My Africa - Kinga Freespirit, part II


real Africa...

Saturday, 07 January 2006

Morocco was nice, easy and comfortable. Compared to here - like a luxurious vacation. Only now, in Mauretania I can feel like real Africa begins. But the adventure already started in Western Sahara, where we got picked up by a Malian guy driving a white van from Spain all the way home, who went for a couple of days and nights without sleep, so was more than happy to hand me the steering wheel. So this is how I ended up driving for two days through hundreds of kilometers of the desert. We were invited to join him all the way to Mali, where Kati and I are also heading, but we wanted to do a few things in Mauretania.
All there is here really is desert and dust but... a lot is happening. A whole night ride inside an empty open cargo container of the longest train of the world, together with some locals, a bicycle, a fridge and a goat is a one story. Besides, we just came across the Paris Dakar ride passing through, so - what else could we do other than hitch a ride with one of their support trucks.

I hope to be able to share some photos soon, there are a few interesting ones. We've just arrived to the capital but we have yet to come across a faster internet connection.

through Kati's eyes

Wednesday, 11 January 2006


 Here's a fragment of our journey - through Kati's eyes. I'm really happy to be travelling with her right now. And yesterday we met another girl hitchhiking alone through this part of the world. So we're having a little female hitchhiker's gathering here in Mauretania. We might travel together for a while and share more stories and photos soon. For now - enjoy


Kati's story:


I would be abusing your good will if I used all the words necessary to convey the funny, striking things that swirl around us.   So I will be brief, and forgoe telling you numerous anecdotes about hitching a ride across Western Sahara in a crappy van with no map.

Lets see...I got hit by the car, then I went back to the place we were staying and painted a mural and politely refused two marraige proposals, both by men named Mohammed.  We then hopped a freight train, which I will remember for years (perhaps that is because it will take that long before I manage to get the resulting dirt our of my skin).  It is the longest tain in the world, and maybe also the dustiest.

Really, it was marvelous.  Kinga and i wove our cold fingers together and occaisionally peeled our scarves aside and peered up a the open sky.  It was stars behind stars behind stars, until there was realy no black in the night at all, jut layers of stars.  We ate a chocolate bar and agreed that life was pretty damn near perfect.

In the lovely little dance routine that life has choreographed, we just so happened to be traversing this swath or Mauritania at the precise moment that the  legendary Paris-Dakar Rally was approaching. In the distance, across the desert, we began to see enormous crescendos of dust, as these fantastical race cars devoured the landscape. I felt like we were watching the arrival of space invaders. We were winding up a narrow hill at our own leisurely pace when the leading car sped right up to our bumper.  It was emblazoneded with slick decals of corporate sponsors, and driven by men in spacesuits and helmets.  They impatiently banked left, then right, desperately grasping for a sliver of road wide enough to pass us. But life allowed us to have a laugh at their expense - laughter filled with big yellow tombstone teeth and cracks of dust around the eyes. Even the goat on his way to slaughter seemed to recognize the irony and bleat in enjoyment.  Here we were, the salt of the earth slouched together in dusty backwardness and yet somehow managing to impede these giants of speed and domination.  I was very contented to watch them eat our dust. Or course, as soon as the road widened just a bit, it was we who quite literally ate their dust.  They tore ahead of us and whited our colors out. Still, the fleeting moment of triumph was satisfying.

So that night in Atar we snuck into the race campgrounds and mined our prospects.  It was another world. This massive movement of 500 racecars and thousands of support vehicles plowed through the Sahara like a locust invasion. It displayed a shocking indifference to the people and mud houses that surrounded it.  Inside the camp was alive with bright lights and the buzz of generators.  Thousands of mechanics in matching jumpsuits labored like ants to pull the tires off the cars and tighten evey bolt. Everything looked new and shiney and expensive. I gathered that almost none of these people ever ventured out of the encampment to look at the life around them. We were told that it cost upwards of a million dollars for each car to participate.  A quick bit of math revealed that just a couple of Rallies required more money than the entire national debt of Mauritania.  It was absurd.  How can such folly and excess have the gaul to exist alongside such striking poverty? The little Lisa Simpson in me was outraged, and my mind whirred with critiques. I helped myself to their refreshments with a sense of indignity.
And then the next morning I was willing to let my sense of adventure deafen my morals, and we were on the side of the roads with our thumbs out. It was a tricky hitch.  Every person in the rally is loaded down with badges and wristbands and official rules.  They were forbidden to take anyone. "Eet ees eemposseeble" we were told by many a Frenchman.  But we insisted anyway.  And somewhere around noon, after about a thousand rally vehicled had passed us by with honks of acknowledgement, one truck finally pulled over.  We couldnt believe it.  We grabbed our packs and ran with hopeful eyes. A French team was willing to bend the rules for whatever reason, and they threw open the back of their truck and let us climb in. Kinga and I high five each other and basked in the glory of a mission accomplished.  We hitched a ride on the Paris Dakar! Now everytime I hear this race referenced I can yawn and flex my coolness. Even we were seduced by the glamour for a moment. It was such a cool, memorable ride.  I cant say the view was spectacular, because we were in an unlit, windowless chamber full of sharp metal objects that made a lot of noise and swung very close to our eyeballs. But really, it was cool.  Especially when they threw open the door and we were in the middle of the desert.  They gave us red wine and baguette which we feasted on beside the sunbleached skull of a camel.  Kinga and I looked at each other a lot and laughed at the turns that life takes.

So, now we are rally rats.  We are just riding this as far as it takes us and enjoying the complementary beverages.  We are camped at the Nouackchott airport, living a life so thuroughly detatched from the people around us. Actually, it is a lot like Burning Man, only without the sparkles. It is fascinating. But if you have read this far than I have already abused your attention span.  Ask me about it when I see you. Who knows what tomorrow holds.  We have befriended a semi-sketchy Bulgarian pilot with a fondness for the drink.  He says we can ride his plane to Mali. is hard to turn down a free plane ride.  Lets see...

Whatever happens, we are feeling very much like we are riding the crest of a very great wave.  We are feasting on faith and drunk on absurdity.

