A Travellerspoint blog

Senegal

Animist Africa

Traditional kings, sacred forests and festive circumcisions are best enjoyed with some new quality company.

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Boys walking to their Ceremony

Boys walking to their Ceremony

We arrived at the village without much idea of what to expect. Our guide from the day before had simply told us that there would be a festival taking place. From the back seat of the motorbikes that took us there, the very first thing we spotted was a tent selling beers and soft drinks. Very much like a festival back home. The next thing, however, not so much. Around fifteen boys, the youngest under ten and the oldest in their early twenties, was led into the village by a village elder. The elder was dressed all in red, while the boys – walking, very ceremonial in single file – were dressed in nothing but skirts of dried leaves.

Astrid also like beer

Astrid also like beer

But first thing first. I’m writing “we” because I’ve picked up some semi-perminant company. I’m lucky enough to have some adventurous friends, who don’t mind flying down to Africa to visit me (and don’t mind roughing it either), so I’ve picked up Astrid in Banjul’s airport about a week ago. I know Astrid from university, where we both worked for the student union. Besides that she has a big travel heart – particular for Nepal. As she has already visited the mountainousness country once this year, I have managed to talk her into joining me in Africa. Thus I have company for the next month. After a few days of resting, we headed out of the Gambia, into southern Senegal and the Casamance region.

Ceremonial Dancing

Ceremonial Dancing

Like the far southeast, southern Senegal is far from the glitter and glamour of Dakar’s fancy nightlife (and equally far from the misery of Dakar’s shanty towns). Here are as many – if not more – animist believers than Christians or Muslims. The traditions here are thus far from what I have experienced anywhere else I’ve travelled. Or back home for that matter. Here is a culture traditional to Africa. Maybe even to West Africa. Without any influence from it’s northern neighbours – both Arab and European. Astrid and I thus had some difficulties deciphering what is going on around us, but have managed to get a somewhat comprehensive idea pieced together by asking locals on site.

Boys of the Festival

Boys of the Festival

What we were attending was a circumcision ceremony for the village boys. It’s a huge, two day festival drawing crowds from many of the neighbouring villages. It’s especially celebrated because it’s a rare occasion. Our guide said that this particular village had not held such a festival for the past 20-30 years. However, based on the age-span between the youngest and oldest boys it’s is more likely to be 10-15 years since this village last circumcised its boys. Neither Astrid nor I are supportive of the idea of circumcision for any other than medical reasons, but we are also not gonna walk into an African village and disapprove of their customs or traditions. These traditions are part of why we went to Africa in the first place, part of the experience whether we like them or not.

Large festival crowds

Large festival crowds

The circumcision is also celebrated because it’s a coming of age ritual. These boys and young men aren’t allowed to marry before they have gone through the ritual, so some of these guys must have been looking forward to this day for years. The ritual is not just two days of festival. The festival is just their sending away party. The festival finished with the boys leaving the village, together with the elders, to go live in the bush for an entire month. This, I should add, with bleeding penises as the circumcisions are performed in the beginning of the month. What they are going through exactly is still clouded in mystery, as we wasn’t able to find any answer to this. Most of the people we talked with simply lived in other villages, were the rituals are slightly different, and none was willing to disclose their own rituals as they are traditionally hidden from strangers and outsiders

Traditional dancer

Traditional dancer

The festival itself consisted of a lot of drumming, dancing, and drinking. More than once we found people who’d just fallen over from where they stood due to the drinking. Most people, though, were on their feet. The boys in particular were leading the dancing. With the drums in the middle they danced their tribal dance around the drummers, with plenty of villagers and guest joining them, with an even larger crowd of spectators standing in an even larger circle around them.

Mortar flower box

Mortar flower box

Common for everyone – to our surprise – was the weapons. Most people were carrying large sticks and clubs, plenty had machetes and some were yielding large knifes. Two guys even carried around mortar launchers (though we didn’t see any grenades). When we asked about all the weaponry, the only answer we got was that it was “for protection.” We hope it was against evil spirits, but with all that drinking going on and a rather rowdy atmosphere, we couldn’t rule out that they were simply carrying weapons for personal protection. Sincerely hoping that it wasn’t for the latter reason, we thankfully never saw anyone acting aggressively.

