We limb back to Lebe. Here we meet Hassan a Lebanese trader. Some strong coffee, 1000 FG plus a few hundred bucks exchanged on the black market I am the owner of a two new Pirelli tyre plus new tubes. It’s too late to go any further so the girls check into a Hassan recommended hotel. I take Williwaw off in search of a puncture repairman.
(Top Tip: This profession is usually found at crossroads, in the proximity of bus station lorry depots, taxi ranks, or under an electrical pole.)
Thirty minutes of hammering by a young puncture repairman with the universal African trimmings swap the tube and vanishing tools trick if you have not seen it before and my new tyres are on the wheel hubs. A few bottles of beer later my two-punctured tyres are also fixed.
(Top Tip: Bring your own patches and solvent. African patches are made from old tubes and their glue leaves a lot to be desired.)
That night I have no difficulty sleep although a soldier ant bite between my thumb and index finger is giving some grief.
After weeks of unrestricted space Lebe, the capital of the Fouta Djolon gives us the urban shudders. According to the Bible, our next port of call should be the Chutes de Kinkon. King Kong himself being all of forty-six metres tall its name conjures up a gigantic waterfall. We puncture free arrive in Pita just before lunch. A short distance further on we find a bumpy track down to the falls. Pass an old dam an ancient codger at a gate stops us. A pass is required to visit the falls to be had back in Pita. Some African bargaining saves the trip back.
A short walk brings us out onto a slippery wet rock platform with a vertical plunge not to be taken. Great wads of ivory smooth water tumble over in silent sheets. The eye follows each sheet in its silent fall to the rocks below where the water rearranges its self for its long journey to the sea. The heat of midday makes the rising spray a welcome soothing sensation on the skin. The temptation to strip although powerful is put pay too by Florence’s insistence that someone might arrive at any moment. She need not have feared as I had once brought Fanny to the top of the Eiffel Tower where she locked herself onto the wire mesh with vertigo. No encouragement would bring her to edge for a shower.
Dates on a nearby commemorative plaque of some previous distinguished visitors and the less known graffiti recorded dates the possibility of anyone turning up seemed as likely as King Kong himself turning up selling ice cream >, In the end, vanity rules the day.
We leave with the feeling of being there done that bought the tee-shirt. On the road again we head for Dalaba. In its French colonial days a tuberculosis recovery centres, and according to our bible, it has a remarkable Fula Chiefs assemble hall.
Our arrival is announced by a few wandering dogs into a wide street lined on both sides by housing which gives the impression that the place is almost deserted. Dalaba looks as interesting as an Ohio municipal parking block, but surprise, surprise it is sporting a new hotel. Run by a French bloke of some wealth and his refined Guinian wife with two little daughters. Within minutes Florence is in heaven playing.
Over dinner, our host and hostess are both charming and interesting. Along after dinner discussion late into the night covers the French occupation till Charles de Gaulle chucked his hat at it when the Marxist Dictator Sekou Tour’s told him “Guinea prefers poverty in freedom to riches in slavery.”
After which the country was closed to the west for thirty odd years while the bastard Sekou purge all those who were not of the Faranah clan.
Our hosts convince us to stay a day and explore the area. A little luxury won’t go astray for the girls, hot water, comfortable beds, and good food and whisky has us agreeing without much resistance.
Shedding kilos of dead skin under a hot shower we assemble for breakfast. Armed with a map from the local OITD tourist office we set off for the day. The Assembly Hall and Le Pont de Dieu are the destinations.
Built in the thirties, the assembly hall is now surrounded by cheap ugly chalets. The hall itself is rapidly re-assembling itself within its own walls. Standing on a wooden floored in the main assembly room the wooden walls still have some carvings of long-lost animals. It is not difficult to visualise the Fula chiefs clapping hands, stomping their feet with their bracelets tinkling to a Fulani tune that echoed off the surrounding rolling hills.
In less than a wink down the road, we are mounting the steps of large hotel to be greeted into its marble flagged foyer by its young French manageress. After a month of mostly wild camping and grass huts, a hotel of this size is the last thing we had expected to see. It comes as somewhat of a shock to find such a large building in the middle of nowhere. Guests are non-existent the views are spectacular, lunch is a disaster, and the Skol isn’t Skol although it is in a Guinness can. The whole place is surreal a hotel in waiting or some enormous tax fiddle.
We leave for Gods Bridge. It is obvious that is has been some time since any others ventured down to Gods Bridge as the tourist desk in the hotel manned by the manageress never heard of it.
I can feel the girls tense as Williwaw wheels collect enough pottery clay to make a new dinner service for the Hotel. We are descending a steep track deeply rutted by running water.
Committed, with no place to turn we slide on. The feeling of skidding sends goose pimples down my back. My foot is a shuddering and quivering to touch the brakes. Give me rocks anytime. We come to a section of the track that has been wasted away, exposing some large rocks. The drop on our left brings back memories of my Portuguese toilet roll disappearing at speed on its merry way to the Duoro.
