Hitchhiking Senegal: Part Seven

All Over Kedougou

When we left Kedougou the first time, we had assumed it would be our last. We headed off to a small village called Noubou, which was where we were planning on spending our last few weeks in the country. We had met the director of the program at a hotel the night before to get directions and also to get straight on what was expected of us when we arrived.We have learned in Senegal that we need to be explicit in asking about these things. “How does food work? Am we expected to chip in for every meal or pay for ourselves? What kind of work will we be doing and how many hours a day will we work?” This time, as with all of the others, the answer was the same: it’s chill, if you want to contribute we would really like it but you don’t have to at all, just whatever you want to put in is fine. It’s up to you.

The first red flag.

Nevertheless, we set out with the shaky directions we had been given. The night before we pulled up the map on our phone to get him to pin the location of the village. Worryingly, when trying to find it, he had ended up looking at maps of Sierra Leone.

Another red flag.

We posted up at a spot our friend Abdou had dropped us off at and began trying to flag down rides. The first one came from two guys in a pickup truck who took us to a construction site a few kilometers up the road but far enough out of town that we were on a straight, rural road. The perfect road to hitch from.

Before we left Kedougou, we had stocked up on booze in anticipation that the tiny (probably Muslim) village we were headed to wouldn’t have a thriving bar scene. Yet, for some reason, it felt like a good time to crack open one of the bottles early and have a little boozy day of hitchhiking and it was a great idea.

After getting another ride outside of a teeny tiny village, we waited with little shade for a while before a man came by in a tuktuk and stopped for us. He spoke great English and offered to take us for 500 each but we explained that we were hitchhiking and had been since Morocco so preferred to keep it up. He smiled and told us to get in anyways.

We found out his name was Ibrahima and he had lived in Europe for over 10 years. He was currently driving up to the mines because he transported drinking water to the workers there. During the ride he told us about the book he was writing called A Wonderful Illusion, whose premise was about Africans who travel abroad to Europe.

“People think that traveling to Europe is going to solve all of their problems. People here only see the plane go up so they imagine that Europe is a gateway between this world and heaven. They never see the plane come down.” He was the first African we had met who had been so vocal in his hesitation about living abroad. He was saying what we already knew but had found so difficult to explain to people here: Europe and the Americas were hard to live in. The cost of living is expensive, jobs are hard to come by, and (at least in America) you still have to pay for a lot of the things the Senegalese state takes care of, like education.

“I call it a wonderful illusion because people here think that getting to Europe is the answer, but the ones who get there realize that it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be….But you can’t come back until you have enough money to share with your village. If you come back without it you are seen as a failure. You can’t even make it in Europe where everything is easy, you must be cursed. They’ll banish you from the village.”

He said he had moved back to try and better his country. He wanted to show people that you don’t have to move to Europe to be prosperous. “Look at my bike,” he said. “I bought this bike for €2000. Instead of spending that money trying to get to Europe, I now have this means of making money here. I set up this business here.” It was something we had noticed all over Africa so far: people are working to leave. It’s hugely problematic as well. If everyone who has the means of leaving, decides to do so, who is left in the country? It perpetuates the message that this country is doomed, get somewhere better, which is a garbage mentality for a developing nation to have. It was refreshing to hear it from the mouth of an African.

We had noticed the strange relationship people here have with money. It takes on a different value than it does in the West. On the one hand, it’s the most important thing in life. Everyone is seeking it out at all times. Money is power, money is mobility, money is status. On the other hand, money is fleeting. It is meant to be spent and shared. You are supposed to get money and then distribute it among your family or your village. Everyone we had spoken to with a job continuously told us how difficult it was to save money.

“You go away for 6 months out of the year and when you come back, everyone knows you’ve been working so everyone knows you have money. And they expect some of it. It’s impossible to save money here,” a ride had told us back in Casamance. It was the same across the board and we were not immune to it.

When we were in Niaguis, we had been chastised for not contributing financially to the family into which we had been brought. Despite our physical labor around the house and farm, they had still felt we had slighted them. I realized this was what they had meant. We were more affluent, therefore we were expected to pay more. If you have money, you give money to those that don’t have it. It seems altruistic and fair enough to help out your fellow man but what Ibrahima was telling us now felt more like what we had begun to notice.

He mentioned the damage a system like this does to the work ethic of the population. He said that people don’t feel the need to work hard because they are either skeptical that saving money will produce some change in their lives or because they have a working family member who contributes enough to their well-being that work is unnecessary. People who are working either have to because they have dependents or are trying to get abroad.

We could have talked to Ibrahima all day but he had work to do and we still had heaps of ground to cover.

Senegal has invested a bunch of money in building a road from Kedougou to Salémata and there was construction everywhere! It was great for getting rides and we managed to get to the town of Thianhoye (the last “big” town before we forked off to get to Noubou) with relative ease. We asked for directions to Dakatelly, the village supposedly right before Noubou where the director of the Workaway had told us to go to meet people who would take us to the village. It was still early afternoon and we figured we could easily make it all the way that day.

We underestimated how small and isolated where we were was and we spoke with people who said that they get a few cars per day and only in the morning and the evening, if at all. We found a spot and decided to post up, we had plenty of day and plenty of booze left. We were going to make the most of the wait!

