Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Trip to Gabu

Dominges Ramos is a very famous man here in Bissau, although I’m still not 100% clear on why that is. He is my Step dad’s older brother and his daughter is Ramos’ niece. A couple days ago her husband passed away and had a funeral ceremony at her home in Gabu.  We drove the 4 hours out to Gabu to attend the ceremony.

We were supposed to leave the house at 9am. Ramos predicted we wouldn't leave till much later and true to Guinean form we left the house at almost 1. The drive was long, but I slept most of the way there nestled in between my dad’s heavier set niece and 6 foot 4 nephew.

We arrived in Gabu around 5 and found some chairs to occupy in the back. I can never tell if people can speak Portuguese or not. Since I don't speak creole, Portuguese is my main form of communication. In Gabu you have some people who don’t even speak Creole, only Fula. I spoke with Ramos’ nephew, who, like my step-dad, also grew up in Portugal. He is now living in Bissau and has an export business for rice and other staples from Europe to Bissau.

There were lots of women cooking and that’s pretty much what happened the whole night. I watched as they slaughtered a pig, butchered it, then seasoned and cooked it.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen the process from a whole live animal to a meal on a plate in one sitting. A women I had met days before named Maria brought some fish from Bissau to cook. I helped her out, and by ‘help’ I mean held her flash light while she gutted and cooked the fish. 

The night was incredible. The sky was glittering with stars and everyone was out side cooking and talking. Some folks brought out some drinks and Ramos' neice made a rum infused drink with herbs from the yard and some lime. They also had this crazy coconut infused, sweetened condensed milk drink that is as thick as condensed milk. It was suuuuuuuper strong, but also really sweet to match.

I slept in a bed with 3 or four other people. I'm not exactly sure about the number because people just kept coming and going from the bed. The vultures crash landing on the tin roof woke me up. It was only 7am and the bed was already empty. I got up and joined one of the guys who was sent to buy some tooth brushes at the market. Along the way he gave me a tour of part of Gabu. It’s a small town with lots of houses and huts. The biggest market in Bissau is in Gabu, so we went to check out what all the talk is about.  

After breakfast we headed back to Bissau. We stopped at another market along the way and Ramos’ niece bought milk that looked like runny cottage cheese. Apparently there are things, like milk, that you can only get in Gabu. You can get milk in Bissau but it is boxed and imported from Europe. I’m talking about fresh milk that only lasts a day or two. 

Gabu is the home of many cows and thus, cow herders. My dad told me about how growing up in Bissau he was a cow herder. In my mind I created an image of what that might look like. On the drive home we had to pull over 3 separate times to let heards of 40+ cows run by. My mental image was far from what I experienced.

We also got attacked by women selling food on the road.  I was sitting in the middle and I had bags of potatoes and oranges in my face from everyone trying to make a sale. Competition is fierce! Ramos’s niece grabbed one bag and paid.  We said we were done, but we had to start driving away before anyone would take their arms out of the car. 

To give that some context, on the way to and from Gabu there are stops where police had us get out and show our passports  and identification and ask where we were going. At these stops lots of people congregate because it’s a chance to sell food to hungry travelers. You’ll find bananas, oranges, peanuts, drinks, potatoes, and other tubers. I even saw someone butchering a cow at one of the stops.  But stopping and showing our passport was kind of intimidating.  Sitting in a row on the side of the road are men and women dressed in military uniform carrying guns (not all of them). It felt so informal and simultaneously unpredictable, like anything (good or bad) could have happened.  But apparently they are on high alert since the coup in April. They have cracked down on who is and can traveling with in the county.

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