I walk the track fully aware that I will have to dive up it on the way back > Tilted to one side it looks very uninviting. Grip is what it is all about so I hug the high ground and as much exposed rock as possible. In a jack-knife posture, we slid across the gap.
(Top TIP: Driving mud. Don’t stop. If feasible keep to where those have gone before in the highest gear possible. Where the rut is too deep get the passengers to risk their life and limb by filling them in with sticks or stones. We found our rope car mats quite useful.)
It is not long after this excitement that our track comes to a stop. Taking to shanks mare faces of protest says it all. “It’s your fault.” Fanny trudges along like an old woman oblivious to the diversity of her natural surroundings. The bridge is still some distance away according to our map. The forest gives way to very large bamboo until we emerge into a labyrinth of small streams. Gods Bridge turns out to be a natural stone single rounded arch spanning one of the streams.
The walk back to Williwaw is all but too much for Florence. Combined with the anxiety of watching her dad drive the tricky section once more, there is a great sigh of relief for her to see her hotel friends again.
Over dinner, we receive an invitation from Dr Almo B.A. Barry to stay with him at his village of birth Kola Hendek. “Here you will see Guinea in its struggle to exist in the present world.” “My village is on our route to Kourussa. “It’s some three clicks along the railway line. Just past Mamou, hang a right and you’re sure to find me.” I accept. The likely hood of us finding the exact turn off is a thousand to one.
Pushing on the next morning our lush countryside passes quickly with the driving surface improves by the mile. Fruit of all kinds dribbles down our chins. Oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, mangoes, pineapples, serve to quench our thirst. While I am in danger of developing perilous dodgy heat rash on my bum from sticking to synthetic leather the girls have a big sheepskin from Lancashire called Sourbutt to keep their bums cool.
(Top TIP: Take or buy a sheepskin to sit on for coolness, comfort, warmth etc. When travelling with a child, it can be of great comfort and can sub up as a cover for night-time in desert or at altitude.)
Reaching Mamou we hit a tar road. Immediately Williwaw has a mind of her own. She is pulling to the left and then the right. Something wrong with the steering I think. Stopping, nothing appears visible wrong but the very minute we start again she needs constant corrections.
In my nitwit naivety, we stop again while I check the wheel bolts.
(Top TIP: A good habit when driving off-road is to go around your wheel bolts once in a while with your wheel brace. We also had security bolts fitted to each wheel to prevent theft.)
Still waltzing it eventually dawns on me that the problem is my new Pirellis. Each tyre has a completely different tyre patterns. How I wish once more that I had invested in a decent set of off-road tyres. There is nothing for it but to stop and change the tyres back to a unified set.
Unlike Europe, a man with a flat tyre in Africa is offered assistance as a matter of course. The AA or RAC of Africa no matter where you happen to be is a willing internet of hands that materialize as if by magic. On this occasion, we happen to be just down the road from the turnoff to Kola Hendek marked by an invisible signpost. A tree what else.
With the old tyres back on Fanny in true English demeanour is apprehensive about inflicting ourselves on a total stranger. “Sure we just stop for a cuppa.” Back onto a dirt road, the lie of the land is now much flatter. We pass plantation after plantation of peanuts, cassava, with a few shallow stream crossings thrown in for good measure. One hour later from the main road we pull up outside Dr Barry’s holiday home. His welcome is open and full of delight to see us.
Almo, known as Chief Doc Barry is in his early forties. He introduces us to his German girlfriend a Frankfurt nurse. He is the driving force behind a school and a small medical dispensary built out of his own pocket. A dynamo of energy continually on the move he speaks German, French, English, and Pulaar. He himself has just arrived a day or so in front of us. He introduces us to three village elders who have arrived for supper. . I get a feeling of almost complete dissociation as they exchange news. “They are nothing without their cattle, just families living off their fields as the grain ripens.”
Almo later explained (over a cup of Kinkilibar his favourite drink made from a leaf with lemon and sugar or honey. The leaf is boiled to remove a poison, and then re-boiled. It bets all our thirst quenching purchases of the day. We learn that he is here to perform an operation on a young man who wants to get married. Some years ago he operated on the same fellow, who had the worst top lip deformation he had ever seen, hanging down over his chin.
We also learn that he was one of the last men to escape the reign of terror in Guinea. That he moved to Germany following the end of the Second World War, where he became a very successful surgeon. At that time in Germany, he describes to me that he had to stand with his hands behind his back at many an operation. “Blacks were not allowed to touch anything in those days.”
We chat long into the night covering everything from deep-rooted traditions and superstitions to his ambitions for the future. “Everything is a struggle against the backwardness and fatalism of his people who have given up expecting anything from the government.”
We agree that is almost impossible to marry the legacy of traditionalism with the need to come to terms with the modern world. That aid is not the World Bank or the IMF granting large loans to third world countries. That the very words ‘Third World’ should be abolished and replaced with ‘Developing’ and that private hands-on investment is far the better option.
