 500CFA (instead of 1500) takes us to “La Promesse” (chez Papis & Moussou), indeed a promise well kept: very comfy and welcoming atmosphere. That’s the Diola culture. A nice twin room, shower and fan for 8000CFA... what more can one desire.. I’ll tell you: Poulet Yassa! While awaiting my lunch I decide to cross the street to spend some time with the female hairdressers and repairmen. The two (catholic) women were really warm and intersting to listen to. At a certain point we were sharing our thoughts about incineration vs. burials: we agreed to disagree. I have the impression everybody is much more relaxed here (no stressing traffic jams, loud noises or exhaust fumes either!) and kind! Once the poulet yassa is devoured I quench my thirst with some bissap followed by a strong Senegalese mint tea. I’m off to bed.. merely to rest and of course write down my first experience here so you toubabs could grasp a scent of my Casamance life.In the late afternoon I go shopping with Neneh and obtain some info about the prawls’ timetables. That evening I go to Moussou’s place along with Neneh, who helps me in carrying the groceries, to prepare dinner in my host’s kitchen. I remember I was having a moment of joy while cooking in this kind Diola woman’s kitchen, because being in a kitchen somehow gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling connecting me with home. Around 22h dinner is served: cucumber/mint soup and pasta salad. After that: zzzzzzzz

Thursday june 8: In the morning I have a roll with Ndambe (a spicy beans filling), a bissap (served in a brake fluid bottle… from which it borrowed some of its taste) and some hot milk. Around 14h we take a cab to the prawl’s port. Bad news: no prawl going to Affiniam today, despite the confirmation yesterday. We wait… and encounter another boatman who goes to Djilapao instead, we negotiate (of course) and he consequently decides to make a small detour in order to drop us off at least close to Affiniam. After a one-hour ride through the mangroves and some bird watching we arrive near some rice fields just outside of Affiniam. One of the oyster-grilling women, her son and an old man “escort” us to the village, campement/case-à-impluvium Diaméor Diamé. The lady carries our heavy bag through the rice fields, for which I decide to give her 1000CFA…You should have seen the look on her face. Once arrived, it’s time for a short visit of the village, before dusk that is. Making a stop at the local public elementary school, the church, the salt cooks, the children… the piglets! Ooh… J ! Once you look up you see where the one dominating sound of this village comes from: a massive population of brown bats, hidden in the big mango trees and cocotiers. After dinner (which was a salad, vermicelli and some grape fruit!) I accordingly decide for some bat watching while standing in the middle of the case-à-impluvium. I go to bed around 21h with a gecko hidden in the mosquito net: teddy gecko!?

Friday june 9: My cell wakes me up around 7h… grrr… breakfast corrects the expression on my face: rolls with butter and Nutella ànd a hot coco! Only one prawl per day to Ziguinchor, so we hurry to Affiniam’s dock where we wait until the boat is full (literally that is). We go aboard once the rice bags, bikes and groceries had been loaded. Mumz… it was at that moment that you called me from Madeira! Back in the capital, we – overcharged (leaving a bitter memory) – take a taxi brousse to Enampor, where we arrive around 13h. The most beautiful case-à-impluvium of Casamance my book says, I agree (see picture). We drop our luggage in the case and go for a walk in the village. I talk a bit with the inhabitants (some of them seem a bit shy), pass by the mosque, local health post and school (where I take a peek in their notes and see that they’re learning Spanish and recently got a history class about the Wallstreet crash of ‘29. Also interesting about this village was the large amount of big trees: mango, kapok (used to make the prawls) and palm trees. Back at the campement I chat with the cooking ladies Geneviève, Elise and her 3-year old daughter, I eat a mango and wash a T-shirt. The World Cup match starts around 16h and even here not one of the village’s men can be kept from watching the tele at that time: Germany – Costa Rica. Half way I discover that the banana republic is losing 2 to 1. In the evening it’s Senegalese couscous, delicious!!! Oh yeah, the cab driver told me the night before a ceremony was held because of the death of the village’s old man; during which the people danced with his body.

Saturday June 10 : Around 7 o’ clock that darn wake up call again. With much effort I drag my tired body into the shower, followed by breakfast. Afterwards the journey starts directeion Edioungou. For 11000 CFA and a T-shirt Oumar Amay will guide us through the bolongs with a small prawl “arrame”. Two women from Eloubaline join us on this floating journey. An hour later we arrive at the island of Eloubaline. The middle of nowhere indeed. They get off, I take some pictures and we continue for Edioungou. This three-hour bolong trip takes us through birdless mangroves, beautiful green sights before we arrive near a vast plane which used to be a rice field. A 15 – minute zigzag walk amongst the local cattle before we finally enter the village itself. We are greeted by children, piglets and bats high up in the trees during our way in. Campement “Les Bolongs” chez William... but William isn’t home. I meet Alain who wants to show me his village. Shortly after a well dressed salad we take off. First stop, his friend Bénédicte who’s throwing a cashew wine party for the local youngsters. Pretty stroing stuff... especially when it has been fermented like that. Before night fall we meet amongst others the very cool Radouan, the village’s old man and Alain’s family. Taking my time for everyday Edioungou life (when all I have here ìs time) makes the experience far more interesting than expected. The stuff I would normally consider boring (or at the least common) becomes intriguingly beautiful. That period of the year was also characterized by the animist feast of “Katutum”: kids use matches, a hammer and metal materials to create fire works . Dinner is served upon return: delicious tortilla followed by an even more fabulous Capitaine con arroz y fritas! Yummie

Sunday June 11: In the morning Alain accompanies us to the Oussouye’s gare routière wherefrom we continue towards M’lomp. M’lomp offers us the big cases-à-étage, Diola house and an overpriced duck for lunch. Hitchhiking along with a teacher in his deluxe airconditioned 4WD takes us to Elinkine, free of charge (hell yeah.. you have to enjoy those moments as well!). The five ‘o clock prawl takes us to the island of Carabane in about an hour of time. An early night because of the circumstances.

Monday June 12: My visit of the island includes the cemetery, where captain Aristide Protet lies 6 feet under. Some time ago this portugese man tried to convert the natives, in vain it seems: he was killed by one of their poisonous darts. What’s impressive is that he’s buried standing, accompanied by the saying: “Even dead, I remain watching you”. I continue my visit and check out the big and empty ruin of a church. It indeed looks like one of those medieval churches in Normandy or Ireland. I meet Chimer, enjoy some tea and meet his family. He takes me to the new chapel. It seems to be the only spot on the island that has constant electricity, accordingly everybody comes here to charge his/her cell phone.

Tuesday June 13: The next day I have lunch along with Chimer and his family: Kaldu, the Diola version of Thiebou dienne (rice and fish); very tasty! I’m intrigued by how Roxya, Chimer’s wife, serves everybody in the large bowl with enough fish, vegetables and how she undoes the fish of its bones. Later that afternoon we go dolphin watching with Kimbo near Diogé. After a quick swim we go aboard the fisher’s village in order to enjoy the smells and sights it has to offer: tiny hammersharks, bigger barracudas, carpers, etc.

Wednesday June 14: Back to Ziguinchor from which it's back to Dakar. The End of a journey... I hope you enjoy the pictures!