Monday, 6 February 2012

A month in The Gambia

A month in The Gambia….

Time passes and gradually I have really started to feel at home here. I have noticed on this journey that once I have stopped somewhere it doesn’t take long for the inertia to kick in and make it harder to leave to hit the road again even after a short rest, but this time it feels particularly difficult. Arriving in The Gambia well over a month ago did somehow feel like reaching my destination as it is here that I feel most connected to the place and people having spent more time over the years. However I did always have it in mind to continue my journey to Bambako in Mali. I was there once before but it was long ago. I have always loved the music, both traditional and more modern that one hears out of that place and it feels like a logical destination for this ride. The Mandinka people of The Gambia originally came from Mali and when I tell people that I’m heading that way, once they have got over the initial shock of the idea of me traveling there alone by bicycle, they often tell me how they have relations there. Tata Dinding told me how his family of musicians or ‘griots’ traveled from Mali and how he would love to visit there one day but sadly was not up for joining me on a bike. Now that the time has come to part with my friends and family here it’s so hard to leave. But Once again the open road calls and soon I’ll be back in the red dust of that highway heading east this time and following my dreams.

                                          looks like some one's hitched a ride.

But what of my time here? Well as I mentioned in the last post about the Fresh Start Foundation I have had a chance to connect with their projects here and help out in a few ways as well as get up to all sorts of other adventures including hosting Ramsey and Tom from the Visions Series filming for the big movie. They stayed for 10 days and we had a great time interviewing all sorts of characters talking about my cycle ride, the power of music in community, education, climate change, and how we can bridge cultures creatively. We interviewed Lamin about the work of Fresh Start and the inspiration to bring about truly positive change and even went out into the bush and took a boat on the magnificent River Gambia with my old friend Wandi to see some of the stunning wildlife of the region.

I took them to meet Tata Dindng in Brikama and we were blessed to be able to film a fantastic jam in their compound that will provide some great music for the film. The following day we traveled with the band along sandy bush tracks across the border with Senegal to a village in the Cassamance region. This area has been troubled by rebels fighting for independence for years and just this week more fighting broke out not far away and I have recently heard that Kwinella village is preparing to receive over a thousand refugees. Presidential elections are due this month and reports of trouble across Senegal has been coming through the crackly air waves of the little transistor radios that play in the shade of mango trees as the heat of the afternoon passes. We were in the village for a music festival and thankfully all was peaceful whilst we were there. The people of Dombondir village are largely from the Jola tribe and the music and performances was very typical of their culture. The drumming and dance was stunning and some great bands played over the weekend but the highlights were the kumpo dance and the traditional wrestling on Sunday afternoon.

The Kumpo involved all the women on one side singing and playing hypnotic percussion rhythms on bits of metal and all the men gathered in a line opposite them. Into the space in between leaped the crazy Kumpo dancer completely covered with long grass like a huge whirling hay stack sending ripples of excitement through the crowd. Every one sang beautiful call-and-response songs whilst the men or women would break away from the lines running towards each other, or the spinning hay stack, to bust some crazy cheeky dance moves and then escape back to the safety of their lines. Other costumed characters appeared including a scary black baboon and a one armed figure dressed in sacking who danced beating the earth with a stick. The whole event was accompanied by full power drum rhythms specific to each of the costumed dancers and involved everybody who was up for it. It was dark and I was too enthralled to take any photos any way but I did get a few snaps of the wrestling the next day.

These guys know how to work a crowd and must have spent a good couple of hours strutting about and dancing before any wrestling actually took place. Wrestling is a big deal in Senegal and top wrestlers are famous stars in the country so it was all taken very seriously and in the end one team won…. And the other lost.

Tom and Ramsey had left the festival early to go and do some more filming with Tata’s band and so when it came to trying to get home on Monday morning I was reminded of one of the reasons why I had chosen to travel by bike in the first place. I hate waiting for lifts in Africa! I was ready by 9 in the morning for a car that by 4 in the afternoon looked like it wasn’t going anywhere after all. Instead I walked with a friend through the bush, passed beautiful rice fields and crossed the river that is the border between the two countries. We never did see any immigration officials or actual border controls and it all felt wonderfully clandestine out in the wilds of Africa.
Tom and Ramsey are back in the UK now armed with lots of great footage to make the movie and I’m ready to embark on the next stage of the adventure. The money’s all finished long ago but the road lies ahead calling and the journey continues.
There’s so much more I could say about the joys of village life in rural Africa but I’ll leave that up to your imagination for the moment and for my part step back out into the reality of the unfolding experience as I’m reminded of an old eighties kids TV program that sang out those immortal words;

 “Why don’t you… switch off the TV and do something more interesting instead!”

Time to get off the computer and water the vegetables in the sun baked plots over in the garden..
Much love to one and all

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Ed, what an amazing journey ! I have just read through your trip so far and am awestruck. What a dream to live !

    Business is good at the moment, so I'll make a donation tomorrow. Please use some of it on yourself to keep yourself going !

    All the best for the journey ahead...

    Steve from Kakatsitsi / Synergy