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Tomba and Abunda

Guinea Bissau back to Senegal to The Gambia to Senegal

The most wonderful thing didn’t happen when we left Varela, Guinea Bissau. No one asked us for money! Everyone had been welcoming to us just because they were kind people. I’d been having a surprisingly hard time giving away the massive amounts of school supplies and kids stuff I’d collected from generous people in the US. Both because I had so much, and because giving things to the greedy “Cadeau! Cadeau!” kids just felt wrong. In Mauritania we’d given supplies to Alioune’s mother to distribute responsibly rather than directly to the children – the former felt more appropriate. We were very happy in Guinea Bissau then, to find out that Alieu was able to give the considerable remainder to a local school. Given that I’d had lengthy conversations with various children throughout our journey about why they needed a pen in order to succeed in life, I think that the supplies ended up going to a good place.

We made it back through the Guinea Bissau and Senegal borders easily, where it took them 30 seconds to stamp the carnet, something that had taken three hours in Dakar. For the first time, my New Zealandness was afforded the appropriate appreciation, and I was told how pretty my passport was (it really is – black with a silver fern) and Rugby! All Blacks! the official exclaimed. In one of the infinite immigration offices another policeman insisted I give him my email address so I could help him get into New Zealand. I can understand the compulsion to escape Senegal for sure. We did receive a rather thorough police search immediately after entering Senegal, where Rick got reprimanded for not having prescriptions for his medicine, although nothing was confiscated.

We stayed at Le Flamboyant in Ziguinchor again, where for the first time since leaving Ireland we were told the hotel was full. The nice staff made a few phone calls though, and discovered some other guests were going to cancel, so they found us a spot. The next day we set off for The Gambia, which bisects most of Senegal. We’d avoided it on the way south because we drove around it, through Niokola Koba park. Unfortunately a great big river, aptly named The Gambia, runs through Gambia, so we needed to take a ferry across – something I’d really hoped to avoid. We’d been told by multiple sources that the main ferry crossing at Banjul, the capital, was madness, so we headed east to Farrafeni, hoping for a more hassle free experience. Just our luck though, we’d hit it the day before a huge religious festival. Cars and trucks were lined up for miles before the ferry landing and it looked like it’d be hours before we would made it anywhere. I knew it was a bad sign when people started setting up equipment to boil tea outside their cars (African tea boiling is no joke) and truck drivers had bedding, pots, and stoves laid out under their cabs. It didn’t help that we didn’t realize we needed to get a ticket at a town a couple of miles back, and had to turn around, losing our spot in line.

For the first time we intentionally wanted to bribe a policeman. Rick set off in search but the crowd was maddening and it is more difficult than you’d think, involving several chains of command, stifling heat, and hundreds of people communally screeching at the few officials in charge. I inched forward about 50 meters every hour until a couple of hours later I was shocked to see Rick riding through the crowd of thousands of people on the back of a policeman’s motorcycle! This was good news, because we got to go ahead of hundreds of cars, but still left us sitting for another hour or so waiting for the ferries to off-board cars, trucks, people, and cattle, onboard cars, trucks, people and cattle, ship to the other side of the river, and back again, and so on. All the while us being screamed at “Enter now!”, “Stop!”, “Go now!!” ending up in a complete melee with the men who were yelling conflicting instructions at us eventually yelling at one another. An agonizingly loud, slow, and inefficient process. As usual we were surrounded by children, all wanting to sell cookies or cloth. Their perseverance was astounding. One little girl stuck with me for about an hour even though I tried to explain to her that I did not need six meters of material and that her resources would be better spent distributed over a larger population than just me. Blank stare. I gave her a pencil thinking that would be useful, but she just bit off the eraser on the end and started eating the metal top.

I was very proud of Rick because I’d thought he’d saved us 2-3 hours of queue waiting. Just figuring out exactly who to talk to, when no one is speaking English or French (even though it was The Gambia, where the national language is English) is unbelievably confusing. I even tried to bribe the children to help Rick bribe the right people. What we didn’t know at the time, which Rick found out by talking to a random stranger later on in Senegal, was that it wasn’t a couple of hours he’d saved us, it was closer to TEN. The chap Rick was chatting to spent Fourteen hours in that same queue. As it was, we were there for 4-5. The river itself was maybe a 15 minute crossing. I could have built a raft and swum us over faster. I feel even worse for the truck drivers. There were three ferries, only one took trucks, and that only took two trucks at a time. As there were hundreds of trucks (lined on the opposite side of the road) some of them might have been there for days.

Eventually though, we made it out of The Gambia and back to Senegal. And, as we might expect, the usual shenanigans from Senegal’s finest. The first, a policeman who wanted us to reverse. We do not know that word in French and repeating it louder and louder is not going to aid our comprehension. Problem solved when the policeman started walking backwards. Satisfied with whatever it was he was after he then cheerily told us that today we would have new names. He pronounced me Tomba and Rick Abunda. And so it is.

Our next episode with the police made me as furious and angered as I’ve been this entire trip and is a fitting representation of Senegal our last few days here. This time the charge was for having luggage in the back seat. Codswallop!! Every other car is jam packed with crap including meters high on the roof rack. Same old balderdash about needing to pay at the commissariat, but an “arrangement” can be made if we want to take care of it quickly. Rick finagled this down to $10 but I was mad, mad, mad and wrote rude words all over my notepad. But, because the Senegalese are so bloody hospitable, they did invite him to share their lunch.

Did I mention: don’t go to Senegal


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