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6 June 2019 / leggypeggy

Poor John has more converts

Walking to dinner

Poor John is second from the left

Regular followers of this blog will know that Poor John almost always walks with his hands clasped behind his back. It’s his signature pose. I’ve written about it here and here.

People who have travelled with us in the past get a kick out of sending me (not him) photos of other people doing the same. They also like to copy his pace.

This African trip was no exception. Most of the truck group went out to dinner one night in Yamoussoukro, capital of the Ivory Coast. I think Poor John was completely unaware of his following.

I wonder if any of them are keeping up the tradition? I wonder if any of you walk this way? I do sometimes.

Walking to dinner

 

4 June 2019 / leggypeggy

Unusual coffins are common in Ghana

Plane coffin

An airplane coffin in 2009 (cows in the background)

Plane coffin

An airplane coffin in progress in 2019

One of the first posts I wrote regarding our travels this year in Africa was about a meal we had in the Ghanaian town of Teshie.

But food is not the main reason a person heads to Teshie. Nope. It’s the elaborately carved and hand-painted coffins that draw people from all over Ghana, in fact from all over the world, to this town. Some want to buy these ‘fantasy’ coffins and others just want to see them.

Back in 2009, we made a special trip to Teshie just to visit the workshops. But once is never enough for a place like this, so three of us (Poor John, me and fellow traveller, Dee) grabbed a taxi and headed east from Accra.

Coffin showroom, Ghana

Coffin showroom from the street, 2009

Coffin showroom, Ghana

Entrance to coffin showroom

It was amazing to discover how little some things change. The main workshop is in the same place and looks much the same as it did 10 years ago. Just like in 2009, we were told it was okay to go round the back and up the stairs to the showroom, so off we went. I was surprised to see a child-size fish coffin that had been there on our first visit. Maybe it’s a new one but, judging from the weathering, I reckon it’s been kept for display. Each coffin is made to order.

The custom seems to have started sometime between the mid-1940s and the mid-1950s, and reflects a local attitude to the afterlife. The Ga people, an ethic group in Ghana and Togo, believe death is not the end and that life continues in the next world in the same way it did on earth. So the right send-off is important. (As an aside, West Africans spend a fortune on funerals. I saw banks with signs offering loans for homes, cars, education and funerals.)

The Western world was first introduced to these masterpieces at an exhibit in 1989 in Paris at the National Museum of Modern Art (Musée National d’Art Moderne).

A coffin usually depicts the deceased person’s profession, hobby or passion. Sometimes it indicates their status in the community.

In addition to the little fish we saw back in 2009, we saw an airplane for a pilot, a cow for a farmer, a pencil for a teacher and many more. This time we saw a flour bag, a vegetable, a camera, a truck, a spider and an eagle. Some were complete, some were in progress and some were ancient.

There was also a gorilla’s hand, but this wasn’t a coffin. It was a ‘throne’ made for a village chief. If I understood correctly, the chief was carried in it for a parade.

By the way, we saw a few more coffin-making shops on the side of the road as we drove through West Africa. Not sure which country, but I’ll try to let you know.

Gorilla hand

A throne for a village chief

31 May 2019 / leggypeggy

Korhogo cloth keeps Ivory Coast tradition alive

Weaving Korhogo cloth

Looms are hand and foot operated

Decorating Korhogo cloth

Women decorating Korhogo cloth

Back in early March, we were in Korhogo in the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) in West Africa.

We figure there’s no sense going to these far flung places if we don’t have a good look around, so we took advantage of a full day of guided visits to several touristic destinations. I’ve already written about the bead-making and granite chipping sites, but today I wanted to tell you about two fabric sites.

Frankly, I have a weakness for cloth and textiles in general. It is the souvenir I am most likely to bring home with me—that or some cooking gadget—and these two sites were especially appealing.

Weaving Korhogo clothWeaving Korhogo cloth

I hadn’t realised that Korhogo cloth is world famous. It’s up there with bogolafini (mud cloth) from Mali and Kente cloth from Ghana. I own some of both from previous travels in West Africa.

Korhogo cloth got going in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Back then, American Peace Corps volunteers encouraged the Senufo people to explore new styles of clothing production. They already made fila cloth and that provided inspiration for Korhogo cloth.

The cloth is made of hand woven and hand spun cotton. Men and women cultivate the cotton (we saw huge piles of cotton as we travelled through the country). Women spin it into yarn and prepare the dyes, while men weave and decorate the fabric. The looms are foot operated. We also saw women embroidering pieces of clothing.

Korhogo clothKorhogo cloth

Some finished cloth is made into garments and household accessories, such as bedspreads and tablecloths. Other pieces are turned into artworks. The paintings are done using specially fermented mud and plant-based pigments that darkens over time.

Our first stop was at a place that abounded with cotton, looms and men weaving fabric. Around the perimeter there were women adding embroidery to works already completed. Lots and lots of clothing or household items were on display. In fact, even the trees were festooned with fabric. Of course I bought something…er, somethings.

