I spent days resting, swimming on secluded beaches, visiting villages, thinking, writing and wandering around the bedraggled port area trying to avoid the cashew liquor drunks, the tattooed ladies and the eager Sierra Leonian who I knew just wanted me to buy him beer.
Bubaque is a pirate town and the jetty is surrounded by rotting caged drinking dens (the best kind, surely?), huge jungle trees into which locals have built businesses, kids shouting “branco!” (toubab/whitey) and a very large goose that padded about trying to peck at me. I heard people whispering “Americano” as I walked passed, for some reason. I was staying up the hill, up a highway that was more ravine than road.
Chez Raoul has seen better days. Faded coca cola signs, peeling paint and an adjoining night club but no power or generator. Raoul was an old guy with roots in Nigeria, Togo, Benin and Senegal and told me he’d entrusted the place to a friend whilst making a trip. Upon return he found that it had been gutted and he’d never had the cash to reestablish himself.
Malaika the Nigerian who was living and helping out there, was a former employee of the Gambia Experiences sister company, the Senegal Experience – a lovely guy who writes poetry in French in his spare time. He had a long tale of woe that led him penniless to the island, a prison from which he could not escape. As he led me to my room he heeded a warning:
“This is not the Sheraton.“
He was correct but the mattress was firm, the toilet bearable and sheets clean. That’s enough for me.
In the evenings we’d sit outside under skies of a billion stars with constant flashes of lightening, sipping cana and trading stories. Malaica had many theories, mostly gleaned from the works of Paulo Coelho.
“There’s only one truth” said Raoul – a pastor as well as hotelier.
“I believe there are many truths but we all have out own reality,” was Malaica’s response.
“Perhaps there’s one truth but we’re all products of our own environment, our history, our culture, our communities – we all interpret it our own way,” was my idea.
The local Bijagos people are nominally Christian and Malaica confirmed my theory of African faith.
“You can Islamicise or Christianise an African but you can never take away the fact that he is an African. Everyone is still protecting themselves against witches and wizards and they do exist – we Africans stop our own development!”
Today was 2nd November – the festival of the dead – Dide los Muertos, a Mexican tradition that’s spread tp other Latin American countries and presumably here via Brazil which has a shared Portuguese history and affinity with Bissau..
Several groups of children were parading around the village; a boy at the front holding a candle whilst the rest banged bits of metal and chanted. They were begging for coins and I had none.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Raoul, “give them a coin and they’ll just spend it on sweets, then tell every other group you gave – you’ll be plagued all night.”
When the third or fourth group made their demands, Raoul sent them packing. The Bigagos people do tend to look fierce and I saw one teenager muttering, staring at me with hatred.
“They’re insulting you,” said Malaica.
“No, they’re cursing you,” said Raoul.
“I don’t care – they’re just kids.”
“But you should – these islands are very dark, curses mean something.”
I went to bed and lay in the humid heat having crazy dreams. At some point I awoke. A clanking of metal and banging of a drum which sounded like a chain gang of crazy dwarves, was getting louder and louder. There was a frenzied chanting, right outside of my thin corrugated metal door. Or was I dreaming?
Wiping the sweat from my eyes, I considered getting up – perhaps I was missing a unique Bijagos cultural experience? Then something loud and metallic crashed into my door, I freaked and here I was, in my mid-40s – considered hiding under a blanket. But it was far too hot, so I just lay there, breathing shallowly hoping I couldn’t be heard, feeling very small, very alone and absolutely bloody petrified.