Punched in Senegal

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We crossed the border from The Gambia to Senegal yesterday on a carved out tree, the sides of the boat barely keeping water out. Some guy paddled us across for €4, the most expensive price per distance (100m) we’ve paid so far. We then took a 4×4 Land Rover as our taxi to the nearest town, which involved a very narrow, overgrown, water ridden dirt track, so felt very relieved we hadn’t taken the motorcycle taxis also on option.

We arrived at a beachside hotel that I had reserved on booking.com, which existed but still hadn’t opened for the season. From their locked doors, we went to La Baobob instead, where a reggae night party was in full swing. We drank Guinean alcohol and Senegalese beer, and after a fight broke out between a local guy and a 200kg French man, I got caught mid-fire and punched in the face. I already had a headache before getting knocked out, and as blood ran out of my nose and joints got passed around me, I wondered how I could convince my mother that everything was still ok in West Africa.

It was ok, and still kind of is, except today we learned that we passed through a locals only border, so getting our Senegalese entry stamp was a small issue. We need it to go further into Senegal, in a series of shared taxis, and it’s always a gamble which seat you get for how hot or comfortable the ride will be. Both the Gambians and Senegalese have this weirdly strict rule that the front seat person has to wear a seat belt, but they couldn’t care less about those in the back. I’ll try or stick with the front seats, and hope my mother doesn’t read this, and I think everything will continue to be okay, but only okay by West African standards… Which is fine by me 🙂

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Gambia continues

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I find it difficult to actually stop and sit down and type on my tiny scratched up phone but I spend the entire day constantly thinking about lovely things to say about this place. I imagine these perfect sentences that I can never remember by the time I get to writing, and scratch my head trying to think of all it is that I wanted to say.

It’s been nearly a week since we arrived, and we’ve had 2 different hotels and 2 couchsurf hosts. The first hotel was in the popular Senegambia area, and our it’s night left us with an impression of Gambian prostitutes and Boss ladies – the opposite (white women buying black male love). Our hotel had both electricity and water, which we started to appreciate after our first host. Our second host coincidentally lived only a few blocks away from him in the same suburb of Banjul, and we’ve run into many of our taxi drivers and even people from out flight in this crowded little area. When walking the sandy streets at night, I don’t see a thing, but the lack of street lights doesn’t bother the locals at all, so I follow closely behind them and their super-human night vision. During the day, you weave through the residential areas, split into compounds where each family (or families) lives, and think you’ll never find your way bank home or out of the maze. But then, all of a sudden you find yourself recognizing the same puddle you accidentally dipped your toe into last night, stumbling in the pitch black.

The locals can also recognize eachother a mile away, just by the way they walk, and hear eachothers whispering voices over the roaring traffic, all in a way I think I could never learn. All who know eachother greet eachother, by just quietly saying their first name “Dawda”. My local name is Binta, or those who learn it’s Katrin and can’t say it call me Kadi.

They say “thank you” for most things – yes, right, I agree, I know, thanks, whatever. We’ve been eating the same staples for breakfast, lunch and dinner – bread, potatoes, onions, and sometimes eggs or fish if you’re lucky. We escaped to a nice beach side resort for one night to have a proper shower, feel some AC, and charge the batteries (literally and figuratively), but after some time there we started to get sick of the old, fat-ish, burned tourists, overpriced drinks, and packaged culture. Once we returned to the compounds to stay with our second host, we slowly got sick of sleeping on the floor with no fan, and having only a tap of water and hole in the ground to function both as a shower and a toilet. The grass is always greener on the other side, or we just never seem to be happy with where we are, but I think the latter will stay more of a reality. It might even become the luxury we miss soon… Water seems to be a commodity in Bissau, where we’re Headed next.

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Welcome to West Africa

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I arrived at the international airport in Banjul with my cousin 48 hrs ago, with no plan, hotel booking or local person to greet us. Now I’m sitting under a cloudy night sky in 33 degrees C and 70% humidity watching fireflies fly over us. I’m 2 shades darker and have probably drank 4L of bottled water since I arrived, and have made many local friends and plans since then.