Village Elders leading the boys

Village Elders leading the boys

It was all rather chaotic, and Astrid and I managed to get lost from each other on multiple occasions. Once when the entire festival suddenly began moving towards the bush in one big wave of people. Women and outsiders are generally not allowed to be part of the ceremony’s ‘bush-parts,’ so separately we both got into trouble for walking too far out towards the bush. Astrid got yelled at before an old woman kindly brought her back to ‘safer’ grounds, while my turning back was a bit nicer. A few guys came up to me, indicated that I wasn’t allowed any further and then, as a way to lure me away from the ceremony, offered me tea in their house on the opposite side of the village. I declined and instead went looking for Astrid, who I manage to find close by before having a last beer and leaving the festival behind.

Animist King (of 17 villages)

Animist King (of 17 villages)

As if this circumcision ceremony wasn’t enough animist experience for one day, we manage to secure a visit with the local animist king once we’d returned to the larder village we stay in. It’s not especially easy to arrange such a visit, as there is proper procedures and traditional rituals that must be followed when requesting an audience. But somehow, with the help of a couple of locals, we were brought to the sacred forest in which the King lives. The king is chosen by the village elders, for life, on a rotatory system between the areas’ three eldest families. It’s not necessarily a desired role, as the king has to give up his planned carrier and is not allowed to travel (ever) beyond those seventeen villages that this traditional kingdom consists of. His role is to act as advisor, broker, conflict manager, social security (if villagers go hungry, they can ask for rice from the king’s field) for the villagers, who seek audience. He is also somewhat of a representative for the area to the regional and national elected politicians and governments. We didn’t ask for any rice, but simply tried to learn more about the traditional role of the king – and then we shared a few trivia about the Danish king, who to everybody’s big surprise is a woman.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 04:21 Archived in Senegal Tagged traditional travel king africa ceremony festival ritual celebration west_africa animist senegal circumcision africa_village elders Comments (0)

Is Traditional Africa Real?

The traditional Africa is real... but so is the rest of Africa!

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Is this the real Africa?

Is this the real Africa?

A cluster of small round huts, build by clay and with roofs made of straw., and usually hidden behind a wooden palisade. It almost seems like this is the standard idea of what an African village ought to look like. Throw in a couple of local women, wearing nothing by skirts, cooking over the open fire and its pure National Geographic. This is Africa. The ‘traditional Africa’ or – as I’ve seen it referred to, with no lack of slightly racist overtones – the ‘real’ Africa. Racist because it assumes that development and improvements of livelihood are not African – not ‘really’ African, anyway.

African fishing village

African fishing village

Not surprisingly, things here on the ground are a lot more complicated. Let’s just get that ‘real Africa’ nonsense out of the way. The ‘realness’ of Africa is whatever Africans choose it to be. Whatever they want it to be and whatever they can afford it to be (the African continent is, after all, still a poor continent). The glitter of Dakar’s high-class bars, the Mauritanian nomads in their tents, the Nairobi slums and the fishing villages all over the African coast. This is all the real Africa – a hugely diverse continent. Maybe the most diverse in the world with more than fifty countries and thousands of languishes and ethnic groups.

Typical village market

Typical village market

Travelling along Senegal’s coast, or in Morocco and Mauritania, I didn’t see one village that would fit the National Geographic description above. Everywhere, houses were built of concrete bricks, they were square and had tin or brick roofs. Many had multiple floors and was painted in all the colours of the rainbow. Modern commodities, satellite television, mobile phones, etc., etc. was available in abundance. To such a degree that I was beginning to wonder whether the continent had moved completely beyond the straw-roofed huts. After all, Africa is also a continent progressing rapidly. What seems more likely, is that the further I get into Sub-Saharan Africa and the further I get away from the coast, where much of the region's economic is centred, the closer I get to the ‘traditional Africa’. All in all, it primarily seems to be an economic question.

