Monday, February 4, 2013

To Gabu for the Guru

            My stepdad pretty much dropped everything in the US to come here and start working on this year’s cashew campaign. At 60 years old, I’d say it’s a pretty courageous thing to do because there is no guarantee how things will turn out.  He told me he often can’t sleep at night because he is up thinking about how we are going to pull this cashew project off. Mamudo offered a solution to ease his worries.
Village boys carving out gourds
            Mamudo is a guy who comes by to help Avo Alice with housework.  At 24 he hasn’t been able to finish high school because it is too expensive (public schools are not free here) and finding work with out a college degree, let alone high school diploma is slim. He is at the house all the time so my stepdad and I have gotten to know him pretty well. He is Fula and his mother is from a Tabanka (Village) called Seao Folbe which is 54kilometers outside of  Gabu. He told my step dad about a man named Yaya who is a Muslim spiritual leader or Imam in one of the villages near his mother’s village. This man, Yaya, gives spiritual guidance, does future readings,  and provides “assistance” with resolving problems or obstacles in peoples lives. He has received visitors from as far as Cape Verde, Sweden, America, and Senegal.
            My step dad is not Muslim, but he wanted to see what Yaya had to offer. So off we went to Gabu, this time via public transportation.
             On a bus in the US, an aisle is an aisle so people can move around. Here, aisles mean more space for more passengers. The autocaro, or our greyhound bus equivalent, was packed! People were stilling in the aisles, there were at least 7 people standing up next to the driver and we all still had to get on and off the bus to show our ID’s at the rest stops. As you might image, it was a very long process.
            After 4 hours we arrived in Gabu to wait another 4 hours for another vehicle that would take us to the tabanka.  This vehicle was bigger then a van but smaller then a small bus. It was probably one of the scariest rides of my life! The van was filled with 40 people and the top was loaded with personal belongings, bikes, and there was even a goat up there at one point.

The Van we rode to get to the Village Seao Folbe
             I say the ride was scary because the roads were HORRIBLE and given the weight of the van any excessive lean to the left or right felt like we were going to tip over.  On theses roads transportation casualties are not out of the ordinary. A one point Mamadu turned up the music on his cell phone to drown out the voices of women saying “Aos! Aos!”. “Aos” means today in Creole, and in this context it meant “today is the day it’s tipping over!” It got to the point where I began to think about how I would maneuver to avoid being crushed buy 3 rows of people in the event that it did.  After three and a half hours of rocky riding at 10 mph it’s hard not to let your mind to get to that point.
             The driver stopped along the road to left people off at different tabankas and eventually we arrived at our destination; sweaty, tired but in one piece. The tabanka we arrived in was made up of maybe 20 families, the neighboring tabankas being a 5/10 minute walk away. We were stayed at Mamudo’s Aunt’s house. Her husband had passed several years before but she lived with lots of Mamadu’s other family members.

Here is a rough summary of my week there:
Mamudu and Imam Yaya

Day 1: We walked one and a half hours to Yaya’s tabanka. He only speaks Fula, so Mamudu translated Fula to Creole for Ramos. Much to my disappointment I had to wait outside with Buba, Mamudu’s cousin and our guide, while they went into his room.  I was told that Yaya would ask for my step-dads name and the name of his mother. He was going to pray that night and would have news for us in the morning.      When I got back to Mamadu’s Aunts house I met the infamous Concoran. The Conoran deserves its own blog post but, to be brief, it is a spirit or a human in a trans? I’m not exactly sure what it is, but it is something not human that comes to the villages when young boys get circumcised.  
            I had not been in any way prepped for this. So when everyone was running away from this thing looking like a pile of carrot shreddings come to life, I, out of ignorance or amazement, but definitely out of confusion stood around and watched. Mamudo’s aunt had to come and grab me to tell me to get out of the way. Apparently the Concoran is a women beater, which is why all the women were running.  For some reason in my mind I thought I was untouchable. Spirits can tell the difference between locals and foreigners too right?
The Concuran and women drumming
            The Concorans chased people for a while and then wanted everyone to dance. So young men and women began to drum and chant while the Concorons danced. Did I mention there were two of them? I learned that what I saw was just people dressed in costume (which is what I figured but everyone one around me made it seem so real that I second guessed myself), but a real Concoran does exist and when it comes you want to be nowhere in sight. Fortunately it cannot enter your house, but it can fly and it is known to kill. It is controlled can called to the village by the village chief.  The entire situation reminded me of M. Night Shamalons, The Village. And now that I think about it, he must have stolen the story of the Concoran and made it into a movie.