It wasn’t long before we attracted the attention of the entire village, especially the kids. We were an instant hit when we started to pass around our GoPro and teach the kids how to take photos on our camera. A few OutKast songs later and the kids were dancing and posing for pictures left and right!

Close to sunset we took a gamble and decided to split up on motorbikes to get to Dakatelly. Usually we prefer to stick together but we had seen quite a few bikes pass without passengers and knew it would be easier to get a free ride if we went separately and it worked! We decided to throw up the hammock and camp for the night and found a quiet spot off the main road to catch some z’s.

The next morning we awoke exhausted! Our boozy day had sustained us for food but we had skipped dinner and were starving! I walked into town and got us the only thing I could find for sale: mayonnaise baguette. It would have to do.

We had about 3 km to walk before the end of the road, which we assumed had to be Noubou. People had told us it was right past Dakatelly so we decided to walk in the only direction we could and hope for a passing car.

We walked for about an hour without seeing a single car when finally we heard the sound of an engine in the distance. A pickup truck was coming our way and stopped to give us a lift. We said we were going to Noubou but nobody knew where that was.

More red flags.

They offered to take us to the village they were headed to and we decided that was our best bet to get better directions. The village they brought us to was by far the most authentic village we had ever been to. It was about a 20 minute drive off of the road (which itself was another 30 minute drive from the main road) and when we arrived it was a simple collection of huts. No electricity, no running water. We were trying to figure out how they got food because we didn’t see any gardens and there definitely wasn’t a market nearby.

We were introduced to the villagers, who greeted us warmly and affectionately and laughed at Gabe’s bare feet. They offered us peanuts, which we came to find were the staple of their diet and Gabe tried to ask for directions from the few people who spoke French. Only one man knew of Noubou and according to him, in order to get there, we would have to backtrack to Thianhoye and continue to Salémata (which our host had explicitly told us not to do) and try the roads from there, although he warned that the road was potentially unnavigable.

We counted up the red flags we had gotten trying to reach this volunteering place and decided that if it had been this convoluted trying to get out there, it would probably be just as chaotic working there. We decided to abort the mission and catch a ride with the pickup truck back to Kedougou.

The next day we decided to hit the road again and head to the famous waterfalls outside of the city. We had hoped to be able to check them out before we left Senegal and now we had a little over a week to kill so we figured we would make our way there and camp in the woods until we could get into Guinea.

By this point, we were exhausted of people. Between hitchhiking, getting stuck in places, trying to get to this volunteering place, staying in the company of sociable strangers, we had done our fair share of communicating with people and being “on”. Now, we just wanted to hide in the woods and not have to talk to anyone. No social pressure, no being an ambassador, no small talk…just us in the woods.

We headed for a place called Dindefello, which was only 30 km from Kedougou and a quick Google search turned up heaps of pictures of dazzling waterfalls and lush forest.

It took us ages to get out of the city and our first ride only took us a few kilometers. After that we waited almost 2 hours before the next ride agreed to take us; however, we accidentally ended up going about 10 km too far. We’d have to backtrack.

The day was not cooperating with us.

We scored a ride back to the turnoff road and waited another few hours before a Belgian couple in their live-in off-road vehicle stopped and gave us a lift. They said they were going to Dindefello but it turned out that was just their ultimate destination and they decided to stop halfway at a campground for the night. We hadn’t eaten all day and were hoping to get to the next town to pick up some groceries so we decided to continue. It was close to 6 pm and we still had 6 km to go before reaching the town. We started to walk and ended up walking the entire way, arriving just after dark and scarfing down some cheap street food before finding a place to camp for the night.

The following morning we started the walk to Dindefello and again encountered the Belgians who gave us another ride to the town. We were informed that we wouldn’t be able to camp in the woods as we were only allowed to go with a guide. We knew this was probably untrue but the tour group styled itself as a conservation group and we didn’t mind spending a little money to help out this village in the middle of nowhere. Besides, the accommodations were reasonable, at $2/night, we were fine spending that for a few nights peace.

The waterfall was absolutely breathtaking and I imagine that during rainy season it is even more impressive. Our guide was a born-and-raised local who told us that his grandfather had been the one to discover the waterfall when he was hunting in the region. He told us the town got no assistance from the government and that the association had started running tour to the waterfall in order to raise the funds to hopefully build a better road leading to the town. We passed by ladies all doing their washing in the river and he told us this happens during the dry season when there is not enough water in the wells to support them. I asked if it had gotten worse every year and he responded, somberly, that it had.

We spent a few nights in Dindefello and decided to move our camp farther up the mountain and closer to the border with Guinea. The move consisted of a tough climb up to the top of a plateau with all of our things and our bag of supplies, which included enough food for 2 people for 5 days. By the end of it I was struggling big time and didn’t hide my discontent.

The small village of Affia sits at the top of the plateau and villagers have to walk up and down the mountain to get all the food they can’t produce themselves from Dindefello. There is a well and a mosque and a small ring of thatch huts but that’s about it. It wasn’t difficult for us to find a well-hidden, undisturbed campsite.

For three days we camped in our little home in the woods and on the fourth day we decided to try and get into Guinea even though our visa didn’t start until the following day. We were both done with killing time and done with Senegal: we were ready to get back on the road. However, we had no idea that trying to leave Senegal would once again bring us back into the thick of it.

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