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Published: March 30th 2006
We were lucky. Four days after we crossed the border at Sao Domingo
into Guinea-Bissau (G-B), the border closed.
The Senegalese army had chased the Jola separatist guerilla into the city.
The guerilla -using mines as warfare- blew up a minibus with people coming from Varela
beach, before they were captured/executed by the military.
This is a region of tension and sporadic turmoil, one must not forget that.
But except for some out-of-order tanks along the roadsides and the former presidential palace in debris, there are few signs of neither the 98-98 civil war, nor the last coup in 2003.
Another employee of my aunt accommodated us and took us out cruising Bissau’s
potholed avenues, accompanied by loud Cuban music and hot-blooded greetings in Portuguese. There's a perceptible Latin-American presence.
The family father; a warm-hearted, pragmatic optometrist lodged not only us but also a girl from a poor family in the south of G-B, as he was trying to cure her eyedisease. He also had his small living room crammed with kids every evening to watch (what must have been) the only T.V. in the neighbourhood.
Spent a few days walking around
the laid-back capital, playing football with kids in what once was the city zoo, and tried new streetfood. Went down to the port and found our self a sinking canoe overloaded with bags of rice, concrete and livestock, with two men constantly bailing out water. Five hours later that very same sinking canoe had carried us to the island of Bubaque
The centre point of G-B nonexistent tourism industry and the only place to find further transport to any one of the other 40-or-so islands making up the underestimated and immaculate Archipelago de Bijagos
Some of the islands have small fishing communities but most are uninhabited. There's no police, phone, shops nor hospitals, and electricity only in the few empty hotels on Bubaque that crank up their generators.
One still meets indigenous tribes on the islands. Women and men dressed only in palm-fibre skirts with animal fetishes around their waste and neck, having their hair dyed with mud into different patterns.
This - christian missionaries preaching bible gibberish- do their best to put an end to.
Replacing this unique culture of idolism, initiation rites and traditional believes in animism; with the good old christian
Avenida 14 Octobra
concept of sin and shame.
-Oh loooooooord have mercy!!!
We went further out in the archipelago to the south western most Isla de Orango
only bringing a mosquito net to separate us from the stars and enough fresh water for a weekend. The whole island being a national park with prolific maritime and terrestrial wildlife.
You can almost walk between the islands on the vast mud flats and fords uncovered during low-tide. Getting close to the impenetrable mangrove swamps, listening to the snap and crackle from its invisible inhabitants.
Birds with colours only seen in cartoons take wing into the rainforest as soon as you reach for your camera; and the huge spider webs makes you think twice before venturing out into the rainforest by yourself.
Decamped and went back to Ila de Bubaque, that now- in comparison to Ila de Orango- felt urbane.
We hired bikes for a day to pedal the islands only paved road (tarred seashells that is), built by Swedish aid in the seventies along with the islands first hotel; a now deteriorating collection of Swedish architectural style cottages, ghostly familiar to me but in a totally different context
Toyota in Infamaras house
than palm groves and lush jungle.
The 18 km long road leads from Bubaque town to an isolated beach on the other side of the island. Truly a paradise beach. With cashew trees shading the white sanded shores. But as in every paradise there's always a snake. This snake being a stingray with an indescribable painful sting.
I cursed the beach as I pedalled back to Bubaque for painkillers in form of several Kristal beers and sympathies from the islanders.
Don't really know why we left Bubaque to go back to Bissau; the vegetarian food was great, the wine agreeable, our room excellent and all this dead-cheap.
We could easily have staid for another week watching flamingos, dolphins and black squirrels. The best place we been so far in West Africa I reckon.
Back in Bissau things where the same. With trees overgrowing buildings (Ankor-Wat-style), children with extremely protruding bellybuttons, Senegalese merchants and the transistor radio having its heyday. In this region of West Africa: G-B, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, there's only one A.T.M. in Conakry (the capital of Guinea), and that one is from what we've heard -
a hit and miss affair.
Which means; stuffing our moneybelts full with notes in Senegal, with sufficient funding for 6 to 7 weeks.
The family was happy to have us back, the mother prepared the spare room while the girl with the eyedisease washed our laundry in humble hospitality while we went for dinner at the Swedish consulate. Enjoying wine and cheese with a Swedish photo journalist doing a project about the matrilinial cultures of the Bijago islands, and their clandestine initiation rites.
The next day we left for Bafata
, an old colonial town on the road to Guinea.
Intended to stay here for a couple of days and to rent bikes, but as I stood on the hotel porch reaching for my money, my whole body froze, as I found my moneybelt empty.
I was puzzled.
How could I've been mugged?
The only time I take of the moneybelt is at nights, while sleeping.
Some phonecalls later and we where on our way back to Bissau.
The girl with the eyedisease had disappeared early that morning, along with our money. More than 230 000 CFA (426 US$).
The father was furious. He contacted every police checkpoint, taxi stand and what felt like the whole of Bissau, in search for the girl, and later that evening they found and arrested her.
Before heading south to her family she couldn't resist the temptation of shopping, so she had spent all the money on shoes, clothes, make-up and jewellery.
The father spent the whole next day -with the help of two policemen - returning the purchased goods.
Some stuff she refused to say where she had bought them, and when most of the stuff was returned, there was still 80 000 CFA missing. Probably stored at some friends house.
The girls family paid a large sum and the rest was paid by the honourable father of the family that we stayed with. There was no way for us to reject his money, even though we felt we owed him more in return for all his effort in retrieving the stolen money.
So him and I went out in the Bissau nightlife, to celebrate the recovered money, in hot,sexy and jam-packed clubs.
The next day we (me with a concrete hangover) once again parted
from the nice family and headed for the Guinean border.
Stopping in Gabù
for change of transport and then pushing on for Sareboidos
With transport and road conditions getting worse for every kilometre as we got closer to the border.
At late dusk we reached the Guinean border post, a small mud house with low wooden desks attended by men in camouflage uniforms having no face expressions. This illuminated merely by two flickering candles. An unforgettable moment.
Reaching Sareboido in darkness, searching for someone willing to share a bushtaxi to Koundara
, the closest town with a hotel.
In total darkness we left, on nonexistent roads in a car consisting of spare parts, an exhaust pipe, an accelerator and with only one dipped headlight functioning.
At times the driver (climbing in and out via the window since the door was jammed) would turn of the noisy engine, so that we would float into darkness, briefly avoiding trees and other potential endings of this life.
With my inner voice telling me over and over again to appreciate life more in the future than to set of in rickety rides into the
Death was the only absolute value in my world. Lose life and one would lose nothing again forever. I envied those who could believe in a god and I distrusted them. I felt they were keeping their courage up with a fable of the changeless and the permanent. Death was far more certain than god, and with death there would be no longer the daily possibility of love dying. The nightmare of a future of boredom and indifference would lift. I could never have been a pacifist. To kill a man was surely to grant him an immeasurable benefit. Oh yes, people always, everywhere, loved their enemies. It was their friends they preserved for pain and vacuity.
- Graham Greene: The quite American En liten parlör för svenskar:
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