West Africa Revealed
Trip Start Dec 12, 2010
212Trip End Dec 16, 2012
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In West Africa, we travelled through the countries of Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon. An array of countries and cultures, but with similarities all the same. West Africa was revealed to us throughout our journey. Even though several West African countries were not included on our journey, we feel that we got a good sense of the culture, the people, the environment, the cities and towns, the best and worst of West Africa and all in all, for us, West Africa was revealed
One way West African culture was revealed to us was through its history. Going back to the mid 1800's and The Scramble for Africa, Africa was split up and colonized by the French, British, German, Portugese and Italians. West Africa was mainly colonized by the French, apart from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierre Leone, Liberia and part of Cameroon, which were colonized by the British. Yes this is a history lesson, but it really does impact on the West African culture of today. Most of our journey through West Africa meant that we had to speak French, and for us, it was very bad French. We did get a bit of a break from our bad French when visiting the English speaking countries of Ghana, Nigeria and a part of Cameroon. But overall, West Africa to us, soon became known as Franco land.
Back onto the history lesson. West Africa's history can be likened to a dartboard, and in the centre of it is its slave history. West Africa back in the day was a playground for slave traders. We visited the historical slave prisons/museums in Ghana, Benin and Nigeria. This aspect of West African's history was tragic, and as we walked down the path the slaves took to the point of no return, we really felt a bit ashamed to have British Ancestory. This part of history really stuck in our mind as the centre of West African history
When we think of the culture of West Africa, we think of a cross between Muslim, Christian and Voodoo religions. We think of the local drumming, dancing, and locals with tribal marks on their faces. West Africa is a epicentre of masks, being the fact that whatever country, whatever souvenir shop, there will be a vast collection of West African masks for sale. Through these cultural symbols, to us, West Africa was revealed.
Throughout our journey in West Africa we ventured through cities, towns and villages, and in these, West Africa was revealed. The West African cities all had a massive market selling things from fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, to brightly coloured fabrics, shoes and souvenirs (of course including masks). West African cities were cramped with people, not only shopping, but people selling things on their heads, cooking up street meat and always curious towards the spotable white man. The traffic in West African can be only labeled as organised chaos, beat up taxis, and cars and buses overloaded with people. Towns on the otherhand were a little quieter, but still had a bustling market as the centre of excitement, and of course, in most non strict muslim areas, you could find a cool local bar for a thirst quenching local beer
West Africa was revealed with us in a pleasant way through its tremendous array of enviornments. From the desert sand dunes of Mauritiana, to the baobab trees and mammoth rivers in Senegal and Mali. To the almost Aussie outback looking landscapes of Mali and Burkina Faso with rock formations and beautiful waterfalls and savannah. To the pristine beaches of Ghana, Benin, Togo and Cameroon. To the overfarmered land of Nigeria which lead us the dense jungle of Southern Nigeria and Cameroon. West Africa is where it is at, in terms of environments. Through these magical environments and unforgettable sunsets, West Africa was revealed.
What is there to see in West Africa, one may ask? Well it was revealed to us that compared to what one would think of East Africa, West Africa, doesn't have many big sites, but what it does have is untouched, untouristy and not disappointing
The answer to the question, 'Why would you go to West Africa?' was continually revealed to us. And that answer was 'the people'. Don't get me wrong, due to corrupt governments, there are corrupt people trying to bribe you at border crossings, and continuous police checks to ensure your safety, or as a cover for surprise surprise, more bribes. As a white man, you often get white man prices and have to expect things to be done in African time. And you can't get away with some begging, and children asking for cadeaux (presents). You have to expect the shortage of change when you purchase something, and often being told there is no change, so you don't get change, or you can have a few sweets instead. You also can't get away from the hissing noises from locals as they are trying to get your attention. All of these things might be a pain, but the people are the main asset of West Africa. Overall the people are friendly and curious of where we had come from, what we were doing and often wanted to keep in touch
West African people are not just friendly, but they are beautiful. Women wearing beautiful coloured fabrics, carrying their babies tied on their backs (even when dancing to loud music and partying), or while gracefully strolling through town with something on their heads, which they are more than likely hoping to sell. The slender women of West Africa take pride not just in their clothing, but in their hair. Women and children throughout West Africa display a variety of braiding and hair styles which a whiteman would pay lots of money to reproduce. It is isn't just the West African women who get the attention, but also the men, with their fine looking suits made from typically colourful West African fabric, and their classy shoes. And we must not forget the gorgeous West African children who we endlessly gawk at. If it wasn't their hair, their smiling faces, their outstretched hands waving frantically and their big outward belly buttons (a signature of the midwife), I can't put my finger on what made me want to take them home, but they were just beautiful
As food lovers of world cuisines, West Africa didn't disappoint. From the typical dishes of jollof rice, peanut sauce, to street food of dough balls, street meat skewers, plantain, and spicy/soupy stews served with a side of fufu (ground cassava which Karen personally did not take a liking to), West African cuisine was revealed. We even got to sample unusual meats such as African snails and the grass cutter rodent which was really tasty. We had to opportunity to shop in an number of West Africa markets and unfortunately witnessed bush meat (including monkey) for sale which was depressing. We must not forget the amazing fresh tropical fruits and the fruit juices of bissap (hibiscus drink) and bouye (baobab fruit drink). Fruit and juices in West Africa were heavenly.
So after reading this lengthy explanation of West Africa, I hope it is revealed to you that yes, West Africa is a place to go, and yes there are things to see, and yes it is rich in culture, and yes you will have an amazing time. Overall, West Africa revealed to us, that West Africa is a unique and worthwhile place to visit, and yes we will never forget what West Africa revealed to us!