Tag Archives: west africa

Rush hour…

Beach time did not really work out as hoped. One day of splashing in the sea and snoozing in the sun before my belly started another war. But it turned out the beach was a cool place for recovery, which is in a way a sort of relaxation…

On our way east from the beach the scenery was stunning, lush green bush and tall palm trees stretching high into the clear blue. We passed through the bright fishing village of Dixcove where vivid rags and flags flapped wildly in the wind as the boat owners took a rest from the heat of the midday sun.

The beach at Green Turtle Lodge on the west coast of Ghana

Mikaela gets extra sick at the beach and instead of beach-bumming ends up sleeping in the shade…

Imran enjoying a little beach rest!

The colourful fishing village of Dixcove close to the Cote d’Ivoire border

Because we stayed longer on the beach than planned we now find ourselves rushing to Cotonou. With only a few days before our flight leaves from Benin we are facing a race through Togo and the prospect of barely seeing Benin. But it’s been an amazing journey and we can’t really grumble. Instead of feeling disappointed we have decided to see it as a good excuse to return and do it all again.

Mikaela wearing her new helmet after the old one fell to a serious crushing accident (luckily NOT with her head in it!)

The old colonial buildings of Cape Coast’s historic streets

Cape Coast bay

We weren’t sure of what this sign actually meant?

Thirsty at the roadside: a coconut break

Leaving Ghana behind us we will whizz through Togo, collecting our French friends and cyclists Jérémie and Claire en route as they will join us along the coast. After which we will say our goodbyes and leave them as we cross into Benin. Then, in the way that only we know how, we will throw everything together, pack up the bicycles and jump on a 5 am plane from Cotonou to Lagos, Lagos to Casa Blanca, and finally Casa Blanca to London Heathrow. Then, home.

Being a bicycle sister…

Mik takes the slope carefully

Cycling in West Africa can sometimes challenge some strong stereotypes,

The bicycle is the poor man’s way to travel.

The bicycle is just a donkey. It’s no good.

The bicycle is not for a woman*.

For me, the last has had true resonance. Some of the comments, responses and hecklers have been worth remembering, some not! Here are a few of my favourites…

Hey bicycle sister!

You are a terrible husband. Look at your poor wife. She is so tired.’ (Multiple men have exclaimed this to Imran in horror).

Well now you will never have children‘, (Bassekou Kouyaté’s mother, Yakaré. She now requires evidence should I ever have any children).

Strong woman. Strong, strong woman.

So you cycled here all the way from England? And your wife, she flew to meet you?

(Yelled out of a truck window by a grinning driver as I cycled up a steep hill in Ghana)… ‘Hey achey, achey! You ache because you are a woman!

(Shouted by many beautifully rotund Ghanaian mothers) ‘Eat sister, eat to bicycle!!!!‘, (hand gesture of food to mouth as I cycle past).

On entering a shop accompanied by two other male cyclists, (male shopkeeper to me), ‘you’re tired, sit here now‘. I respond (rather sharply) ‘I am not tired thank you I will stand‘. Thirty minutes later I am forced to request his floor for a nap, he smiles understandingly.

(In response to our journey), ‘I prefer the Mercedes.‘ (My friend Fatu, wife of Gambian musician Jaliba Kuyateh and a formidable female force, though no cyclist!).

*Note: In Burkina Faso many women cycle.

Chasing storms… accidentally.

In Ghana it now rains daily, usually as we attempt to cycle our last 10-20km of the day.

The blue sky fades away and an eerie wind sweeps over the lush green bush of Ghana’s dense forests. The sky turns dark with angry clouds and then the rain falls.

In its first few minutes the rain steals away our road and a river of muddy water floods the path ahead. Visibility is zero and we push the bikes to some kind of shelter. In a moment it all feels rather like a British summer style picnic-panic-run; madly covering our bags and throwing an ugly raincoat on.

After a while the heaviest drops have left and by now we are ready to jump on the bikes again. But then we notice the sky ahead is darker,

The storms all go south to the coast, just like you actually…’

Thirty minutes of pedalling pass us by and sure enough, we have caught up with the monster again. He growls at us and beats his thundery chest. He punches at the sky above with deadly forks of lightening. Time to make another swift exit...

Cycling towards a storm

Fishing after the rains

We arrive in Wenchi just as the sun goes down and storm clouds threaten…

Photo blog: A different wedding to gaze at…

It was disappointing that even in this corner of the world we couldn’t escape a mentioning of the ‘grand marriage‘… so with that in mind we thought it was time to embrace wedding fever and instead of the dull platter of royal crap you’re being offered elsewhere, give you a quick glance at a marriage Burkina style. Hopefully it will ease your pain (and possibly sickness)…

Owing to a terrible internet connection that visits us only occasionally we have only had time to offer you photos. Put it like this, we know which party we’d rather be invited to.

