First days, Malaria, fête de Ramadan in Kouroukoro.
11th of Oct 2007 I leave the "safety" of Bamako and my friend Peter Klein. Been feeling weakish recently. Still I drive. Cannot be Malaria as long as I feel the power inside. A crown, really one entire front tooth broke out this lunch. NOW!, a sign?
I reach Siguiri in Guinea late, already morning the next day, customs did not want to accept my papers for 4 hours. I know them. They threaten with their voices flipping over while their heads go red, they jump around. And all I say is that all they have said so-far is just untrue. Which obviously does not help.
4 hours later with a big grin trying to mend what cannot be mended he stamps my papers as he should have done a long time ago. I'll hang him if I'll get a chance to but for now say "On reste des amis" accepting reality. Reality is he is at the base of Africa's hypocrisy. Welcome back to Guinea, Guinea is in Africa.
In Siguiri I park in the town centre, no crime, noone bothers. In the morning I discover I parked on the yard in front of a church. I have a tyre repaired. After this there is less then 10,000 Guinean Francs left from last year. 1 Euro and a bit. Who needs money?
When I get to Kouroukoro, past Kouroussa, early afternoon I am more convinced this could be malaria, can't drive further, sleep all afternoon, windows open. I am confident there is no stealing in Guinea, or just cannot be bothered atm. When I wake at 6 pm a football match is going on outside. 18.27 last sunset in this years Ramadan. A quick infight between some players, then everyone goes home. "Couper le kareem". When the muezzin calls for prayer I decide to take Coartem (Medical News Today), my prefered and repeatedly tested malaria medication.
Mustapha Dabo I meet in the morning, seen him the night before briefly, "you slept, we were worried". He invites me to park the Land Rover near his house. He is of the family of the Sotikjemo El-Hadj Macka Dabo.
The Tambour is a drum that stays with the Doyen or Sotikemo, the eldest of the community. The Tambour is passed on to his successor. Before the (end of) Ramadan prayer this morning everyone in the village passes at the house of the Doyen to pay respect. The position of the Sotikjemo is neither political, financial, governmental, but given by god and merits this respect. Says a sign at the wall.
Then everyone parts for the fête de Ramadan prayer. If you don't attend all the fasting was not worth it. I am invited to come along, attend, stand in the same row next to Mustapha. I am deeply honored. Tolerance and hospitality.
The rest of the day we spend sitting in the cafe. Mustapha and some friends study law in Conakry. Mustapha wants to change things, wants to be a politician one day. They brief me on the situation in the land, especally after the bloody strikes January/February this year.
After school/studies there is nothing, no jobs, you do nothing. Mustapha rides me out of town on his moped. Traditional agriculture. Cultivation of just or less then what a family needs. And further out, nothing, plains of grass. "No hills, the Niger River so near, I want to cry out, this could be big business agriculture. My people don't want to work." He knows his country is supposed to be so much better off.
Afterwards the whole village is on its feet. A swift performance by a griot (wiki).
I feel a bit better. So must have been malaria, when Couartem works.
Mustapha and friends have organised a function, dance and music. But I still rather head for bed (the Landy) early.
When I walk back to the Land Rover ... "Mustapha is my son", I meet his father. "I have 8 children planning to have more".
"And I have 2 wives". Wouldn't we all love to have 2 wives?
Next morning, Mustapha and I agree we'd call each other in Conakry.
Labé, Fouta Djallon and Chutes de la Sala.
In Mamou the customs people again do their thing. We have to levy customs duty on your vehicle. 20% of its value. You have to drive back to Siguiri, there is a stamp missing. All not true, I know your game. We part in peace. The usual "On reste des amis".
Via Dabala and Kita, before Labe a town with 80,000 students. A motor cycle accident. Does not surprise me the way they drive, no helmets of course. Just annoys me I am not better trained in first aid, well still better then everyone else down here, hence inherit the obligation to aid when necessary. Instinctively I do the things someone taught us a long time ago, roll him on his side, instruct others to talk to him. After half unconscious, it turns out he can walk.
