#10 – Charity, mangoes and Fanta in North Senegal
Rest out very well I faced my last day in Mauritania. The road became from good to worse to really bad and almost not cyclable. However, it was all compensated by the surrounding, which now was full with trees, water, donkeys, horses, cows, boars, camels and more. It was a real feast to see so many wild animals living together.
With mixed feelings I experienced this intense country. Although I don’t regret visiting this place, it’s not likely that I will return to here. After 60 km I entered the border to a new country: Senegal. I cycled to Saint-Louis, a picturesque city with old French houses along a boulevard. But that’s not where I was going to today.
I found a host on Warmshowers, living in one of the poorest area’s of the city. He’s working at an association to educate children and assist pregnant women. It was all very interesting and he showed me around at his working place.
Yesterday and today I have mainly been working on my laptop in the center of the association of my host. Two French people arrived and they represent a group of 80 persons back in their country. This group supports a full class of kids in order to let them go to school. The French couple was here to meet the kids, to hear about the results in school and to bring some new clothes.
It was very amusing to be among so many happy kids. Everyone, even the smallest, shake hands with each other, like proper adults. The woman are dressed in very beautiful and rich colored dresses. People walk in and out the entire day and there is even a big turtle walking around.
All in all, a very impressive time, and it didn’t leave me empty minded. For some time I have been thinking about making a platform where kids can start learn to learn online. They can learn how to make products on a computer, they just don’t know about the opportunity. My host seemed interested in applying this platform in his association. The power of the platform should be that it can be used everywhere and everyone can help build it. And the ultimate goal is to let kids, or even adults, become good in particular tasks so they might get a future by earning money online.
Working, working, working
I walk to the center of the association, over the sandy roads. A lot of kids I pass try to tell me something, assuming that I know their language. I stop at a shop to buy some bread. During the payment, first two other people are being helped who came in after me. I’m probably too slow. As I continue, I recognize some kids from the association and they recognize me. We shake hands without saying too much.
During the day I’m working out all kind of ideas on my laptop. We have lunch with 7 people, eating a rice dish on one big plate. After lunch there is a meeting in which I explain my idea to set up a learning platform, and they tell me they want to implement it to their program.
After ‘work’ I go to a house where street food is sold. The woman smiles when she recognizes me. I order a baguette with beef, onions, lettuce and fries with some mixed spices. I walk to Baye, my host, who also works in a computer service shop. We play a football game and he wipes my ass twice.
Today I got a special haircut, by Alima Baz. She won the Meilleur Ouvrier de France award in 2015. It doesn’t say so much to me, but the picture of her and president Hollande indicates that the price has quite some value. After me, all the other staff members of the association get a professional coupe.
That afternoon we go to the beach with some kids. We went there by bus and it’s only once that I’ve seen so much music, party and laughter inside a bus. On the beach the party continues and the kids seem to have a real great time. And I’m just happy to be part of it.
Doing what I came for
I was honored to give a small course for some people of the association I spent the past five days at. I offered to make a website with WordPress for them and some of the employees were interested to learn about it. After the course it was time to say goodbye to some people. Tomorrow I had the plan to start cycling again.
In the afternoon I finally did what I came to do in Saint-Louis. I went to see the scenic French villages on an island just next to the main land of the city. Once, this part was inhabited by French people and many of the large colorful houses still stand. I visited one of the cafes and tried to enjoy my first beer in more than two months.
Although I enjoyed the taste of the beer, it might have been better not to drink it. For the whole week I was having problems with my stomach, probably because of the malaria medicines. I felt a bit weak and tired for the entire day, so I went to bed very early, hoping that I will feel better tomorrow.
Fanta cool down
Back on the bike day! For six full days I haven’t been cycling. After saying goodbye to my host Baye I got myself out of the city. In just 30 minutes of cycling I saw a peleton of flamingos standing in the water, six pelicans flying over the road in a V-shape, who were just about to land in a lake, and some other impressive birds.
Around noon I was more or less forced to have a break of a few hours. The heat made cycling impossible. A cold Fanta and some canned fruit tasted more delicious than ever. After a while I started cycling again, but after 15 minutes I had to take a break again. The next attempt allowed me to be on the road for 30 minutes, and the next one 45 minutes, as the temperature was dropping slowly.
