Ok…we’re now off to set up for Day 3 at Photoville 2013. Come and join the party!
The Florios (H & Flo)
And, thank you so much to Chris Bartlett for taking our portrait yesterday – ‘The King and I’ springs to mind..we are honored, Chris x
See you at Photoville!
The Florios (H & Flo)
We came across this scene when we were walking down the main street in the town of Bansang, where we were taking a couple of days well-deserved off from the River Gambia Expedition. The dog and the donkey looked so comfortable together – or maybe the donkey was so tired (they work those creatures hard), he would have rested his head on a hippo, if it had been the only thing there.
Image © Jason Florio
We are currently working on a pdf of Jason Florio’s images from the River Gambia Expedition – for those of you who donated $100+ – for you to make your print choices from. We got back to NYC about 3 weeks ago and hit the ground running – an interview with Outside Mag, which you can check out here.; and interview with Boyd Matson for National Geographic Weekend radio – which will run this weekend (we’ll post the podcast on the blog when we get it); and, most importantly, we’ve been reliving the journey – now that we can get online again, we can update the blog – and trawling through three months worth of images. Suffice to say, it all takes time
Lastly, we’ll also be sending a postcard – with one of Floro’s images, taken whilst our West Africa exploration – to absolutely everyone of you who helped us make the journey happen. We know it sounds clichéd, but we really could not have done it without your support. For that, we are truly thankful.
We’ll be right back at you shortly, with the pdf!
Big Love and thanks for your patience,
Helen & Florio
P.S. There is one image though, taken on the expedition, that we can guarantee will be in that PDF:
17th December: Sila Kounda – Djinji, Senegal. 26.06km
“This paddle is mine – look it’s even got my name on it!“. And that’s exactly what I had to do – write my name on the bloody thing!
Ok…so this side was a thank you to one of our donors (thanks, Suzy Peters, Hampstead Village, London, UK – it did the job!). My name is on the other side – honestly.
Yesterday, our first day on the river, because we had an extra man for seven days (Yousef, our Malian fisherman/guide), I agreed with Florio to do some filming, instead of paddling. But, I would definitely be paddling each day – it was a given, as far as I was concerned. Not so, it seems, with our team mates and Yousef.
The conversation with River Gambia Expedition team member, Ebou, and Yousef this morning, when I picked up the paddle, as we headed out for the river:
Yousef: “Non, non!” and then some rapid-fire Bamabara, jumbled up with Mandinka, directed at Ebou (Ebou even admitted he had problems understanding Yousef sometimes – as he switched fluidly from Bambara to Mandinka in one sentence).
Me: “Abdou has to use his paddle – I need to paddle today”. After trying our aluminium TNP paddles on the river from Kedougou yesterday, he had quickly reverted back to the traditional wooden paddle he had brought with him from The Gambia. So, why would it be a problem?
Florio: “It’s ok, H, we can take turns with my paddle”
Me: ‘No! I want to paddle – just like everyone else on this journey! This is not open for discussion, guys” – i.e. don’t treat me like the only muso (woman) that I am on the team. “I do not want to fight with you, to use my own paddle!“. Besides, it’s got my name on it – now. Albeit hastily scribbled on it this morning with my Sharpie.
More rapid-fire conversation between Ebou and Yousef.
Ebou: “Yousef said that the (TNP) paddles are better for going through the fast water”
Me: “But what would you normally use – you didn’t have these paddles before?” Answer that one and stay fashionable, Ebou. “Also, Abdou didn’t like using them before and now suddenly he seemingly can’t paddle without it?!”
Ebou: “Yes, but Yousef said that they are better”
Me: “Again, what would you normally use?“
Ebou – stalwart as ever: “But they are better”
There is no arguing with these guys, I thought, as I climbed into the canoe with my paddle (marked with my name – a petty victory, perhaps) and Abdou climbed into the other, with his. He didn’t appear to be too perturbed by using his own paddle (see following photo). It was more about muso’s don’t paddle – i.e. it’s a man’s job as far as they were concerned. But then I could argue about all the female fisher women you see on the river…the predominantly female oyster collectors in the balongs …however, it just wouldn’t be worth the hassle – deaf ears, and all that. They simply couldn’t comprehend that I, a toubab muso at that, actually wanted to paddle. This was going to be a long journey…
On our arrival at Djinji village, we were told by the woman washing her corn in the River Gambia, that sadly the village chief’s brother had passed away and the whole village was in mourning. As with our 2009 expedition - A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – we were using the traditional method of ‘Silafando’ when meeting with the village chief. At first, we thought that perhaps we should paddle on a little further, to the next village, so as not disturb the chief. However, Abdou seemed to think that we should carry on up to the village, pay our respects, and take it from there.
