Sun-Earther

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The Tache is dead. Long live the Tache.

March 30, 2009

Oh dear. A little while ago I decided that it was finally time to rid myself of the vestiges of my shaggy winter plumage, and it was with this intention that I presented myself at a local hairdressing and barbing saloon, as it styled itself (no pun intended). Having been summoned by phone, the man that does the barbing eventually turned up. Accompanying him was the owners husband, who billed his friend as the best at cutting hair in the whole of the country. The evidence suggests that The Gambia won't be top of the medals table at any international hair cutting events for the foreseeable future. Much as a cack-handed sculptor starts with visions of of a larger than life representation of a gallant warrior astride a winged steed, but finally contents himself with a passable life sized likeness of a garden pea, the breathtaking haircut that had been promised suffered a long series of corrections, eventually leaving my head with a length of cover that would make a tennis ball feel naked (Ignoring the long bit over the left temple that I didn't spot until later, that is). I had hoped to have my beard trimmed back to give the moustache one last hurrah, but this too got caught in the crossfire, the artist at work not realising until it was too late that the fine ginger facial hairs of a toubab are not as robust as those of his usual clientele. At the end the owners husband ceremoniously announced that I didn't look handsome, I looked BEAUTIFUL. I am aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but had it not been Friday afternoon in a predominately Islamic country I would suspect that the preceeding few huors had been spent holding beers rather than bes.

Toubab (the question of whethr or not to becomes an academic one after the first couple of coffees of the morning) is one of the few words of the local language that I have learnt, aided by the small children that repeatedly shout it as I walk past, and it means much the same as Farang does in Thai. It is quite often followed by give me money, or donne moi un cadeau. It seems that this is more a case of trying it on rather than a serious demand. Adults aren't afraid to ask either. After a long and arduous twelve rounds over whether or not I was going to buy some tourist tat, a contest that I lost on points, the vendor celebrated by saying "those are nice shoes, you can give them to me". To be fair, I have read that the practice stem from Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, the idea of which is that you share some of what you have with those less fortunate than yourself. Mind you, it is a little wearing at times. Back in Mauritania I was followed for half a couple of hundred metres by a pack of children who quickly gave up on "Bonjour monsieur, donne moi un cadeau" in favour of the much more direct chant of "ca-deau-ca-deau-ca-deau...."

Upon reaching adulthood in The Gambia one automatically qualifies as a tourist guide, and thus able to provide services such as walking alongside someone to a place that they already know the location of for a small fee. I now have another reason to add to the list of reasons why I do not have a mobile phone (admittedly previously limited to having heard somewhere that they indirectly endager gorillas, and generally being a stubborn luddite) - would be guides ask for my number, but instead have to give me theirs. I reckon I am about halfway to a full update of The Gambian phonebook.

I must apologise as a lot of what I write is transport related. Mind you, it seems that a lot of the time I don't spend in internet cafes is spent reeling from one form of poorly maintained and overcrowded vehicle to another. Having endured being one of six passengers many times further north, I had to hold back a tear or two when I read the bit of the guide book that mentioned the most common form of long distance transport in Senegal, the sept-place taxi, wondering where exactly the seveth passenger would be shoe-horned in. It turns out that they use old Peugeots with two rows of back seats. The person in the front gets the whole seat to themselves, though I have yet to learn what favours one must perform to win this prime position. The first back seat, shared between three, is not so bad, but I am not a fan of the septieme place, in the middle of the back row, as this was designed with a five year old in mind.

The streets of Greater Dakar are forever filled with a slow moving procession of cars, trucks of all sizes, buses, taxis, people in wheelchairs, donkey carts, and the occaional heavily loaded wheelbarrow. I was aiming to stay in one of the suburbs, and after an hour of gradually crawling into the city decided to ask the driver if where we were was a better place to get out, rather than go into the centre and back out again. It was, and the winner of the race to rip off the toubab led me across one side of the dual carriageway to his taxi, which was parked in the middle of some roadworks. After the opening up the bonnet and yanking a wire to start the engine we turned round and joined the slow moving taffic. Three lanes of it. Coming in the opposite direction. As Jeremy Clarkson. Would put it. To emphasise the point. I'm not sure exactly what conversations the driver was having with those that he was gently easing past, but I am guessing that it involved the sort of language more commonly used down t'pit. After a couple of minutes swimming upstream we took a sharp right onto the roundabout and cut across anotherthree lanes of traffic. We stopped for petrol halfway, and it was at this point that I noticed that the passenger door was not, and would not, shut properly. I spent the remainder of the journey clinging to the handle whilst nervously peering through the two rolls of sellotape that were holding the windscreen together.

My trip to The Gambian border was entertaining too. Having arrived at the main road by donkey cart and boat, I flagged down a passing car and snuggled in next to the driver. There was a strange noise coming from somewhere in the car, which I finally deduced must be a goat in the boot. We stopped just short of the border and the driver and the chap sitting next to me both got out and started unloading the latter's luggage. Lo and behold, not one but two goats were unloaded and tied to a handy lamp post. And then two more. Then another three. Three more came out, followed by a another, and so on. Those of us still in the car were keeping count, and the universal agreement was that a total of 17 goats had emerged. I bet that if Paul Daniels is reading this (and I can see no good reason to doubt that he is), he is at this moment cursing the UK's animal welfare laws.

After several weeks of inactivity the monkeyometer has finally clicked back into action. I have had to activate the function that keeps separate tallies of sightings on the trip and brand new sightings. green, or vervet, monkeys are common as muck, being found as far east as Kenya, and all the way down to South Africa. Western Red Colobus, on the other hand, are more of a local speciality and therefore earn top points. A pack of Guinea Baboons means that new sightings now stand at three, and the grand total is four.
Goodbye until the next time.

Posted by jamesb at March 30, 2009 3:56 PM

Comments


Mate, i think we can now safely add to the list of James Brown top 10 skills; Travel writing. other enteries include crosswords, sitting, not making decisions, beer and tab smoking (you may have given up but you were still the best i've ever known!)

Seriously I have had to wipe the tears from my eyes when it came to the section on tache removal. You need to write more of them. GKT

Posted by: Gareth at April 6, 2009 2:50 AM


All this brightens up my days a la mood. Thank you!! I had some lovely Gambian neighbours at one time, Isatou Bojang and co. They never ventured to give me a guided tour of Harehills.

I miss you when I'm stuck on the Guardian crossword, here's one for ya:
(5-5) Monkey searcher with odd barnet

XXX

Posted by: Emma Tariket at April 6, 2009 2:17 PM


All this brightens up my days a la mood. Thank you!! I had some lovely Gambian neighbours at one time, Isatou Bojang and co. They never ventured to give me a guided tour of Harehills.

I miss you when I'm stuck on the Guardian crossword, here's one for ya:
(5-5) Monkey searcher with odd barnet

XXX

Posted by: Emma Tariket at April 6, 2009 2:18 PM


Hey James, it's two or months since I drove you out of Kings Cross with my pitchfork... time passes. Quickly. Hope you doing okay, have just ploughed through a backlog of postings. Sounds great, bit mental. Wish I was there. So I could have my shoes stolen also no doubt. London is crazy and hectic. You probably remember that. Look forward to hearing more. Take care, lots of love. Ben x

Posted by: benzlebub at April 10, 2009 1:14 PM


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