West Africa Blog 2008

Posts from a West African Learning Journey
May – Aug 2008


Lindisfarne UK

WA110508Come to the edge.
No, we will fall.

Come to the edge.
No, we will fall.

They came to the edge.
He pushed them,
and they flew.

Guillaume Apollinaire


WA150508“Go at our tempo,”
my welcomer said,
“then you can see
and learn and know.”


Lots of
hooting yellow taxis,
hairdressers and
slow walking in the sun.

Bamako MALI

Shady trees,
fast scooters,
courtyard tea.

Kundu Dubah, Dogon Country MALI

WA280508Cliff hanging villages,
great plains,
open arms.

Tombouctou MALI

WA300508Unimagined arrival into
ancient, remote city.

Awesome unknowns of
billowing sandstorm.

Easy rest into hospitality
of nomadic
Toureg people.

Tombouctou MALI

WA310508Pointing to his hand with each finger a different length, he said,
“It is possible to live well together. We need different things. It is impossible to have them all at the same time. We need to go slowly, be patient. We need to learn to live with less of some things.”

Mopti MALI

WA010608Boat building cacophony.

Quieter perspectives
from a piroque.

Island football.
Splashing children.
Steady fishing.

Djenne MALI

WA020608Rooftop sunset.
Glowing red city facets.
Old walls:
annual restoration rituals.
Famous market and
celebrated mud-cloth maker.

Bamako MALI

WA060608Open air music
with friends of a Mission
and Toumani Diabate.

Dancing with
weekend party people
to kora
and djembe rhythms.

Bamako MALI

WA070608Plateau views
of a big city
stretching across
a wide, lazy Niger.

Bobo-Dioulasso BURKINA FASO

WA090608An easy breeze.
An ensemble
of weaving traffic.
Cars, motos, bicycles, people
moving around and along
streets lined
with big old trees.

Ouagadougou BURKINA FASO

WA110608Paving. Traffic lights. Grid streets.

Holy name humour Challenging
Big city anonymity.

Phoenix buildings from rubble spaces:
Red sand surface.
Grey sand guidance.

Ouagadougou BURKINA FASO


Ouagadougou BURKINA FASO

WA170608Me and Stella
on her scooter
Miles and miles
of cityscape.

Children dancing.
Students marching.
Family gathering:
food: festivity.

Niamey NIGER

WA200608Communal dwelling
welcome into the family
of a friend.
Personal chauffeurs in
expanding cars.

Evening visits with the extended family:
sisters, cousins, brothers, mothers,
the father,
friends and neighbours.

Torodi NIGER

WA210608Home of a mother.
Welcome of women and children.
And a beautiful old man.

Cooking. Eating.
Gifts. Kindness.
Sitting in curtained rooms.

And the single car
parked under a singular tree.

Niamey NIGER

WA240608Outdoor water,
cooking and sleeping.

Indoor eating,
Brazillian soaps and shelter
from hours of
clamourous rain.

Niamey NIGER

WA250608Government officials.
Local and international NGOs.
French. Themes.
Emerging picture of health context.

Le Défi. Le But.
The challenges. The goals. Commitment. Ideas.
Exhaustion. Bureaucracy. Funding complexity.

Detail of delivery.
Desires for deep change.

Niamey NIGER

WA260608Food: day’s patterning:
Buying… making…
waiting… washing…
More… and again…
Honoured guests.
Communal attention.
Kind flavours.
Mango conclusion.

Parakou BENIN

WA280608Cheeky yellow birds.
Big leafed
green, green trees.

Green and yellow shirts
of moto taxis.

Rhythm of rain.
Rest and reflect.
A pausing place.

Abomey BENIN

WA290608Low-lying red mud houses
And palaces
In high green grass reeds.
Hidden weight of history
Midst mud decay.

Some things forgotten;
Some things to forget;
Some cruelties
and grandeur remembered;

And an unobserved
ongoing influence.

Bohicon BENIN

WA300608Strip-mall feeling
Street-side sellers
Bus station snacks.
Watching very little people
Sit on stools
And totter in the sand.

Ganvie BENIN

WA020708Stilt houses. Tin roofs.
Sounds of wooden decks.

Boats filled with market goods
– floating.

Women in big hats
– selling.

Men with nets and branches
– fishing.

Ouidah BENIN

WA030708Heaviness of complexity
for those treating HIV.

Small town opening
to wide beach exhale.

Coconut trees…
pauses… teapots…
and the Atlantic.

Cotonou BENIN

WA040708Multilevel buildings.
Paving stone streets.
A skateboard
and birthday cards.
Dodging moto taxis daily
and eating Mama’s
on street ablo.

Porto Novo BENIN

WA050708The capital’s refrain:
school-taught children chanting…
“Yovo, Yovo, bonsoir…
ça va bien…merci”

(Waves and smiles
to these “maiweewee”)


Coastal capital
fringed by the beauty of
long golden sands, palm trees and this blue ocean’s white waves.

