Final stop: Dakar!

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Just as unreal as it was driving out from Stockholm heading towards Höör trying to understand that we were on our way to Dakar, just as unreal was it driving through the suburbs of Dakar trying to grasp that we were coming all the way from Stockholm. It felt quite ordinary. We were just driving into the well known surroundings of Dakar, feeling at home again after several weeks in places which were in most cases previously unknown to us. We have travelled between two homes and by experiencing the road in between them they have become closer to each other. It is just a car trip away! And through the meetings on the road we have experienced not only the similarities between people and their lives but also how possible it is to create a human connection to people in very different places and situations.

The Stockholm-Dakar team has arrived at the final destination but it isn’t the end of the blog. It will be completed with photos and more information about the trip as well as with Sousou and Maher’s upcoming gigs and press meetings in Dakar + thoughts around everything related to it (which is quite alot!). The movement towards openness, understanding and sharing with people around us is still undergoing! The connection Stockholm-Dakar is just as needed as the connection between you and your neighbour, whoever it may be!

Twentieth stop, St Louis/Ndar: The sound of home (whatever that is)

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 So, we finally crossed our last border and arrived in Senegal. Only a small river separes Mauritania and Senegal. A small river and an enormous amount of administrative procedures. We spent at least an hour and a half on the Mauritanian side and two hours and a half on the Senegalese side of the river. Some of us always stayed by the car because there was permanently alot  of people around us. Actually the border, especially on the Senegalese side, turned out to be the first stop for many young men on their way to Europe. They came from all over the country were cleaning cars, selling sun glasses or just trying to be accepted as guide for the newly arrived to have some coins in their pockets.  The goal? Spain. Having made all the trip (in the opposite direction) and seen so many of these young men struggling on all the different  stops (including in Ceuta – and in Europe) we just wanted to tell them not to go and risk their lives. But once again, coming from Europe with a nice and fully packed car, it was difficult to say more than: Don’t take the fishing boats. Don’t risk your lives. You may well lose all the little money you have saved for nothing. You may well be stuck without money and not be able to go back. When Sousou was going to pay one of them who had helped cleaning the car (very much needed!) he said he could accept euro coins even if he couldn’t change them to the CFA francs in the bank. “I collect them for the day I arrive in Spain”.

St Louis received us with sabar drums for the holiday of tamxarit. It is the night when girls dressed as boys and boys as girls move from house to house dancing and playing on whatever available hoping to have some money. The tradition is called Tadiabone and was very much celebrated in St Louis. The streets were full of people of all ages going Tadiabone. Most of us were quite exhausted and didn’t have the force to do much more than to have chere (couscous made of millet with a sauce– eaten all over the country on tamxarit). Karin went out in the night to take some pictures in the streets which you will be able to see here within shortly.

The next day we met up with the Senegalese writer Boubacar Boris Diop. Karin spent the whole morning with him and received from him a photo/text book about mothers and wives waiting for their sons and husbands who have gone off with boats to Europe. Very thoughtful after all the experiences on the road.

It feels incredible to be in Senegal. Even though we have been travelling  with this objective for so long, it is still unbelievable to be here. Have we really travelled all the way from Sweden? A jangfata de!

Nineteenth stop, Nouakchott: Borders between people are just political inventions

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Nouakchott was a well needed stop on our trip through the desert. And what a stop. Through a friend of a friend we found a really nice and cheap apartment (hotels turned out to be very expensive in the Mauritanian capital). It was situated in an area that looked abit far from everything when we arrived in the dark. It turned out to be all the contrary. Actually we spent most of our time in the street outside the apartment hotel and met a bunch of interesting people there:

– A young woman from Mali with whom Karin could speak Bambara, who cooked very  good food and who later became both a friend and an interviewee. An impressing woman who had her small restaurant and was cooking from morning to night beside doing her university studies.

– The Malian woman’s mother. A very fascinating person with a strong message for women’s rights. “A woman’s first husband should always be her own salary”. To her who is Malian, Mauritania is a place where women’s situation is much better and the rights more respected than in Mali.

– What seems to be one of the most important journalists writing on culture: “Culture makes me feel close to people wherever I am”

– Another culture journalist and writer with very good contacts and interesting thoughts.

– A radio journalist who is orginally from Maher’s blocks in Ziguinchor. “France is home to me but anyone can see that I am not all my roots there. It is as though I am pretending to be French, at least when people consider the definition of nationality in terms of origin only.” Sousou and Karin also had a very long and interesting conversation with him about what it means to be jali and the role of the jali in Western societies (not possible according to him). He said journalist are very much playing the role of jalis today (but they will never be jalis).

– A Mauritanian man in a nice boubou (all men wear exactly the same boubou in either white or blue) who had lived ten years in Spain. “Mauritania is not a racist country”.

– A very well known and respected storyteller who talked about how the same stories, myth and traditions appear in as different places as Mauritania and Cambodia.”Boarders are just political inventions to divide us. People have the same needs and thoughts everywhere

– The young men working at the hotel who checked up Sousou and Maher’s music during the first night and then spent the whole Sunday and Monday morning listening to Jangfata on Youtube outside the hotel.