I’m not sure how warm it was today, but the 8 liters of water I drank today gave me an indication. I found an Islamic education center to set up my tent. I couldn’t talk with the owner, but when I showed him my wood stove, he kindly gathered some wood and straw for me.
I filled my stomach with dried bread and chocolate spread, and left the Islamic school early to cycle in the colder part of the day. The dry bread caused a little trauma for my appetite. The rest of the day I managed to do without it, and ate just fruit, yogurt and chips instead.
As I head towards West Africa, more and more baobab trees could be seen. In the overall plain and dry landscape the presence of the trees looks majestic. These trees can grow up to 11 m wide and some of them have been dated to be more than 2000 years old.
At the end of the day I stop in a small village and ask to see the chief. This is the person to ask about the possibility to camp in their village. Unfortunately it wasn’t. I continued and found some water wells near the road, with some workers who were growing vegetables. “No problem”, one of the persons respond to my request, while he handed me a bucket of fresh ground water. To drink without a filter, relatively cold water, straight out of a bucket, that was a great pleasure for real.
Being a farmer for a day
Helping on a vegetable farm, why not? I spend the night next to it and I was interested in how working on the land is like in Senegal. It was 10:30 when we started, when the sun started to strike us with an intense heat.
The job was simple. I or Khalid, the farmer owning this place, had to pull up a bucket of water from the 12 m deep put, pour it into another bucket which was connected to a pipe. The water would flow into a base just five meters further ahead. From the base we could collect the water and give it to the plants. However, after just half an hour of pulling buckets, my soft hands started to loose skin. Luckily there was an half broken engine to help us out and provided a solid stream of fresh ground water for some time.
After work Khalid invited me to come to his house. Khalid and six other members of his family shared a delicious lunch with me, which contained rice with fish and vegetables, all from one big bowl. After lunch he showed me his skills of repairing an engine. Many people came by to see either him or ‘the stranger’.
I took a few last sips from the bucket of ground water and left the camping spot. For sure I’m going to miss the opportunity to drink an unlimited amount of water without a filter. Drinking water with a filter is an extra step to take and the flow is not very fast, which makes it unpleasant to use it. However, I see it as the best option there is during this trip.
Beside the road are dozens of places to get food. Mangoes are stashed on small tables, and they taste super delicious. Every village has at least a few places were you can buy a baguette filled with a mix of spices, onions, potatoes and eggs. Using Nescafe instant coffee is the trusted way to get caffeine.
Next to a busy road I found a family who allowed me to camp at their house. The kids were not shy and even helped me with making photos. Unfortunately we couldn’t communicate well. At these moments I blame myself for not having learned French well enough.
The family I was staying woke up early like me. The kids took me to a shop where I could have breakfast and a coffee. The shop was nothing more than a hut at another families house. The kids seemed to be very happy with the chewing gum I gave them in return.
Once on the road I had to search for a clothes maker. My only casual pants got ripped open a few days ago and everyone was able to see my underpants. It wasn’t difficult to find and the sewing woman helped me out quick. Just a few kilometers later I heard the sounds of drums. A group was practicing and they invited me to use the left over drum. It was very funny, but my feeling of rhythm wasn’t even close to theirs.
After passing countless villages with small houses and plenty of kids to whom I said goodbye almost all the time, I preferred to be alone for the night. I found a nice hidden spot under a baobab tree and cooked myself a curry with fresh vegetables. It was the first time in this trip that I used fresh vegetables.
Meeting my neighbors
As soon as daylight struck the first trees I packed my stuff and moved towards the border to The Gambia. Now, there was a lot of vegetation in the area I was passing, and I even had to get used to the shadows that were dropped on me regularly. For the past two months I haven’t experienced too much shadows on the road.
The border to The Gambia was very easy and there was no tension at all. Just a few kilometers after the passage I had to take a ferry, of which almost every square meter was covered with a human, a car or trading material. After the ferry it was time to move to Serrekunda, where I would meet Marga and Bert, my neighbors from my mom’s house.
They are here for holiday and to meet friends. I met them at a resort where they were staying at. It was very pleasant to see familiar faces, and after a beer we went to meet their friends Bashirou, Awa and their five children. My neighbors are always invited to have dinner at their place. It has been a long time since I laughed so much and I couldn’t imagine a better start in The Gambia.