Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Hospitality and freedom in Senegal's first town

We caught the ferry over to the Senegalese town of Rosso in the early evening after a long wait at the border, then Abdililah and I said our goodbyes.  I asked a young man if there was a hotel nearby but he said no.
"Could I put my tent somewhere?"
"Next to my house, no problem."
And that's who I spent the next three days with; Paco.

His house was full of people.  Two of them were his "mother", six of them his "brothers" and another four his "sisters".  Every single one of them had the biggest smiles on their faces as they each shook my hand in turn.  I was invited inside to sit down on the sandy dirt floor which was unprotected from the outside by the absence of a door.

After an hour of watching the smallest television I've ever seen, a pot of milky rice came in and one of the mothers shared it all out in mugs.  We sat around in a huge circle drinking our dinner in silence.  Every so often there would be a gasp for air as somebody would tire from gulping so quickly.

With the help of Paco, I put my tent up just outside the doorway, but then there were some objections from the elders.  The lack of a common language meant I just had to follow what was happening; my whole tent was being moved inside the house.  I guess they were trying to keep me safer.
The combination of the incredibly bumpy floor and the mosquito bites I had gotten the night before, meant I didn't sleep so well that night.

Breakfast was a piece of baguette with butter and a creamy coffee made from dried milk.  Now it was time to show me off.  We walked through the neighbourhood; everybody staring at me, smiling, shouting "toubob" (literally meaning "white person"), kids running up to shake my hand.  Paco said white people don't come here so often.

We stopped at another "mothers" house to say hello, then were disrupted by the water streaming from my eyes at the amount of onions being chopped by all the women in the room.  Everyone was in fits of giggles at the out-of-this-world moment where a toubob was crying in their home.

Paco showed me to the river, where there were women washing clothes, children playing in the rubbish, and men working on the boats.  We were given a ride across the river, where I helped to paddle too.

Lunchtime forced us to head back to the house, but not before a quick game of football where more and more children joined in as they saw the toubob running around with no shoes.  The huge bowl of rice and fish was surrounded by fifteen people as hands were digging in from all angles.  Surprisingly it is unbelievably difficult to eat with nothing but your hands.  They tried to show me; I got the idea but the food had all gone before I had the chance of mastering the art.

Metou, the Aunt of Paco, invited us both to stay in her house in the next village, Le Chateau.  I accepted, of course!  We caught the bus there; it filled until it was full, and then some.  As we were about to set off, two guys in the front seats jumped out and began to push.  They pushed until we were on a small downhill and the engine was able to start up.  That's the trend here.
I met a baby called Kimmie

Metou was obviously richer; her house had a tiled floor and a door so there was no need to worry about mosquitos.  She even had a spare mattress for me!

The following day, Paco walked me around the whole town; we stopped at some more "mothers" houses, as well as some "sisters" and "brothers" houses too... I think that amounts to around thirty each in total!  We chose a good/bad time to visit these people - lunchtime.  No thankyou wasn't an option, so I had four lunches that afternoon.

Me and the onion farmer

Taller-than-me sugar canes
Le Chateau is an industrial and farming town; we visited a huge factory where dried milk is made, a man with a massive plot of onions (all his own business, yet fertilised with something that is probably patented by a rich and powerful company), and the enormous sugar cane farm owned by CSS.

CSS is a company owned by French businessman Jean-Claude Mimran; another to add to the list of Africa's natural resources owned by rich Europeans.  The crops are taken once a year, it takes one month for the thousands of workers to harvest it all.  For 3000CFA per day (less than 5euros), these Africans can earn a living thirty days in a year.  Add to the fact that accidents happen frequently; eyes are cut by flying pieces of cane, fingers and toes and sometimes whole limbs are severed by swinging machetes.  Meanwhile, Mr Rich European Man sits on his 2 billion euro fortune...  Of course, Senegal should thank him for "providing jobs" which are dangerous yet underpaid, in farming crops whic are natural to Africa anyway, and taking all the profit himself.  All the sugar we consume is provided in the same way and under the same system.

We ran into the sugar canes, broke pieces off and chewed until the sweet juice was all gone.  The boys wrestled in the sand then we all jumped in the water well and swam around until the sunset came.  I could see the happiness and freedom in all their faces as we played like we were children.

They said I was the first tourist in Le Chateau.  Maybe I was, or wasn't, but I believe I am the first traveller to experience what I did.  I told them it's a wonderful place and I would tell more people to come here.
"Yeah, they can stay at my house." said Paco.
"And mine!" said his friend.
"Well, if there were enough tourists you could open a hotel and make some money for the people here" I suggested.
"Oh no, they don't need a hotel or money, they can just stay in my house."
"And mine!"
"And mine!"

My first experience of real Africa was the best and most cherishable time I've ever had on my travels.  And that is only three days in to my long journey through West Africa....

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