Really I do not want to get see a big accident, with noone else to call on.
Labe when the sun sets. I change money at a reasonable rate. Buy fuel, have a few beers. Next morning have my tyre repaired again. Buy a phone number. Think that I have done a few things right ... But then burn my computer, it just does a little Puff, when I plug it ito the cigarette lighter. There's going to be a solution to that in Conakry. Cheap or expensive, clean or dirty, quick or ... there is a solution to every problem in Africa.
"Some days are better the others" - Zooropa, U2.
Labe is a friendly place. Malaria seems to be gone. This is the Fouta Djallon (wiki). I drive to the Sala Waterfalls. Spend the night there.
Have a good wash, with a large brick of soap, the least problem for nature here, cook lentils and potatoes and rice. Noone else camps around. When someone moves the landy at night, must be the cow, that gets to close trying eat the onion foliage I dropped.
Driving on, next morning Africa is beautiful, misty morning damp colors, still cold. But the heat is back soon.
Driving on north ... the Aids/HIV tree near Yembering. What does it say apart from stats. Fidelité, Abstinence, Condoms. Some man has devoted a lot of energy to actually make an impact, at least in his village, or even region. Even if he does not get the percentages right all the time.
Guinea (as Mali and Niger) is doing better then most other countries in Sub Saharan Africa in terms of percentage of people infected with the virus (Avert).
Mali, Fouta Djallon, Guinea.
My first impressions the further north I get are that people are increasingly more suspect towards a stranger/me/western tourist. I'd revise this the following morning. Mali is the highest altitude village in Guinea, really on the top, where the clouds touch. Approaching, there seems to be no agribusiness, just selling wood for kitchen fire. One day there'll be wood nomore. ... "we have the pluviometer (readings) but we don't want to work". Lansana Kouyate, the prime minister the other night in Labe on TV.
I spend the night, parked next to the run down La Dame de Mali Hotel, they sell beer and a morning breakfast and I can use the toilet. There is a basketball field, a leafless tree. Thunderstorms start approaching from east, my high altitude position allows me watch from a differnt angle. The spectacle last for hours as thousands of sparks go off between and inside the high rising cumulus towers. Only a small percentage actually discharges to earth. Only late the storm reaches me in my Land Rover, I am in the middle of something brutally violent.
Market day is Wednesday, today is Wednesday. No fruits, but rice, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, some ocras, chilis, canned tomato concentrate, stock cubes, oil, arachides (peanuts). That's about it. Baguette is good and plenty. Soulaiman's cafe is all clean, first good large Nescafe this morning. It's peaceful. Why didn't I like it last night?
Meeting El Hadj Achmed Dijane Bah the owner of the Dame de Mali hotel on my return to the Land Rover. He speaks Arabic and a bit of French. He has had 3 times twins in his life, so lucky. Number of wives? I did not ask. I meet only one and a few of his children.
Mali to Medina Wora to Touba to Tarmesse to Koundara.
Leaving amicable Mali, I drive on ... for what will be the most challenging driving conditions in my whole trip so-far.
First day is actually alright, I do 43km. Camp near Medina Wora. I am tired, Land Rover too, front left wheel has been singing a gay song, front right we repaired the rim in the village of Gayah, I hit a big rock, not the tire but the rim was damaged. I know how to get a tire off the rim without tools, they didn't. Where I camp there is big trees, lots of children, a cow, goats and sheep, a dog. 6 o'clock thunder but rain would not reach us tonight.
The chief Abdul Aziz Djallo arrives from the fields, and invites me in his house for dinner, rice and a yassa (onion) like sauce followed by some millet like poridge. Not bad, a spacious house inbetween the manioc, yam, and other vegie plantations which the women take care of. He spends his time on the fields shooting birds, "my rice is to feed my family". But he injured himself today handling his stone shooting device. His family is self sufficient, even sells some. But many aren't. This is mountainous, forested territory. He has 11 children with 3 wives. He is also the local school teacher, hence his excellent French, speaks Arabic too.
