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Drivel From Doc Meets the Wolfman


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13 February


The foundation is dug, rebar in place, footing poured, solid block foundation done and the whole thing back-filled. A few hassles with Issa, the mason about the amount of mortar being used. Both he and Malang assumed my concern was for the amount of materials being used. My real concern, however, was that the strength of a block wall is in the blocks, not the mortar. A thick mortar line is just an excuse for poor masonry work, so when I saw his mortar joints measuring out at 4-5 cm. I had to lean on him. He got defensive. I maintained my position. He knocked off work for a day claiming “fatigue”, but returned the next day. His bloody joint lines weren't any better but my friend, Adam, told me Issa had built a couple of buildings for him and Trevor and they'd had no problems with them. He did say, though, that Issa's work can be a bit inconsistent; that he can do a great job one day and lose concentration the next. So, I'm keeping a close eye on the bugger.


The concrete blocks are laid out all over the landscape. The problem is that concrete needs water to cure properly and become strong. The hand-molding process demands a pretty dry concrete and so the blocks need a lot of water after they're formed to gain strength. Not a problem with running water, sprinklers, hoses, etc. But in a place where water comes one bucket at a time, hauled from the well, soaking down 3640 concrete blocks with a garden watering can can be unbelievably time-consuming and tedious.


We're trying to figure out a reasonable way to do it but nothing economical comes to mind. Ah, the pleasures and conveniences we take for granted in America!


Today is Friday the 13th and last Sunday Ebrima called to tell me the container was arriving the next day. I went to Banjul Tuesday, arriving about noon and Essa, Ebrima and I went to GRA (customs) to meet Yaya Jallow, the son of the receiving agent who had the necessary papers. En route we stop and exchange a couple of hundred-dollar bills with a Fula guy near the market. At GRA we paid the 1100 dalasis that GRA had assessed, then went to the Port to collect the motorcycle. All my other goods had been delivered to the Jallow store in Tabokoto and was awaiting my arrival there.


The port is pure tumult. People in and out. Warehouses. Huge trucks spewing diesel fumes, fork lifts, cargo equipment, cars imported from the States and Europe scuttling in and out. Many vehicles parked in front of the buildings covered with thick coats of dust; the owners could not afford the duty to clear them and so, there they sit, abandoned, waiting for someone to bail them out. Many are no longer worth the assessed duty.


The papers have to be taken to various offices and Ebrima and Yaya go off to do that. It takes forever. Essa and I sit on a bench outside a warehouse and check out two women, a mother and daughter, sitting on the bench opposite. The mother is “traditionally built”, wearing traditional clothing. The daughter is stunning, fashionable, with chic sunglasses and European designer clothes. She is wearing wedding rings, not a practice here, so we assume she is married to a toubab. This is the case. She tells us her husband is Belgian. She is there collecting a car he has sent. I ask Essa which one he thinks is more attractive. He tells me the mother. “She is a proper African woman. The daughter is too skinny!”


When Ebrima and Yaya return I am told that “they” want the original title. This I don't have. Ebrima tells me to come talk the “them”. Essa and Ebrima and Yaya and I go to the a long way and find a group of men in suits sitting under a sun shade. It turns out Essa and one of the men know each other well. This is a good sign. It also turns out that these guys are Interpol agents and have to clear every vehicle to make sure it isn't stolen. The Essa connection works. Not only are the agents willing to accept my copy, they later stop by and tell me that if I ever need clearance again to contact them. So far, so good.


Finally, I get to see the bike. It is nestled in a corner of a warehouse containing a few recently imported cars and a small motorcycle or two. The bike looks pretty good. No major scratches. The right front turn signal is hanging by its wires, but that's not a big deal. I have replacements in the other baggage waiting in Tabokoto. Ah, I think, now I can get the bike and we can go! But no, it is “break time”. Everything closes for lunch and 2 o'clock prayers and will not reopen until 3. We hang out. We pray with the others. We hang out some more. At 3 Yaya appears with the papers again and says to bring the motorcycle to the front gate. I fire him up and motor out to startled looks and appreciative stares. Parked by the front gate the bike draws a crowd. “Nice rider!” Lots of questions. Lots of comments. I'm waiting for clearance to leave.


Then Ebrima comes over. “They have decided they did not charge you enough at GRA and it needs to be reassessed. What they thought was that it was a small motorbike or a scooter, but they think this is a big motorcycle and you will have to pay more.” Oh, shit!


We park the bike out of the way. It is now after 4 and we hurry back to the GRA offices across town. Yaya and Ebrima and Essa go off with a customs agent. I sit and wait. I wait some more. Three-quarters of an hour later Ebrima comes out to tell me they want $375 more, would I come talk to them.


The customs agent is a young man and, using what I have learned here over the years, I tell him who I am and what WAME is and what we have done. He listens impassively until, in mentioning some of the villages we have helped, I mention Sintet. “Sintet”, he asks? “Sintet”, I tell him. He immediately gets up and says, “Come with me”. I know where we are going.