View from my hut

View from my hut

Beelining 600 km inland from the Sale-Saloum National Park towards the Bassari Country in the southeastern Senegalese highlands, the roadside villages began to change character. Smaller huts began to emerge amongst the concrete houses. More and more, until most villages only had a handful of these houses amongst the huts. ‘Traditional Africa’ seems to be alive and well the further I get away from the economic centres. However, this is also a truth with modifications. While many of these towns and villages do not have electricity 24/7, they do have it at certain times of the day. One village I stayed in had power between 8 am and noon, and again from 5 pm to 2 am.

'Traditional' Bedik woman

'Traditional' Bedik woman

I’d been lucky enough to be invited the house of former campartment owner and guide. His campartment had been temporarily closed down, due to a lack of visitors, so he figured he could make a little extra by setting me up in his hut for the night. The hut was one of those clay and straw things, placed inside an area fenced off by that wooden palisade. Inside the palisade, most buildings were round huts, meals were prepared on the open fire, but at the same time, the television showed Egyptian sit-coms and mobile phones were used to light the huts that were unlit as often as flashlights were used.
To my innate interest, the small fenced-off cluster of huts and houses were inhabited solely by brothers and half-brothers of the same father (who had a number of wives). They were living here with their wives and children, while their sisters (and half-sisters) had moved to their husband’s family's compartments. Thus, the village was ordered into family homes that formed smaller communities within the main village.

Bassari Country

Bassari Country

However, finding those entirely traditional villages, without modern commodities, is a matter of exactly that: finding them. For there are not all that many left. Though it is possible, you need to know where to look. One of the most accessible regions for these traditional villages is the Bassari Country. Named after the largest of the tribes inhabiting the region there is actually three tribes living in a few dozen of villages, the Bedik, the Fula and the Bassari. These tribes are fiercely independent. They have fought off influence from Islam, colonialism and globalisation in turn and still keep a largely animalist belief system (though elements of Catholicism have made headway). The tribes don’t intermingle or intermarry, and each village consists of just a few extended family with the same roots. I visited a Bedik village of 650 people. All being members of one of four extended families. Only eight other Bedik villages exist, and it’s between these nine villages – thirty-six families – that the tribe have survived for generations.

The Nat Geo village is real

The Nat Geo village is real

Here were no mobile phones, no televisions and no electricity. For visitors to be granted access to the village, it is still necessary to bring tribute to the village chiefs. I and my guide and translator brought groundnuts, soaps and candy. Larger groups sometimes bring whisky. Currently reading about Livingstone’s explorations in Africa, it was hard not to make the comparison in my head (though it’s a very silly comparison). The guides are typically part of the communities or neighbouring communities and are thus an excellent introduction to the cultural aspects of these villages. Whether they are able to point out the holy Baobab trees or talking the villagers into sharing their corn stew with me. I particularly enjoyed how my guide was able to get us some large tasting sessions of the village’s mullet beer and palm wine.

And for those wondering. Yes, upper body clothing were optional for women - primarily because it makes breastfeeding of the young a lot easier.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 07:15 Archived in Senegal Tagged travel village travelling west_africa senegal traditional_village pays_bassari bassari fula bedik iwol bassari_country traditional_africa Comments (0)

Village Jumping in the Mangrove Forests

Moving slowly, village by village, with whatever transportation that becomes available.

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The fishermen

The fishermen

As the fishers sailed closer to the beach, they yelled for my attention. One of them jumped off the pirogue, into the shallow waters of the delta, and ran towards me the best he could despite being knee-deep in water. While Senegal, and in particular, the Saloum Delta, is a welcoming place this greeting was enthusiastic beyond the norm. A short chat later excited that I was Danish, he invited me closer to the boat to show me that one of his crew-mates was wearing a second-hand t-shirt that spelt COPENHAGEN with large letters underneath a Dannebrog – the Danish flag. I’m not nationalistic whatsoever, but the coincident was indeed funny. In the middle of a little-visited delta on the Senegalese coast a Dane, stuck on a small island, runs into a fisherman wearing a shirt spelling out his hometown. (Let’s just forget the fact that the t-shirt was Carlsberg merchandise for the time being).