I meet him and his compagnion bird shooter, at the edge of his fields, when I set out next morning.
This is not Abdul Aziz as he looked to bad with his swollen lip from the bird shooting accident.
As I drive on ... the road turns nightmarish. On several occations the Land Rover threatens to fall over. Suddenly I sit on both rear differentials. No more traction on the front wheels either. Nothing eaten yet. The high jack lift prooves an excellent pulling device. And I know why I had cleaned it/wrapped it up with my former favorit t-shirt a year earlier. "And god had planted a tree right where we need it", one of my helpers concludes.
I drive on, ... to Touba taking 3 women and a man and a chicken, the women all of course very well dressed - when you do a journey ... Some descents are so difficult, I am too top heavy. I let the passengers get off, the chicken escapes. While the man recaptures the chicken in the 2 meter high grass I have time to think how to get through, which passage to take through the meter deep drenches.
It is lots of water the moulded the ditches.
When we all arrive safely in Touba it is already 3 in the afternoon. We have done 26km. There's many children around and the chief asks me wether I could take 14 year old Mohamed Fofana with me to Koundara.
So I adopt a child, a child you just don't give a ride. If something happenes you'd be responsible for days even weeks. These are my thoughts as we drive out of town. Nothing eaten yet. Wanted to buy a baguette here, but then forgot.
First the road is better, I have a cold beer, Castel still from Bamako with too many preservants inside or/and expired (the Lebanese sell you anything), anyway it gives me throat burn. We have finally left the mountains, coming down from 1.400m, reached the plains. A different very beautiful Africa. Savanna with grass 2 to 3 meter high, left, right and in the middle of the road.
Soon millions of sprouts from the blossoming plants and as many insects plug the radiator, covering it with a 10cm thick blanket, the engine heats up. We stop, take the grill off, clean the radiator amd I have another beer, enjoy pre suset colors. We would repeat this.
But re bad roads - I have't seen anything yet. The worse was still to come. There is one little mountain between Touba and Termesse. Deep scars from this years rain. No vehicle passed here for months. Impossible, unless we rebuild the road, which we do. Many helpers. It is night when we reach Termesse. And still nothing eaten.
At the customs check point, they try their thing ... but more important things await us here.
A man asks for a lift to Koundara. He'd pay me. His wife is ill and pregnant. He wants to go there get the ambulance to come out here. But then what? ...
8 km away through the bush, high grass, water, his wife is unconscious when they load her on the Land Rover. Chronic malaria and 9th month pregnant. This is when the immune system is weakest. We have 3-4 hours to Koundara, forget the radiator, this is an emergency, she may give birth tonight. They wish us well when we reach the check point again.
In the back its her and her mother, in the front her husband and still my adopted child. She cries in agony regularly (is it the baby?), and sweats and her mother sweats next to her holding her (the fever?), and she caughs which gives her more pain. Again I feel badly trained.
We reach Koundara at 10 pm, staight to the hospital. I refuse money from the man when he offers 50,000 FG, 8.5 Euros. When it is almost too late all of a sudden there is enough money for doctors, ambulances, medication.
Then deliver Mohamed to his mother and brothers and sisters. His father lives in Spain, works in Barcelona as a crop picker. Still nothing eaten, just 3 beers, I decide to go for a bottle of Moroccan red. What a day, I am very tired, but the family keeps me up until 1 in the morning, they're indead very happy.
Wake up completely dehydrated, hung over. The heat is up quickly. I have quit the much cooler mountains.
I punch another hole in my belt and start repair the Land Rover, there's a few helpers that lend a hand. Late in the afternoon Mohamed's older brother Lansana shows me a garage welding my broken exhaust.
Before we pass at the hospital. The women with her baby passed away at 4.02 in the morning, they have returned with the body already. Pneumonia and her body would not support it anymore, she had been too weak. THIS is Africa. The sad truth is, access to basic medical help is just not available/affordable for many, or is often obtained too late, or sought too late especially in the bush.