Mr. Baldeh is, by now, a senior officer in GRA; a second-echelon guy. He is from Sintet. I have met him a number of years ago and he knows what we have done for the village. He smilles, gets up, and shakes my hand warmly. The customs agent explains in Wolof. Mr. Baldeh tells him, “This is a special man. I will take care of this.” He tells us to return “by 10” the next morning and that he will “do something” to help.


We return to the port and make sure the bike is in a safe place, then go back to the ramshackle Marong compound on Lancaster Street, across town. We must have walked 8 miles today. Maybe more. And I am bushed.


En route, Ebrima goes off to visit friends – he has many – and Essa and I return home to food Mussukebba has prepared. He watches TV and I go out to the street with my camera to photograph whatever is there. Mussukebba is sitting with a group of the young women I have watched grow up: her niece, F.O. Jainaba and Ya Fatou, Mariama Colley's daughters, Adama, a neighbor girl. I've known them since they were little girls.


Ya Fatou has a small stand set up and is selling a sweet drink she has made of rice and baobab fruit and sugar. Mussu is selling fresh oranges. But mostly they are talking and joking and teasing and loving each others' company. I sit and photograph, enjoying it all.


The next morning we are back at GRA at 9:30 to see Mr. Baldeh. He is not there yet. I am a bit surprised since he told us to be there “by 10”, which I interpreted as meaning “before 10”. “No,” Ebrima tells me. “By 10 means AT 10”. Oh! “

“So, why didn't you tell me when I was hurrying everybody up this morning?”

“We didn't want to be disrespectful.”

Another lesson learned.


Eventually Baldeh comes. He shakes all our hands. I introduce Essa and Ebrima. Ebrima he remembers. We must wait. He can not do this alone. Eventually the other requisite personnel arrive. We wait some more. By 10:45 Yaya comes out with the papers. I am disappointed. I thought Baldeh would do something REALLY helpful. They still want the equivalent of $225, more than I had expected to pay. After all, I am not importing the machine into The Gambia, only receiving it here and taking it to Senegal. There, I will have to pay what I anticipate will be another hefty customs assessment. I will have to change more money. We go back across town to find the Fula money-changer. I change another $100 bill and we return AGAIN to GRA to pay the cashier. We pay the cashier. Can we go? No, the papers have to be stamped. We wait in line at another window while another man shuffles and stamps someone else's papers. Now it's our turn. He shuffles and stamps our papers.


NOW we can go to the port and get the bike. We go to the port. And.....the papers have to be cleared at another office. Then at another office. Then back to the first office for another stamp. The diesel fumes are affecting my thinking. I am thinking I am in West Africa, stuck in some vast warehouse facility being attacked by diesel-fume-breathing dragons.


No, I'm not delusional. It really is happening. Finally, the papers appear. The bike is cleared. Free! We can leave. “Gee, Essa, I'm starting to like this place!”

“Get out before they find something else to do,” Essa tells me. We drive out the gate with all the guards waving. Essa and I ride to Marong compound and leave the bike. Meanwhile, Ebrima is heading for Tabokoto to check on the other part of my shipment. At Marong kunda I eat some lunch, then take local transport to Tabokoto, about 45 minutes.


Ebrima and I go through my boxes and my three plastic kitty-litter buckets in which I've shipped tools and motorcycle parts, the Stihl 031 chain saw, and my bundle of wood clamps, and my other bundle of three shovels (Good-quality tools are very hard to find here, most are Chinese crap. Imagine trying to shovel and the blade is so thin it flexes!), my splitting maul, and my old oak rocking chair. All are present except for my trusty old axe, which has disappeared in shipment. I will not hassle this. Nothing would come of it, anyway.


I don't want to ride the motorcycle to Kafountine without wearing proper gear, so I go through the appropriate boxes and haul out a pair of boots, my helmet, goggles and gloves and the wonderful Cycleport riding suit Bill Walker gifted me. Ebrima and Essa have engaged a van and driver to transport all the goods while I return to Banjul with my riding gear and bring the motorcycle. We will meet across the border at Selety, in Senegal.


No problems with the police or military checkpoints coming out of Banjul. They either ignore me or compliment me on the bike. I fight my way through the insanity of the traffic in Serekunda and pass the communities I've grown to know: Lamin, Yundum, Banjulinding, Busumabala, Brickama, Mandina Ba, the traffic thinning all the way. Finally I turn off the main highway on the road to Giboro at the border, and, when I have to swerve to get past a cow in the road, I know I am back riding in the Africa I love.