We went to meet the chief, presented the Silafando – kola nuts – and, despite his very recent bereavement, he kindly welcomed us into the village. People were arriving from villages all around the area, to pay their respects and prey – the chiefs compound was getting decidedly crowded. Due to the village being in mourning, the school was closed, so the school headmaster suggested that we camp in the school yard.
Meeting with the old blind chef de village of Djinji
Coming next…more hanging out in the gold mines, near to the River Gambia, in Senegal.
Thanks as always for stopping by
The Helen & Florio
Our way of saying thanks to all those who made the River Gambia Expedition possible – with your participation in ‘An Exchange’ and the Kickstarter campaign. For that, we have been immensely humbled by your support and unprecedented generosity.
Thank you’s – all the way from West Africa!
BIG thanks – (see more here)
The Florios (H & Flo)
To those who don’t see their names on the ‘rolling page of HUGE thanks’, please bear with us as we sort through three months of images!
Sunday December 16th – Sila Kounda, Senegal
Starting from where we left in our last blog post about the River Gambia Expedition…we decided to spend a couple of days in the village, because there was a gold mine, Laminia, which we wanted to go and see – ’about 1km’ walk away. We set off, with the chief’s 12-year old grandson, Ibrahima, leading the way. Four kilometers later, and a paddle across the River Gambia in a model-sized dugout – looking as if it could barely float, and which Yousef had to bail water out of each time he came back across the river to take us over, one by one – we reached the gold mines.
With both freshly dug and discarded mining holes everywhere you stepped, we gingerly edged our way along the narrow pathways between the holes . All around us, disembodied voices came out of the ground – from the narrow 20-30ft deep deep holes – shouting for the boys waiting at the top to haul up the plastic buckets; many of which are adapted from the ubiquitous 5 gallon plastic water containers. The rocks are taken to be smashed down into dust, washed and then shifted for a precious speck of gold – if they are the lucky ones.
The men, young boys and quite a few women, many with their babies crawling around in the dust beside them – often precariously close to the holes – are from all over West Africa: Guinea-Conakry, The Gambia, Mali, Gunea-Bisseau, Ghana, Senegal…all hoping to strike gold. Only then, do many of those we spoke to feel they can go back to their homelands – with something to show for, on average, of between 6-12 months spent in an environment of breathing, eating and sleeping in the dust. Some of the men we spoke to had been at the mine for years. Villages spring up around the mines, to cater for the continuous influx of hopeful people. We would see many of these places – Wild West-esque, ramshackle villages, throughout our travels along the River Gambia in Senegal.
We had read, previously when researching the gold mines of Senegal, that we either shouldn’t visit them or be very cautious if we did: because there is such a diverse cross section of people from all over West Africa – some of whom are so desperate that they would have no qualms about doing you serious harm, to take from you what they want. And, I have to say, I was more than a little nervous – being the only toubab woman in our group too – when we went to the first mine.
However, we didn’t encounter any hostility from anyone we met – and we visited a number of mines along the river. Yes, there were a few people who were very vocal about not pointing cameras in their direction and we respected that. And, I’m not saying that some of these miners wouldn’t rob you of your belongings if the opportunity arose. But, then again, that can happen anywhere. At each mine, we spent a couple of hours walking around (whilst trying not to fall into holes!), talking with the miners, and, on the whole, we were made to feel very welcome. Besides, most of the miners seemed just as curious about us as we were about them and were more than happy to share there stories.
And, someone may just hit the jackpot…
After a couple of hours at the mine, we made the long walk back (let me tell you, 4km is a long way in 100degree heat!), across the river, to the village of Sila Kounda to get ready to leave the next morning.
Monday December 17th – leaving Sila Kounda
After thanking him for him and his family for the hospitality, and bidding farewell to the old chief, we load ‘The Twins’ up and head back out onto the River Gambia, for the next village along the way – Djinji – which is about 22km from Sila Kounda. I wonder what we will encounter on the river today…
As always, thanks for stopping by…more soon
Helen & Florio
Coming next…the fight for my paddle!
‘River Gambia Expedition 2012 – 1000km source to sea Africa odyssey’ team thanks all our product sponsors, backers and collaborators for all their unprecedented support and product donations. We are extremely grateful and thankful.
Today’s shout out goes to Kelly Kettle – this little beauty was a life saver…we Brits love our tea! Also, because you can burn any old bits of dry twigs and grass to boil the water it meant that this time, we didn’t have to use kembo (charcoal – from trees which more all too often purposely chopped down for burning) – used all the time in West Africa to make fires.
In the future, our expedition gear check list will not be complete without a Kelly Kettle!
Check these guys out – Kelly Kettle
More ‘shout outs’ to come, for everyone else who backed us with product. Such as…