When you think that one in five people have no access to safe drinking water and that we have been trying to eradicate Malaria for god knows how long its time to move away from voluntary Aid to a source of continual aid funding.
Our master plan developed into the early hours of the morning is that:
All stock exchanges, lotteries, Sovereign Wealth Funds, High-frequency Trading, Currency trading over $20,000 and world sporting bodies and the like should be brought into the United Nations and made sign a charter that would compel them to forsake a small percentage of their profits, 0.005%
A world aid COMMISSION
The funds generated would then be the corner-stone of a new World United Nations Investment Fund.
The funds would change the United Nations Aid programmes from a helpless G2O begging organisation to an organisation with its own clout.
The Investment funds to be operated by independently appointed experts from the world business community.
THE UNITED NATIONS INVESTMENT FUND:
This fund would then to be placed on the world stock exchanges where
It would benefit from the one virus that is consuming the world.
By placing The Fund on the world stock exchanges it would ensure the fund transparent. Standing, on its own successes and failures.
Each country to submit a candidate for election to its board:
All successful candidates being subject to re-election every five years:
All projects requiring funding to be submitted (other than genuine humanitarian aid) for approved by the board to establish their cost and viability.
The successful projects to be funded would then be placed in a yearly drawn on a ‘lotto’ base. This would cut out any interference from political corruption or pressure outside groups.
The yearly Draw to be featured on An independent United Nations TV channel.
A dedicated United Nations Web site would monitor the projects > reporting on their progress and certify their completion.
The culture of growth for growth’s sake must be brought to a halt.
You know say’s Almo, “that one of the problems with Aid is the Aid culture itself.
Something for nothing gives no sense of pride to anyone. The world has a duty to Africa. The whole of the world was young in Africa once. “
That Kinkilibar tea is addictive.
Morning: With Almo long gone to his surgery, dawn breaks. We visit his school and dispensary, after which I decide to take a hike into the surrounding countryside. The girls decide to spend the day with girlish things that they have been neglected for some time.
Before I am out of the village I have an escort, a youth of twelve with two others – one a toddler. An increase in pace, the waving of hands in a go home signal, shoo, shoo’s has no effect. On we march in convoy until the first stream crossing. No luck they all manage to wade across. Long grass now encloses the track. Yellow butterflies jig a merry dance; gathering here and there in bunches to form yellow stepping-stones on the reddish-brown earth of the track.
The second stream crossing does the trick, too deep for the little ones. The arrival of a young man on the opposite side of the stream soon has them scampering home followed by some harsh Pulaar. My new companion out of politeness now falls in with my stride. To the great annoyance of each household’s dog, we walk through a village. The conversation is limited to a smattering of French.
One more stream crossing and we arrive at his village. Here I am invited to meet his wife. She is a young, so frail in statue that she scarcely casts a shadow. Their home is surrounded by the usual fence of thorny bush with a small flower garden which I find novel – flowers are not a high priority in African eyes. Inside the house is a bed alongside one wall, a radio, a large canari (earthenware water pot), the classic three stone fire, the odd piece of cheap furniture, some posters, and the inescapable suitcase. It’s like an oven indoors so I take my tea outside.
Sitting in the shade surrounded by lush fertile land the last thing I was expecting to see is a television image of Africa. Brittle little legs supporting a large swollen stomach shock me into silence. Showing all the signs of malnutrition their first-born waddles towards me. It takes me completely by surprise, and I am sure I am visibly off guard. The young man esquires if Dr Barry has arrived. I encourage him to bring his child saying that I will tell Dr Barry to expect him in the morning. He promises to call. Our departing handshake stays with me as I return along the same track.
The news back at base is that word has reached the young man who is hoping to be married. Unfortunately, he is some distance away and might not make it to the operating table in time. I tell Almo of my meeting with malnutrition. “Did she have red hair,” I had not noticed. “It’s probably Kwashiorkor a type of malnutrition in children caused by the traditional diet of corn meal,” says Almo > Curable. “
Almo asks if I had seen the school and the dispensary. “Who old do you think the buildings are? Fifteen years. Wrong, they are only three years old. As I said last night the god damned Africans have no respect for anything they get free.
You will see on your journey that all over Africa there is a donor’s disease called ‘get it for free’ “no training, no value, no change, no motive, only greed.”
Tonight say’s Almo, “there is a village meeting of the elders here in the house. You will witness what I mean and what I am up against. The man I left in charge of the dispensary has been screwing the locals. He was under my instructions not to charge for the medicines but I am told he is lining his own pockets. I will have to fire him and if I fire him, I will be out of favour with some of the elders.
I suggest that perhaps if I was to do the firing it could save him the politics.
For my afternoon entertainment, he suggests that I should walk over to a rock face where there is a large colony of baboons. The girls once more decide to stay with the manicuring non-baboon style.