Sunday, 12 June 2016

Morocco - Nomadic Berebers

Morocco is country of of diversity and intense colours, the Atlas Mountains are a natural barrier that creates three climatic regions (desert, mountain and mediterranean) inhabited by different ethnic groups.

At Marrakech market place we understand than in Morocco prices are never standard and they expect you to negotiate. Sellers are very flexible when it comes to negotiate , if you don't play their game you can end up paying twice the real price of the item . This is the way it works so either you are happy with the inflated entry price or you get into the game. Negotiation is a rooted business tradition in North Africa.

From Ouarzazate , at the southern side of the Atlas Mountains, we take an old bus  to Todgha Gorge. Once in town we decide to avoid anyone offering accommodation and just chill out and have some local food. It is low season, so easier to find accommodation for a good price, besides after 10 days in Morocco we had mastered our negotiation skills.

The hostel was settled at the top of the valley with amazing views to the Oasis. Mountains are devoid of vegetation at this side of the Atlas, but if you go down to the Oasis if feels like being in a jungle. Oases are like an explosion of pure and green nature over a red and rocky landscape .

After dinner we heard  a guy could take us  to the top of the mountain  to visit a nomadic family. The day after we walked for 4 hours without knowing what was up on the mountain. I thought it might be just a simple shepherds village...., but when we got to the top there were no houses nor tents but caves. The nomadic families live in caves they dig using basic mining tools. It was like traveling back in time ...I could not believe people could still live in caves in 2014.

These nomadic people belong to one of the many Bereber tribes, the natives who were settled in different regions of North Africa far before the Arab invasion in the 7th century. They keep moving depending on the weather conditions and spend more time where they can feed the flock of goats.

Inside the cave, an old lady  moves  a bag filled with goat milk hanging on two sticks. She makes a kind of yogurt. After having tasted it, I was told that the bag was actually  made of the stomach of a goat.

I had the feeling that the family wasn't comfortable with our presence so we decide to leave and start descending by the other side of the valley.

On our way we meet the nomadic women and donkeys loaded with containers of water. Our guide explains that it takes them the whole day to bring water from the Oasis to the top of the mountain.

Our day trip finishes at the bottom of the valley in the massive and majestic gorges once generated by torrential waters coming from the mountains. It feels so small when you are in the mouth of such massive formation.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Daily life at the Camp - Aéré M'bar, Mauritania

 In April 2012 the government of Mauritania contracts a Spanish company to undertake a quite ambitious project,  a irrigation system for a massive rice plantation . The purpose was meant to be the development of one on the poorest and less advanced areas , Brakna. Mauritania is very complex in terms of  ethnicity, to summarise there are 3 distinguished  groups: Moors, Africans and the mixture of them. According to a Mauritani feller I met in at the capital, Moors don't stand Africans and the other way around, so it is the mixed people the ones who played the mediator role. Most of Africans are setted in the South where there is poor infrastructure or lack of it. Despite this , I could see much more misery at the capital than in this forbidden peace of land. Life Aéré M'bar is pretty simple, I believe this is the key of their success.

The day I arrived it was raining so the path that leads to the camp was completely muddy. It was night and I could not see anything but the barracks and a terribly noisy generator which supplies the camp with electricity. A few meters away the village of Aéré M'bar sleeps silent and in a complete dark, the village still don't have electric supply. That night I only had time to set my bed and put my stuff in place. I would share the room with Manolo, my dear friend from Santiago. I was happy to have Manolo as a room mate, at least I had a friend at my side, someone to share all my thoughts and fears with. My friend Manolo is a big man in all senses. He had gained some extra weight since he stopped smoking due to a lung issue two years ago

The production at the construction site was canceled due to the rains so from my first day on I little work to do .Most workers at the camp were extremely bored as they and spent their time watching TV and just staying in  the camp. They didn't find anything interesting beyond the camp, moreover they didn't feel comfortable walking through the village. This fear was reciprocal for locals as they were not use to see 'whites' in such a forbidden place of the earth. In fact, when I first went for a run through thevillage some people looked at me as I was a ghost. Children made fun of me as they could not believe what they where witnessing; a milky guy just arrived from the UK ( where I usually get whiter), running without apparent reason. Later on they got use to see me and felt confident to join me. I remember Amadou, a 6 years old boy. He laughall the time and runs very close to me as if showing up.

My friend Manolo liked to walk before lunchtime. He used to say: do we go for a walk to the swamp Pablo? Of course, in fact it will help you to lose weight. We use to talk about everything and in depth. I like people who delve into the details , I believe details are the essence of life.
Do you think that the water level will rise more? I don't think so Pablo, if it happens, water will get into town. They have been living here for a long time so they probably know how much the flood rises every year, don't you think? yes, you're right, we should ask them.
We also used to speak about personal topics.  In fact he was thoughtful because his girlfriend unexpectedly had raised the topic of matrimony. She was afraid of a possible fatality in Africa and therefore remain without rights as they were not married. In regards to me , he advised me  that it was time for me to have a serious relationship. I agreed 

At the swamp women were washing their clothes while having a bath  and children were playing in the water. They seem very happy, isn't it ? I think this is their favourite season, the rest of the year the swamp dries up and they cannot swim and play in the water. Don't you think that women might feel uncomfortable as we are around? I don't think so, They might have a different sense of shame, it might be natural for them to be naked outside.

