Wednesday, 19 May 2010
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Today, here we are making the dream more and more real.
Our physical and emotional limits constantly stretched.
This is social art
I have no doubt that this is a good thing. The question is: how good are we willing to make it?
No matter how far the journey is, it will reveal a destination!
As if the past too is infinite.
Kayes .Tambocunda .Dakar
Kayes (pronounced kai) is a transit town. It looks like a rural area that has been forced quickly to live up to new responsibilities; so that while a sturdy bridge leads into the town, and an Ecobank branch sits prettily on the road leading to the town, and mini satellite dishes and communication masts adorn the roof of some of its buildings, and one can spot vestiges of the colonial incursion into this city, and the town even has a rural radio station of its own, one will just as sooner find, untarred roads, ancient looking buildings with crumbling mud walls, grazing donkeys, open sewage and other icons of rustic living.
We enter this ambivalent town- rural, but not quite, modern but not quite- and begin to search for a hotel with Wifi. We ask around and are told that there is no hotel with an internet connection in Kayes. Unbelievable! We continue our search until we are directed to the shop of a Nigerian, Joseph- a polite young man. He is not there, but his wife is. She is preparing food on an open hearth right in front of her restaurant, but calls her husband to come to the shop. Some Nigerians are here. ‘Restaurant Africana”. Restaurant Africana‘s doors are painted in the colour of the Nigerian flag with “Nigerian Restaurant “scrawled on them. Chriss comes to inform those of us still waiting in the bus that,” if anyone wants to eat hot Eba, they had better come now”.
Joseph is on his way; but in the meantime, we get the chance to eat another round of authentic ‘home” food. Joseph arrives on his bike and we greet and him, introduce ourselves and explain our mission. Joseph receives us politely and offers to lead us to a suitable rest house. After a drive to one or two places, we eventually settle for the rest houses at the Rural Radio House on the Kayes Plateau, across the old train station. The building is a refurbished-colonial -type house with chunks of granite quilted together as walls. The roof is garrisoned with strong iron frames and the flooring is made of solid wood panels. It now serves as the residence of workers at the audio –vision project at Kaynes , with left over rooms hired to guests like us. Behind this colonial building are newer, modern bungalows serving the same purpose and nearby, the Centre for Media and Communication – a cyber café overseen by Mike, an American working with the Rural Radio at Kayes.
Tales of the Unlikely
Mike was an unlikely surprise in the hot and hardy environment of Kayes. There he was greeting us respectfully, offering great customer service as best he could within all the inhibiting conditions of his environment – power trip-off in some of the rooms, water trip-off in others, and the underutilization of the cybercafé, plus breaking out in sweat because of the heat waves that keep Kayes as warm as a furnace, for several hours, even after sunset. Every observation we made, he said he would bring to the notice of the management of Radio Kayes. When we asked for water in buckets to enable our early take off from Kayes very early the next day, Mike personally fetched and delivered buckets of water to no less than of 4 us- and this well after midnight. His service delivery was quite impressive. Chriss noted aloud later, that the commitment to service delivery was an outstanding differentiator of European-American marketing culture.
The other odd surprise of our trip was Mark, a Londoner that we had found sticking out like a sore thumb at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle Bus Park in Accra. On sighting him, I drew nearer to explore the phenomenon. It turned out that Mark was a Baptist Minister signed on to do 5 years of evangelistic work in a nearby church in the Circle area. He had put in two so far, and was selling socks to earn a stipend, to keep body and soul together, because he did not like to accept handouts. He said he was aligning with the biblical injunction that says “he who does not work, ought not to eat.” Asked if he would accept a token from one of us, he simply smiled saying there was no need for that as it would end up being given away by him anyway. An interesting fellow who seemed to have crossed the borders of needs and wants, Mark was still pretty human: he will be heading to SA in June to watch the 2010 World Cup, “just for a change” he said, smiling shyly. To have no needs, other than for the bare essentials, is an invisible border that many of us are unable to cross, as Mark seems to have done.
Chriss thought it was a statement on point, but some of us disagreed: The Nigerian government had set up the EFCC and the ICPC to checkmate corrupt persons and these agencies had recorded a measure of success, in jailing some high profile persons, - that was governmental ‘ home sweeping’. We also thought it already apparent that the Invisible Borders Project was in aid of “sweeping our homes.’ We made no concessions to our country’s officials at the border: we made it clear that we would give no bribes. Back home, we had already observed that unlike our experience during the IB 2009, laudable changes had been effected at the Lagos end of the Seme Border. The stubborn request for corruption money seemed been receiving good attention. As noted in our earlier blog, a public service announcement by the Nigerian Customs Service was now being loudly relayed at intervals ,urging travelers not to patronize touts, or pay illegal charges, and listing authorized agencies at the border. Uche remarked that the admonition was probably working: he recalled that he saw no one being openly propositioned, or unduly delayed in a bid to wrest illegal fees from them whilst conducting border formalities on our way out of Lagos- a departure from our experience in the preceding year.