Day 2:  We woke up early and made the same hour and a half walk to Yaya’s tabanka. This walk was a lot more quiet. We were all wondering what the ‘divine revelations’ would be.
             He gave Ramos some really good news about how everything is going to turn out, so that was a great relief. But he also told Ramos he needs to be careful. Apparently Ramos has enemy’s who don’t want him to be successful, some of them being close friends and family members, and that he needs to learn to keep them at a distance.
Ramos and Mamudu give bread to school children
            The next day 2 days at the village were homework days. Ramos was given the assignment of giving bread and sardines to school children and 7 bananas to a rich man. He also gave Ramos a bottle of water that was infused with magical things that no one but him can know. He is supposed to wash himself with this water to give him influence when speaking to people he needs something from. One example is getting help from folks with getting his container and truck out of the port.  He was given some other assignments, but he payed Yaya to do them for him. He said if he had too much “homework” he knew he wasn’t going to do it, so it was better that Yaya did it instead to be sure it gets done. Does magical/mysical stuff work like that where you can pay someone to do it for you? I guess we will find out.
            A quick note on the location: As much as it felt like the middle of nowhere, the international presence in this region was much greater then I would have thought. The Chinese came and put in a water pump, the Spanish had several red cross building, the Japanese had invested in building several schools and I herd that folks from Brazil come every year to help with the bolanhas, or community gardens. There was also a huge absence of men. Women and children could be found everywhere, but grown men were hit by the plague of emigration. They left make money and find better lives for their family. So in the villages it was women running the show.
Mamudu's Aunt and neighbors pounding rice
            Getting home was an adventure in-and-of itself. We took the same van back into Gabu, which, surprisingly was the smooth part.  As I’ve mentioned, transportation here isn’t like the US. There are no set schedules and departure times. Only when vehicles are filled to the max do they even think about hitting the road.
            It was noon, so we paid for the bus that said it was leaving at 2 o’clock. 3:30 rolled around and we still hadn’t left. We were told the bus wasn’t going to leave because there weren’t enough passengers. So instead we paid for a car to drive us, which is 3 times as expensive, but it’s a much faster trip and guaranteed to leave Gabu that day. As we waited for more people to fill up the car we saw a sudden wave of people filling up the bus we just got off. The look on my stepdads face was priceless. He had just gotten his money back from the bus to pay for the car only to watch more people get on the bus.  It was a game of claiming a seat on the vehicle that leaves first.  Fortunately after about 30 minutes enough people filled the car so we could hit the road. As we were leaving we watched more people filling the bus. The driver of our told us it was better we took the car because the bus wouldn’t arrive in Bissau before midnight. It was just past 4 pm at this point.
Women working on the community garden
            So we made the drive home. It was hot, but smooth enough until, in the midst of all the commotion at one of the ID checking points, the car gets a flat tire. While I waited for the tire to be changed some folks on the side of the road were hassling me about money. It was one of those “we are so close and all I wanna do is go home” moments. Traveling through Guinea-Bissau is tiring!  It’s no wonder so many people have never left the main city.  The driver was nice enough to take us directly home, but only after he dropped off the 7 other passengers first. 
            After a week of bucket showers outside in the open and sleeping next to people I didn’t know, I am more then happy to be back in Bissau taking bucket showers indoors and sleeping next to people I do know (I share a bed with Avo Alice). 

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