It seems strange to go through the village and talk with nobody, they are so few ..... have you learned any word in Pulaar Manolo? I learned to say 'hello', 'how are you' and 'goodbye'. Where did you learn that Pablo ? Girls from the camp taught me a few words, they fell off the floor laughing when I was trying to speak in Pulaar. Now, when I meet a villager I use the few words I learned. But, do they understand you Pablo? Yes, and they answer with a big smile. I think that some of them asked me if I speak their language.... It is a shame, I would like to talk to them and ask lots of things ....

I think we better get back, it's lunchtime Pablo. OK, tomorrow we go for a walk , isn't it? yes, of course.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Nouachott Beach

It’s  Friday morning, my only free day of the week.After having persuaded  my mates we finally decided to go to the  Nouakchott beach.I have heard that it is probabilly the most interesting place to visit in the capital of Mauritania. 

This place is totally different from a concept of beach I am used to . Almost all the coast of Mauritania is beach, so it’s no easy to have a walk to the end of the beach as I use to do at the beaches of my place. In addition this beach is a center of one of the most importat sector of the country, the fishing Industry.

It’s the place where the fisherman boats arrives after many hours fishing. The colorful traditional boats have "banana shape" to adapt to the waves and to make the sailing easier.

The Beach is  a place for people of every age, and into the confusion there is a structured and basic organization. The boat arrives at the shore and suddenly fish is picked from the boat and located in boxes, them it's carryed beach up toward the cars, this work must be fast to keep the fish fresh because cars are not refrigerated.

Of course ,there is chance for everyone, the young ones are waiting with attention for some fallen fish and when it happens they  recollect them as quick as possible not to be seen by adults.

When all the fish is out of the boats, it’s time to put the boat up on the beach, in a safety place, where the high tide does not arrive. Boats are pretty heavy so the only way to put them up is using metal cyliders to roll them up. The technique well know as it has been used for yeras. Two metal cylinder under the boat help to make easier the movement of the boat by rolling. They all pull according with the rhythm of a song, the high tones means that everyone has to pull hardly at  precise time.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

From Mauritania to Senegal

It was in August 2012,south Mauritania and so close to Senegal that I could almost see Senegal from the camp. Since day one I had absolutely nothing to do as the rice field where I was supposed to work was flooded due to the rains. During those endless days doing nothing I had thought of moving away and see something different, something exciting , perhaps at the other side of the river? perhaps senegal had something interesting to see?.I was sure it did. One morning , without having planned anything at all, I decided to jump to Senegal and travel south to Saint Louis. The raining season had just started so I knew it was not going to be easy, but on the other hand I was alone at the camp ( my spanish colleges were off to Spain) and for the first time in years I had a lot of time. The landscape had changed completely since my first day. When I got to the camp, there was just sand and a few bushes around. Later on, after the rains, it was so green! there was water everywhere, in fact the camp was surrounded by water. Locals were fishing where it used to be sand kids were playing in the water and semi-naked woman were doing laundry in the swamp. I could not believe that a landscape could change that much in such a short period of time!

The river was just 2 kilometers away from the village, but the water had reached the outskirts of the village as the river was overflowed.

The first obstacle was crossing the massive swamp by kayak before getting on a horse carriage which would take me to  the Senegalese border . The path was moody and it made quite hard for the horses to follow the normal track, in fact the carriage wasn't steady at all and I thought I could fall off anytime.

A local guy who had learned Spanish in the Canary Islands took me to the border, once there he found another guy who would help me to cross the border. From this moment on I would be on my own , with a guy who only speaks Pular (local language) and who didn't seem to understand my body language when I tried to find other ways of communication ...
It wasn't only the language I could not understand but also the strange sounds he would make with his tongue when speaking with other locals...later I read that some Africans do have this kind of sounds in their tribal languages. In that case that sound meant agreement (yes or ok).
At the border, still in Mauritania, the guy gave me a hand to get Senegalese currency  to pay off the 'ferry' (wooden kayak). Once in Senegal I managed to take a van which was meant to bring me directly to the main road(30 km away), where I would take a bus to Saint Louis. I thought It was done and that it was a matter of an hour to get to the main road. But it wasn't that easy. The road was flooded so 1 km after leaving the border the van stopped and I had take a kayak and continue by horse again. The flock of sheeps that were on the roof of the van would now have to cross the swamp by kayak. 

After one hour on a horse carriage I got to Medina where I had to walk for another hour to reach main road. At this point I wasn't sure where I was going and if I would manage to make it. My guide was so unresponsive when I was trying to communicate that I was already thinking of going back and find someone else who could help me. Finally  I could see the main road, finally a signs of civilization. There I understood that a van would stop, eventually, opposite the Acacia tree.

The absolute ignorance about the territory, local language, and bus timetable made me think whether or not the travel was a good idea......But it was too late by then, so I resigned myself in the shade of a tree with other locals who were having a tea. I tried to communicate with them and one of the guys introduced me a girl who would speak some English. I was the only one worried there, waiting for a van that might or might not arrive. I realized how different is the conception of time for westerners.
Finally I could see a multicolor-van approaching the tree-stop. I thought I was lucky enough even though the van had wooden benches instead of seats and I was literally embedded in between two big women. Goats were tied up again on the roof of the van. The situation got worse when a third robust woman got on the van, jumped the first bench, jumped my bench(thank God I thought) and finally fitted her bum in a non-existing gap right in front of me. I thought she had no space but she made herself comfortable by pushing the others out. That is how it works, I thought....At this point my knees were also embedded into the woman's bum. She seemed to be comfortable, I didn't. 

After having travelled for 5 hours, I finally got to Saint Louis, I was extremely tired but happy to get to my destination. The old french colony of Saint Louis, one of the embarkation ports during the the Slavery Trade.