Later in the day, we visited another site where people were painting or embellishing cloth. For example, one fellow was splattering paint (or mud) on pants. Two fellows were adding designs to rectangles of fabric.

Designs usually depict human forms or animals that are important in Senufo culture and mythology. I resisted buying anything at this stop. Although looking at the pics , I am now suffering from regret.

I couldn’t resist sharing a lot of pics (not all have captions). Too much gorgeousness to look at.

Splattering paint or mud on Korhogo cloth

Splattering paint or mud on Korhogo pants

Korhogo cloth in the mud cloth style

Korhogo cloth in the mud cloth style

Have a look
It hasn’t been easy to follow and comment on other blogs while we’ve been travelling, but every now and then I have a decent internet connection, and I check out as much as I can. I laughed myself silly when I read Ortensia’s post about taking her dog to the vet. As one of the commenters said it ‘was like a scene from a comedy film’. Check it out if you need a good laugh.

Painting Korhogo cloth

I got the impression that the young fellow on the left was an apprentice

Painting Korhogo cloth

He gets a turn to paint

23 May 2019 / leggypeggy

The challenges of drying laundry

laundry drying

Laundry draped on rocks

laundry drying

Laundry hung between buildings and draped on bushes

I love getting comments on my blog and a recent one (by Susan over at onesmallwalk)

Great market, such colorful displays. But it was the laundry in the breeze
that makes me want to visit—Susan.

has prompted me to do a post devoted to laundry in Africa.

Frankly, I love seeing laundry being dried around the world. The colours, the fabrics, the breezes, the ingenuity.

laundry drying

Hotel bedding spread on the ground and on a line

laundry drying

Laundry draped on a fence

The ingenuity? There’s plenty of ingenuity. It’s important to remember that not everyone in the world has a clothesline or a clothes dryer. In fact, not everyone can afford clothespins (pegs in Australia). So getting clothes washed and dried requires a certain amount of creativity.

We understand that. On camping trips—heck on almost all of our trips—we carry a bag with laundry soap, clothesline, pegs and a universal plug. It’s usually quite easy to find a sink but not always easy to find a plug. Trust me, a wadded up sock doesn’t keep water from oozing quickly down a drain.

Interesting to note that Liberia was the first time we saw clothespins (pegs) being widely used. The photos here are from several West African countries.

laundry drying

Laundry on bamboo poles and clotheslines

laundry drying

Laundry on bamboo poles

So here is a collection of pics that show how West Africans get clothes dried.

The rooftop and balcony pics at the bottom show clothes that belong to us and other people on our truck. I found these drying spaces quite by chance. Some of us camped in tents and others opted for cheap rooms. Most of us put in laundry—nice to have a break from doing your own washing.

laundry drying

Laundry drying outside a shop

We were told that the upstairs was unfinished. They said the rooms weren’t complete or furnished. The snoop in me thought I’d go up and have look. The rooms were as described and the laundry was in full sight.

As an aside, I’ve written many posts about laundry and there will be more to come. Here’s one from Burkino Faso and another from India.

So how do you get your laundry dry?

laundry drying

That’s my pale green shirt in the foreground

laundry drying

Plenty of clothes fit on a rooftop

20 May 2019 / leggypeggy

Village walks always reward

Sacred tree, Senegal, Abéné

A group of friends/colleagues pose at the sacred tree

Sacred tree, Senegal, Abéné

A six-in-one tree

Regular readers of this blog will know how much I love going to markets. So I was delighted when our stay at The Little Boabab in Abéné included a village walk. It would give us a chance to explore the local craft and food markets, and to visit the community’s amazing sacred tree.

We set out early in the morning with our guide, Saikou. Saikou is from The Gambia, but he has lived and worked in the Casamance (southern) region of Senegal for about five years. His English is great (The Gambia is English-speaking) and he knows Abéné well.

Welcome to craft market

Welcome to craft market

Welcome to craft market

Market welcome with the sacred tree

Beaded statue

Beaded statue

Our first stop was the craft market. Because we arrived quite early in the morning only a few shops were open, but it was great to see the range of carvings, including plenty of masks. I’m not all that keen on masks. I love seeing them used in dance performances and other ceremonies, but I don’t need to see them hanging on my walls. Not sure where that attitude has come from.

The actual food market was next. It was a special treat to visit with Saikou because he let us know that photos would be okay. This was a welcome change. The further north we have travelled in West Africa, the less likely people have been to be pleased to have their photos taken. You can’t imagine how many photos have been captured in my mind’s eye, but not on camera. Darn.

Abéné market Abéné market Abéné market

 

The final stop was at Abéné’s Bantam Wora, or sacred tree. It’s actually six huge kapok or cotton (fromager) trees that have fused together.