The van pulls in at Selety and the customs agent signals the driver to pull over. He is an older man, in partial uniform, and friendly. A younger man emerges, dressed in severe white shirt. He is unsmiling. He instructs us to unload the van, all 15 boxes and orders the inspection of every single box. “Que est-ce que c'est?” he demands when he discovers something he doesn't recognize. He doesn't recognize a small, circular saw. “Que est-ce que c'est?” he asks and we must open a large, odd-shaped box. I extract my guitar case. I must open it. I must take the guitar out so he can see underneath. He takes a flat, plastic packet out of the guitar case. “Que est-ce que c'est?” He demands. I am speechless. The older officer explains, “C'est cords pour le guitar.” The younger man grunts and tosses it back into the guitar case.


Each box, each bucket is examined out in the street, with whoever wants to looking on, seeing what I have. “Que est-ce que c'est?” “Que est-ce que c'est?”


Eventually he signals us to follow and strides off, through a courtyard to an office. This is a newer customs building. The old one that I knew three years ago was crushed by a huge, falling tree. He motions us to sit and settles himself behind his desk. We have not followed the protocol. We must pay this. It is astronomical. We discuss. We argue. We cajole. Alright, he says. We can not pay it. Then you must return to The Gambia and go to the Senegalese Embassy on Kairaba Avenue and secure un Certificat de Demenagement (certifying that I am moving my household). Then I will not have to pay anything. It is now after 5 in the afternoon. He finally relents and allows us to pay this! It is still far too high. He is unbending; a petty chief in his petty chiefdom with all the time in the world on his side. (It is ultimately the time factor that these guys use. We want to get out of there, they know it, and they have absolutely nothing better to do. Time is on their side. In fact, they can close the office and go home, leaving us stranded at the border!)

Ebrima begins to lose his temper. I have never seen Ebrima lose his temper. Ebrima is Mr. Friendly. Ebrima is Mr. Cool. Essa asks him to leave. He leaves. Essa continues to negotiate. Essa is very good at this. I'm amazed how cool he is but I am beginning to lose my temper. I'm beginning to have murderous fantasies. I leave.

Eventually, Essa emerges. Can we pay 20 thousand (about $40)? Yes, I tell him. How did you talk him down? Essa tells me the man would not budge, so Essa told him, “Look! We are both in the service. (Essa is a senior security officer at the hospital.) If you come to The Gambia and you need help don't come to me!” That apparently did the trick. Not only that, Essa said they are now friends and exchanged telephone numbers.


Africa!! Will I ever understand?


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I know I wouldn't!


Thanks for giving us a glimpse into a world most of us will never experience. :thumbsup:


Good fortune to you David!

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Doc ... to me your writing always creates supurb mental images of landscape and culture. Much appreciated.

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Doc - this reminds me of one of my favorite reads: "Don't Stop The Carnival" by Herman Wouk with an African twist. Great stuff. A lesser man would have packed it up long ago.

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PS: I went to Ziguinchor last week to register the bike and pay the customs duty. Another $375 duty (reduced from $900!)plus about $60 in registration fees and insurance.

It took all day until 5:30 in the evening and I have to go back tomorrow to finish the process. (1 1/2 hours each way.)

Then, there's re-registering the GS and getting insurance for it.

I'm getting a horse!


Yesterday, I installed a set of Ricor Intiminators in the forks of the GS. They feel great! My riding skills have improved tremendously since first encountering the ubiquitous deep sand we have here.

Part of it was the day I spent taking an off-road course at Puget Sound Safety Off-Road (PSSOR). Money very well spent. I feel comfortable on the bike now. I just hope I don't hit any more monkeys.


Next thing is to put some new shoes on the Dakar. I have a set of Mitas knobbies ready. They're a bitch to put on due to the stiff sidewalls, but they wear like iron and add a sure-footedness that can't be beat.


Anybody want to come ride, there are two good bikes here and I'd love to show you "my" Africa. (Jake, Chris, Glenn? you up for this?)

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Charles Elms


Thanks for sharing this type of experience. While a $20 bill used to 'expedite' a Texas - Mexico crossing many years ago, that was nothing to what you described. We are fortunate we don't have those hassles over here.

Keep up your writings about Africa.

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Today I went to Ziguinchor to renew the license on Timpa Marong, my GS. It was quite amazing! An extremely friendly man ushered me into his office, looked at the papers and sent me to the finance dept. At the finance department a large man with thick glasses pointed at the tax paper and kept telling me "Ya na!" (There isn't any!) I thought he meant they'd run out of the forms and my French isn't as sterling as I'd like. He took me to the head of the finance bureau, who turned out to be another really nice guy. He shepherded me through it all and surprised the hell out of me by telling me I didn't have to pay anything, since the tax had been rescinded in 2012.

Back I went to nice man #1 who told me all I had to do was get insurance and I would be jake with all the authorities in Senegal. And he told me he rides a 125 and loves bikes. We grinned at each other.

The lady at the insurance agency remembered me from last week and introduced me to the manager: Nice guy #3! Turns out his parents are from the same part of The Gambia that my family comes from and so we were like bro's all the way. $75 and I'm insured for the year.

I got everything done in two hours.

Some days are like that!

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