I’m in Ziguinchor posting this on 29th December. I hadn’t intended to travel – I have eight guests back home who Khady is looking after, but as usual Africa ganged up on me and changed my plans.
Two weeks or so ago, I went to the city to get my residency card stamped – something I have to do before the end of the year. I’ve already paid and they simply need to give me a stamp, but if only it were so simple. As I approached the office, I saw several frustrated looking French men muttering angrily. One declared he’d travelled to Ziguinchor four times only to be given a new date each time. Oh dear, and there was me thinking this would be simple. I had only intended to stay for the day but ended up there for two, each one being told to return the next. This was frustrating – I knew I’d be busy with guests during Abene Festival which occurs between Christmas and New Year and had hoped to complete business in advance.
On my final evening, Eddie, my Irish buddy from Djembering, called to say he was on his way. He arrived, a bottle of local cana (sugar can rum) in hand and we took the town by storm. He has many contacts and was convinced his pal Bouca would sort out my permit the next day – a Saturday.
We did speak to the Chief who told me I’d have no problem, but I’d have to wait till Monday when the office reopened – Bouca could keep my permit, get it stamped and send it back with the Abene-Ziguinchor taxi. Alas that wasn’t to be – despite the offer of a tip – Bouca didn’t get it sorted and told me to come the following Monday – today. Now I’m sat in a wifi enabled cafe waiting. I handed my permit in at 9am and have been assured it’ll be ready at 2, so I can get back and attend to my guests.
Bouca was quite a character and one of the few Senegalese I’ve met who enjoys Western music.
“I like Neil Young, the Boss, The Beatles and the Zimmer Man – Robert Zimmerman*. And German Music – Beethoven and the Scorpions!”
*better known as Bob Dylan.
I also bumped into a musician pal from Abene – Baba. He gave me an invite to the opening ceremony of a festival which was to be attend by Macky Sal, Senegal’s President.
“I’ll introduce you and you can take his photo,” he promised.
The evening arrived and as I arrived I was turned away – the security guard pointed at my invite – 6pm start. It was 6.30pm. For once African timing let me down.
On the way home to Abene I passed through Bignona where a festival was occurring. Giant effigies were dragged down the road on donkeys and carts – a huge kankourang, a koumpo (King Koumpo) and an elephant.
As usual there were barely any signs of Christmas in Abene. Although the small Christian Karoninke community celebrate, there’s no visual display (no plastic Santa’s climbing the mud walls), no obvious consumerism and no Christmas trees. I bought Gulliver a new bicycle which he’s not stopped riding and some dangly baby things for Alfie. Then we killed a huge duck which I roasted in my clay oven with potatoes, sweet potato, squash, aubergines, carrots and onions. Along with a duck giblet gravy, I think I did a reasonable job, considering. Our first Christmas guest, Lucy, who’d arrived having driven down from Spain, seemed to think so.
We were lucky to see a koumpo performance in the afternoon before an evening sat under the stars.
And then, on Boxing Day, the festival began. There are a fraction of the normal number of tourists here. Apparently due to ebola, despite it not being present here. We barely hear anything locally about the disease and many believe numbers are being hyped to maximise donations. And who supplies the numbers – remote African hospitals and African governments – organisations hardly known for efficiency. It’s tragic that something affecting a small area has devastated an entire region. I’ve even heard that people are avoiding Tanzania – Sierra Leone and Liberia are closer to London than to Tanzania. It’s mad.
I had an astonishing experience during the afternoon. A chap wandered up the driveway towards our house and after a few moments of bewilderment, I recognised him as Mahoey, a Gambian Rasta who had hitched a ride back with me to his home after last years festival. After a long chat discussing some ideas for promoting culture in his village, he pulled out a few tattered notes and handed them over:
“Payment for my transport last year, Mr Simon, I never forget a good deed.”
Wow – I hadn’t demanded or expected payment, especially one year later and told him it wasn’t necessary, but he insisted. This is Africa and today Africa surprises me.
Right, now I’m off to get my permit – wish me luck!