People in the Casamance believe fromagers are sacred. They are thought to be possessed by a genie that can bring good fortune if offered kola nuts, biscuits, milk, bread or other delicacies. For example, women with fertility problems or young men wishing to win an upcoming football match will go and make an offering.

Before arriving, we were told that we would have to make a financial offering to the women who spend their days around the tree. We dithered about that at first. Senegal has huge paper money notes, and none of us really knew how to contribute. Luckily Adam, one of our drivers, was with us and offered a blanket donation.

The tree is ginormous. It could easily be six, eight or 10 trees fused together. A youth group (maybe university students) was there when we arrived.  A group shot of them shows just how large the base of the tree is. 

Taga (left) and Saikou

Taga (left) and Saikou

Abéné market Abéné laundry

 

13 May 2019 / leggypeggy

A special stay at The Little Boabab

The Little Boabab bar

The colourful bar at The Little Boabab

The Little Boabab is the most heartwarming and welcoming place we’ve visited in West Africa. It also has a huge touch of sadness (read on). Nestled in the village of Abéné in the Casamance (southern) part of Sénégal, The Little Boabab is the love child of Simon and Khady.

Years ago, Simon Fenton, an English journalist, fell in love with West Africa and Khady, a Sénégalese woman, who spoke only faltering English back then. Together they realised a dream and started to build The Little Boabab.

Sadly, I wasn’t lucky enough to meet Simon. About 18 months ago, he was killed in a car accident when travelling between Abéné to Ziguinchor. The mere thought of it breaks my heart. My own father was killed in a car accident when I was 18. You can read about him here.

When we arrived at The Little Boabab and met Khady, I gave her a huge hug and said that I ‘sort of’ understood the grief she was going through. I lived through the loss of a father, but how could I possibly understand the loss of a husband, and especially in her circumstances? She has two gorgeous and energetic young boys—Gulliver and Alfie.

Senegal

Gulliver (left) and Alfie are ready for school

We stayed two nights at The Little Boabab. We enjoyed delicious meals, a comfy bed with mosquito net, a guided village walk and an incredible dance performance. It’s also where the dancers managed to get Poor John on his feet.

Little Boabab is a full-service, solar-powered campground. They provided all meals, and I was lucky enough to barge my way into the kitchen to help on our second night. I learned how to stuff bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks.

cooking in Senegal

Helping in the kitchen at The Little Boabab

Expect more posts about Little Boabab and surrounds. 

Simon wrote about his experiences. You can buy his books Squirting milk at chameleons: an accidental African and Chasing hornbills: up to my neck in Africa here. I was lucky enough to buy mine at The Little Boabab.

Dancing at The Little Boabab

Poor John living it up at The Little Boabab. He looks like he is having fun

10 May 2019 / leggypeggy

Vine bridge, avocados and painted toes

Vine bridge, Guinea, West Africa

Richard crosses the bridge

Vine bridge, Guinea, West Africa

Stephan climbs to the bridge entrance. There’s a similar entrance on each end

West Africa is a land of amazing contrasts! Bridges are a good example. You may remember that we ‘fell’ through a log bridge a few weeks back. That was a first for our co-drivers, Jason and Adam, as well as for all the passengers. We’ve also crossed plenty of modern concrete bridges—no risk of falling through those. And on occasion, we’ve detoured through a stream (it is the dry season) rather than cross a bridge that is being constructed or repaired.

Vine bridge, Guinea, West Africa

One person crossing at a time

But we visited a very rustic bridge not far from Nzérékoré, in southeastern Guinea. It was made entirely of vines and bamboo. It was fascinating to see its construction up close, and to have the chance to cross on foot—one at a time.

The bridge is brilliantly sturdy and I’m sure it could carry more people at once, but we respected the villagers’ instructions. Our guide—the bridge is in a forest and was about a 45-minute walk from where we parked the truck—said the bridge is as old as anyone can remember. I’ve read accounts that say it was built more than 100 years ago.

In addition to providing safe passage across a river, the bridge has spiritual significance for the people. Two years back, it was closed for renovations and repairs. That year the overlanders weren’t even allowed to approach the bridge. I heard differing comments about why. Some say that repair work is done by spirits, while others say it is done by trusted elders who don’t want the secrets of construction shared. Keep in mind that my French is fairly sketchy, so the ‘real’ story could be something entirely different.

Word gets out when foreigners are around. By the time we got back to the truck there were several people selling avocados and other fruits. I bought 10 large avocados for about $3. They were nicer than any we’d seen in the markets. Too often the fruit we buy turns to mush within a day or two. These weren’t ripe yet and several cook groups managed to use them over the coming days.

I also got a fun pic of a woman’s toes. She’d painted them along the lines of the Guinean flag. Fashion in the forest!

Selling fruit, Guinea, West Africa

Avocados for sale

Vine bridge, Guinea, West Africa

Ellen is dwarfed by the sheer size of the bridge