Sunday, 14 January 2007

At home in Varela

Chez Helene must offer the best accomodation in the region (Casamance, Guinea Bissau & Guinea) at the price; Fatima gave us room & full board for 10,000CFA. The place was up to European standards as Franco used to manage cruise boats and was fastidious about cleaning. They had electricity due to their generator which ran from dusk till midnight. Plus we all managed to dig into their reserve of Portuguese 'Reserva' wine which was a welcome taste after beer in Senegal.
Our day there was spent wandering down to the beach just over a kilometre away, 22km of sand without a soul in sight. The sea was warm enough to swim in. It was a sad walk down to the beach, we passed the old barracks that was used by the rebels during the war. There were a lot of houses down towards the beach, all of a European style but sadly abandoned. Such a gorgeous area of the world, Varela is a remote corner of Guinea Bissau and very isolated with Sao Domingos being the nearest town 3 hours away. Since the war and more recently the demise of the bridge it seems even more remote; but I hope people will start to visit again now it's been fixed!

We had a sumptuous lunch with Fatima & Franco and their family (their daughter from Monaco was there on holiday and they have adopted two girls from the village) which was rudely interuppted by the arrival of the military who sat drinking most of the afternoon. Fatima is someone who is held in high esteem in Guinea Bissau, her mother, Helene, was something of a legend from what we understood. Later in the trip we met many who knew Fatima and went out of their way to help us due to the connection. She and Franco speak a multitude of languages, her father was Portuguese whilst her mother was from Guinea Bissau, Italian, Portuguese, French, English, Creolo are all spoken fluently at home; an incredible couple!
The Varela disco! There's life here!!!

I had brought about 20kg of childrens clothes & shoes with me donated by friends in France. The intention was to drop them off in Guinea Bissau at a orphanage or hospital. But meeting Fatima, seeing the village and knowing that they'd been without any supplies for 10months (the bridge was fixed 4 days before our arrival) I gave them to Fatima. She is the matriach of the village, everyone came to her for medicine, assistance with food donations and clothing. I knew that this was the right place to hand them out and selfishly I was glad to be rid of the weight in my pack.

Anyone reading this with medical experience or studying medicine who would like to go to Guinea Bissau and volunteer please contact me via the 'comments' option; Fatima has asked me to help find an extra pair of expert hands.

We spent the afternoon wandering around the village and down to the fishermans beach a shorter walk from the village. As ever the villagers were incredibly friendly, one was from Guinea and tried to give us advice as to how to cross into Guinea via the southeast of Guinea Bissau.

We had a wonderful final meal with the family, Fatima had arranged for us to get the minibus direct to Bissau for 4,000CFA, the only problem was that it left at 4am! Everyone talking madly, drinking palm wine & beer we didn't get to bed until almost 11pm, but it was sad to even contemplate leaving!

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