The task ahead therefore, as we perceive it, is for governments and civil society organizations, to educate, educate and educate, the general public on the need to apply for, and get their genuine travel papers; this done, they would be on a good footing to stand their grounds not to do any bribe- giving.
We breakfast at Kidira where trailers line the road, and then move on, to Fete Nimbe, and Gourdry, about 12 kilometers to Tambocunda where SnowWhite suffers a flat tyre. We change to the spare, and use that chance to take pictures. At 12 noon, we enter Tambocunda. We need to buy a new tyre so we hunt for a brand new one. Tambocunda tyre sellers have mainly second-hand tyres for sale. We are out of CFA and must find an ATM. It takes all of three hours to find and buy a good tyre, fit it, get cash, and move on.
At Sinthou Maleme, the road becomes shiny with well-laid asphalt. We drive past Kafferune where a Rasta-drummer is frenetically beating his drum to submission at a wedding ceremony. Gaily dressed people are in the streets, attending weddings and other ceremonies.
A waddle of pigs trundle across the road and the driver’s voice rises in exasperated disgust: ‘Nothing wey we no go see o! Even pig dey run cross road! ’ The bus erupts in laughter. Nike says that the road is an invisible border of which the animals are oblivious, so the poor creatures should not be blamed for crossing the road at will, or expecting vehicles to concede the right of way to them, a though they were royalty.
We reach Sibasso, and then on we go through Gamboul, Bill, Mbelo, Nguith, Kuer Alphas, to Factick. We have already glimpsed the sea and know that we will soon be in Dakar. We drive on to Mbour and eventually, we arrive Dakar, meander our way, in stops and starts, to the Centre Culturel Blaise Senghor and meet the cultural elite who have converged on the city from all over the world, for the 9th edition of the Dak’ Art Festival.
Some people used the opportunity of his absence to take over the country; put it right in their armpit (they said it was the CABAL). Yes the inglorious. Fire and brimstone let loose, and poor countrymen were disheartened.
Thursday, 6 May 2010
Today we hit the road quite early. We leave the Tamana Hotel before 6AM. Snow white heads out of Amical Cabral Street and winds its way through the Dossolo Tràoré market which is just stirring awake. A stench overhangs the market trail that is reminiscent of the Iddo Market in Lagos. Traders are beginning to set up their wares.
The road sign shows that Kita is the next major city as we head out of Bamako. A policeman is checking papers. He tells us asks us about certain unstamped portion Snowwhite’s Laisse Passe . We are unaware of that, and say so. The man is adamant. Something should have been stamped. He asks us to follow him to the building to the right of the road. Uche, Emeka and Chriss alight and follow. We wait impatiently for about 30 minutes wondering about the delay. Traders are milling around with trays bearing expensive apples, bread and some locally made cakes. Arab-looking people and when they return, they inform us there had been a suggestion to pay a little cash for the stamp, but this being out of synch with our set principles for the journey, they declined. The alternative is to drive back into Kita to get the document signed. We are glad to do so. We enter Kita and find the station, get the document stamped without ceremony in less than 5 minutes, thank the officers in charge and continue our journey.
“So why una come stay for dis kin’ dry place wey hot like so? Shuo, na money we dey gather na! If we gather am finish, we go come go Naija.” blurted Agnes. “And again, accommodation cheap well well for here”, added Happy.
We know that a lot more has not been said: they are another unknown statistic in the number of those who leave the country sometimes starry-eyed , sometimes hard-nosed, but all victims to the lust for money made, ‘by any means possible”.
by Nike Ojeikere
Traipsing Bamako (06/05/2010)
The Tamana is in essence like Bogobiri House in Lagos; only perhaps, larger- with a swimming pool in the courtyard. Its outdoors is shaded by a canopy of leaves from mature old trees; its entire space punctuated by traditional African décor and utilities: sturdy and neat bamboo wardrobes, basket bins, cute raffia lampshades, mirrors, traditional floor accessories that are all complemented by great cleanliness and neatness; a well-appointed kitchen, air-conditioning and good old hot water. What more could we have asked for? We feel at home immediately. The owner and his staff are agreeable.
The morning is cool after the rains of yesterday, and the very green environment of the Tamana adds cool to cool. Bamako seems at peace, the dust and heat of the previous day all washed away. Peace scents the air, but Bamako is not its only beneficiary: we awaken to the day to learn from 234NEXT.com that peace has come at last upon ailing President Musa Yar’Adua in the late hours of yesterday, March 5th…. RIP.
Still, the news breeds in some, a discourse of indifferent shoulders, raised eyebrows, hard knotty questions; followed by goodly admonitions, cynic laughter, an appeal for understanding and a new look at Nigeria’s future, with exasperated prayers said.
