Saturday, August 6, 2011

The call of the open road

The road goes ever on and on ...
When I was a kid I used to look at trains, and think that they are off over the horizon where things must be better, life sweeter, school would not give homework, and the skies would be bluer. Later I watched aeroplanes, believing that where they went girls would be prettier and not so hard to get to know.

And always there was the road, leading on to who knows what miracles and mysteries.

When we were in nice, ordered, directed, rigid Morocco the people spoke with a tinge of envy of Mauritania, where everything goes, and where we would get spare parts for our cars.

In Mauritania we were disappointed with the heat, the dirtyness and decay of the tourist spots, and we were told that Senegal was a better place, where people were learned, everything was written up and life was just better.

Ferry at the mouth of the Gambia river.
After the utter chaos of the ferry crossing at Rosso and the anarchy of traffic in Dakar we hear that in the Gambia there is no bribery, and officials are not allowed to hassle you. I am sure the beaches are cleaner, the girls prettier, the food nicer….

Perhaps that is why we travel. Already we have made acquaintenance with people who had never left their towns. Some mentioned this with some regret, some with pride. But I am drawn on by the magical names of Banjul, Mopti, Djenne, Timbuktu, Ouagadougou… Who knows what wonders we will see?

And, having seen them, will we not return and find that home is very much like these places, and the people, after all, very similar?

Statue on the skyline dominating Dakar
We admired the famous statue, in Dakar, supposed to symbolise the African Renaissance. Critics call it a Soviet-style attempt at immortality by some politicians. And the news has several reports about politicians that seek to achieve immortality by being re-elected, or having their sons inherit the leadership of their countries. So perhaps it was fitting that we should visit the mysterious stone circles in Senegal, and we hope to visit those in Gambia as well.
Who lies here?

Time has passed, no memories remain
Nobody seems to know who built these, rough hewn from local stone. They are not big, perhaps man-size, but it must have been hard work for people with crude metal tools to produce these, then move them and place them in symmetrical circles. Romantically named the King’s tomb, the biggest site in Senegal is said to have more than a thousand stones. They rest, leaning slightly to one or the other side, some resting already in the ground, remembering someone lost in the mists of time, someone that lived in these flat, fertile plains and wished to be remembered.

Time, wars, the rise and fall of empires, slave raids and civil war had wiped out all memory of those who had erected the stones, but they remain, a mute witness to the attempt at immortality. 

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