In the middle of October, I finally got the chance to visit the other half of Senegal. Paul was not able to go due to a few meetings concerning SeneGAD in Dakar, however our friend Evan and I took a little trip to the Kedegou region. The first day we spent traveling–sept-places from Dakar to Tamba, and then Tamba to Kedegou with a lunch break in between with Mika who met us at the Tamba garage. As you drive towards Kedegou, the huts get progressively rounder and the grass roofs steeper, while the overall foliage and tree cover exponentially rises. The Nikola-Koba park straddles the Tamba-Kedegou border, at which point, the trees rise thick and create layers of canopy that are non-existent in the north ofSenegal. Once you hit the border of Kedegou, the road suddenly worsens, turning to a red gravel laterite road where they are rebuilding the road. We watched as the sun sank, casting muted pinks and oranges over dark tree-covered mountains in a scene that is so typical Africa, like a postcard or a National Geographic magazine fold-out. Funny because, as the cold air whipped past me in the shadows of looming trees, I could feel that we were going somewhere that did not fit into my understanding of Senegal.
The Kedegou house is like summer camp, with outdoor sleeping and living space in addition to separate huts for each room of the house—a kitchen hut, a library hut, etc. I slept well that first night, waking in the middle of the night from the wet cold to pull the sheet beneath me around me. That first day, Evan and I explored Kedegou, taking in the city itself–if you could call it that, as Kedegou has no buildings along its main road that are two stories tall. The Pulaar is slightly different—sing-songing “jam toon” instead of the normal stiff “jam tan,” and “a jaraama” used like “aloha” in that it starts and ends every conversation. Evan and I went on a small walk along the Gambia River, silenced by the beautiful red cliffs covered in trees in the distance marking the end of Senegal and the beginning ofGuinea. Birds were everywhere—a violet turaco, its wings shining brilliant red through the rising sun and the sound of a pure-toned angel of a bird too high in the canopy to see. During dinner at the (creatively named) Africa Restaurant, we met an American named Tad, who is a master’s epidemiology student at the Mailman School of Public Health in Columbia University. He was in Kedegou collecting mosquito samples to test for a variety of diseases; the samples get processed typically in Dakar.
The second morning, we set off early with the sun on two bikes and our backpacks to Dindefelo. Volunteers kept warning us of the difficulty of the bike ride, warnings that made us laugh when we did reach Dindefelo –25 km to Segou and another 5 or so km to Dindefelo along laterite roads that were shaded by the trees along the two sides of the road. Rushing through shoulder-high grass among palms and leafy trees that weaken the force of the sun, it was finally comprehensible why Kedegou and Kolda volunteers ride their bikes everywhere. We hiked late morning to the Dindefelo Falls, stopping to take photos of Vervet monkeys. The falls are so beautiful, much more glorious and dramatic than the photos of volunteers captured. The waterfall sits in a U-shaped dead-end of the canyon, the slates of red granite rock creating latticed designs that jut out and are emphasized by the falling water. At the bottom of the falls is a pool with rocks behind the falls to sit on. A group of Dakar folk brought their drum, and with great joy but without suppression, they sang and danced along the edge of the falls to the beating of the drum. After spending a few hours at the falls, we went back to the main part of the town to find some provisions before setting off for Segou.
At Segou, we stayed at Zach’s campement, which overlooks a beautiful valley of cotton and corn fields surrounded on both sides by red-granite cliffs covered in trees. While walking through the valley, red-throated bee-eaters zipped back and forth snagging the bugs that come out at dusk and then returning to trees to whack the bugs against branches. Thap-thap—the bee-eater had found dinner.
We were treated to an amazing dinner of funio, a grain that is similar to Moroccan cous-cous in its texture and lightness, and onion sauce that left Evan rolling around in pain from fullness the rest of that evening and me too full to move. The next morning, we ate breakfast and had a surprise run-in with Lily, a chimp researcher who works for the Jane Goodall Institute. There is a chimp family of 10 living in the hills of Segou; Lily studies the most northern group of chimpanzees in Africa.
We then set out for Segou Falls, seeing no-one but a few farmers in the valley for the entirety of the hike. The hiking trail is beautiful in that it is so naturally a part of the riverbed—granite rocks that form the river bed also form a natural trail. Hopping from rock to rock, we picked our way to the falls, marked by an exclamation mark. The Segou falls were also incredibly beautiful, a smaller waterfall that is stunning in its isolation and tranquility. Little light reaches the falls due to the thick trees and canyon that surround the falls and pool. The granite rocks form small steps that impede and slow the fall of the water as it falls into a pool that is deep only at the base of the falls. After our return from this falls, we biked back to Kedegou, the last incredibly long uphill stretch somewhat painful as we climbed to the town.
The next day we headed back to Tamba, spotting two troupes of baboons, warthogs, and a bateleur scavenging a fox-like mammal on the road in the park. We spent the night at the Tamba regional house with Mika and his two kitty friends Colin and Irv (both girls…) and the other Tamba region volunteers. Tamba is a huge city, full of different organizations, ethnic groups, and shops—a crossroads where cars leave everyday forMali. Mika makes us an incredible biscuit, SPAM, egg breakfast before we take the slowest sept-place in existence to Kaolack. In Kaolack, our group of friends has prepared an amazing pasta dinner. And then the next morning to Mbour, back on the coast of Senegal near Thies and Ngekhokh where we spend the day sampling local fruit liquors made by a Belgium family.
From our time in Kedegou, Evan and I assembled this list of differences between Kedegou and the north:
- Goats are extremely short-legged (to the point that they look they are dragging their huge overfed tummies along the ground)
- Good-looking healthy dogs
- Small short cows w/o humps and adorable calfs
- Pulaar difference: no changing of the first letter of verbs while in post-position (for example No wiyete-daa instead of No mbiyete-daa to say “how are you called”)
- Biking everywhere and overall lack of transportation (Evan and I were passed by two cars our entire bike-ride—both of them were tourist vehicles)
- Girls on bikes (even with pagnes on)
- No charettes or horses (supposedly sleeping sickness spread by tsetse flies kills off all horses and larger mammals)
- Fewer men wearing traditional clothes
- Huts are usually circular (not square)
- Our Kedegou PCVs are here…like Meera!
- The village bread here is 2x as long as ours (I thought it was French bread at first)
- People are in general more relaxed—language and greetings are much more lax
- A higher proportion of people seem poor (it seems that there is a general poverty level among all, unlike the large discrepancy between certain families or villages in the North)
- People eat more seasonally here than they do up north (starving season actually means something here for the people and not just the livestock as is the case up north)