Adama Bamba and Fatoumata Diabaté, winner of the Sekou Toure Grand Prix at the 2005 Bamako Biennale, appear at Tamana. They are taking us on a photographic excursion. They wait patiently whist we catch up with breakfast, picture-editing, blogging, and general discussions. We change FOREX to the local CFA currency. One of us, Emeka, needs a refund of the Ghana Cedis that he graciously loaned the team to help it evade change hassles. Amaize goes in search of a money changer. How many Euros equal a Ghanaian Cedi in Bamako? The money changer has no clue. He goes off to find an answer and returns soon after. There is no answer. Euros do not to Ghana Cedis in Bamako. What! screams Amaize melodramatically, as he begins to take the man to task about the ludicrousness of his statement: ‘You mean Euros can exchange for CFA but CFA cannot be changed to Ghanaian Cedis? In Bamako? In WEST Africa? Where then is the so called African unity, free trade and movement across the sub-region? That is a great pity indeed!
The poor money changer understands it all, he admits that it’s a sad matter indeed, but thinks the governments of the sub region are perhaps responsible. “There you have it!” Blame it on the AU! Or abi na ECOWAS? Said Nik e. Uche Okpa Iroha is concurring with amusement. Amaize continues to gesticulate to make his point, “In fact, that is the topic of the next blog that I will write!” Chriss is laughing, jocularly hailing “Chairmoonu!” “Chairmonnu!” a comic pronunciations of the word “Chairman”.
We go out to town led by the patient Adama and Fatoumata, through the old market adjoining the Grand Marche. Colours are jumping at us from every side. Much of Bamako, and indeed Mali, is painted, dusted or coloured by drab, brown earth tones and though a few buildings do break the monotony with cream or milk hues, the ubiquitous dusty brown colour is the prime hue of the ancient looking houses. But what Bamako lacks in architectural colours,, it amply makes up for in the bright colours of its “things”: gas cylinders come in beautiful colours –red, lovely greens, brilliant blues and even yellow; barrows are painted in bold blues or sweet-sensation green with orange, woven carrier bags in saffron, brocades that are dyed fuchsia, pneumatic machines that are gleaming with vital orange- you name it, if it’s a bright, head-turning colour, Bamako’s got it! We ply the streets, taking photos of things bright and beautiful. We have to ask a lot of permission to take the most mundane items on the market trail. The market people seem suspicious of cameras and love to dodge them….We hop unto the local bus which takes us to the outskirts of Bamako.
Missabougou , Pond de Sotiba & the Babilikoroni Bridge
Missabougou. Fatoumata lives here with her parents Mr. and Mrs. Diabaté, a pleasant couple. We meet them, greet them, receive a warm welcome, rest our feet a while and go off to the long walk to the Pond de Sotiba. Mr. Jabate tunes his radio to BBC London and we catch a whiff of news relating to the late President. It is a relief to hear English being spoken with fluency.
The Pond de Sotiba has been created by the after-waters of the Niger River which flows through its natural course to form this Pond where the water does not care to hurry on. Bamako is enjoying a lovely sundown, the liquid evening sun dripping like watery magma. Children are playing soccer in the street. A herd of goats advance and go past. Next follows another herd of cattle. We walk through Missabougou, making photos. We have come to the power generation station that serves all of Bamako. The thundering waters of the Niger are rushing over one another to gush through the dam below. A little beyond, a huge construction collaboration between the Chinese and Malian Governments is ongoing. This is the New Babilolikoroni Bridge. Huge cement pillars rise to the skies like classical Greco-Roman architecture. We then proceed on a long walk across the old bridge, now lacklustre in the shadow of the new. People trudge to and fro. On both sides, glistening jet black rock formations have been sculpted to submission by the gushing River Niger at high tide. It’s a beautiful, sight with the black rocks giving off a surreal appeal as suns’ reflection bounces off the pockets of water collected on its pockmarked surfaces. Emeka notes that this would be a great site to shoot a musical video. Ray- Daniels concurs. The team takes great portraits of itself and the riveting river course, but not without a 9-minute quizzing from a ‘big man’ who is chauffeuring a Chinese construction worker in the back seat of his car.
Portrait of the team at Biblikoroni- pont de Sotiba, Bamako. photo by Fatoumata Diabaté
We walk and talk, awed by the landscape. A tangle of nylons, caught on the branches of nearby shrubs, some, taller than human beings, flutter in the wing blowing across the bridge. It is a beautifully sad sight. We are wondering how the pollution of nylon and other non-biodegradable rubbish , so common across African cities, towns and even villages will ever end?
We trudge on, hungry, tired but cheerful as Adama and Fatimata encourage us along the way. Finally, we see the road. We have probably walked for about 6 kilometer s today. Fatimata gives a cherry goodbye and we hop yet again on a Good Samaritan’s bus- that has no seats - to commence the ride back to the Tamana Chambres. It has been a great day and we have made treasured pictures depicting the invisibility of several borders…
by Nike Ojeikere