• from moment to moment

Pulse of West Africa: Senegal and Gambia


The airport is the calling card of every country, so they try to do their best. Official check – there is no third-world country, it's always their country!

Deep night? Still hot. The airport is located several tens of kilometers outside the city, as is modern now. On the way, you might meet a donkey with a trailer on the main road. Yes, even this late. What can it be carrying? But that's just the fact, our rules and time conventions don't apply here.

Dakar is still alive at two in the morning, but in a different way than the obligatory bar and street chill-outs of the cities of Europe or the USA. Probably because there are so many people here, so many ununified lives that live as they can, not as they should. And it doesn't shine so much either, if anything, it looks delightfully adventurous.

With the very early sunrise, you're awakened by prayers, loud, and you wonder whose fault it's that it's the chanting of this religion that resonates in you with caution and fear. Because the locals, for example, have never harmed you personally or by their faith...

Sand and sun, everywhere, even in the middle of the city. Music, smells, noise. But everything goes perfectly together. Rhythm everywhere. Exotic, but why is this different, why can't we also express our cheerfulness with movements common even in our country? I don't really care, I just wanna dance.

The ocean to the west of the continent, but the architecture is close to Middle Eastern in feel. Always newly unique.

Poor Africa?

As a society they have – basically, except for the essentials (medicaments...) – everything we have, but always in a sort of basic model of quality and quantity. This lack is greatly accentuated by the fact that they don't care much about things. On the one hand the goal of many a committed European, on the other hand, they really shouldn't have to throw everything everywhere, after all, then they live in it.

Poor Africa?

As individuals, yes, it's the daily creativity of the struggle to survive as a family. And even though one doesn't wish this for them, it's great that they live happily – in their own way – despite the discontent. By the way, they really think of us as all rich, and more importantly, that we don't have to work. That we were just born on a richer continent. Long live Instagram and music videos on YouTube! Everyone works here, they have multiple jobs, that's a fact, but for a lot of people, the hours worked alone would be very short. On the other hand, everyone helps the community, they support each other. That's nice and it's related to the creativity of the struggle to survive.

We're leaving Dakar.

On the roads (which, at least the main ones, are of course better than ours.....) it's a show of absolute freedom, with those bizarre vehicles endangering mainly their own crew. But take it easy, tourists, they don't want to know a million of your rules. All you need is your smile.

You drive on straight roads, listen to local and world music and feel free. The flat landscape passes by, the wilderness. The huts, they really live in those huts we know from archetypal multimedia. The true African countryside.

Beautiful sunset. Again.

This country (not just Senegal, but other west coast countries as well) has it all, but there's always a "but". It has beautiful beaches, but it'll never be a country of resorts because tired or lazy rich tourists don't want to spend time in the malarial area. Note – malaria mosquitoes only fly at night, so that could be solved. But the locals would have to want it too. Maybe “hotels” wouldn't have to provide mosquito nets with holes through which a possible “elephant” mosquito could fly if it existed.

In Senegal, you can find most of the African animals that we know from children's books. Or rather, you could. That's another but. Almost all of them have been killed and eaten, luckily there are several national parks that protect what few animals are left...

The sun is setting. The fishermen are on the far horizon, in the red filter, returning to their families.

Another town, Saint-Louis, never quiets down either. On the contrary. Life. You can feel it, you really can. You can follow it in the streets or sit on a rooftop with a beer and enjoy the city from above.

We continue our journey. Wherever you arrive, as a white – "tubab" (that's what they call you, at least phonetically), you arouse curiosity. And yes, they do indeed usually smile back at you afterward. A friendship made, this fast. And yes, they might want something in return. And yes, money is enough, it's part of the creativity of survival. When a tourist gives something, they can sit with family or friends that much longer, talking, laughing and enjoying.

Smiles. But. It's still a state where you're gonna get stopped by an armed group with machine guns anywhere at any time. They take your passports, just because they can, and pretend to be important. Strict and serious. And while you wait, wondering what the patrol leader likes so much about your passport, you realize that you're on a continent where they don't hesitate to use those machine guns, though often against themselves, to finally bring order to the country, maybe even government by the people, maybe even democracy. As long as they don't steal enough to escape to Europe, the US or a non-malarial tropical paradise. Or if they don't make it, until they're overthrown by another self-appointed (and very often illiterate) spokesman for the people. You wait, you view the soldiers, the soldiers view you. Some things don't just happen in the movies. If they're going to happen to you anywhere, it's here. Ugh, the captain returns the passports, you move on, and when you move away you no longer feel like a potential victim, but an adventurer. You chose to come to this continent for this feeling of excitement and fear.