We also had the chance to have two inspiring meetings with the world known Mauritanian singer Malouma. She had a very strong conviction, linking music and politics together and a special way of singing. Sousou and her had a wonderful moment of sharing ideas and songs in between. She also gave us a bunch of her CDs, some of them banned in Mauritania for the message in her lyrics (and some not availible outside Mauritania). An extraordinary singer and person!

A concert with Sousou and Maher Cissoko was planned for Sunday night at the festival for disabled people but due to technical problems it did finally not occur.

In sum a very intensive rest day with very interesting discussions, exchanges and interviews. Alot of things are going on in Nouakchott. It may well be a town where we could go back!

Eighteenth stop, Nouadhibou: Intense experiences

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When leaving Dakhla we saw the first indication for Dakar – only 1430 kilometres left to our final destination Dakar! The Sahara desert is getting harsher and harsher – the wind is strong and as soon as you stand still and open the door the car is full of sand. And less ofother cars and police controls (a part from speed control in the middle of nowhere). The border Morocco – Mauritania was an interesting place where we met with people going in both directions – among others a French guy who hadn’t had a thought of visas (unlike alot of people in countries in the global south) and now had to go back to Rabat (some 1500 kilometres).  Between the two countries there were some 3 kilometres of no man’s land – a “road” in a terrible condition and some people that seemed to make their living guiding people on how to best pass through it without destroying the car. Eventually we made it all the way to the Mauritanian border and after alot of controls, patience – and some tourist leaflets (!) we came through our second last border and could continue in the desert on the other side. We quickly arrived in Nouadhibou – a town just nearby the sea with an important fishing industry and people from alot of different countries. We started to feel very much closer to our final destination – Wolof spoken all over the place and a street life that reminds of other West African countries. Due to a big political meeting in Nouadhibou these days all the hotels were full. But we finally found some a place to sleep and the owner drove us to what must be one of the best restaurants in town. We had real food for the first time since the couscous on Monday night – and we made alot of interesting meetings and interviews, among others with the Tunisian owner, a Mauritanian regular client with a boubou of 130 euros, a Swedish man who lives in West Africa since 10 years (“Losing all my money in Europe was the best thing that has happened to me” – “I don’t understand how any Westener who comes to Africa can ever feel for going back”), his Ghanean collegue and some Senegalese cookers. We discussed life quality, borders and what make people risk their lives just to go to Europe. All the experiences of the day inspired us all and we started writing a new song together. We came back to the hotel full of impressions and thoughts. Malang even continued discussing with the hotel receptionist. The topic of migration is everywhere in Nouadhibou

P.S You can read more about the Swedish man we met in Nouadhibou here (with his approval): He actually founded the international book fair in Gothenburg! During and after our stay in Nouadhibou he has been very kind and helpful to us!

Seventeenth stop, Dakhla: The desert

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After a day of driving through the desert we finally reached Dakhla, situated on a tongue of land just nearby the sea. A very beautiful place popular among surfers. We arrived yesterday (Thursday) in the afternoon but tired as we started early in the morning. During last night we did no more than walking around sometimes trying to talk to some people. However it is abit difficult to have longer conversations as few speak other languages than Arabic. Also, we don’t feel quite comfortable making interviews with recording machines here so we focus more on informal chats. Among others we met some Senegalese migrants,working in the construction to earn money to continue the trip towards Europe. It is difficult to find a way of saying “don’t go” when we come from Europe driving in a nice car and wearing in their eyes beautiful clothes.

Today (Friday) we continue our way towards Nouadhibou in Mauritania. No pictures on people because it is very delicate and we don’t want to risk getting into troubles.

Sixteenth stop, Tarfaya: We are far away but yet closer!

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Heading towards the south we then saw the first sign of Senegal: 2257 kilometers to St Louis! The road went through mountains and desert and with alot of traffic so we had to go slowly. Furthermore there are police officers and speed controls allover the place in Morocco so one has to be very careful not to drive too fast.

Tonight we sleep in Tarfaya, the place which on the map seems to be the closest to the Canary islands. However, the town is quite small so probably it is not so much used for migrants’ departures. Karin and Malang walked to the beach and watching the dark sea we could almost feel the presence of all those who have died trying to reach the Spanish islands. We are constantly reminded that we travel in the footsteps – but in the opposite direction – of those from Subsaharian Africa with the objective of going to Europe.

The presence of Spain is also felt because in Tarfaya Spanish is written on the walls and people try to speak Spanish (not French) to you in the street (it would have been Arabic of course if it wasn’t so evident that we are foreigners). Is it a coincidence or is it because Western Sahara (which starts just a few kilometers outside Tarfaya) used to be a Spanish colony?

The hotel where we stay is apparently a hot spot here (according to the owner) because it is the only place where wi fi is to be found! We appreciate it alot!

