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September 10th 2007
Published: November 1st 2007
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After weeks of metropolitan comfort spent between Bamako and Ouagadougou, the mere idea of hitting the devastated road of Africa again on vehicles that common sense would have scrapped two or three decades ago, seemed just depressing. And, as always happens in these cases, when one must choose between a present of lazy convenience and the promise of an unsafe future, the latter continues to be delayed indefinitely. And how different can look the very same city when cruised with people who live more or less permanently in it! At first call, travelling east, Bamako had seemed to me like another, unfortunate, huge urban agglomeration of Africa, but now, among less nomadic friends, it looked more like a big, chubby town where people find (plenty of) time to fill up the Bla Bla and each other bar in the also Bla Bla called neighbourhood.

And between a swim in the pool and a beer in a bar, I was even able to take part in a football match, the second one since I’m in Africa. I don’t know why I keep trying to fool myself into the idea of being still an athlete in full blooming shape for whom an
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Photo: Amelie Mouchette
hour of football at 40°C temperature running behind boys 10 years younger (and 20 kilos lighter) than me can be considered 'sane'. The match was played on a clay (and stones) field of abnormal size, the type they had in Captain Tsubasa Japanese cartoon where the opposite goal appears on the horizon only when hours of running have visually offset the earth sphericity. We were an unknown number of players that fluttered at every recount. Most were barefoot or wearing plastic flip flops, I was in tennis shoes, and only one, Adam, our ‘captain’ was impeccably fitted with Real Madrid official uniform and football boots. He had introduced me as the Italian reinforcement, an outstanding short, despite my repeated clarification that my role in the 2006 World Cup win didn’t go beyond watching games on TV, drinking beer and the occasional blasphemy. Not exactly a guarantee, in other words, that they were dealing with Totti’s alter ego. Now, when I really played football (that means ages ago) I was technically lousy but I could run a lot. Today I’m afraid I’ve retained only the first feature. And here, to compensate for the irregularity of the surface, the game was played with a ball inflated to a pressure significantly higher than the correct one, which made its control highly treacherous. In short, my game was static, painful, pathetic and after half an hour, next to cardio-respiratory collapse and prey of dreamlike visions, I left my team down and I went to sit among the local crowd. Half of them, I guess, were probably wondering how could Italy have won the World Cup with players like me, whereas the other half, the no-nonsense ones were plainly deciding whether a doctor or a priest would be the most adequate to deal with my present state of health.

According to statistics, Mali leads the world ranking of per capita received grants and consequently is home of many NGO’s. Bamako is full of Europeans and Americans who are here for a few months or in some cases for a couple of years, engaged in the most various development aid projects. There are all kinds, from those who are here in return for a salary to those who pay for the privilege of coming and dig a well in Africa. Even more can been spot at weekends when those engaged in rural projects take the chance to come to the city to sample beer and other less chaste emotions. Somehow like cowboys and gold diggers in John Ford’s far west.

I already expressed in a previous blog (A Confederacy of Smugglers) my opinion about this ‘disinterested’ aids and I stick on the idea that giving in return for nothing is no less detrimental than taking without paying. It creates a sense of moral inferiority in those who receive that, in the long term, is worse than the material shortage which had previously solved. In West Africa (and perhaps throughout the continent), 9 whites out of 10 that you meet are NGOs volunteers, Samaritans as the more humour oriented of them call themselves. But I wanted to have a close look to some different kind of project. Something where the idea of cooperation doesn’t meant 'I give, you receive’ but rather something aimed to develop a real, active cooperation with the local community.

So, one day, I finally decided to bid a farewell to Bamako and its relative comforts and get on the road, destination Sokone, Senegal, where Olivier, a friend of mine from France was engaged in the opening of a 'fair' hotel . The same idea as -say- Guaraní drink produced by small Paraguayan cooperatives under western guarantee of a future right priced distribution, applied to tourism.

The journey was hellish. Two days of pure suffering between potholes and implacable sun, smell of sore carburetted petrol and attempted extortions. Reaching Sokone was for me what the last day of school is for a schoolboy: pura vida! Now, on the map Sokone looks like a place of solid size, those short listed in boldface. I had therefore expected to arrive in the usual hiper-chaotic gare routiere with the usual cloud of touts, the usual customer hungry taxi drivers and at least one hotel-brothel. The taxi brousse, instead, dropped me in a cosy square that reminded those of Italian hillside towns where old round shaped buses used to call at in neorealist black and white movies. And the village seemed proportionally minute: one single sunny and desolate road lined with miserable looking and blackened shops with the exception of the immaculate Western Union bank, so new and shining to look as out of place in this environment as a diamond accidentally exposed at a butcher’s window would.

I called Olivier from a phone booth who arrived a few minutes later aboard of a electric blue brand new Suzuki. "I see you haven’t lost the habit of travelling light" was his first line, smiling, pointing at my Invicta daypack, the whole of my luggage, actually. Olivier is one of those people I believe wouldn’t encounter any difficulty to make a lot of money in this world yet prefer -wisely- to do what he wants, to live well rather than bending to the inflexible logic of macro-economy. He has the Mediterranean type look, rendered even more tonic after months of Senegal heat and a all French charm. Were more people like him, we‘d surely live in a world with less stress and alienation. In Sokone he seems to enjoy some kind of Hollywood star status and roaming along with him was a bit like be the bodyguard of some sort of thirty years younger Mick Jagger. But I suspect such popularity has something to do with the hotel opening he's working at. Every time he set foot in town he is stopped by the random 'fan' looking for a job rather than an autograph. The most curious meeting I witnessed at was with a girl who when asked "What’s your job?" replied "I make men drink." "You mean, you prepare drinks?" "No. I mean I make men drink." I would have taken her aboard just because of the purity of such a metaphor.

The Sine Saloum delta region is of a radiant and very low acclaimed beauty. Fauna, flora, sun, hospitable people and -according to Olivier- rivers so dense in fish they fight each other off so to be first at your line. In fact, we went fishing almost every day: peace and rum with honey and lime Yes, but No fish in the basket. And I’m pretty sure we only drank the rum after the failed fishing sessions. The hotel is actually a complex of bungalows, built on a river bend where soft water tides and bird singing compose a soundtrack of peace and tranquillity. The ideal place to relax without spending a fortune. The project provides for the exclusive employment of local staff specially trained in the past months in Dakar and elsewhere in Senegal but is not based, as most of European projects in Africa are, on the concept of charity. The goal is profit, albeit obtained in fair proportion with the development of local community and with a proper balance in the too often monstrous capital/labour ratio. It isn’t Marx, it isn’t Jesus, but at least it isn’t McDonald!

La versione italiana di questo blog la trovi sul sito Vagabondo.net
Link: Turismo Equo e Solidale


13th March 2009

Sun and Daylight
Hola! Me gusta la citation de Holly et Benj! voila'! et merci aussi pour citants Totti, champion du monde!!!!:P Monsieur Olivier et votre ancien ami? Voyage fait de vous trouver des gens speciaux! (as extraordinary experiences) un abrazo companero

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