Enjoy the photos.  Love to you all.

weird journeys along nonexistent roads

Wednesday, 18 January 2006

"Mauretania offers naked scenery, endless views, forgotten towns, weird journeys along nonexistent roads, the world's longest train, and timeless tea-rituals in nomadic tents." - this is an introduction to Mauretania from my African guidebook. And this is pretty much what we experienced during the last week or so, hitching through Mauretanian desert together with Kati and Rebeca. I'll hopefully share some photos soon, and Kati might write something.
Right now we're heading towards Mali. We decided to go through Senegal and ended up detained at the border, because it turned out I need a visa (even though European Union citizens don't need one). Anyway, after the night spent at a shabby border post of white-robed Mauretanian custom officers, yesterday we managed to sneak into Senegal through another place. It's a whole different world here again. I'll be back, but right now we're hitching towards Mali...


from Kati in Bamako

Monday, 23 January 2006

I'm so happy Kati's took the time to share the few moments of our journey. Here's another piece from her, and you can see the photos illustrating what she's talking about in the Mauretanian and Senegalese gallery...

Big sigh from Bamako!
Gorgeous things keep happening at such a velocity that it almost makes me panic.  I hardly begin to digest one striking moment, when the next is already in full bloom. I am spinning in circles trying to grasp at each experience so that I can remember and share it, but it is an impossible task.  Even now I have to force myself to sit down and write, because there is so much life just outside the door that it feel absurd to be behind a computer. But now that I am here writing, I realize that it will take great restraint not to inundate you with a thousand and one anecdotes, because so much has happened.  Hence the big sigh I mentioned above. I will give you the much much abridged update, which does no justice to the details where the real magic resides.

So, last time I left off Kinga and I were in Mauritania trying to hitch a ride on a cargo plane with some drunk Bulgarians. We ended up getting kicked off the tarmac just moments before the plane took off.  Our feathers were ruffled a bit, but it was quite easy to be philosophical, because if we have learned nothing else from traveling, it is that there are really no wrong turns.

Soon we would see why life wanted us to stay in  Nouackchott for a moment longer. We found a psychedelic Mauritanian tent to sleep in, and rejoiced at the thought of being able to wash our clothes.  At this point we were so dust covered that I was spending a good deal of time spacing out and having fantasies about doing laundry. Soap suds seemed inconceivably exciting to me. So we got clean, so that the new dirt would have a fresh canvas to cling to.  A man named Mostapha fell in love with Kinga and bought her vegan pizza. We ate cold french-fry sandwiches and broke the hearts of many men.  And somewhere in the middle of this, Rebekah showed up. And then it was clear why we had missed our plane. We are now a family of three.

It is rare in life to find anyone who hitchhikes.  Rarer still to find female hitchhikers.  So what are the chances that three hard core international lady hitchhikers would all be in Noackchott at the same time?   We agreed that this was an astral alignment as significant to the hitchhiking world as the meeting of Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley.  Rebekah is lovely German girl with a passion for Nobakov and languages.  It is really handy to have her around, incase we ever need to know the precise etymology of the nineteenth generative declension of the ancient Urdu word for "flagellence".  Also, she speaks French. So Kinga and I hide behind her and push her forward as our ambassador any time a confusing situation arises, which is pretty much every time we blink.

Rebekah had a mission.  Last summer she had been picked up hitchhiking in Spain by some guy she knew only as Pedro.  Apparently he lived somewhere in Mauritania, but she didn't know the name of the town. Rebekah wanted to find him, just for shits and giggles. So, armed only with a firm sense of absurdity, we set off hitching through a desert country three times the size of Poland in search of someone we knew simply as Pedro.

What occurred over the next few days is too full of profoundly beautiful scenery and knock-you-on-your-ass generosity for me to do it any justice in this email. What Mauritania may lack in material wealth, it beyond compensates for with its beauty, its landscapes, its people. I could go on for pages describing all the random homes we were welcomed into, all the strange food that we ate, and all the unexpected places we slept. Not to mention all the marriage proposals.  Being such a dusty place, Mauritania is probably one of the few places you will ever get a marraige proposal by someone who is simultaneously picking their nose. It is so lovely.

Once we were driven way off the road into the desert with a merchant man in search of his flock of camels.  We ended up sleeping in a nomad tent in the middle of nowhere, under a full moon so bright it made us squint.  We woke up to the chorus of 300 goats bleating all around us.  Another time we were dropped off fr away from any town rather late at night. We tried hitchhiking  by the light of the moon. We suddenly realized that we had joined the ranks of people who appear in the desert out of nowhere. We assumed that wouldn't work, and we would be spending another night in the sand and wind, but instead we ended up getting taken to a man's home, where we were stunned to find a lush tapestried room with soft cushions and sweet tea. We felt like royalty.

Ack, it really pains me to breeze through these stories without embroidering them with all their shades of significance. I think I will have to write about them at another time, or I will end up shamelessly disregarding the etiquette  of group emails.... So, I will not tell you about any more of those magical nights spent in the desert, or the days we spent tooling around in a funny old blue car (a Citroen 2 horsepower.... see the pictures). We visited springs and ancient ruins and infinite sand dunes.  All scenery inspired dramatic thoughts. There were so many moments in there that just brought tingles. A lot of synchronicity and humor and moments of pondering.  I will just leave it at that for now, even though it hurts to have experienced things so lovely, and want so badly to share them.

And then there is the story of Pedro. We never found him.  But I am convinced that we would have if he were around.  Despite its vastness, there seems to be no anonymity in Mauritania.  We discovered this several times a day, when new acquaintances bamboozled us with statements like, "Weren't you at the train station in Nouadhibou 10 days ago?" or "Aren't you the girl who tried to get her visa extended in Atar?" or "Remember me?I tried to sell you a watermelon once" infinitum.  We felt like quasi celebrities, because everywhere we went, people seemed to already know about us.  In this same note, on our quest for Pedro, we heard so many times about a Spanish doctor in Chinguetti, and a Spanish man married to an American named Alexis, that I began to feel like I knew them.  Mauritania is weird. I quite like it.

And I really can't take the time here to even begin spelling out thehilarity of the many Mohameds we meet. It is now just a joke.  You get three points for every Mohammed you meet, ten points if he suggests marraige.  So many times a day we stifle giggles and shoot sideways glances at each other upon making a new friend.  "Three points!!!" we whisper.  We lost count so long ago.

Another thing I can say about Mauritania is that it really heightens your appreciation.  Food is so sparse and unappealing, that you spend half your tile searching for anything edible.  I remember the joy of finally reaching a sizable town, and we went off to scavenge food.  Half an hour later we reunited and shared our triumphant spoils -a jar of mustard, some decaying dates, and a bouillon cube.  Who would have guessed that a mustard and date sandwich could be so appealing?  And When we were lucky enough to have something as magnificent as rice, we could be heard exclaiming with absolute sincerity, "Wow, this is so good.  It has hardly and sand in it!"