Sailing out of the Delta

Sailing out of the Delta

This encounter got me a ride off the island, on which I would otherwise have been stuck for an extra day as I had – apparently – missed the only public pirogue of the day. A girl from Dakar, who was on the island to sell toiletries, and in the same situation as me, quickly added herself to the party and thus were we two people who manage to get off the island due to a very random Danish connection. The truth is that these fishermen would probably have offered me a ride anyway – but now it suddenly came for free.

Delta village

Delta village

The whole reason for me being stuck on an island in a Senegalese delta you ask? Besides that, I’m travelling, and that tend to get me automatically stuck in weird situations in odd places? Well, this time, I’m village jumping through the UNESCO-recognised Sine-Saloum Delta. To the ones not familiar with the term ‘village-jumping’ it’s usually used when travelling through areas without any long-distance transportation, proper infrastructure and large cities or towns. Here in a delta that consists of three major rivers, more than 200 islands and islets, and just 19 villages transportation are naturally limited. The next question usually follows: What am I doing here? If the beauty of drifting down a river, through mangrove forests, to the slow rhythms of ordinary African village life is lost on you, I don’t think I’m going to be able to explain it. Travelling in Africa can’t get much better than this – unless we’re attacked by a wild animal, that is. Now that would be a story to write home about.

Transport by public pirogue

Transport by public pirogue

Getting to the Delta was simply a matter of finding a car driving to the end of the road. Literally. The Senegalese coast before the delta ends in a kind of spit, a long narrow peninsula. Twenty years ago, the peninsula was about 50 km longer, but the ocean broke through it, thus ending the road very abruptly. From the village where the road ends, there’s a public pirogue to the village on the nearest island. Voilà, the jumping has begun. A pirogue is basically an over-sized canoe. About twenty metres long, a meter and a half wide, and – when fully loaded – only twenty centimetres above the water’s surface. Put a small outboard motor on it, and the locals have a boat that they will brave the open ocean in. I wouldn’t, and I’m happy we’re sticking to the slow moving waters between the green mangrove forests.

Delta du Saloum

Delta du Saloum

Having arrived at the island is was simply a matter of jumping overboard and walk the last few metres onto the beach. Plenty of villages here have community run campartments, usually consisting of a few one-room bungalows in a courtyard. So sleeping arrangements are easily found. Not in a hurry, and with a campartment right on the beach, it would almost be sacrilege not to stay put for the night. Having spent the night, I needed to cross the island to get to the next village. With no cars on the island, it was simply a matter of walking the 12 km. This distance equals the 12 kgs of my backpack and is a pretty proper distance of a day’s walk in the loose sand under Africa’s sun, fully packed.

Foot brigde

Foot brigde

For the first 10 km, the only encounter was a flock of long-horned cows walking alone through the sand. The disappeared between the trees as suddenly as they have appeared. They cared nothing for the sweating traveller, who was standing in their way. That changed for the better when I was overtaken by a local guy on a motocross bike, who promptly stopped to offer me a ride the last few kilometres. That got me to the end of the island were, to my surprise, there was a small footbridge to the next island. On that island was another campartment and I didn’t have to spend a night in my tent as I had originally planned.

Children swimming

Children swimming

This eventually brings us to the friendly fishermen from the beginning who sailed me back to the mainland. That might sound promising, but I still needed to get out of the mangrove forest. The girl from Dakar (remember her?), was kind enough to show me the sandy lot that made up the garage from where transportation would bring me to the main road, 20-ish km away. Here were plenty of cars. However, all was bombed out wrecks, and it became apparent very quickly that those cars were going nowhere. What there was instead was a bombed out minibus, which apparently had been judged roadworthy enough to take on the row of potholes that is called a road around here. What was also clear was that the minibus wasn’t going anywhere soon. It was almost empty, and while these things have seats for 18 people they easily fit 35-40. At least if one asks the driver. Further, all the luggage was still standing in the sand beside the bus. This is another indicator that the vehicle isn’t leaving soon.

