Bissau, heavy tobacco.
We would eventually spend a month in Guinea Bissau (wiki). And after a month I would be as confused and tense as on these first days.
We enter Bissau, the capital, Irene is still with us, on 13th of March. Daniel and David, finally over their 5 weeks of diarrhea, are getting older so quickly, started walking, say mama and papa and most funnily have started playing with each other.
Guinea Bissau is beautiful, greener then Senegal, wet lands less destroyed, so much lies here to be discovered. And it is easier to refuse paying bribes to police and customs here. We even manage to enter without a visa.
But then, NOTHING moves here. Irene's quickly off to the islands, the Arquipelago dos Bijagos. We stay. Hasna buys new baby bottles, she's burnt them in the micro wave of our local cafe, Baiana, very central. I write the Senegal story. Nothing moves here. I miss the buzz of Casablanca, Dakar, Bamako or Conakry. There is no fight for clients between taxi drivers.
What shall I make of a city that does not make heard of itself through honking taxi drivers. Bissau is of course small in comparison, Portuguese, apathetic, sleepy, and again - noone has much to do. For us it is burgers and cold beers in Baiana on Praca Che Guevara, the round about, I watch the slow cruising blue 190 Mercedes taxis, no haste. Guinea Bissau is by some indicators, one of the 5 poorest country in the world, then there are so many new 4x4s, who pays for them? GB has been called Africa's first narco state by the UN Crimes and Drugs body. RGB (Republic of G.B.), the hub for cocaine from Colombia on its way to Europe.
The blight of this tiny nation. It is in your face here (as a proxy for the region/all Africa). So beautiful, so plenty with resources, so corrupt, so destroyed, so sick, so apathetic. Don't move, what for, someone with a bigger stick will come and take it from you. A proxy for what has gone wrong. During colonial times and then after. Something is wrong in RGB. Police kill police, Jeune Afrique story in French..
"Police are not armed, the army does not want that". Someone from the UN tells me. There is no prison in Bissau. You take justice in your own hands. Law enforcement is avoided. Revenge happens often.
On a lighter note. Buba and Jemberem, Cashews and cashews.
As frustrating as the place in a whole is, around Baiana we meet an interesting mix of people. Guineans and Portuguese, Moroccans and Lebanese, Spanish and English and Americans. Tourists, expats, working for NGOs, the UN, consular services, skilled labor for the rare project, leftovers from colonial times, ministers, artists, ambassadors, prostitutes, car dealers. Central Bissau is a nice little melting pot indeed. Apart from the blue 190 Mercedes taxis cruising at cruising speed it is girls bottoms that stick out. They're simply huge. Even those of otherwise skinny women. What diet are they on?
Irene, back from the islands, we leave and drive to Buba and then to Jemberem in the countries South, and hinterland/coastland is wonderland, is an African beauty, with palm trees, rice fields and primary forests, lianae, monkeys and mangroves, tropical birds and vultures, fish and oysters.
Really what drives the country at this time of the year is cashews. Guinea Bissau is the 6th largest producer in the world. This is the season, end of April and May. Cashew (wiki) is a tree, to be found everywhere in RGB. It is a red or yellow sugary fruit, it is the juice, it is the freshly charcoal roasted nut, and it is wine, a nut and a fruit together, both delicious. Juice or wine, both have a slightly bitter back taste. During the season, local people usually cannot get enough of it. "Thanks God the wine is not preservable" I read somewhere.
Apart there's bananas, papayas, mangoes, coconuts, lemons, so much more, red palm oil and palm wine.
In Jemberem we meet a group of 6 Spanish, Portuguese, Italians and French. This is a weekend and expats from Bissau seek a weekend away from town.
And there's chimpanzees and elephants and buffaloes, they're all wild and vanish when they want to. We look for chimpanzees, but only see their homes ... I will try and have more luck else where. We also set over to Casini, a desolate place full of war history, colonial, independence, civil ... But in Casini I get my first taste this year of palm wine. Really I drink 3 quarters of the liter, the rest in the group taste sharing one quarter among them.
Red Palm Oil.
Tropical plants, rain forest, palm trees.
This is us.
When we go round Jemberem, we leave the boys behind in custody with 2 or 3 nannies, whole families would take care of them, feed them local spicy rice dishes and cashew nuts and fruits, bed them, bath them. Gives us some space, for the first time.
Guinea Bissau, African worries.
Well it is in Bissau where my boys start walking, and this is good.
It is in Jemberem where I am first confronted with strike threats from Guinea, Conakry our next country. Back in Bissau, strike announced for first of April is confirmed. And then it is called off. I would eventually enter Conakry, and it would be as peaceful as I have known it.
At the same time: There is no petrol in Bissau, there is diesel though, oh yeah it is starting. Oil just went beyond 100USD. There would not be any petrol in Bubaque, the main island of the Arquipelago dos Bijagos. It is starting, no island hopping by pirogues then. "There was no petrol in Conakry 2 weeks ago" Gaël tells me on Bubaque. It is firking starting. Queues at dry petrol stations in Nigeria!!! No petrol in the north of the country!! But this is rather homemade corruption causing the problem.
Why am I scared? All of a sudden? It seems the world with an abundance of food as we have known it for decades does not exist anymore. And rising food and energy prices hit the poorest first, nations like Guinea, the country we plan to go next? There the strike of Jan 2007 that eventually brought about a change in government left 300 dead. There is news of deadly protests from Burkina, Cameroon, Egypt. Who's next? Is Africa still the continent so worth traveling, still the continent it was 3 years ago, when I put my foot on it - to stay? Is it worth risking going round the coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire with my family? Is the interior any better?