Our first night started late, landing at 10:30, and driving around for half an hour with our new taxi driver friend looking for a hotel to call home. We ended in at Babula’s in Senegambia, and the guard took us out to town for fried fish and local beer, Juls. The next day we walked 5 minutes to paradise, sitting on a sandy beach with straw umbrellas and snoozing in and out of our sunbathe. I found a horse to gallop on the receding tide only a few hours later, a tall skinny stallion that I rode barefoot on the sand.

We are now at our couchsurfer host, Hamza, whose idol is Barack Obama and his favorite artist is Celine Dion. He lives in a suburb area, where the dirt roads still show the tolls of a wet rainy season, and all the little kids follow us screaming ‘tubab’ (white person) when we walk through the neighborhood.

Today Hamza and his friend Youssef showed us around a few markets, including the biggest one in Gambia at Serrekunda. The smell of hot fish, rotting fruits and car exhaust didn’t make me particularly hungry, but the market made me feel happy and alive. On the way home we watched a local soccer game, on their half-sand half-turf field, and Villi paid the entrance (about 15 cents) for 20 children waiting by the gate on our way in.

Gambia is called the smiling coast of Africa, and I totally understand why now. Everyone here is incredibly friendly, greets is with ‘tabab’ of ‘hello’ or sometimes ‘how are you?’, and often offers their hand in a gentle shake. People are black as night, barely breaking a sweat in the noon sun, and walk so slowly as if they have nowhere to go. The women and children laze on little mats on the ground, cuddling and breast feeding as if they have no other place to be, and I’m starting to feel as if I have nowhere better to go either.

Goodbye Reykjavik, til 2014

I think this is the first year I’ve really appreciated Icelandic autumn, and I’m not sure if it’s because it was an exceptionally warm and beautiful one, or if it’s because I knew I was leaving before winter started. Whether or not if was because fall was good or I didn’t have to worry about dreading winter, I have been looking forward to leaving on a jet plane to West Africa ever since I booked it in midsummer. The sunny beaches and lush forests are starting to call my name.

I am going to travel with my cousin Villi, who is a strong, tall Viking man but looks a little bit more like a Colombian drug dealer with his shaved head, tattoo and dark skin (he is also half Guyanese). So I’m banking on him to protect me and pretend to be my husband when the appropriate situation calls for me to be married. The Gambia is 90% Muslim but supposedly very safe and tourist friendly, so he may be more handy in Mali or Guniea-Bissau.

This trip will be one of the first I take with company for so long, and also the first without a computer so I’ll be blogging from my iPhone. Not sure how that will work out but whateves. I would much prefer to go old school and carry around some pen and paper to handwrite about my journey, but then I wouldn’t be able to share it online and assure my mother I’m still alive. But that got me thinking, why does no one write anymore? Will the next generation just grow up learning how to type on screens? Even so, people write and type less, I feel like. Maybe writing is more stressful because people don’t want their thoughts to be permanent or reread or personal to themselves. And then half the things we think we don’t even feel comfortable sharing in the first place, so writing it down makes us scared of everyone judging us all the time for the crazy things we think. I say screw them and think whatever you think, you’re the one deciding to read this. Now I should probably say something brilliant I’ve been thinking, but instead I’m going to go back to what I was talking about before my rant.

I’m leaving for The Gambia, we need to get to Senegal, but first I fly through Paris and Barcelona. I only have 6 hours in Barcelona, where I plan to walk down the Las Ramblas, drink Sangria, and find Villi at the airport. I have 2 nights in Paris to meet a handful of amazing people, both new and old friends, and drink a lot of good wine. I’m not sure I’ll miss Iceland too much while that is all going on, but maybe the heat, Mosquitos and water in West Africa will stir a few homesick strings in me.