Transport by donkey cart

Transport by donkey cart

So why not go local. Instead, of waiting most of the day for the bus to leave, I decided to hire once of the donkey carts to take me to the road. It’s slow, more expensive than the bus, and slightly less comfortable. But the expressions and the smiles on people we passed’s faces was worth it all. The cart also took all day, but we only got overtaken by the bus half an hour before we reached the road – which is enough for me to call it a win.

From the main road I began making my way inland, to some very traditional villages (think straw huts, etc.), but I’ll get back to that in a few days.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 02:04 Archived in Senegal Tagged travel transportation travelling mangrove delta pirogue west_africa senegal delta_du_saloum sine-saloum village_jumping Comments (0)

Back to Colonial Africa

Experiencing the highs and lows of African travel - all in the shade of the colourful colonial buildings that cluster certain islands here in Senegal.

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Saint-Louis Balcony

Saint-Louis Balcony

Wandering lazy down through the sand-covered streets, in the shade of colourful 19th-century balconies, to the sound of nothing but young children playing football. This scene has repeated itself multiple times a day for the past week. Only to be broken by the smell of Senegalese food that have lured me to hole-in-the-wall cafés; by the sounds and curious creations of workshops and galleries offering aesthetic change; or when my sore legs – as having a life of their own – have taken me to a watering hole for a drink and a chat with the locals.
Interestingly, this description works for both the places I’ve spent the past week in Gorée and, 300 km to the north, Saint-Louis. Both are islands. Maybe that’s what make these places feels alike. Gorée is a short, twenty-minute ferry ride from downtown Dakar.

Gorée in its Entirery

Gorée in its Entirery

The island of Saint-Louis is the centre of the much larger city of Saint-Louis, connected to the rest by no less than three bridges. They are both also some of the first locations for European settlements on the West African coast. As such, both islands are dominated by colonial buildings, creating two relatively unique spots in Senegal that still share both look and atmosphere. What they have in common is something best described as a laid-back and artsy atmosphere. Life moves slowly here, and that have attracted plenty of craftsmen and artists to both places. Regardless, my arrivals to the two locations couldn’t have been more apart.

Even before arriving on Gorée two sensations quickly hit. The chaos of Dakar vanished soon after the small, car-free ferry has left the terminal. A fresh and salty air trump the smell of car fumes and pollution. The sounds of the waves and the seagulls replace those of honking taxis and the yelling hustlers, who are constantly trying to relieve me from my West African Francs.

Gorée Harbour

Gorée Harbour

The island itself is visible from Dakar. It looks small. As we sail closer, it doesn’t seem to grow significantly. As was it magic, its small size seems to be fixed. Not too surprising for an island that is 900m long and less than 400m wide. As the ferry rounds the southern tip of the islands, a small natural harbour is revealed. An old fort’s cannons are pointing at us. The palms on the quay are swaying gently in the front of restored red and yellow colonial buildings to both our right and left. Straight ahead is a small beach, next to the pier where the ferry docks. Above it is more cannons point at us. And the bathing children’s screams and splashes now drown the sound of the waves. Stepping off the ferry feels like stepping out of a time machine. Gone are the common hassle of Dakar. Replaced by a scene from when pirates and slave ships cruised these waters. The change is welcoming. As much as the smell and smoke from the grilled fish that hits me just a few steps from the pier – so thick I can taste it. Here is nothing else to do, than to take it all in.