A thousand other things happened, and then we hitched to Senegal. We thought after braving 80 kilometers of cratered dirt roads with a convoy of obese, sweaty, shirtless, piggy frenchmen, that crossing the border would be a relief.  But instead much madness ensued. We exited Mauritania, but then they wouldn't let Kinga into Senegal (because of her Polish passport).  Then they wouldn't let me back into Mauritania because my visa was used up. 
So, we were stuck in no man's land, on a bridge between two countries as night began to fall. A lot of sneaky solutions were proposed, and it was decided that Rebekah and Kinga would wait until darkness and then try to hike thru the marsh for 17 kilometers to the town of St Louis. I was a bit to lazy to contemplate such a sketchyhike, so I generously offered to take their bags and wait in a comfortable hotel room, poised to contact their loved ones if they ended up missing or imprisoned.  But our careers as international border smugglers was cut short when we were apprehended on the bridge by border officials, and taken into custody in the Mauritanian border post. Since there was no traffic passing in any direction,we had to spend the night there, in no man's land. So, incase you have ever wondered how two girls with three nationalities can be sleeping in one sleeping bag in two different countries....there is your answer! It was a sketchy situation, but we managed to laugh about it, and
appreciate the free accommodation. 
"So Kinga, how is the weather there in Mauritania?"
"Oh, its great.  Hey, be careful, I hear they have malaria in Senegal"....
I think initially the border guards were trying to suss out the situation and figure out if any of us were single.  They went out of their way to get us vegan food and cater to our every whim.  We acted just ever so slightly like prima donnas, and soon enough they grew sick of us (a development that occured shortly after we revealed that we were all "happily married")..... By morning we were angrily awakened and tossed in an unchivilrous manner into the back of a pickup truck which took us far far away from them. It was ugly and funny at the same time, and at least I got a free entry back into Mauritania.

A few hours later we snuck into Senegal over another border. We traded in the ubiquitous camels of Mauritania for the cartoonish baobab trees of black Africa.  The contrast was marvelous.  It is  a delight to soak up all the colors, and marvel at the striking silhouettes. I love seeing all the babies tied to their mother's backs.  And I never tire of watching how adept these people are at balancing things on their heads.  We saw one woman with six water jugs stacked so high on their head that they nearly doubled her height.  And another lady was just standing around, chilling out with a cinder block on her hear like it was nothing.  All day long we oooh and aaaah.

And again, six-hundred -seventy-three-thousand-one-hundred-and forty-nine profoundly beautiful things happened. Then we realized that if we hitchhiked like MAD, we could make it to Bamako, Mali, in time for the World Social Forum and a sure-to-be-mind-blowing concert by the African Reggae giant Tiken Jah.  We stuck out our thumbs and made record time hitching teensy rides across the north of Senegal.  By this point I was pretty much whimpering about all the beauty, and actually hoping that nothing amazing would happen, because I simply did not possess the capacity to digest on more morsel of wonder. This leg of the journey is a blur.  Somewhere in there there was an all night ride in a truck cab with 7 people, where I discovered several dozen new incredibly uncomfortable positions to not sleep in.  And there were a couple of nights spent with snippets of sleep along the roadside.  And miraculously, after a very fortunate ride with a member of one of Mali's Royal families, whose grandfather had 11 wives and 70 children, we made it to Bamako just in time for the concert.  We went, bleary and exhausted, to the stadium... Where we promptly laid down to sleep and missed the show.  And so it goes.

And maybe tomorrow we will go head off to Timbuktu. Life is such a cartoon!

so much is happening...

Sunday, 05 February 2006

So much is happening I don't even know where to start, and I just hope Kati will find a while to describe it all, or at least some of it. I mean sometimes there's so much happening, and other times we get stuck in the middle of nowhere waiting for two days for a vehicle to pass and bring us back to civilisation. That's what happened after we got a ride with a long wooden rice boat up the Niger river from Timbuktu. And we thought Timbuktu was the end of the world... Until we got off the boat two days later in a 'town' of Rharhus. A place that boasts street lamps along two sandy roads but electricity only comes when a minister visits the town. Anyway, after two days a pickup truck was heading through the desert to the main road and we got a ride with fourteen other people at the back. Then crossed half of the country again and made it to the festival in Segou where we're going to dance away the third night tonight. Anyway, I hope to put some photos from Timbuktu, from the river, the desert, the villages and festival soon, and hope Kati will write more.

And now from here... Kati and I are heading towards Burkina Faso soon, from where, sadly... she's flying home. Rebecah wants to reach the northern parts of the desert in Mali in search of a Tuareg husband. If she doesn't find one, we'll meet in Niger, buy a couple of camels, or motorcycles and see what's next...

