Right, let’s keep this fact based. I’ll start with some good news, throw in a couple of anecdotes, tell you a little of the darker side of Africa and then lighten up at the end with some chicken fun. First the good news:
Squirting Milk at Chameleons
I’ve now finished draft two of my book and it’s with my publisher for editing. It’s leaner, meaner, hopefully better and due for publication later this year. I had wanted to call the book something along the lines of: “The Little Baobab, a new life in Africa.” That fits in with my website and business brand. But, there’s another book called “The Baobab, a new life in Africa.” And, quite frankly it’s not the most exciting title in the world.
I took a look at my many travel books and noticed there are many with a quirky title, to intrigue and make you want to find out more: Round Ireland with a Fridge, Travels with a Tangerine, Driving over Lemons and so on. Now, my tome ain’t a novelty travel book. I’m not hopping around on a pogo stick or toting a digeridoo (although actually, I do have one), but, upon scanning through my book, I came across one little story that I felt was a suitable metaphor for how crazy my life can be here: “Squirting milk at chameleons”, as told on the blog here. I’m not entirely sure, but quite like that as a title. Another suggestion an old friend made was “The Accidental African,” which I also like. What do you think? Suggestions welcome. Khady Update
The Mum to be is doing fine, but is tired and has many more belly aches than the first time around. We went for a scan last week – they couldn’t see much but told us all is fine, except the head is facing up instead of down. Unhelpfully, they told Khady it’s not a problem, but could be a problem. If any medical folk out there can point me in the direction of, or give me any useful information, then that’d be much appreciated. Incidentally, the baby is due in August, height of the hot and wet rainy season. Fire water!
I sat at the bar in Senegambia, chatting to Chris, a mysterious American pal who’s been stuck there for months waiting for a deal to come through. As we chatted, a manic eyed young Brit on the other side of the bar stood, gripped the bar, threw his head back and screamed: “Firewater!!!!”
“What’s fire water? The local cana (rum)?” I asked.
“You wait,” replied Chris. Then the bar owner appeared, a British man wearing a safari suit who’d allegedly been raised in the Congo. He lined up shot glasses and indeed poured in the local fire water, gave everyone their shot and then squirted a trickle of lighter fuel around the length of the large horseshoe shaped bar. As he flicked a match, a wall of flames ran around the bar, everyone raised their glass and screamed through it: “FIRE WATER!”
A voice on the water
I’d travelled to the Gambia via the river crossing at Kartong. Following a seven kilometre jungle drive, one arrives at the banks of a small river amidst mangrove swamp. There are no Senegalese customs and aside from a palm shelter, nothing much else on the Senegal side. As I jumped into a dug out canoe and started paddling across, a young man stepped from under the shelter, walked to the rivers edge and sang out in a deep rich voice. I could still hear him as I reached the other side, praising myself and the other passengers and wishing us good luck for our journeys.
The Return of the Kankourang
It’s cutting season in Abene. The Kankournangs (see picture at the top of the page) are out in force, terrorising people and disrupting their work, as young boys and girls are circumcised. One even arrived at the Little Baobab. I was watering plants and heard the clanging of two machetes and high pitched screaming as the devil like creature prowled on the other side of our fence. Then I heard screaming as Khady, Yama, Gulliver and Jumbo all ran to barricade themselves in our house, all terrified. I hid behind a bush and watched the red hairy creature stalking around the house and banging on the windows. It was accompanied by several young men, one of whom was Bakary, Jumbo’s Dad. They were collecting for his young son’s circumcision ceremony and the Kankourang was there to intimidate us into giving something. Later, I went to meet friends at Gerard’s French restaurant. As I arrived, there was a big argument going on and another Kankourang was skulking around, this one making chicken noises. Gerard was fuming – this Kankourang had entered his bedroom, struck his Senegalese wife to the floor and proceeded to beat her with the machete. She showed me bruising across her leg. One can only respect traditional culture so far and I didn’t blame them for calling the police. Nothing will be done in all likelihood as everyone, police included, is scared of the kankourang. A succession of village elders and the chief did arrive to try to placate them though. On Monday my Senegalese mechanic’s Land Rover windscreen was smashed.
Today, Tuesday, a teacher was attacked on his way to school, his arm cut by the machete. Khady wanted to attend the boys circumcision ceremony and I accompanied her. I took the accompanying pictures but was warned to be very careful and not point at the kankourang – it would smash my camera. Hundreds of people gathered in a circle and the young boys arrived to the beat of drumming, then performed dances in the circles centre, each trying to out do the last.
Last week, Khady told me it was the day that the girls would be cut. The next day, accompanied by kankourangs, they’d all go to wash in the salty sea to help heal the wounds. I was surprised when Khady told me the daughter of a good friend of mine – someone I’d though of as fairly progressive – was being cut. Laurie, my French friend remarked that although Abene, with it’s toubab population and tourism, appears more developed, it really isn’t. When I’d explored very remote villages in Eastern Senegal, I had seen many posters advertising Tolstan, an organisation that works with communities and the elders to halt the practice of FGM (female genital mutilation), but they don’t appear to be active here in Abene.
A Gambian friend, Seikou, returned a book he’d borrowed from me “Geldof’s Africa.” It’s a book of essays and photos from more than 20 years of Sir Bob visiting and working in Africa. Seikou remarked that he didn’t approve of many of the pictures – naked tribal Africans with lip plates, scarification and so on.
“These people have no civilisation, they need to modernise like us,” he remarked.
I’ve now heard rumours that the kankourang has killed a local woman in neighbouring Kafountine. I’m not sure if this is true, but have now heard it from several sources.
Whilst we’re discussing such cheery subjects, lets talk about child weddings. This still goes on here and it’s not uncommon for an old man to take on a young girl as a bride. We once employed a young girl called Oumey – she was around 20 years old and divorced, having run away from her husband, a man old enough to be her Grandfather. I was disturbed when I discovered that this was also happening under my nose. Khady kept ignoring a number that called her multiple times. I asked why she didn’t answer and she told me it was an old man who was chasing after Jumbo. She’s the girl we adopted and is 13.
Via the power of the internet, I was put in touch with Gavin Weston some months ago; an Irish writer who spent time in Niger and now campaigns against child weddings in Africa. Check out the novel he has written about the subject here.
Tarzan the Chicken
On a lighter note, our chicken house doesn’t appear to be good enough for one of our birds. Every evening at dusk, it clambers up into the fromagier tree before our house, climbing about 10 meters, where it sleeps. Is that typical poultry like behaviour?