The lights of Pont Faidherbe

The lights of Pont Faidherbe

Arriving in Saint-Louis was less idyllic. Covered in sweat and dust, I arrived after the daylight had vanished. Is was so tired that I barely realised the taxi drove across the Pont Faidherbe Bridge to the island. Had it not been for its lights, lighting up my face’s tired features, I would have missed the 500m long bridge in its entirety. The journey up here had been one of a traveller’s worst nightmare. Delay upon delay. Until, with the lights of Saint-Louis in sight, the final shared taxi of the day broke down. Obviously. During the daylight hours, sept-places (literally, seven-seater) resemble sitting in a crowded sauna fully clothed. Having spent no less than eight hours like this, I was soaked. The sweat had made its way into both my eyes and my mouth. Unable to drink anything for the duration of the day, as it is Ramadan, the taste of the salty sweat had almost become pleasant. Solely unpleasant, however, was my clothes, sticking to my body like greasy tape.

Another car wreck still driving

Another car wreck still driving

My nails had gone from freshly washed to pitch-black and, on my head, the inside of my hat was as wet as a teenage girl’s inner thigh during a Justin Bieber concert. I was tired, dirty and done for the day, and the last thing I needed was the old, moist, rusty, fish-smelling, piece-of-shit taxi to break down. As it did a sandstorm blew up, and as we had to flag down passing cars down from the side of the road, it covered my fellow passengers and me in another layer of dust. As the foul-smelling dust on the bus stations hadn’t been enough. That night, I fell asleep as soon as a saw my hotel bed.

Back to the 50's

Back to the 50's

Having taken a shower and asked for a fresh set of sheets – yes, I had soiled them so badly by my share presents during the night – the next morning I made my way out into the streets. As miserable as my arrival had been, as splendid did the Island of Saint-Louis treat me. I had not walked a hundred metres before the smell of freshly baked French pastries hit my nostrils. They had real coffee too. With that, the quarrels of yesterday vanished with the steam of the freshly brewed coffee, and I had no desire to leave the peaceful island. Certainly, because that would mean another day in the sept-places’ sauna-like prison cells.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 02:26 Archived in Senegal Tagged travel africa transport pleasure arrival saint_louis senegal atmosphere pains saint-louis gorée sept-place Comments (0)

When Travellers Lie

When all the scores are settled, most travellers actually aren’t a lot better than the hustlers, con artists and other shady characters that prey on tourists in large cities of Africa.

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Dakar

Dakar

Dakar, where I’ve spent the past week, is a city full of hustlers, con artists, bumsters, pickpocketers, and... eh, professional ladies. Let me just say, right off the bat that I didn’t have any serious issues with this rather doubtful crowd. Like the majority of visitors to Africa’s big cities, my stay in Dakar was rather uneventful. Actually, my biggest issue was that the city’s best-known music venues had closed down for the month of Ramadan. If it wasn’t a contradiction a “damn you religious people” would be in order here – for the music here is one of Senegal’s highlights.

Dakar streets

Dakar streets

Of course, I got hassled. Everybody new to the big city does – foreigners and locals alike. However, I’ve seen most of their plays before. The “do you remember me from the hotel; please lent me some money” was tried a few time on me. Simply telling them that you know the scam and that they can bugger off usually works. The “my friend, can I ask you one question (after which I will drag you through my shop or attach myself to you for which I will eventually demand money)” people are best ignored. Though that might get you a few “are you racist?” shouts. If ignoring them doesn’t initially work, I’ve picked up a neat trick. Just wave your forefinger at them in that ‘no-no-no’ motion. It’s the same way locals tell passing taxis that they aren’t interested, and it works on the hustlers too. The ladies are a little more challenging, but their advances are innocent enough – as innocent as such things can be – and it's usually sufficient to explain to them that I’m not interested in their services – though a simple “not interested” is definitely not enough to scare them off.

Dakar nightlife

Dakar nightlife

It is just about here travellers’ lies enter the picture. It’s a lot nicer and easier to make something up like than to explain to them how I feel about prostitution. “I’m married” or more useful (as married men are often big business), “I love my girlfriend, and she’ll be here soon” are excellent explanations. Skip the last part if you’re staying the same place all night, the girls will be keeping their eyes on you.