Tomorrow we will continue to Western Sahara and Dakhla. It will be a long day of driving. 600 kilometers on these roads are not the same thing as on the highways in Europe or northern Morocco!

Fifteenth stop, Tiznit: On the road again

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After some filming and interviews in Mohammedia we headed towards Rabat and the Mauretanian embassy. The place was crowded and we reunited with alot of people who had been depositing their demands at the same time as we did. Karin did several interesting interviews with the people outside the embassy, all heading in the same direction. A Senegalese artist living in Italy regretting that he gave up his bronze architecture in his home country for a promise to go to Europe where he is now working in agriculture. A French woman who goes by herself to different countries in Africa to distribute toys. She said that people don’t meet in the Western societies but at the same time she found it difficult to communicate with people on the road due to linguistic barriers. And a Senegalese (yes alot of Senegalese were to be found outside the Mauritanian embassy!) who lived in Agadir hoping to become soccer professional. He had come to Rabat to deposit a visa demand to Kuwait based on the invitation from a soccer team there. But it was rejected. He told about the boats to the Canaries but said that although he wanted to go to Europe he loved his mum too much to risk his life. Out of money he simply looked for a transport to Agadir.

As we hadn’t been moving for several days we were impatient to get started again on the second part of the trip. We therefore skipped Marrakech and drove all the way through the Atlas mountains to Tiznit.

Before leaving Tiznit, we went to the market where Sousou and Maher met up and played with some local musicians. Until the police came to say that it wasn’t possible…. again! It is really difficult to spontaneously share music and joy!

Fourteenth stop, Mohammedia: Catching up with life and impressions

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As everything in Casablanca was closed and we wanted to move out of the big city Er Raiche Abdellah brought us nearby the sea outside Mohammedia in between Casablanca and Rabat. Here we have had the time to rest and catch up with life, including internet (blogging!). We have also had the time to go through all impressions and discuss on the second half of the trip. It has really been useful to stop for a few days before continuing towards the desert and our final destination Dakar. Pether has also done some filming with Sousou and Maher for a coming music video.

Tomorrow we will go back to Rabat to hopefully collect our visas at the Mauritanian embassy and then be able to continue towards Marrakech.

Thirteenth stop, Casablanca: meeting enthousiastic audiences and a vibrating night life

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The trip to Casablanca was the first time that we actually had the time to go on small roads instead of big highways. And it was really an opportunity to move on without stress and to see abit more of the Moroccan landscape and people. We also stopped by washing our car so that she would be beautiful upon the entrance in the big city of Casablanca.

Casablanca is said to be a big, ugly and uninteresting town for tourists. We found that it was the contrary a vibrating town with movement and open-minded people. This was alot very much thanks to our friend Er Raiche Abdellah who is a Moroccan musician living in Casablanca with brothers in Sweden. He arranged everything for us upon our arrival and had us spend an incredible night out in the big city. Sousou and Maher played both at the rock club B-rock and at Amnestia, a club of water pipes (there is no better way of describing it). In Amnestia we were not allowed to film the audience, so the photos taken secretly do not really give justice to the place that was really fascinating. Both audiences were overwhelmingly appreciating and people were all singing/screaming Jangfata together even after the end of the show. A very positive experience that gave the feeling that more gigs in Morocco could well be planned! While going back to the car we met some Berber musicians so Sousou and Maher took the opportunity for another unexpected musical meeting! Back at the hotel at 3h30 we were all very overwhelmed about people and night life in Casablanca, the openness of the live music clubs and of course – the interest for Sousou and Maher’s music!

Twelfth stop, Temara: Musical encounters outside the big cities

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As we couldn’t move on and the business town of Rabat seemed to have few attractions, we decided to move out to the sea. So far we have only been to big cities so we longed for some countryside feeling. Temara is probably full during the summer season but now in the cold period of the year (the nights here are freezing) the place was not so crowded. However we had (as always) problems in finding a hotel. Driving around for hours looking for a place to sleep has become a sort of evening ritual. Either too expensive, full or no internet available.  We finally ended up at Panorama hotel, a place which had definitely seen its best days. WCs, locks, lights, showers… finding something that worked correctly was not probable. But the people working there were very nice and the night porter taught us both some Arabic and a patriotic Moroccan song.

After having checked in we went out to discover night life in Temara. It happened to be quite vivid with several music groups playing live. The owner of the piano bar “Safari club” was very welcoming and was happy to have Sousou and Maher playing there. The public was very animated and asked a lot of questions about the kora and the languages in which the songs were sung. Several people were interested in organizing other concerts with Sousou and Maher and the very talented bass player invited them to a Gnawa jamming session in Rabat. A great unexpected musical meeting!

We finally had a morning when everyone could take the time without being forced to jump up and get started at the first hour. Karin went out running on the beach and made some interviews whereas some of the others were strolling around or just sleeping. Before leaving Temara we also had some time to discuss about everything that we had experienced so far over a wonderful brunch of fish sandwiches at a small snack bar.