From Kati - hitchhing to Timbuktu

Tuesday, 07 March 2006

It is a rare and precious moment in life when a metaphorical  destination  becomes undeniably literal.
When I grow up....
When I win the lottery....
When I am famous....  
For me (traveler girl that I am) this metaphor was "When I hitchhike to  Timbuktu...."
Months ago as I punched my timecard in a soulless summer job, I  concocted an  adventure that was sufficiently loony sounding enough to get me thru  the  grey days.  It made me (in my itchy polyester work uniform) feel so  gratified to say, when one enquired of my plans, "oh, I don't know.  I  think  I might hitchhike to Timbuktu."  I was in love with the lyricalness of  it,  and little acquainted with the logistics.  But it sounded so stupid  that I  repeated it often, and somewhere along the line lost sight of the fact  that  I was mostly joking.
 Fast forward some months, a lot of dust, 65,345 new friends named  Mohammed......and just up ahead we see the first sign that counts down  the  actual kilometers to Timbuktu. It is rather dizzying really.   I can  now  complete the trifecta of ridiculous destinations - Kathmandu,  Kalamazoo, and  the crown Jewel of passport stamps - Timbuktu! It is a funny  accomplishment,  but that is okay.  I am a funny girl
 But wow, what a long road to get there! Way back in Morocco I was  beginning  to prepare little excuses in case I didn't quite make it.  And then I  met  Kinga, and my doubt evaporated.  From the moment we started traveling  together I have been tempted to overuse the word "magic".  I have  pulled at  various threads of our story, and tried to weave them into some sort of  tapestry to share.  It never comes close to the palest shade of  adequate  though.  There is no way to fit a sky that big into words so little.   So I  am resigned to just tug at one more little thread with my dirty  fingers.  It  is a thread from a magic carpet…..
"We are all dirty", said a man with a deep, deep voice. But you. You  are the  "dirtiest."  He was talking to me. And he was right.  I was  spectacularly  dirty. I earned that dirt along the long blur of roads after Bamako. I  can  scarcely keep them straight in my head.  We went thru a town called  Bla. We  ate some mayonnaise sandwiches. We held hands with children, sang and  played  patty-cake. We saw many awesome women in flowing robes milling their  grain  by the roadside.  Rythmically they pounded their mortars, like pistons  of a  fine tuned human machine. Hard work rarely looks so elegant.   We met  waves  of kind people who took us into their homes and humbled us with  generosity  time and time again. We were so saturated with angels that we began to  lose  track of them.  And then,after several days of tiny rides we finally  ended  up in a truck that was going almost all the way to Timbuktu.
 The last hundred kilometers to the fabled city are thru the bush.   Rebekah  sat in the front seat with her window down, and I, in the back, didn't  quite  realize that I was getting absolutely COVERED with dust.  Now, anyone  who  travels thru the desert must just accept the dust in their life.  
Embrace  it.  I got used to the crunchiness it lends to my food.  Dust paved the  way  for my fingers and my nostrils to rekindle a friendship that they left  off  in childhood.  I was very hospitable towards dust.  Yet in the final  moments  leading up to Timbuktu, I think that the dust really took advantage of  me.   I turned orange.  ORANGE. More than one person asked me what part of  Africa  I was from. I got a lot of perplexed looks, and even a sneer or two.
 While taking a ferry across the river just before Timbuktu we met a  group of  elderly Israeli tourist women.  I have no idea why people like this  travel.   They were terrified of everything, convinced that every African was a  disease vector. They warned us that 60% of the population has AIDS, and  we  shouldn't shake hands with them because it can be spread from just a  tiny  cut. And  we shouldn't touch the children because we will contract  conjunctivitis and we could go blind.  And the water was teeming with  parasites that make worms grow under our skin.  These women were  actually  wearing surgical masks! And here I was beside them, bright orange and  hacking up dusty green phlegm. I licked my dirty finger and wrote my  name in  the dust on my vest. I can't believe they didn't offer us a ride!
 Our final ride into Timbuktu was in the back of a truck.  I thought it  was  very poetic that we entered the mythical town facing backwards.  I was  feeling giddy about it. Rebekah, with her Germanic composure, seems  less  enthused.  She declared that the ambition to go to Timbuktu was "So  American", in a tone of voice that I can tell she meant "American" as  an  insult. Though I am usually eager to critique my country and flash my  Irish  passport, this made a little bit of hidden patriotism rear up inside  me.  I  threw some dust at her and called her a Nazi.  But I don't think she  heard,  which is just as well.
 So what if I am "American."  I am glad, if that allows me to find joy  in  accomplishing something ridiculous.  It is curious how, in a long  journey  thru many lands, you have so many occasions to contemplate and redefine  your  own identity.  Within the parameters of a single day I can feel so  proud and  then so humble.  Extraordinarily wealthy, and then so poor.  So light  and  then so burdened. So young, so old.  So inspired, so bored. So  thankful, so  jaded. So far away, so at home.(I can abuse your goodwill with several  dozen  more couplets, but you get my point.)   Somehow, the ridiculousness of  having gone to SUCH extremes just to arrive at a place with a funny  name….it  provides a perfect context to embrace all my paradoxes and toss them in  the  air like confetti.
 So, as underwhelming as it may be in reality, I love Timbuktu.  I love  that  We arrived there backwards, covered with dust, laughing. I took a  shower  with all my clothes on, and when the water turned dark orange I felt  pleased. Maybe society doesn't really reward these types of  accomplishments,  but hell, I am proud.  I hitchhiked to Timbuktu, and no one can take  that  away from me for the rest of my life.

the boat ride - from Rebekah

Tuesday, 07 March 2006

Here is Rebekah sharing her impressions of the boat ride we hitched from Timbuktu down the Niger river.
And you can read more about her African expieriences on her site:

I'll never accuse the Malians of being a lazy people again after I have  witnessed these boys stay up all night and shuffle water out of their  boat,  red-eyed but with steady movements the whole night through till the  morning  shift takes the queue. We spent the night sleeping on the stacked  merchandise -our sleep rhythmed by the bucket's dark slurp cutting  through  the dark as it sucks up the water, then the river's short cough, clash,  splash, as it receives the sparkling element- and  in the morning we  are all  ready to leave at eight in the morning as we were told. Of course -I am tempted to say- the eight in the morning are an African  eight in the morning, and resemble more a two or three in the afternoon  than  anything else and there is much idle time to be dawdled away till  departure,  lounging comfortably in the shade, eying the reflected light of the  waves  playing so beautifully like dancing white flames on the inside of the  bamboo  roof. We dilly-dally the morning away peeling oranges, reading our  books,  playing with the kids visiting us and I am even having my hair woven by  a  beautifully singing girl who has long monologue conversations in her
language, Bobo, with me as she does it. When after these long, short-whiled hours we finally set off, we are  not  disappointed. Our eyes bulge over (?) from taking in the green scenery  and  pretty villages and on the river itself we pass fishing boats,  merchandise  barges with sails sown together out of emptied rice sacks, totally  overloaded passenger ferrys with people's baggage topped onto the roof  reaching comical heights, and we are even pointed out some hippos,  although  all we can recognize are nondescript dark flaps, presumably of hippo  skin,  emerging unspectacularly shortly from the riversurface.
When the evening descends we stop to pass the night near a village  whose  presence we can assume only by the faint distant flicker of a couple of  lights, otherwise the moonless night's obscurity around us is flawless.  So  flawless indeed that putting your head in your neck and looking up,  those  timid lights that are puncturing the concave immensity of the sky come  as  such a surprise that their sheer number alone is doubly-awe-inspiring.
Stars, more stars, and layers of more stars till the night is all  light. "Look, the water is still enough to reflect individual stars", remarks  Kati.
The early morning is gorgeous. Woken by the roaring of the engine put back on and everyone scrambling  over  our sleeping stretched out bodies, I squint out into the breaking dawn  from  under my warming sleeping bag without even bothering to rub my eyes.  The  Fahrtmann's stark silhouette handling his long bamboo utensil to guide  our  way into navigable waters against the caramel and strawberry coloured  backdrop of the morning twilight sky is a memorable sight. Magic seems  to  stick to his every slow, sure gesture heaving up the long tool, then  plunging it back into the depths, alternatively to his left, then his  right.  The bamboo's clicking sound against the flancs of the barge as he  withdraws  it and the river water raining off the length of the stick, glistening  silverish – our slow advance seems ghostlike across this grey expanse  of  water. On land silhouettes of people and goats wander dreamlike between  their huts and shacks. Then, sunrise. As if by some invisible lever beyond that molten fine  line of  the horizon, the sun pops up - one immanently illumined mass of  blood-coloured jelly wobbling so insecurely you're afraid its skin may  break  and spill the whole glorious mess over the entire landscape, even  though for  the moment it is only leaking - so typically cliché laden beautifully it  may  sicken the reader- and swimming in the sea of colours that is exuded by  it  like puss is from a perfectly rounded blister. Such, it briefly dyes  the  flat mirror surface at it's feet into an illusionary continuation of  this  vermillion sky whose main vault in our back has already turned the soft  colour of day. And with the last splash of blush disappearing into  blue, a  corde climbing along the roof of our barge is pulled by the Fahrtmann,  which  agitates a bell in the back, indicating to the boy at the engine to  change  gears - it's safe now to send our barge off at normal velocity. So we move forward over the blindingly golden carpet the sun has now  rolled  out for us. And with the mesmerizing shadowplay at the stern of the  boat  having ceased to nothing but a boy in a worn out red jacket sat down  with   his arms crossed over his bamboo stick, yawning, my eyes wander off  taking  in the life that has begun on the river itself and along its shores: A flock of birds rising off the water and circling like the fluid  shadow  presence of a massive UFO over it - then splitting up, one half becoming  one  long, airborne, slowly forward moving shadow of a snake, before  amorphously  disaggregating totally and settling down. Horses drinking, one forefoot  inclined to bow down to the river, with cows browsing above them on the  top  of the slope. Herons plummeting in their flight to fish - there is  really no  excuse to get back to bed, the day has begun.

