The sun that rose over the West African coast, that morning, was the last one to find me in Bissau. My plan for that day was to farewell that country and move up north to Serrekunda, Gambia’s largest city. I packed my stuff slowly, had my breakfast, and was ready to go.
Getting out on the street in front of my hotel, I stopped the first taxi that passed and agreed with its driver to take me to the city’s central station (paragem central) for 500 CFA. It was around 9 am, and I found out that it would have been a wise idea to have started a bit earlier. The avenue, by that time, was heavily jammed, so making the 7 km drive to the station to last for over an hour. When we, finally, made it there, I found all the locals to be quite apathetic towards my person. In strong contrast to the average African bus station, no one ran to me right away to lead me to the bus, and I had to go around for some time, asking myself, until someone showed me where the right car to Ziguinchor was.
The driver tried to rip me off severely. He initially asked me to pay 8000 CFA. I put forward to him a strong argument: that I just had come to Bissau from Ziguinchor just a few days ago, and I then had paid 3.500. He counter-argued, using some bizarre sort of logic which I could not really get, striving to convince me that despite doing the exact same way, the price is normally and justifiedly higher when doing it in the opposite direction. The negotiation went like: “Alright, I can do you the favor and give you the ticket for 7.000” – “3.5” – “5” – “3.5” – “4” – “3.5”. We made the deal, allowed the time that every spare seat in the car needed to get occupied, and we started on that day’s trip.
Quite a pleasant drive it was. The sky was in an exquisite mood that morning, the sun’s brilliant product surging plentifully through it and embellishing the interspersed with great rivers, little groves, and lonely Baobabs vast, open, desolate landscapes. The driver, also, was not in a mood for lingering. Unlike the typical African driver, he wasn’t making any stop for no apparent reason every so often but kept driving continuously, meandering around the numerous potholes on the sketchy road with apt skill. In quite an appropriate manner was he also coping with that weird custom the villagers of that land are keen on practicing: when upon entering their village, a group of them will be standing sectioned on either side of the road hoisting a rope with colored triangular flags across the road’s width, so demanding you stop and give them money. On every such occasion, our driver would just speed up audaciously, the self-declared toll collectors dropping the rope down at the last moment and cursing at us while bypassing them in wind speed.
Apart from whatever was happening on the outside, I also got to find some interest on the inside of the car. I shared the two front seats with that funny man who could speak English, thus having the chance to have a proper conversation with somebody. He was Agnus, originally from Nigeria but a resident of Gambia for the last decade or so. Because of the perilous situation that followed Jammeh’s (Gambia’s dictator until recently) refusal to step down after losing the elections, he and his entire family – just like so many others – had fled Gambia for Guinea-Bissau. Now – a few days after Jammeh, finally, decided to quit and flee himself to Equatorial Guinea, seeing no hope to hold on the power having the combined armies of the West African Union states surrounding his country – Agnus was bound to return home. Sharing the same destination, our ways were interlocked for that day. So, together we got to be looking for a car to take us to the Gambian border as we were dropped off at Ziguinchor bus station by early afternoon.
After about an hour, we were in the day’s second car driving further north. Agnus shared the front seat with some other Senegalese man, and I shared the one on the back with a young Gambian lady and her daughter. A nice lady she was but she brought me in a very awkward position, having to politely refuse her many a marriage proposal.
It did not take long and we were left before the Gambian border. We got our stuff off the vehicle and proceeded. Unlike the previous crossing of the day, from Guinea-Bissau to Senegal, this crossing was to be proven much more time-consuming… That bloke of the Gambian custom control was very serious about his job. He made me undergo the most thorough control I have ever experienced on any border crossing, in fact. He was actually hoping I might have been carrying some weed with me, upon which occurrence he would attempt to make a fortune for himself exchanging my freedom for whatever sum of money I could find for him.
He first checked everything I was carrying on me, making me empty all my pockets and take off my shoes and socks as well. He then went on with checking my bag. He did that exhaustively. He took out every single thing, one plastic bag after another, fumbling for anything he could grasp and smelling as well – he might have confused himself for a greyhound. He went through all the clothes and other little things, he searched the inside of the matchboxes, he leafed through my notebooks (taking some time to read a couple of pages also)… but he had no luck. Then, nearing the bottom of the backpack, he drew up that transparent plastic case I was keeping a good portion of tobacco in. “Aha!” – he exclaimed – “hashish, hashish?”, jabbing his nose into it at the same time, only to find out, for his great disappointment, that it was just plain tobacco. Finally, all the way to the bottom, he hauls up that small, black plastic bag. I saw his imminent intention to smell its content. “No, man, you should better not smell this one!”, I advised. “Why, why?”, he enquired on a leery tone, a reanimated hope glaring through his eyes, and he dug his nose straight into the bag. On the very next instance, I observed how the hopeful glare in his eyes changed to a vomitive one, as he realized that that was the bag I was keeping my dirty socks and underwear in.
Having given that guy no reason to detain me, I was free to continue my way inside Gambia. After I waited for Agnus for some time – while he was undergoing the same control as well – we continued and boarded into a car for Serrekunda. About an hour later, right before sunset, we were dropped off by the side of a busy, noisy and dusty street downtown Serrekunda, and started ambling towards Agnus’ family’s house where I was to sleep over for that night, as offered.