A different wedding!

A different wedding!

A different wedding!

A different wedding!

A different wedding!

Festival sur le Niger 2011: bringing inspiration and realisation…

After ten minutes of sensitive negotiation a small and rather hole ridden pirogue rolled onto the sandy shore of the River Niger. We climbed tentatively over its tall sides that rocked wildly as we moved through its long body. Staggering to sit ourselves down on the wood-plank seats we couldn’t help but feel it had been Olivier’s Bambara negotiations that had got us such an exclusive view. As we Bobbed our way around the stage of Festival sur le Niger, the lights of the other lanterns twinkled orange, red and gold. While the sounds of Oumar Koita’s band drifted over the water and the crowd struggled to the front, we cruised happily towards the stage.

Lighting cotton balls in lanterns in preparation for our pirogue and its twinklely voyage 

Enjoying the view of Festival sur le Niger on an atmospheric and rather unofficial pirogue trip
 

Olivier attempts to put out a minor boat fire, whoops!
 

Our brave young ‘Pinase Tigi’, (master of the pinase), he insisted on lifting the balls of fire with a combination of chopsticks and his bare hands!

The Festival organisation was pretty impressive; local crafts stalls with artisan work from all over West Africa, draconian wrist band control from men in high-visibilty vests and, the wonderful navy of lantern lit boats every night- simply to decorate the River Niger. It all seemed rather extravagant for the normally quite modest Mali. But the Festival provided a showcase for the rich and colourful culture of this region, and being the largest Festival in West Africa it did great justice to its objective.

 

Imran and Flo enjoying the music

Kasse Mady Diabate brings his powerful voice to the stage

After a minor boat fire we returned to the shore for the last of the evenings music and as we finished our wonderful holiday in Segu we reflected with other musical friends on the challenge that lay ahead of our project. Given the high quality and incredible musicianship both at the festival and within the band we are lucky enough to be working with we found ourselves feeling a little daunted by the new week of rehearsals.

It seemed we were right to feel a bit overwhelmed. When rehearsals arrived on Monday we realised just how much work we had before us.

But with music, anything is possible.” Andra spoke with a reassuring wisdom that gave us both the confidence we needed. Concerned we might be forcing a western style on our fellow musicians Andra once again brought wisdom and encouragement to our discussions.

Andra Kouyate

“I’m not interested in African styles, or European styles… Music is music and that’s what I’m interested in.”

And so, as our work multiplies and the challenges become greater we really begin to understand just how much we will learn here. For all of these realisations we have, we sometimes still make mistakes and get it wrong. But sometimes you have to get it wrong in order to get it right. And that, in itself, is quite exciting.

Our lovely host Anilde and the ‘Segu family’

Mikaela sings a few tunes in the courtyard of Anilde’s lovely home

Laundry day outside our beautiful lodgings on the River Niger
 

Dusk and time for soundchecks

Dakar, decisions and the new route…

Time for a brief update from Dakar…

Days since we left the UK- 60
Days when Mikaela has declared she wants to go home- 7 (becoming less common)
Soaps used- 8
Cheese triangles eaten- creeping up to a shameful 100
Offers to buy our bicycles- 35
Advice that we drive next time- 20+
Punctures- Mikaela 1 / Imran 0
Snakes spotted- 4
Living snakes spotted- 0 (thankfully)
Monkeys in road- 18

Our visas for Mali begin on December 5th, thus we have decided to change our route in Senegal. Originally we planned on a quick sprint through the region following the course of the Mauritanian border, but at the border, realising we had more time than planned we changed our minds deciding instead to head to Dakar, through The Gambia and into Casamance where the scenery and culture is known for its vibrancy.

Keen to get back on the road we are now waiting in Dakar for the Tabaski festival to pass us by. Tabaski is a festival of sacrifice, here in West Africa that sacrifice means a kind of goat apocolypse. Everywhere goats are being transported to various destinations where they will serve to feed families as they celebrate this important festival (more commonly known as Eid al-Adha). As a result of this celebration all shops and services close for several days making it a bad time for us to be on the road. The decision to stay in Dakar has not been difficult given the incentive of large quantities of food and mass festivities!

Nearing Tabaski

Currently we are staying between two houses, one belonging to some very hospitable couchsurfers from Tunisia who are studying in Dakar and the other is of Dialimady, the brother of a kora player and friend in London. Dialimady offered the roof to his shared house which given the sweaty night temperatures has brought us some very cool and starry nights!

Dialimady's house

Over the next few days we will celebrate Tabaski before getting back on the road and heading towards the border with the Gambia where we are told the landscape will become greener, the people even more hospitable and musicians abundant.