Burkina Faso

alone in Oagadougu

Monday, 13 February 2006

Here I am - in another African country - Burkina Faso. All on my own... Because Rebekah went her own way towards the desert in northern Mali in search of her Tuareg and I haven't heard from her since. Who knows, she might be married to a turbaned husband right now (I just hope she received enough camles). I was also heartbroken to say goodbye to Kati who took a plane from here, Oagadougu, first to Marocco where she's spending a couple of days, and then home, that is New York and soon Ecuador where she lives when she's not travelling.

with Agnes in her truckSo I'm on my own again, but have to admit, I am lucky with meeting exceptionally interesting people along my way, especially other travelling solo girls, though I don't think there's that many of them around here. At the festival in Segou we met another one - Agnes from France, who travels with her home-truck and does the coolest thing I've ever heard of - in small African villages she sets up a bouncy castle stolen from McDonalds' in Europe. She decided it will be more useful and bring more joy and happiness here. She also projects movies on the white wall of her truck - I guess in villages with no electricity that must be quite an attraction. And she chooses local, African movies. So Agnes took Kati and me with her truck, from Mali to Burkina Faso, and I hope to maybe meet her again later.

I've managed to create new albums and upload photos from Mali - so far just to the Polish version of the site, and am waiting for Chopin to copy them to the English one here (if you can't see them yet, look at the Polish one).
Hot greetings from super hot and friendly Oagadougu!

white camel ...

Monday, 20 February 2006

I didn't realize what adventures were awaiting me when I said goodbye to Kati in Oagadougu. I thought Burkina Faso will be just a country I'm going to pass through, on my way to meet Rebekah in Niger. I was hitching slowly along the less travelled road towards the Nigerian frontier. And here in the north, I got distracted a bit - each time I saw a Tuareg passing, riding a camel. Yes - riding a camel, alone... something I dreamt about doing but couldn't do with the camels in Morcco, as there they're only trained to follow a guide. "Come, I'll take you on my motorbike to Gorom Gorom, tomorow's market day, you can surely buy a camel there," told me a guy in a little town in the north. The market was amazing, with colorfully dressed people from various ethnic groups arriving from far and near, on foot, with donkey carts, by trucks or riding their camels. The white camels here that were for sale, were young, not yet trained. And a good, trained one wasn't white...  But the following day I found myslef riding yet another motorbike with a Tuareg man, about 50 kilometers through the desert, to his village. It's a long story, but to make it short - the motorbike broke down, we walked, slept with his family, watched a couple of camels that people brought the next morning. And... yes - I am a happy owner of a beautiful white camel! Kati wanted me to name my camel with her name. But me... I couldn't bring myslef to do that - she's too unique, and no animal, not even my lovely camel can be called Kati, it just wouldn't be the same. But, in her honour, I just changed the two syllables, and baptised my camel 'Tika'. I don't know when I'll be able to upload some photos. Here they only have internet connection in the evening, very slow and expensive, so probably already in Niger - where I'm going to start heading soon - riding Tika, as soon as I learn enough to be able to leave with a camel on my own. Maybe Rebekah can join me here, even though she wrote now, saying she's already in Niger. Anyway, the dusty village of Gorom Gorom already feels like home, Burkina Faso is one of the friendliest countries I've been to, my camel is munching quietly on the leaves of a tree at my local Tuareg friend's place right now, and generally - life is beautiful.

Naughty Tika

Saturday, 25 February 2006

So OK, I have a camel. But... I guess it will take a while before I can say we're really friends, Tika and I. The thing is - people here treat camels, and all animals, in fact, in a very utalitarian way - a camel is just a means of transportation, slowly replaced by motorcycles, even within the local Tuareg population. So, nobody makes friends with animals - and Tika doesn't really trust or make friends with anybody either. Yes, he will stand up, sit down, walk, turn left or right, but even sometimes for that you need to use some force. And me... I guess I'm just a bit too gentle. But slowly, I'm learning the tricks, attaching the saddle and riding Tika outside the village each day, leaving him there to munch on the desert bushes, guarded by a slave of my Tuareg friend, then returning each afternoon to bring him back home.
With my local friends, we washed Tika two days ago, gave him a good nice bath, to make him even more beautifully white. And the following day, when I returned to fetch him in the afternoon, I couldn't recognize my own camel - he deliberately lied down and turned around and around in the ashes, so that I'm not sure anymore whether I have a white or a dark grey camel now... He did the same thing today.
But slowly, I hope we'll get there. I feel I can learn the most just along the way, and I was ready to leave tomorrow. But tomorrow there's a feast of giving the name to a new born baby of my best friend's friend, so I guess I'll stay one more day in Gorom, and try to leave Sunday morning.


A day with Tika

Sunday, 05 March 2006

I'm writing these words being sad - sad after having said goodbye to Tika, a bit sooner than I expected. And happy - happy with all the magical moments we lived together. I'm not sure if I can say he started to love me. But for sure he started tolerating and accepting me with patience and a camel smile. And the couple of days of walk were among the most intensive in my life. It would take too long to describe it all - so for now, I'm attaching just one day of my diary from the road with Tika.


