Kayes (pronounced kai) is a transit town. It looks like a rural area that has been forced quickly to live up to new responsibilities; so that while a sturdy bridge leads into the town, and an Ecobank branch sits prettily on the road leading to the town, and mini satellite dishes and communication masts adorn the roof of some of its buildings, and one can spot vestiges of the colonial incursion into this city, and the town even has a rural radio station of its own, one will just as sooner find, untarred roads, ancient looking buildings with crumbling mud walls, grazing donkeys, open sewage and other icons of rustic living.
We enter this ambivalent town- rural, but not quite, modern but not quite- and begin to search for a hotel with Wifi. We ask around and are told that there is no hotel with an internet connection in Kayes. Unbelievable! We continue our search until we are directed to the shop of a Nigerian, Joseph- a polite young man. He is not there, but his wife is. She is preparing food on an open hearth right in front of her restaurant, but calls her husband to come to the shop. Some Nigerians are here. ‘Restaurant Africana”. Restaurant Africana‘s doors are painted in the colour of the Nigerian flag with “Nigerian Restaurant “scrawled on them. Chriss comes to inform those of us still waiting in the bus that,” if anyone wants to eat hot Eba, they had better come now”.
Joseph is on his way; but in the meantime, we get the chance to eat another round of authentic ‘home” food. Joseph arrives on his bike and we greet and him, introduce ourselves and explain our mission. Joseph receives us politely and offers to lead us to a suitable rest house. After a drive to one or two places, we eventually settle for the rest houses at the Rural Radio House on the Kayes Plateau, across the old train station. The building is a refurbished-colonial -type house with chunks of granite quilted together as walls. The roof is garrisoned with strong iron frames and the flooring is made of solid wood panels. It now serves as the residence of workers at the audio –vision project at Kaynes , with left over rooms hired to guests like us. Behind this colonial building are newer, modern bungalows serving the same purpose and nearby, the Centre for Media and Communication – a cyber café overseen by Mike, an American working with the Rural Radio at Kayes.
Mike was an unlikely surprise in the hot and hardy environment of Kayes. There he was greeting us respectfully, offering great customer service as best he could within all the inhibiting conditions of his environment – power trip-off in some of the rooms, water trip-off in others, and the underutilization of the cybercafé, plus breaking out in sweat because of the heat waves that keep Kayes as warm as a furnace, for several hours, even after sunset. Every observation we made, he said he would bring to the notice of the management of Radio Kayes. When we asked for water in buckets to enable our early take off from Kayes very early the next day, Mike personally fetched and delivered buckets of water to no less than of 4 us- and this well after midnight. His service delivery was quite impressive. Chriss noted aloud later, that the commitment to service delivery was an outstanding differentiator of European-American marketing culture.
The other odd surprise of our trip was Mark, a Londoner that we had found sticking out like a sore thumb at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle Bus Park in Accra. On sighting him, I drew nearer to explore the phenomenon. It turned out that Mark was a Baptist Minister signed on to do 5 years of evangelistic work in a nearby church in the Circle area. He had put in two so far, and was selling socks to earn a stipend, to keep body and soul together, because he did not like to accept handouts. He said he was aligning with the biblical injunction that says “he who does not work, ought not to eat.” Asked if he would accept a token from one of us, he simply smiled saying there was no need for that as it would end up being given away by him anyway. An interesting fellow who seemed to have crossed the borders of needs and wants, Mark was still pretty human: he will be heading to SA in June to watch the 2010 World Cup, “just for a change” he said, smiling shyly. To have no needs, other than for the bare essentials, is an invisible border that many of us are unable to cross, as Mark seems to have done.
Next morning is Saturday 8th May, and we set off very early, determined to enter Dakar. We move fast though the road is not so great in parts. Kamankole. Danfanbougou, Dylla. Bongonou. Alatina. Dar es Salem. Same Oluf. In no time, we reach the Diboli border at 7.05Am. The regular trio disembarks to do formalities. They return 25 minutes later. The border boys were somewhat soliciting for the “usual but unofficial”, but our team explained that they wouldn’t be able to play ball. They explained the project to the officers. One of them asked perplexed: ‘You haven’t swept your own homes, and you are here, trying to sweep others’.
Chriss thought it was a statement on point, but some of us disagreed: The Nigerian government had set up the EFCC and the ICPC to checkmate corrupt persons and these agencies had recorded a measure of success, in jailing some high profile persons, – that was governmental ‘ home sweeping’. We also thought it already apparent that the Invisible Borders Project was in aid of “sweeping our homes.’ We made no concessions to our country’s officials at the border: we made it clear that we would give no bribes. Back home, we had already observed that unlike our experience during the IB 2009, laudable changes had been effected at the Lagos end of the Seme Border. The stubborn request for corruption money seemed been receiving good attention. As noted in our earlier blog, a public service announcement by the Nigerian Customs Service was now being loudly relayed at intervals ,urging travelers not to patronize touts, or pay illegal charges, and listing authorized agencies at the border. Uche remarked that the admonition was probably working: he recalled that he saw no one being openly propositioned, or unduly delayed in a bid to wrest illegal fees from them whilst conducting border formalities on our way out of Lagos- a departure from our experience in the preceding year.
The truth that we have learnt from our own experiences crossing the borders or checkpoints from Lagos, Cotonou, Lome, Accra, Hamile, Kouri, Diboli to Kidira is that if a West African has correct travel documents, and is not carrying contraband goods, s(he) can choose and insist on not paying a penny in bribes. Corrupt officials will have no choice but fall in line once they perceive that one is adamant about NOT paying, and will have no choice than to perhaps sulk, but definitely let them through. Our insistence on getting receipts for EVERY payment made at the borders certainly helped to checkmate all corrupt intents. In the end, we only gave our post cards and posters which were received with friendly and respectful thanks.
The task ahead therefore, as we perceive it, is for governments and civil society organizations, to educate, educate and educate, the general public on the need to apply for, and get their genuine travel papers; this done, they would be on a good footing to stand their grounds not to do any bribe- giving.
We breakfast at Kidira where trailers line the road, and then move on, to Fete Nimbe, and Gourdry, about 12 kilometers to Tambocunda where SnowWhite suffers a flat tyre. We change to the spare, and use that chance to take pictures. At 12 noon, we enter Tambocunda. We need to buy a new tyre so we hunt for a brand new one. Tambocunda tyre sellers have mainly second-hand tyres for sale. We are out of CFA and must find an ATM. It takes all of three hours to find and buy a good tyre, fit it, get cash, and move on.
At Sinthou Maleme, the road becomes shiny with well-laid asphalt. We drive past Kafferune where a Rasta-drummer is frenetically beating his drum to submission at a wedding ceremony. Gaily dressed people are in the streets, attending weddings and other ceremonies.
A waddle of pigs trundle across the road and the driver’s voice rises in exasperated disgust: ‘Nothing wey we no go see o! Even pig dey run cross road! ’ The bus erupts in laughter. Nike says that the road is an invisible border of which the animals are oblivious, so the poor creatures should not be blamed for crossing the road at will, or expecting vehicles to concede the right of way to them, a though they were royalty.
We reach Sibasso, and then on we go through Gamboul, Bill, Mbelo, Nguith, Kuer Alphas, to Factick. We have already glimpsed the sea and know that we will soon be in Dakar. We drive on to Mbour and eventually, we arrive Dakar, meander our way, in stops and starts, to the Centre Culturel Blaise Senghor and meet the cultural elite who have converged on the city from all over the world, for the 9th edition of the Dak’ Art Festival.