Many men in army vehicles
and many men on scooters.

Little local street banter. Shoulders massaged
by kind soul;
Her friend suggesting:
“Small country, small problems.”

Atakpamé, Akparé, KéLépé TOGO

WA090708From a big town
to a small town
to a very small village.

From a taxi-bus
to a market
to a simple home.

From roadside peanuts
to millet beers
and then some earl grey tea.

From a minibus and a car
to long distant motos
to company and rural calm.


WA110708Dual carriageway divided:
Slums. City slickers.

Big city spirit
of Atlanta and Jo’burg.
Trees. High walls.
Them. Us.
Smiles and scams.
Kindness and queues.

Kumasi GHANA

WA130708Old city humility.
Ancient kingdom pride.
Symbols. Cassava.
And hospital reality.
Market breadth and depth.
Blaring horns.
Taxi spaghetti.
And roadside shoe displays.

Elmina GHANA

WA150708White castle, sands and atrocities. Tight houses on the shore. Bright vessels in a lagoon harbour.

Standing fishermen
Clapping rhythms
Over the waves.

Unwanted gifts
Bringing gift insight.

And a boat called
‘Ideas: I shall return’.

Cape Coast GHANA

Small boats. Big Sea. Blue nets.

Tight central streets around tiny London Bridge. Rolling ridges with hilltop schools.

Centre of education. Conversational pace.
Kindness and connection.


WA170708Rough road to kind spaces.

Swimming in the sea
and sitting in lamplight.

Mahara, Lungi SIERRA LEONE

WA180708Trees between houses
Dark night, big rain
Long shore, fishermen.

Afternoon football
with sea and city views.

Cup of tea.


Houses climbing
beautiful misty hills
dense with rain
and people and NGOs.
Beachfront space
and boats and bill boards.

“Attitude is everything!”

“A man of quality should not be afraid of a woman in search of equity.”


Trees, big river
and spread-out houses.

Pre-emptive visit to vigilant border police alert to white-skin of freetown’s drug-bust.

Night work to free mud-slipped truck.

People familiar with war: shorts, stories and welcome.

Determined community radio: creating space for dialogue and debate.

Conakry GUINEA

WA240708Peninsula city
Crammed with
Traffic and beauty.
And veins of poverty.

Ocean sunsets. Contrasts.
Lethargy or contentment.

And the accompaniment of
kind-hearted people.


Smelly streets.
Slippery rides.
Rural beauty.

Koundara GUINEA

WA270708Town without lights.
Late night home of welcome.
Morning bench of conversation.


WA290708Weathered and war-torn.
But with latent energy and calm fortitude.

Exterior impressions of decay. Interior glimpses of order, participation, resilience.


WA300708Unexpected return: a flight facilitating Cassemance avoidance.

Familiar and new.

Preparing for manic taxi point. Lingering in calm cafés. Busy streets. Bashed cars. Square buildings. Constant chat.


SONY DSCMorning greetings.

Afternoon baking.

Dusk walking
through changing bush:
village houses, shops, gardens, baobabs, returning workers, fields, fallen trees
and wide salt flats.

Evening candles. Rest.


WA040808Island capital surrounded by swamps and sea.

Shore walking.
Salty rain.
Friendly intentions.

Easy to be a tourist.
Harder to be a journalist.

Economic aspirations and
astounding declarations.


WA070808Brown houses hosting
White houses.

Brown roads carrying
White cars.

Long pauses.
Slow gathering.

Big thunder.
Lightening sky.
Reflected in
Horizons of water.


WA090808Congested roads.
Constructing freeways.

Pool refreshment.
Balcony views
of Dakar’s dusk.

Unexpected welcome.

Keur Moussa SENEGAL

WA100808Big journey
Small church
Rambling plants.

Black monks
White robes
Bold frieze.

Quiet moments
Soft drums
Clattering bus return.

Saint Louis SENEGAL

WA110808Shuttered light
And grey buildings
Joined to a mainland
By a secondhand bridge.

Lines of
brightly coloured washing.
Rows of
brightly weathered boats.

Many men standing, sitting.
Many women walking, lifting.

Tourists with backpacks.
Expats with laptops.
And a freckled African
with memories, clues
and questions.

Saint Louis SENEGAL

WA120808On leaving, the African man
settled her bill and said:
“No-one believes in Africa.
Except maybe you.”


Truth flows alongside our flawed vision.
And we fish and swim
in an ocean without borders.


WA140808Taxi’d away from the calm home and crazy city streets.

Swimming in the waves of a continent’s westerly shore.

Watching the sun set slowly into the Atlantic.

A good end.
A good beginning.

Edinburgh SCOTLAND

WA140808Grey stone,
grey clouds,
grey room.


Welcome. Familiarity.

And tea in a red cup.