28 February
The first thing I see coming out of the hut today, are women and girls pounding the millet with long wooden sticks. As soon as I come out, a bowl is thrust into my hands:
- The chief of the village sends you 'masa'.
That is round greasy millet cakes which I share with the kids running around in front of the hut. At one of the morning stalls in the village I drink a bowl of 'bui' (a thick millet porridge). I go to say thank you and goodbye to the hospitable village chief and come back to get ready. Chief's brother helps me to fasten the backpack behind Tika's hump, and, accompanied by the crowd of kids, personally asists me and Tika out of Falagountu, to the road. There I order Tika to sit down, and to the delight of the excited crowd, I give a performance of a white woman getting on white camel, and slowly disappearing into the sun bathed horizon. It turns out that the road was going only as far as Falagountu. From here it is a dusty path, with tracks of donkey carts, bicyckles and footprints, often splitting into a couple alternative ones, when the main one gets too sandy. I try to keep to the larger one, in order not to get lost. It was too easy up until now - following one clear road. Now this path leads more or less straight to the Nigerian border. I'm not sure if I can call it a desert, but the surrounding landscape is full of thorny bushes growing out of the sand, and once in a while some thorny trees. And some flat top mountains appear on the horizon. I pass a cluster of simple round earth-brick huts, surrounded by smaller ones with no door, just a tiny window - these are millet storages. A group of colourfully dressed women with large silver coins in their hair and buckets of water on their heads wave to me as I pass them by. And some long robed, turbaned Tuaregs carrying long swords, on bicyckles and ocassionally motorcycles give me a surprized glance and 'Salam Aleikum' as they swish by. There's about 15 kilometers to the last Burkinabe village. Although I know it's an unacceptable behaviour, I let Tika stop and munch on some dried up grass or the leaves of a thorny bush. The heat becomes more and more intense. A man with a colourful dress and a donkey cart with two metal barrels says hello. It turns out he's coming from the same place as me, that is Gorom Gorom area. What is he doing here? He's going to fill the barrels with water and on the Nigerian side head into the desert to sell the water in the nomad settlements. That's the only way he can make some money. He asks wheather I have anything to eat.
"I only have things that require cooking." I say, "Rice, beans, pasta. When we make it to the village and find anything there, I invite you for a meal.
And... is it far still?
"No, no. We're almost there."
'Amost there' can mean anything here. Anyway, the donkeys are trotting at about the same speed as Tika's walking, so we're going together. The village of Sela isn't really a village, just a couple of scattered buildings. And a well, around which a local crowd together with some cattle is gathered. I come up with Tika and he quenches his thirst making funny faces. My friend with the donkeys is going to fill up his barrels here and tells me to head on - according to different sources, it's three to five kilometers to the first Nigerian village, and we'll meet there. So we walk on, crossing the dried up river - I guess - a border. With no passport control, with no stamps. Luckily - because I don't have neither a Burkina nor a Nigerian visa. Nor entry or exit stamps from the last couple of countries. So - on a camel back I enter a new African country. The first round huts that I pass here aren't even earth-brick ones, they're made just of straw matts. But the village is still far away, more like five rather than three kilometers. When the houses of Amarasinge finally appear, my friend with his donkey cart shows up as well. We stop just before the village. I take down the saddle and the luggage and put it in the shade of a tree, and a young Tuareg with adorned green robe and a sword agrees to look after the stuff and the camel for about fifty cents. My friend invites me to jump on his donkey cart, so this is how I enter the first Nigerian village. The sandy square in the village is taken by now empty market stalls. The weekly market here was yesterday. "Come to the marabu house" (Muslim spiritual leader), says my friend, " we can take a rest there." Marabu with long black robe, turban and a beard welcomes us enthusiastically. An elevated platform with a colourful matt - marabu's bed - stands in the middle of the dusty courtyard. And in the two opposite corners - two similar platforms, only with a little roof. Each one taken by one of marabu's wifes, surrounded by a group of half naked children. After a while of customary conversation with the marabu, my friend and I part to see if we can find anything to eat in the village. The only thing that they sell in front of one of the houses are the greesy millet cakes. But this is also a shop, so we agree that if I buy a kilo of rice and a kilo of beans, they'll cook it for us and bring it in an hour. We go back to the marabu's place where I get a comortable chair to sit down, and where a little crowd of locals gathers intrigued by my sight.
"Where are you from?" - asks one of the Tuaregs with sunglasses.
"From Poland."
"Poland? Is that on the Ivory Coast?"
"No. Let's see... how to explain that - that's quite the opposite direction than the Ivory Coast."
"I see."
After an hour a boy with a huge bowl of rice and beans shows up. The crowd leaves, while my friend and I sit down to the meal, inviting the marabu and his wives. The marabu only takes a few bites and goes back to studying a few pages with Arab writing - fragments of the Koran. But more than half of the bowl of food is left, and that goes to the wives and children. I feel I need to rest for a while. Marabu says there's no problem. My camel and I are welcome to stay here as long as we wish. We can continue tomorrow or whenever. He immediately sends some of his boys to bring the saddle and my backpack from under the tree, and to change the young Tuareg with guarding Tika. The youngest kids here run around naked. The older wear random pieces of garments. One boy only wears shorts. For another, maybe four year old one - a way too large jacket is his only piece of clothing, he doesn't seem to be bothered by the fact that he has neither shoes or underwear.
I spend the afternoon in the shade of the large tree, trying to concentrate on writing my diary. One of the wives is pounding millet. The other one sets out with a bucket on her head to fetch water. The boys are heading somewhere with a donkey, the marabu lies down in the middle of his kingdom, and a young goat takes a sip out of the bowl of water brought for me. My friend from Burkina says goodbye and heads on into the desert.
I give Mohammed, marabu's oldest son, a packet of tea and a handful of sugar from my supplies brought from Gorom Gorom. The youngest kids scrounge for some half burnt coal and Mohammed sets off to brew some tea on a traditional metal thing with coal. I realize the depth of their poverty when he asks me whether he should use the whole of just half of the packet of tea. I assure him half is more than enough. Everwhere else, in Mali and Burkina, one little packet was just for one brew - a brew of super strong, super sweet tea, served in tiny quantities, usually three rounds of it. Mohamed who has never been to school and can't read or write, speaks quite good French which he somehow picked up. Only two of his younger brothers attend school. It lookes like they have no habbit of sending girls to school.
It gets dark. I take out my last candle, the candle that broke into two halfs. When I lit up one half of it, Mohammed's numerous brothers and sisters run, sit around and stare at the flame.
"Maybe we could blow it off for now, until the water boils," suggests Mohammed.
"No, it's OK. It's nice with the light," I say, realizing at the same time that it might sound a little extravagantly, in the place where the half of my candle is the only light in the village during this moonless night.
"Mohammed, how many children does your father have?" I ask out of curiosity.
"Maybe... about fourteen, I guess." - says Mohammed hesitantly.
One of the wives appears out of the darkness carrying a huge bowl. The evening meal. It's the marabu, two wives, the oldest teenage daughter, and eighteen year old (looking more like fourteen) Mohammed, that sit around the bowl. I'm invited as well. The meal consists of rice. Plain boiled white rice, with a little bit of oil. The younger kids have to wait until the older finish. I decide to leave the marabu and his family most of my supplies tomorrow morning.  
So this is just one day of my trip with Tika. This one's more about people than Tika. But... yes, I miss him badly, now that I said goodbye to him. Some people asked me how much I paid for my camel. It's no secret - I paid exactly 500 Euros. But - it turns out, I'm not the best camel dealer. I sold him in Niger for about two thirds of the price. So - next time you buy a camel - you should better get it in Niger and sell it in Burkina than other way round. Or maybe... maybe it doesn't matter anyway, because as a white person here you're gonna loose either way. That is loose if counting only money. But experiences, moments, lessons, laughter, surprises... are countless. And they'll stay forever. It's hard to describe it all. So I'm just sharing some of the random photos - as there was nobody really who could take photos of us together. For now - just the ones from the Burkina part of the trip. From the Nigerian, and the day I'm describing in the attached fragment, I hope to upload some photos tomorrow.

