In my past post (if you missed it, you can read it here), I told you all about our rather long journey from Ziguinchor to Haer. By now it was Tuesday morning, and we were due to catch the boat back from Bakassouck to Kafountine the following day. Again, there’s only one direct boat a week, so we couldn’t afford to miss it! So after a quick breakfast of bread (which we’d brought with us as bread isn’t cooked on the island, so it’s real treat for the people who live there), we set off to walk the 5km walk through the forest to Bakassouck.
We wanted to get there before the sun got too hot, so we walked at a brisk pace. Our route took us through thick forest, with an overhead canopy of leaves, vegetation on the ground, and even the occasional fallen palm tree to climb over. Occasionally we came out into rice fields – these are used in the rainy season so the islanders don’t have to buy rice, which is expensive and has to be brought in by boat. There were some beautiful birds along the way, and sometimes we skirted mudflats and narrow inlets, crossing over little bridges made of a simple plank.
If you need to take a journey using public transport, you need to check the timetable, right? But of course, things aren’t really that simple here! Gelli-gellis and cars wait until they’re full before they leave, so the operator gets the most return for the journey. And boats have to rely on the tide. So when we planned to move on from Oussouye to Bakassouck (which can only be done by boat), we knew it was likely to be a long day. And so it proved…
Our itinerary was: take a taxi or gelli-gelli to Zinguinchor (about 40 minutes drive), then take a small boat to Haer, a small landing point on the Isle de Caronne, which would take around 3 hours. Lastly, we’d have to walk around 5 kilometres through the forest to get to Bakassouck. So I was prepared for a lengthy journey.
Everyone’s heard of the Titanic, but did you know that a few years ago there was a similar disaster in which more people drowned than on the Titanic? The MV Joola was a ferry which ran between Ziguinchor and Dakar, making it easier for people in Casamance to travel to the Senegalese capital. At the time, this was very important, because a rebel war had been going in the area for several years, making travel by road very dangerous.
On September 26 2002, the Joola had made her first voyage from Dakar for several weeks, where she’d been undergoing maintenance. So there were lots of people wanting to make the journey back to Dakar, including traders, tourists, and people visiting relatives. There were also many high school and university students, as well as several Europeans.
Every now and then, Lamin and I decide to take a few days’ break from life here at Balaba and head off to somewhere different. Last year we had a trip all planned, but because I broke my wrist, it had to be postponed. We’d intended to go to southern Senegal (a region known as ‘Casamance’, to visit the provincial capital Ziguinchor and also some of the islands on the Casamance River. So we decided it was time to revive the idea of our road trip, and head off to Casamance.
I especially wanted to visit the island of Carabane, which is almost the most westerly point in Africa. It’s a very historical place, and was once famous as a slaving port. There’s now a museum of slavery there, which I wanted to see, and was also interested to see other historical monuments. So we decided to travel to Ziguinchor, then down to Oussouye, and base ourselves there for a few days. Then we planned to travel back to Bakassouck, the island where Lamin grew up. Our friend Rafael has a home in Oussouye, so he came with us and we stayed in his compound.
Here at Balaba, we’re only a few kilometres from the border with southern Senegal. Ten minutes’ drive and we’re in the border village of Kartong, which lies next to the Allahein River which forms the border. In fact, we have to go through immigration control every time we go to buy fish at the beach!
But one of my favourite activities is to go for a dawn river trip to see the birds, followed by breakfast on the beach. It’s one of the attractions that we offer to our tourists, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been myself. So since our friend Naomi, together with her family, was staying with us for a few days, we decided to do the trip.
It meant Lamin and I were up before six, boiling water for tea and collecting plates, cups, knives etc, together to take with us. We also need mats to sit on, all kinds of spreads for our bread, and of course, I needed my camera and binoculars. The birds are always quite active in the mornings, and there are fabulous birds such as the African Fish Eagle and ospreys to see.
In my last post (click here if you missed it!), I told you all about the journey to Bakassouck, together with the equipment we’d bought for the school. This post is all about the rest of our time there and how we donated the things to the school.
Life runs at a very slow pace on Bakassouck. No-one actually ‘goes to work’ in the sense that they commute to an office and spend a designated number of hours there. But of course, there’s always plenty to do. As in much of rural Africa, roles are quite clearly defined. The men usually go out to catch the fish for our meals (almost always tilapia from the surrounding bolongs), and they also go out to tap the palm wine which is drunk almost like water on Bakassouck. Naturally, this often means a party of them heading out together, and certainly during the daytime the men and women do things separately.
I had several blog posts I was going to complete before breaking my wrist last year, so I thought I’d write up at a least a couple of them for you. This post is one of them.
Some of you will know that Lamin grew up on a remote island in southern Senegal. Bakassouck can only be reached via a 5-hour boat journey from the Senegalese fishing village of Kafountine, and we’ve been several times now. (If you want to read about previous visits and see some photos, then check here and here to read about our previous visits, which have been rather eventful!).
Fish is part of the staple diet here in The Gambia, and I have never tasted such delicious fish anywhere else. The most commonly eaten fish is bonga fish (officially called Yellow-tailed Mullet) as it’s readily available and cheap. However, other fish includes ladyfish, butter fish, and more exotic examples such as barracuda. Catfish is also popular, and we also eat shark and stingray, although most Gambians tend not to eat it – it’s mainly the Senegalese and Ghanains who eat these fish. However, as few rural Gambians have fridges or freezers, fish is often smoked to help preserve it.
In the nearby fishing village in Gunjur, there are commercial smoke houses where the fish are set out.
Even though I am currently back in the UK, I am still updating my blog, as I still have a lot of posts I want to add! This is the second in a series of posts about my journey to Bakassouck, a remote island in Senegal, so if you haven’t yet read it, you may want to read ‘The Journey of a Lifetime?‘ first, so you know a bit about the island and why I visited.
There is only one very small shop on Bakassouck, so when people want bread, they have to make it themselves. Of course, in the UK we would use an oven or a breadmaker, but can you imagine trying to bake bread on an open fire? The first morning I woke up on Bakassouck, Sarjo was cooking bread, and I was so fascinated with how it was done, she let me take photos, and then made some more a couple of days later so I could get the photos I missed the first time. So here is how you make bread, Senegalese style.
Although I am now back in the UK for a while, I still have a few posts to add to the blog, as I didn’t have time to write them up before coming back. So I will be adding them over the next few weeks.
Every year, the Bakassouck Youths Association runs a congress, where they discuss progress on their various projects throughout the year, and make plans for the future. I have written about the Bakassouck Youths Association before, including their Bee Project, and update on the Bee Project, and also how the Minister for Youth and Sport came to find out more about the project. This year the congress was to be held in Bakassouck, a remote island in Senegal where most of the youths grew up (and where my husband Lamin grew up as well). I will have to split this adventure into several posts I think, as so much happened I couldn’t possible squeeze everything into one post!
Bakassouck can only be reached by boat. To get there, we need to travel from The Gambia to Senegal, and then take a five-hour boat journey from the fishing town of Kafountine. There is only one boat a week, so if you miss it, you have to wait another week before you can go! Last year I visited Bakassouck for the first time, and had an amazing (if eventful!) time – you can read all about that journey here.
So on Thursday 11 April 2013, we set off from Balaba at about 7:30 am. We had to drop the children at Marakissa; they couldn’t come with us as school would shortly be starting, but they weren’t at all impressed with being left behind, and there were some very sad faces.