But to be honest, lying tend to be an integrated part of travelling. Most of it is harmless and makes things such as border crossings easier. It is nonetheless lying. Leaving a country, we’ll insist that we don’t have any cash we need to declare to customs. I travel with the worth of approximately a thousand dollars in different hard currencies, just in case stuff goes sour. So I’m lying. Further, on entry forms, it’s necessary to state one’s occupation. I still write ‘student’. That’s a lie. Although that is mostly a matter of me not knowing what else to write. I’m not a student anymore. I wouldn’t consider myself ‘an unemployed,’ and ‘traveller’ still seems a bit absurd. While ‘photographer’ or ‘write’ (based on this blog) might land me some unpleasant questions in countries with more oppressive regimes.

Mauritania-Senegal Border Crossing

Mauritania-Senegal Border Crossing

Leaving Mauritania, I had semi-consciously overstayed my visa by nineteen days. I had not made any effort to extend my visa so I travelled 120 km out of my way to use a smaller border crossing, where I was less likely to get into trouble. Once there, I guilt-plagued declared that I had no idea that I had overstayed the visa, that I’ve acted in good faith and that I was very, very sorry. In fact, the opposite was the case. Smaller border-crossings don’t see many foreigners, and it is a lot easier to get away with acting like a stupid, unknowing tourist. Thus, my plan worked, and I got out scot free. Unlike some fellow travellers, I’d met, who took the bigger crossing a got fined a hundred euros for overstaying their visas by three days. Luckily, I don’t believe in Karma.

Not all the lies are completely harmless. At least not on the moral spectrum. Beggars are abundant in West Africa. From the elderly, who have neither family nor social security systems to support them; over members of religious sects, whose leaders make a ton of money by preaching an immaterial lifestyle and humility just to have their followers beg for them; to finally the orphans and other kids running around asking for money, candy or pens. Ignoring these people can be difficult.

Child begging

Child begging

Both on the soul and because they will make sure to get in your way. The “sorry, I have no change” is not only an excuse travellers use, but in any case it’s probably a lie. It’s one of the lies I’ve managed to overcome. I’ve simply resorted to the heartless, flat-out denying them anything. (I do tend to give children the initial handshake, to at least recognise they existence, which most people don’t). It’s a rather brutal way of dealing with beggars, but no less brutal – from the beggars perspective – than completely ignoring them. One can always tell oneself that we travellers shouldn’t encourage begging (which we shouldn’t) by giving away money. This is true enough as societies are rarely improved by widespread acceptance of begging, but there’s still a long way from this excuse to actually helping. To help my struggling consciousness, I keep a karma budget. One involving real money and not just self-justification. There are plenty of NGO’s around helping the homeless and the orphans, and they can do a lot more good than the few coins you might actually end up throwing at beggars. They also ensure that the money is directed to the right people.

New friends

New friends

Lastly, at least on this list, is there the lying to new friends. Africans are an unbelievable friendly bunch and as such it’s easy to make new friends here. But life is hard, and it shows by the living standards these people have. I don’t always feel confident about my travelling lifestyle in these situations as it – to be honest – is only possible because I’m part of the world’s upper class by the sheer luck of being born in Scandinavia. At other times, it is simply incomprehensible to my new friends. Simply because long time travelling for travelling’s sake is such a foreign concept. Again the easy, and selfish, way out is a small lie. As I happen to have a friend who’ve just started working in Togo and the idea of migrant workers is easily understood it’s become go-to an explanation I’ve used a few times. “I’m on my way to Togo to work.” It might be more of a hope than a direct lie. I wouldn’t mind picking up a job somewhere here in West Africa, but as for now, I have no job waiting for me, and I’m just a happy traveller skipping through the poorer parts of this planet – telling plenty of small lies on the way to make everything a bit easier.

After having lost all moral integrity writing this, I might as flush out all the self-loathing with a beer, or six. So I will talk to you all later. Cheers.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 07:12 Archived in Senegal Tagged travel africa travelling dakar west_africa tricks scams lying senegal lies border_crossings hustle hustlers Comments (0)

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