My first giraffe

Saturday, 11 March 2006

Niger is a vast, fascinating, desert country. The most visited region is the area around the ancient desert town of Agadez, some 500 kilometers from Niamey. However, right now I didn't feel like making a long dusty trip in this heat, only to be hassled by the locals to do a touristic camel trip to the desert, just as I came back from my own. So I decided to head back towards Burkina and then slowly towards the coast. But just as I was about to leave Niger, I heard that this is the place where you can see the last giraffes in West Africa - and not even in a national park, but just wandering about the area and small villages. So I spent one more day here hitching to the giraffe area. This is the first large wild animal I saw in Africa. The mighty male giraffe, knowing that nowadays he's quite safe and has nothing to fear from humans, mostly ignored me and let me slowly approach quite close as he was munching on the leaves of some thorny tree, with the help of his long tounge. Some more photos in the newest album.
I'm now back in Oagadougu, BUrkina Faso, staying with Irene, the local friend I met here last time.


Mali again


Thursday, 23 March 2006

isn't he the cutest puppy in the world?

Having sold my white camel in Niger, and after spending a couple of days in Niamey and then after visiting one of the last giraffes in West Africa, I hitched back to Burkina Faso. Burkina, for many reasons, is one of my favourite countries ever, so I spent some time with friends in Ouagadougu again, and then headed back to Mali, to visit the Dogon Country.
The Dogon Country is fascinating with its fairy tale architecture and the mythology. But me, I couldn't concentrate much on the sights because of what happened the first evening when I arrived in the little village of Kani Kombole... It was late afternoon, I just came down from the rock escarpment where I visited ruins of the houses abandonned by the Tellem civilisation. I came down to the village and saw a crowd of people, mostly kids and teenagers, each boy carrying a large stick, waiting in excited anticipation in front of a millet storage building. The earth building stands on the rocks, so that there's a little space between the earth and the floor, and that'w where the eyes of the crowd were directed, and that's where some kids were poking their sticks.
"What's going on?" I asked the young guy who was following me.
"There's an animal."
"What animal? A snake?"
"No, not a snake."
"What is it?!"
"A dog. A little dog."
"Are they going to kill the dog?"
"Yes, we don't eat dogs."
"Don't kill the dog!"
"Dogs are no good."
"Don't kill the dog! I'll take it."
He talked to the old man in charge of the dog hunt, and he agreed. But apparently not all the boys understood, because when the little puppy dog finally appeared chased out from his hiding place and started running for his life, the crowd went wild and one of the boys delivered a hit before I managed to catch and hide the terrified and scowling puppy in my arms. I sat on the stone, holding the trembling puppy, tears flowing down my cheeks - tears of horror at what I just witnessed, and tears of happiness I arrived in time. Well, in the village where kids run around half naked and where there's hardly enough food to go around for the people, I understand how they might not be willing to feed a dog, but still, I just couldn't let a little puppy be smashed to death by sticks.
So here I am, not with a camel anymore, but with a puppy dog for a change. A little, traumataized dog, who lost the sight in one eye from the blow he received, and who for the first two days only wanted to hide at the sight of a human. Now, slowly he's becoming more trustfull, he's learning how to eat (until now he only drank his mother's milk), he had his first hitchhiking experience and today he even rode a motorbike with me and my friend in Segou. I named him Kani after the village he comes from - I'm not sure he wants to be reminded of that place, but still, this is the place where his life was saved. I still don't know what I'm going to do with Kani, but for now, we're enjoying each other's company.

he's becoming more trustfull

Waiting for Agnes

Monday, 27 March 2006

I'm writing this munching on dehydrated, organic, live "Oh So Fudgie" Blessing's! From Alive and Radiant Foods - from the package that my friend Jason sent me from California to Bamako. He also sent some crayons and things for the local kids here, so I might try and organise a little art workshop soon.
There isn't a whole lot happening right now but I thought I would write to let you know what's up, anyway. So I'm back in Mali and waiting for Agnes - the French girl with the truk and the bouncy castle. She's taking a little break, travelling with the boat on the Niger river right now, but when she's back we might do something together. While waiting for her, I spent a couple of quiet days in Segou with friends I made over a month ago at the festival.
Yesterday I hitched with Kani to Bamako. Kani hasn't quite mastered the not-so-easy art of walking with the leash (I mean rope). So getting tagled between the rope and my legs, being genlty pulled and resisitng with the force of all four little paws, finally being carried in my arms, Kani made it with me to the road heading out of town. There, hiding from the sun he promptly crawled between by backpack and the metal barrel at the check point by the road.
In Bamako I went to see another mega concert last night. With Tiken Jah Falkoy as the main star. The stadium was packed with I don't know how many thousands of Malian youth - an amazingly enthusiastic crowd that went wild and the security guys were chasing the boys jumping the fence to get close to the stage, but they were fighting a loosing battle - soon the grass area was packed because there was no more room at the stadium benches. It was almost as much fun to watch the crowd as it was to see what's happening on stage. And when Tiken Jah appeared, the sound of a couple thousand people singing along was louder than his own voice amplified by giant loudspeakers.
I'm at the place of a guy who gave me a ride over a month ago when I was still travelling with Kati and Rebekah. He's not even here at the moment but he sent his cousin to meet me and make sure I'm comfortable. Again and again - African hospitality at its best. The cousin drives me around on his motorbike, was my body guard at the concert, finds milk for my dog and doesn't let me do my own laundry, giving it to his little sister - "this is how we do it in Africa". So life is good, even though it gets ubearably hot during the day, and I'm just hanging around waiting, but I'm enjoying every single day here.
And you can already see the latest photos in three new albums in the gallery.