"A man must swallow a toad every morning to be sure of not meeting anything more revolting in the day ahead" - Nicolas Chamfort, found it in Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, found it funny, somehow fitting, as thoughts about a world crumbling under its own weight, crushing Africa first plague me ...
These thoughts nag. But I know I just need give it enough time. I'll find a solution. Setting over to the islands, time without a computer, without the internet, time to reflect, time to read, time to let thoughts grow, talk to Hasna, it'll solve the issue.
"Journeys are the midwives of thoughts" - Alain de Botton, Art of Travel.
Arquipelago dos Bijagos. Islands. Paradise.
"What's the f@cking point!", there is a guy on Youtube who's comments you find on any videos he's seen, "Nice, but what's ....!"
His quote springs to my mind, here on Bubaque.
To me there is always a point to get from here to there.
5 days in Bubaque on Bubaque, the main island here. Finally I liberate myself walk 24km south. "There are beaches in the South". There aren't any in the North. All muddy, steep rubbish bins what could be paradise. Hamattan, all dusty, misty, clouds, the sun's never visible before 9. Nowhere really to take the twins swimming. Nelsa the nanny we have taken with us from Bissau is really better at cooking then nursing. What the hack? As Hasna catches fresh fish at least food is excellent, authentic, home made, cheap. David is fevery, so normal with children, but on an island with no medical attention ... The boat, wind after sweat, recipe for flu. Cold beers and wind after sweat for me, I am ill too.
So what's the point walking south 24kms, there's no transports, a bicycle I could have rented, in such conditions I would have left it standing somewhere in the bush, Chinese rubbish bike left standing in the bush ... So I walk. And it feels good. It is hot, all I have is cashew fruits left and right off the road. 1 bottle of water's nothing.
There is always a point getting from here to there. Even when there is not even a cold beer on the other side. All hotels that existed, are in ruins, The last project of an Italian ran for just a year or so some 5 years ago, some ministers successfully "took it over/away" and did nothing. This is RGB.
The point to come is the way, the road, the trek! One straight line for 20kms.
Giant monster Fromager, Silk Cotton Tree.
So easy, missed the road in the beginning, ended in Bijanti, right in front of a sheer monster of a Silk Cotton Tree. some 15 meters in diameter (or more).
Dominique shows me directions. Finally on the road. I walk, children pick the necessary cashew fruits for me, sugary, squash with the bitter after taste. Keeps me walking. Cashew wine season has started, mixes with all year round palm wine. Branco, branco, the drunks shout over. Boa tarde, boa tarde, I shout back. I walk on. "Give me your trousers", another one, "what will I wear then? Ehhhh?" I walk on, all the time, really apart from 10 minutes when I rest, chez Sidi Diazi, have a large plastic mug of well water on their terrace, a Muslim family, they don't drink, as we know.
I reach the beach in the South. A vast expanse with two cows on it. Sand is fine, hot, my swollen feet burn. There is a fucking point, one our Youtube guy will never grasp, as he only sits behind his computer.
I walked down here 20km, and not one car passed me by. But now here I meet Nkrumah who knows me, lives next door to Ali the Liberian, Rasta, fisherman whose boat was confiscated when fishing in Bissauian waters. So Krouma arrives when I put my shoes on to start my trek back. He has chauffeured 3 older French ladies who I know from last nights drinks in Kasa Africana. So lucky, I'll be home for dinner. With Nkrumah I meet fishermen, who squat in the former luxury rooms of the beach resort that is now in ruins, the Italian person's dream. Of course they would be happy take me to Orango, islands just 5kms away, so I could have hopped from island to island, if I just knew my family a bit better off, up in the north where the muddy beach is made of our tears.
"Here the mud is made of our tears" - Charles Baudelaire (wiki), again read that in Alain de Botton, Art of Travel, the book I found in Villa Creola, dealing with perceptions, expectations, illusions and the sobering reality when there.
Bubaque shows us, Hasna and me, what we can and cannot do with 14 months olds. The southern beach is what I have hoped for, the northern mud is reality. And we cannot just walk 20km with two babies. So we are stuck. The boys don't care, both walk and play and need a lot of attention. And we are tired. It is in Bubaque where we take the decision that I would move (move in terms of moving on a bit) and Hasna would fly Morocco with the boys and I'd join them later in summer. There goes my family on vacation. And I better get back to work.
Didn't they have a law in place that requires to pay taxes when you renovate your house? No wonder all lies in shambles.
So I sit and read, when the boys let me, from early morning to late and watch the tide roll in and out. I gaze through the trunks of palm trees, 4, 5, or 6. A misty affair. Down the slope where the mud is, but also where the fish are jumping, 20kilo big heavy ones, huge in size, some 50 jump, fight, get their bodies lifted above the surface, what a spectacle, all the splashing. Hasna usually spends her time down there catching fish. But the big ones never bite.
And just in eye's height, all these bird, Gannets??? Plunge from 50m height into the ocean to catch their meal. Can watch them for hours. Four times a day the channel between Rubane in the north and Bubaque becomes a big stream. When tide rolls in it flows from right to left, from left to right when it rolls out again, it's got to be muddy here with so much water movement. It is relaxing to read, and watch the tides, and sometimes go down throw the line to help catch the dinner.
And we make it a habit go together to the market in the morning, leave the boys behind. There we find the space to talk, and make plans. "It has been good, - after all? Hasn't it?" Yes it has been good, sometimes easy, but not always, always gratifying but often restricting our movement and speed, enriching but bound at the same time. Such is life, this is our life. Children are wonderful. And two are better, for now they certainly try to take up all our time. There are a great many hands, not just 4 waiting to deal with them in Morocco. And really they've spent 2,5 month in Africa. We mustn't overdo it either.