Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Rosso border...

Our first taste of Mauritania necessitated a hightly 'interesting' border crossing at a town called Rosso involving a river crossing by row boat which included an unfathomable 'mid-river-transfer-with-bags' to another boat before continuing to the other side.
On disembarking we were confronted by uniformed Mauritanian border security accompanied by the seemingly essential West African element of 'at least 6 different people shouting at you & attempting to make you follow them somewhere'.
In this case because 'uniform man' now has our passports we follow him like obedient ducklings despite the efforts of various random people attempting to get our attention.

When we eventually reach the offices (the short walk is punctuated by uniform man stopping to send the odd text & chatting to a lady friend on the way) the passports are studied in slow motion by a fat man after which we are left to wait an incredibly long time in a corridor with a goat, while at least 12 different people in another room indulge in more slow motion scrutiny of our passports.

Eventually uniform man reappears & indicates for us to follow him (cue 'at least 6 different people shouting at you & attempting to make you follow them somewhere) then via some currency exchange involving a little bit of low level bribery we're through to our transport* to Nouakchott...

*see Taxi Brousse Top Trumps -

Monday, 27 April 2009

Doctor Marten's & overfishing

Met a fisherman named Cheikh on the beach at St Louis in Senegal who explained how the Senegalese government's selling off the offshore fishing rights to European companies has left many of the local fishermen struggling because they're no longer allowed to fish off the coast of Senegal.

While we talked I couldn't help noticing his juxtaposition of Islamic dress & blue Dr Marten's - kind of 'early '90s Camden Market' meets Sufism

Thought for the (holi)day...

Ruminations on how a man with ludicrously sun sensitive skin, a hefty reliance on electrical & skincare products, an enduring distrust of garments I deem to be veering towards the genre of 'sensible'(you know who you are trekking sandals & fleeces!)& a terrible fear of anything large with more than 4 legs is perhaps not the most obvious candidate for time in remote bits of Africa...hmmm


Slightly crappy drawings of a wonderful Kora player, Moriba Kuyateh in Kartong Gambia
(I tried playing it, I was slightly crappy!)


Inspired by Dakar museum (those Cote d'Ivoir-ians must have some funny dreams)

Bravest madman in Dakar

Amidst the chaos of Dakar, in probably the most pickpocket ridden street in the city we encountered a huge hulk of a man dressed completely in rags sporting a belt, from the back of which hung a huge peacock-like display of CFA notes (West African currency)
Seeing as, from our 3 days experience of said street, we had encountered nothing but constant streams of people attempting to relieve us of our money in some way or another, one can only assume anybody displaying their money as openly as this here must send out a signal of 'severely not f*** with!'

Mauritanian hip hop & other stories...

The man with the chewing stick was running a CD shop in the Cinquieme area of Nouakchott where we were listening to a selection of Mauritanian hip hop - it does exist! - We went to the Salamaleikum Hip Hop festival in Nouakchott where I revelled in being one of the only 2 non-African(& probably oldest) people in the crowd & figured as I'd been there I ought to 'buy the t-shirt' too!(I figured I wouldn't bump into anyone else in London with one - I'm very vain...)

Whilst browsing the shelves I noticed a huge amount of Phil Collins, some Westlife & bafflingly 'The Best of Smokie'! (Google them, I can't be arsed to explain)

In another place we visited we asked the seller for Mauritanian music & after a lengthy wait while he ignored us & played with his mobile phone for a while he eventually proffered an R. Kelly cd.
This latter place exhibits a prime example of a what I call the 'Mauritanian inverse proportional enthusiasm rule'

wherein, the more you desire something the more slowly & surly the service you receive.
Inversely; if one passes a crappy souvenir shop of which one has no desire whatsoever to buy anything, then the vendor will always leap up & follow you for a length of time trying to persuade you to buy something 'mon ami! Bon prix!'

As an appendix most Mauritanian street sellers were relatively pleasant & not irritating & borderline aggressive (see 'Dakar' & 'following you for almost half an hour until you end up shouting obscenities')

Thursday, 23 April 2009


Along with the Bowie dog we also had a giant tortoise for company

Cyclist in St Louis, Senegal

Odd collision between Ivory Coast ritual mask in Dakar museum & Nouakchott street seller

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The Kumpo!

The Kartong festival in Gambia was an incredible mix of local music, costume & some of the most amazing dancing (from the locals as well as the performance)
Witnessed a great segment of traditional ritual dance with the Kumpo being a representation of a spiritual creature which resembles a large mop with a single wooden horn protruding - which becomes transformed when it buries it's horn into the sand & spins itself into a bewildering mass of grass tendrils which almost makes you forget about the performer inside.


Drawn in St Louis, Senegal which is a riot of faded colonial grandeur, goats & kids who see us toubabs (general west african term for white people) as a great chance for possible 'cadeaus'. It's also strange to see the variety of European/ American logos juxtaposed against the features of African towns. Orange logos abound in Senegal & the English Premiership is everywhere!

Mauritanian commerce

Nouakchott cards, newspapers & various counterfeit shops - Macey's, Pizza Hot & a Dominos pizza restaurant too - all of which wouldn't have made their respective lawyers very happy!

The Bowie dog of Nouakchott

One doesn't generally encounter pet dogs in Islamic countries very often...let alone ones that resemble western pop stars like the one at Auberge Menata in Nouakchott, Mauritania...

Taxi Brousse top trumps - the rules

Whilst travelling around Gambia, Senegal & Mauritania on the cheap, public transport takes on a very important role & during our trip we became more & more aware of the myriad workings of what I like to call 'Bush Taxi Top Trumps'

To play you need

1 x vehicle - preferably in fairly dubious repair

You score a point for

a) Shattered windscreen - no taxi journey really seems complete without this addition - the only exception was our last taxi ride to Nouakchott Airport (see also 'ramshackle', 'random-maybe-airport-workers-maybe-not-airport-workers' & attempting to extract money')- where the lack of this important feature was made up for by broken wing mirrors(see point b) & a rather half-hearted attempt to charge us double what we'd agreed 10 minutes earlier (bonus point!)

b) Broken wing mirrors - another essential you score extra if they are actually hanging off or non existent

c) Eccentric starting feature - this may take the form of having to put the car into reverse before being able to get into first gear, an eccentric method involving the driver opening the bonnet while the passenger in the front seat turns the ignition or the good old 'passengers getting out & pushing' routine

d) Overcrowding - 6 or more passengers plus the driver is a solid score in a normal car - preferably involving 2 people in the passenger seat plus 4 adults & child in the back (bonus point for 6 hour or more journey plus double score if child throws up undigested meat chunks in your vicinity!)

e) Broken headlight - self explanatory but lends the vehilcle a certain rakeish
asymmetry if one is hanging off or similar

f) Sketchy handbrake - extra points for necessity of 'getting out & putting rocks under wheel'

g) Chronic overloading - extra bonus points for roof rack load which is greater than height of vehicle & double score for addition of goat!

h) Distorted cassette player - double score if it's playing purely Koranic verse for several hours (see Rosso to Nouakchott)

i) Eccentric door opening method (often involves string)

j) Window opening quirks - often just won't open or close but bonus points for features such as 'communal window winder' wherein the driver has to pass you the handle to wind down a particular window

(the biggest bonus though is that often you meet some very interesting people & learn things that you'd never learn in a hired air conditioned 4x4 - even if your arse & you aren't on speaking terms for several days after a journey!