Friday, 31 March 2006


I told you my American friend Jason sent me a package with some crayons, colouring books and stickers, and also some money to spread some joy among the local kids. I don't like handing out sweets or money to begging kids, so I had a better idea. I'm staying now with a friend in one of Bamako's neighbourhoods, with houses along the sandy streets, and it's here where I organised a little drawing workshop and competition. We only told the neighbours' kids in the morning to come with some friends and in the afternoon we had a courtyard bustling with a crowd of over fourty enthusiastic little artists. It was fun and you can see the results in the newest album in the gallery.

But talking about fun and observing life around me - I think the locals hardly need me or anybody to spread joy around here. It's only our western, posession preocupied perspective that leads us to believe that just because they're poor they're not happy. I believe Africans are actually the most cheerful, the most joyful and happy people I've ever met, and they're masters at being content and arriving far with the little what they have. A couple examples:
It's been over and over again that I see local kids gathered on the dusty street at night - they don't have a cassete player or a radio or not even drums, but they would sing and clap and drum with sticks on a rusty tin while the others would dance. These kids never took dancing classes but you should see them dance - with their entire bodies and souls, in a rythmical, sensual way with so much enthusiasm as if they were dancing at the concert of the most popular music band in the world.
When I was hiking with the local guide in Niger to look for the giraffe, he looked at my professinal hiking shoes with the 'Vibram' sole and remarked: "It must be hot and heavy walking with these." I assured him that it's OK, the shoes don't bother me much. He himself was walking, like most Africans, with cheap plastic flip flops - and me, I could hardly keep pace with him...
I had a local guy acompanny me to his family house. He offered to carry my backpack. The backpack with a waist belt, with an adjusted carry system and all - and... he swiftly placed it on his head and started marching faster than I did without carrying anything.

So while I don't think the locals need me for anything here - it's fun to participate in their joyful way of life, and if I can share anything myself, that's cool, too. Thanks Jason! We all had fun with your crayons and there's still some money left so I can buy more meals to the people begging on the streets or do other things if I come up with more ideas.

time to move on

Saturday, 08 April 2006

It turns out that Agnes, the French girl with the truck and the bouncy castle I was waiting for, has slightly different plans in the end. She's thinking of selling the truck that is too large and too expensive to run, maybe get something smaller, and then move, along a bit different way. So who knows, maybe we'll still meet again some other place later.
Anyway, it was nice to stay in Bamako during this mango season. It felt good to spend a while longer in one place, and walking down the street to be greeted by kids shouting "Kinga! Kani!" rather than usual annonymous "tubabu, tubabu!" (white person). In the two new albums you can see photos from Bamako and the area.
Now, it's time to get moving again. Kani and I are going to the road heading towards the Senegalese border again and then Gambia. It's a long, empty, dusty road, hope somebody will pick us up.

Bamako full of mangos


Gambia - alone again

Sunday, 16 April 2006

It's been the third day today and I'm still sad. The third day that I'm travelling on my own again... Yes, hitchhiking on the dusty roads of Africa in over fourty degrees heat with a little puppy dog who's scared of of strangers (and everyone except me is a stranger) and vehicles, and has to be carried half of the time, turned out not to be easy. It was a beautiful experience, though. From the moment that he started travelling with me, Kani's status changed dramatically - from a homeless, unwanted village dog to the favourite puppy of a white woman. Suddenly eveybody liked him, people shared food, kids were kind and gentle. So Kani, vacacinated, with a proper dog's health booklet (kind of a doggy passport) crossed with me from Mali into Senegal and then into the Gambia. In Basse, a small tow in the remote, eastern part of the Gambia I stayed with a nice local family. Kani seemed to like it there. He wasn't hiding in the darkest corner like always before but started happily exploring the large courtyard, and even making friends with the family's kids... It was a hard, heartbreaking decission. They promissed they would look after him and treat him just like a family member. Still, I couldn't stop crying for a long time. I had never loved any animal as much as this clumsy, half blind puppy dog who loved me too with pure, unconditional love.




I guess it's Africa that triggers the strongest emotios. Everything seems more intense here. The heat is hotter, the dust dustier, the colours brighter, the mangos juicier, music enters right into the heart, poverty hits the bottom, the joy of life reaches the sky and hospitality - is just uncomparable.

I get off the truck in the middle of some dusty Gambian town. A guy grabs my backpack.
"Hey, where are you going with my backpack?"
"I'll help you carry it to the bush taxi station."
"I'm not going to the station. I'll spend the night here."
"You have a place to stay?"
"Not yet."
"Come to my house."
He doesn't want any money. He's not hitting on me, either. He's a 23 year old road construction worker who works twelve hour day shifts for the equivallent of one Euro a day. He doesn't understand when I ask him why he invited me. Isn't it self explanatory - I'm s stramger in his town, I have no place to stay. Isn't it the most obvious and natural thing that he should invite me...

Now - once you're a guest, you're sacred - they'll do anything for you. I still had some crayons left and wanted to see how kids' world in Mali compares to to here in Gambia, so at the family where I left Kani I asked if I could invite some kids for some crayon fun. And again, it turned out to be a slightly humbling experience. While we want to believe we're doing something for them (bringing joy to their poor children), they really do it to satisfy us: "You want a salad? We'll get you some salad. You wish to buy a white camel? We'll help you look for a white camel. You desire to see children dawing? We'll get you some children right away. How many do you need? Are these ones good, or you want older or younger ones?" This is not to say the kids didn't have fun drawing. They totally did, and it seems kids' world in Gambia is at least as colourful as the one in Mali - see for yourself in one of the newest albums.

Anyway - if you're ever passing through Gambia, let me know - I'll give you the directions and you can visit Kani.


Reprint from site:, with permission of Chopin.


Source: Kinga Freespirit