Feature Article of Sunday, 21 October 2012

Columnist: Chasant, Muntaka

My Journey Across West Africa

This is the continuation of the ‘My Journey Across West Africa’ episodes. To read previous episodes, click on the columnist name above.

Dear readers,

The narration of my journey across West Africa continues.

Journal entry – start

Date: 24/11/11
Time: 11:20AM
Location: Karang, Senegal

How do you get rid of people who won’t go away?

No one but only Yayah Jammeh decides who wins and who loses.

Entry conclusion

We’ll see who laughs last.

Journal entry – end

Senegal is a country of Sufism. Shaykh Ibrahim Niass was a renowned Sufi saint who founded the Ibrahimiyya sect of the Tijaniyyah order. He is widely revered by millions of followers around Africa. Legend has it that he lettered the national chief imam of Ghana and several other renowned personalities across West Africa. Kaolack is the center of this branch of Sufi order. I thought that, provided I couldn’t make it to Guinea Bissau due to the Presidential elections in Gambia, I could make up by stopping over in Kaolack to visit the tomb and mosque of this renowned saint.

Medina Baay is the seat of the Ibrahimiyya sect. Situated in Medina Baay also are the tomb of Ibrahim Niass and his mosque. I arrived in Kaolack on the noon of 24/11/11 after barely escaping Gambia’s Presidential Elections. The most popular food in Kaolack is meat with soda or bread. I managed to find the Medina Baay area by myself. The complex of the Medina Baay comprises the mosque and tombs of Ibrahim Niass, his children and grandson. The gatekeeper gave me VIP treatment by permitting me into the most restricted area. He didn’t permit me into the red area in shorts though. They directed me to a room where I changed into trousers. The followers who were supplicating around the tomb looked at me with some reverence. To have entered the restricted area to them means I’m anointed and should count myself among the lucky ones. Unfortunately I’m not the kind that finds solace in superstition.

Cigarette smoking was a common habit in Senegal. Almost every male I encountered smoked cigarette. It was also popular among teenagers. Like Mali, smoking cigarette, eating meat and drinking sugary drink was the way of life in some parts of Senegal, like the Kaolack region. I was not familiar with the smoking habit because it is frowned upon in Ghana. Senegalese and Malians do not request permission before smoking in the presence of others. It is not a responsible behavior.

Journal entry – start

Date: 00/11/11
Time: 00:00
Location: Unknown, Mali

What day is it?

What is the time?

Where in Mali are we?

Entry conclusion

What has happened to me?

Journal entry – end

I lost sense of time. There was no way to tell time and date. I got caught up in a never-ending journey. My iPod’s battery went dead, and my watch stopped working. I had no idea where we were and what day it was. This happened because we traveled continuously for almost three days, from Kaolack through Kayes to Bamako.

Whilst in Kaolack, I contacted Yvonne to find out whether she is still in Bamako, and discussed my plans with her. She was preparing to travel back to Abidjan, but was ready to hang on a day further to facilitate my travel up north.

I joined a long distance bus from Kaolack to Bamako. We left around 6:30PM on 24/11/11 in a bus full of Tuareg tribesmen in their robes and turbans. It’s about 600km from Kaolack, to Kayes, but this takes almost forever. After crossing Senegalese side of the divide, we have to go through Kayes, Sandare, Diema, Kolokani, Nossombougou and finally to Bamako. We came through Kafferine, Tambacounda and finally to the Kidira border. Kidira is about 70km south of the Bakel border area of Mauritania.

The corrupt Mali police continued to extort money from me throughout the western region of the country.

That area of Mali is desert and hot. It was one of the longest and most uncomfortable journeys I had.

We arrived in Kayes the following evening and continued through Sandare, Diema, Kolokani to Bamako. It took us nearly three days to complete this journey.

I saw three western backpackers as soon as I got out of the bus in Bamako.

“Looks to me like you guys are heading up north,” I said to the backpackers.

“We were,” one of them responded, “but not anymore.”

Armed gang killed a German and abducted three more tourists in Timbuktu the previous day. It occurred on 25/11/11, and I arrived in Bamako on 26/11/11. Tourists were avoiding the region due to the killing and kidnapping. It was not safe to go up north anymore. I resolved to abandon the attempt since Timbuktu will always be there and I can always make another attempt. As I write this, Timbuktu has fallen in the hands of Islamic jihadists, who have imposed sharia law in the region. They execute anyone who disregards the laws, in public style. They have also destroyed centuries old tourist attractions. It is very sad.

My bus didn’t make it to Bamako on time, so Yvonne left the before I arrived. There was nothing to do in Mali anymore. With the prevailing conditions, I settled to go east through Koutiala, Bobo to Ouagadougou. I spent the rest of the day hanging out with the British backpackers. They were like-minded fellows.

I left early in the morning headed towards Koutiala and crossed the border into Burkina Faso around 3:00PM. We continued to Bobo-Dioulasso throughout the afternoon. We arrived in Bobo at 9:20PM and changed bus to Ouagadougou around midnight.

I met a pretty Burkinabe woman at Bobo who was also changing bus to Ouagadougou. She was a custom worker. She recommended a hotel in the middle of Ouagadougou for me.

Ouagadougou was not what I expected. There were similarities between the Burkinabe Capital and northern Ghana. They had no regard for safety. Motorcyclists did not wear helmet.

I was closer to home than ever before. The Ghanaian border is about 170km further south of Ouagadougou, but it never occurred to me for a moment to abandon the quest and return home.

Next Episode
This features the experience in Niger and a dialogue with a socialist.

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