Reminders of slavery are the tourist pillars here, this topic is still open, partly sincerely, partly commercially. It's hard to explain to them that the Czech Republic was never a slave nation, we had our own problems and we don't have a navy even now. It's simply your fault too, count on it. But when you stand in those places... the treatment is, of course, despicable, time can never change that, you have to agree with that.

Rhythm. Rhythm is everywhere, just like donkeys. Always, always shakes the negative thoughts out of you. You focus on the present, day and night. At night, if only because when you go to the bathroom, you're watching out for cobras. With a headlamp on your head, what else, we're in the countryside, there is only the moon and the stars. And insects and snakes and other vermin, but you'll still sleep sweetly after another full and hot day. Because you're alive – think about it.

All or nothing.

The color, the variety of everything. Clothes, ideas. On the one hand.

On the other hand, you arrive in Tambacounda after dark and you can't breathe because there are huge piles of garbage burning on the very border of the city. Flames of fire whip menacingly into the darkness. We'd better keep going, though, where you'll experience this. Even the acrid smoke soon clears and life goes on.

In the city of Touba, in a huge mosque, you'll find that they take their religion very seriously, so don't try any condescension, even in the form of innocent belittling. Really don't.

We're crossing the border, we're in the Gambia. A country that's even more agrarian than Senegal, but that's no insult. Also true Africa. With the official language being English, so in terms of statistical language average, short-term friendships are easier to forge. They're happy to talk to you about anything, especially kids who literally don't want to let you go. They're of course interested in where you are from, they find it fascinating. Most of them won't even travel to their capital city in their entire lives, even though it's only a few kilometres away. Local communities – they make up these countries, not borders or governments.

Children. There are so many of them everywhere. And like everywhere else in the world, they're genuinely happy. Too bad you can't materialize it and leave it here. By the way, these children we consider "backward" learn English at school and have French as their second compulsory language. And that child looks at you (who can only speak Czech properly) like you're a god. Strange, because unlike him you don't have to walk several kilometres to school every day and you don't have parents who would rather see you cater for the "farm" (= if you're well, two chickens and a skinny cow) than support the waste of resources at school. The problem in these countries is that the children have nowhere to put their education to use, so there is skepticism from parents who studied in the hope that something would change, but…

Customs and rituals. They take them seriously, it isn't just a modern pose.

Superstitions. If a snake bites someone, that person often dies. Not because the snake was poisonous, but because of fear, not knowing it wasn't poisonous. They don't distinguish between species, for them, there is only the snake, and from village to village stories spread about how evil it can be.

However, the power of nature in its simplicity also applies positively. Plants, herbs and their effects inherited from generation to generation.

Myths. Stories. Shrines.

Ceremonies. Political. Religious. Human. Traditional and improvised.

Yes, these details of life are taken seriously here. Think about whether that's actually wrong. Unless, of course, it harms no one...

Potential. Both countries have plenty of it.

Nature. A natural resource that they'll trade with a more cunning state for just a few kilometres of tarmac on the road. Or is it really worth having a Turkish ship anchored offshore as a huge diesel generator to generate electricity for the Gambia when the sun shines almost non-stop here and someone has already invented something like photovoltaic panels?

It isn't just the fault of the outside world. It's laziness (a little, a little justified by the fact that you just have to rest in the shade sometimes in that heat), stealing Western gifts or not caring about them. Nothing in these landscapes will last long here, in all senses.

But! This time in a positive way. Whatever happens to you here, everything always works out somehow. Because everything always gets made up, not always in a negative way. It's just the way it's.

Noise and music, all in rhythm. Colors. Those colors! The pure joy of living.

They have nothing, but they can do everything with it. The sun is setting, oh the sunsets, the tide is flooding the coast. But it's impossible to sleep here. Let's live! A fire is lit, a makeshift bar opens. A bar where they don't have all the drinks in the world, just one. But believe me, it'll taste like the best in the world. They have got cell phones and internet, so plenty of local music provided, they'll hook it up in a very impromptu way to a cheap Chinese speaker, you can't get another one here, one neon light instead of a dozen neon lights, but they'll hang it up, yes, why not, and let's dance. And that's enough for you. What do you need more than that moment?

You can have everything, but if you have nothing and still have "everything", life just tastes better. Think about it. You can think whatever you like about Africa, but it's ahead of us in this perspective.