Stickman Readers' Submissions February 11th, 2011

Delightful West Africa 10 – Village Visits in the Sine-Saloum-Delta, Senegal

On the Route National 5 near Toubacouta (see previous submission), I approach a motorcycle taxi to take me to Sokone. He demands nine Euros for the 20 kilometers. Fortunately my local guide Esang has told me the regular tariff of 4.5 Euros. I demand 4.5 and get it. Now the driver sets off with my money to fill up on fuel. He has to find change for my banknote and then he has to find a place to sell gasoline in small quantities. That takes more than 20 minutes; meanwhile, several mini-buses and sept-place share taxis I could have taken pass the main road.

My destination is the bungalow resort Fadidi Niombato, near Sokone (Fadidi means welcome in the local Serer language, Niambato is the name of the area). I learn that guided village trips before the afternoon aren't possible. So to wile away the hours, I walk on sand roads back to N'Doffane, a village of Serer ethnicity. I am lucky: A little boy takes me by the small finger and drags me all along the sandy village strip. Great excuse for exotic village sightseeing without being the intruder. The locals smile at the little mister and me – "my guide", I explain. It's a relatively welcoming village, compared to the rather hostile atmosphere in Dassilamé Sérère (also in the previous article). Children don't ask for "sweets", "pen", "gift" or "money", as in some other places.

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Three ten year old girls join me. As usual, they speak much better French than I, but I wonder why they aren't in school.

"Teachers on strike today", says one.

"No, it's a public holiday", believes the other. "Or not?"

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Finally I meet my guide Abdou and his horse-cart driver. We sit side-saddle on the flat cargo bed. The wayward horse changes speed every so often and the track is bouncy; a few times I almost fall off.

A group of monkeys passes the track in the distance. They are shy and don't approach people, as in tourist areas. Monkeys can destroy your whole peanut harvest. For two months, you need kids or dogs in the fields to chase the monkeys away. You guard only in the daylight hours: From dusk to dawn, monkeys sleep in the trees.

Finally we reach Abdou's village Badoudou-Sadiokounda with around 1400 inhabitants. They are of Serer ethnicity, most Muslims, a few Christians. I see the main mosque that's reserved for Friday prayers, and a smaller mosque for everyday prayers. Presently, the smaller mosque is occupied by two dozen men discussing an upcoming marriage. The ladies sit in a family compound nearby, discussing things much louder.

As usual, several small huts form a compound that's fenced in reed. In the middle of each compound stands the obligatory mango tree, giving great shade, good fruit and not dropping too many leaves; dozens of family members sit on plastic chairs and rough wood benches in the sand and chat and laugh away.

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Various compounds now have solar panels. If I remember right, one solar panel feeds four lamps and one black-and-white TV. But after a cloudy day, the lamps will go out around eleven o'clock. Most solar panels only create 12 volts. To charge your mobile phone, you go to the main mosque which can do 220 Volts. They have an extra mobile charging chamber there. At the main mosque, thanks to 220 Volts, you can also watch color TV.

I had so much trouble photographing walls or doorknockers in Senegal (see West Africa parts 1 and 9) and now in Badoudou-Sadiokounda the trouble reverses: People *demand* to be photographed (like in nearby Gambia). In return they want to see the picture and have a drastic laugh at it.

"You photograph anything and anyone you want", insists Abdou.

I am introduced to the village grocer. According to Abdou, he has a good heart and gives generous credit. I suggest I could buy a pack of sweets for the drove of kids that's now following us and that's very fine with Abdou. It is less fine with me, actually, as I don't like the idea of whites giving unhealthy food to local children; so I ask Abdou to hand the sweets around.

Even the male nurse at the health post wants to be photographed and laughs at the meager nightstand full of tablets, forming the village pharmacy. A statistic on the wall shows that in most months the village has two to ten confirmed cases of Malaria. The malaria test device looks half-way like a pregnancy check. Malaria can be quickly cured with a row of yellow tablets that come from USAid, with English description only. "Theses tablets are wonderful", says the male nurse. "We get them for free from USAid and give them out for free."

We had seen the governmental village school with 213 pupils. Now Abdou asks me to buy another pack of sweets because we arrive at the Koran school (in local parlance, it's "French school" versus "Arabian school"). Here are 53 pupils in two classes and they happily interrupt their lesson in Arabian writing for us. I understand that children visit either the regular or the Koran school, that also teaches mathematics or geography. Boys and girls sit mixed in this classroom and interact freely. The girls wear very loose headscarves and you can see they will drop it after school. On the village roads, I haven't seen one headscarf. The kids stand up to sing for me in Arabian and Abdou insists that I photograph the group.

On the horse-cart (Fr. "caleche") we return to the Fadidi Niambato bungalow resort. It is run jointly by four villages near Sokone, including Badoudou-Sadiokounda, and they offer guided trips to each single village, as well as boat tours out into the mangrove-lined water ways. My three hours excursion costs a total of 12 Euros. A table shows exactly how the money is divided between guide, horse-cart driver, village and resort. It was a fantastic experience, not the least because for once I had met friendly, funny and open villagers. ´

"Why is the bungalow resort situated so lonely in the bush", I ask Monique, the young resort manager. "It could have been next to one village."

"Why", she reasons, "look, here we can offer our guests the nice river view".

But I guess the resort stands in the middle of nowhere so that none of the four participating villages feels discriminated. It might also stand so lonely to protect villagers and foreign tourists from each other. Still, from the neat and proper resort you can reach the villages of Limanes and N'Doffane in 20 walking minutes.


Going into a village and interacting with the locals is an experience that's hard to beat.

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