Sunday, 14 January 2007

26th December, will I die here?

I was woken by cockerels, again! I got up to see what was going on, a few members of the truck were already up and around, listening to radio's. This worried me slightly, the more radios around being listened to in Africa, the more I think that there is trouble looming.
I went off for a walk to try to find the river that had the village covered in mist (the photo above I kept as it was so true of the light despite the mist interference!). At the end of the village there was a barrier, a stick barring my path. I walked past it and was then asked where I was going by two soldiers. I had no idea there were soldiers here; I got my passport out and handed it to them, scrutinizing it they were very friendly and handed it back. I wandered a little way realising how thick the forest was here before heading back to the village to get my stuff together and to see if Gianni had woken up.

Since returning home and doing some more research on this incredible region it seems that there are elephants nearby:
We walked down to the river with N'Sira, I wondered how the truck was going to get down here but a few minutes later it followed us. Everyone was calling across the river, the other half of the village had all the pirogues there and apparently 3 more trucks (there turned out only to be two more). The pirogues appeared in the morning mist to take us all across, batches of 5 at a time with all our luggage. The forest was beautiful and whilst we were waiting we started to get to know a few of the other passengers.
Once on the other side of the river we followed N'Sira who asked one of the villagers if we could store our things in one of their huts. Suddenly we heard shouting and it was more soldiers demanding to know why we hadn't immediately registered in his office. We followed him in and played the language game, Gianni spoke Italian and I only spoke English; which was pretty desperate as the two of us couldn't understand each other in our mother tongues!!! The soldier wanted money ... we weren't about to give any and N'Sira was putting up an argument for all of us; it didn't work, so I got hold of his office phone and together with the number of the Guinean embassy in Bissau attempted to make a call; it didn't go down well as he snatched the phone back from me but it did the trick and he waved us away!The three of us went down to the river, N'Sira and I wanted to wash, the water was particularly muddy in places but finally she & I and a few of the other women found somewhere to wash and I got rid of some of the dirt that had built up yesterday from the piste. We returned to the village and I was spied on by some children, who were fascinated by us. There were twins, the twin in red had seriously bowed legs that he coped incredibly well on ... we sat and waited about 2hrs whilst they moved all the sacks of nuts across the river into the new truck.

Finally the truck was ready and everyone ran after it. It was higher off the ground than the previous one and getting into it wasn't easy. We also realised that we had grown in number, there were a lot of new passengers!
We made progress for about 5km then we were again told to get off as the hill the truck had to climb was dangerous and we could tip over. We all walked up the hill and waited ... nothing ... finally someone came up to tell us the truck had indeed gone over and they'd gone back to the village to get some help to unload it and load up the second truck. Whilst we were all waiting, Gianni & I tried to explain to most of the men that it really wasn't worth the hell they would have to go through to get to Europe; most of them were intent on making the sacrifices to get there one day!
I was horrified when the second truck appeared, it was loaded to the hilt with sacks .. how we were going to get up there I didn't know. Suddenly the commotion erupted again as everyone clambered on board. I made it on board thanks to help from Gianni and a few Guineans, there wasn't room for Gianni on top of the sacks, he had to sit on the cabin.

Perched on top at the rear of the truck I was very unhappy; everytime the truck swayed violently I thought we were going to go over, the piste was particularly rough. We forded a stream and climbed up a hill, the truck didn't want to go up and I saw the cabin come up higher than it should, I screamed convinced it would flip over crushing us all; the driver tried again and the same thing happened, I was gripping the arm of one of the guys Gianni & I had nicknamed 'the pirate' absolutely petrified. N'Sira and the women around her in the middle looked similarly horrified. A few kilometres later we arrived in another village with another policeman.
Within minutes of arriving I spoke to Gianni who came to the back of the truck. I told him that I was getting off, going to find a motorbike and ride out of here to Boke; I didn't want to stay on the truck, I was scared and I'd had enough. Basically I was desperately and miserably petrified, Gianni was also worried but persuaded me that I was safer on the truck than on a bike. He handed me some bread he'd bought and I handed it straight back saying I couldn't eat a thing. Later in Boke he told me that three times he was also convinced that the camion was going to go over.

He went off with our passports to meet the policeman, seconds later I heard him screaming and the policeman telling Gianni to sit down. Never before have I seen a whole village move so fast, they all raced to the police hut to see the drama unfolding; I asked N'Sira if she could see anymore from her position, the 'pirate' was on the ground and came back to tell me to sit tight ... I had visions of Gianni having us both locked up in this village for the next few weeks! Eventually the truck driver went into the hut and calmed things down and gave Gianni 3,000GF to hand the police, both of us were annoyed that we parted with money to the police but the driver wanted to get on ...

Within a kilometre of the village one of our rear tyres exploded. We all got off again. We started walking; I was thrilled to be on terra firma. We walked about 6km in the sun, with very little water (a couple of centimetres in our last bottle) both of us were getting dehydrated; I asked N'Sira & her friend Fatima to ask at the next village we passed for some oranges. There were five of us walking together and we all scoffed about 30 oranges, a great relief! A little later I heard the sound of a generator, I wondered if this would be a larger village - maybe with something to drink. Sadly we discovered it was a generator for milling grain. We walked down a long hill and found a gorgeous stream at the bottom, N'Sira, Fatima & I had a swim, thrilled to have cool water .. before heading up the steep path into what we thought would be the village of Dabiss (and a shop maybe?!). We found some of the others relaxing in the village, they'd gone on ahead of us, it was now 5.30pm and the truck's engine could be heard coming towards us but we were still 5km from Dabiss!We boarded the truck again, ready for the final leg to Boke. The piste became a lot better after Dabiss, we broke down as the light was fading, the engine made a rather sad noise and Gianni was convinced it was finished. Suprisingly, with a bit of water, it fired up again and we were on our way. At about 9pm we started going down a hill and the mechanic guys who'd been sitting around me at the back said that a truck had gone off the bridge at the bottom of the hill a few weeks earlier. We crossed the bridge without a worry, but as we went up the other side, the driver couldn't get the camion into first gear and we started rolling rather alarmingly downhill in reverse. One of the passengers beside me got very tense and jumped off the back, the 'pirate' looked worried and the mechanic guys jumped off with chocks in their hands to put under the wheels. They saved any possible disaster. Not only did we not have brakes, our first gear was out of action too! Finally we climbed up the hill with the engine grunting and saw the lights of Boke ahead. We jubilantly got into town at 10.30pm, only 30hrs after leaving Quebo some 75km away. N'Sira and the driver helped us out on arrival, Gianni ran off to find water and I was left with the bags. We decided to go to the Hotel Philao on the edge of town and to meet up with her in the morning. The truck driver came with us, a lovely guy, only 27 and essentially our saviour ... he made sure we were happy at Philao , a room at 45,000FG and we gave him some Francs to get a taxi home.

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