Traveling Blind: Tony Giles Visits West Africa

In the small village, Tony who is blind, learns to play music with the locals.
In the small village, Tony who is blind, learns to play music with the locals.
Tony in Abene, Senegal.
Tony in Abene, Senegal.

Africa travels Blind, but Feeling a Lot

By Tony Giles

This trip began back in the middle of February 2012. I flew to Morocco, totally blind and partially deaf, but traveling solo.

My mission: to attempt to visit several countries in North and west Africa in about seven weeks.

The focus of this article is a day on this trip, a day that will stay long in my memory. I’d been traveling for just over three weeks, meeting people, walking around different towns, attempting to communicate with my poor French, but generally getting about with my white cane and the help of the kindness of strangers and the occasional fellow traveler – a rarer occurrence in this region. I eventually arrived in southern Senegal after crossing the border from Gambia, using a shared taxi.

A Meet Up

I’d planned to meet up and stay with a fellow traveler I’d met on the Internet. I eventually arrived at the rendezvous and my friend took me to dinner and then to family to sleep for the night as the road to their village was closed. The following day my friends and I drove to the coastal village of Abene. I spent a day in the village just relaxing with my English friend, Simon, and his Senegalese partner Khady, who is lovely.

Tony with friendly locals in Abene, Senegal.
Tony with friendly locals in Abene, Senegal.

The real event occurred a day later. On Friday 16th March I witnessed an amazing day and was reminded why I love and need to travel.

The heat can be intense in West Africa and although we were on the coast, it still felt strong to me.

Nevertheless, after a stroll to the local market with Khady, I sat amidst organized chaos, absorbing the fragrant aromas of fish, rice, and fresh fruit and the clammer from women chatting and kids playing.

Later Simon, Khady, and I headed to the nearby beach to relax. This is where the spectacle began.

Under a Mango Tree

I was offered a seat under a mango tree and introduced to the locals. The men had strong hands and happy relaxed, friendly sing-song voices. I placed my feet on the soft hot sand, kicked off my sandals, took a coke and lay back, and listened to the delicious sound of sea rolling. Then the magic of Africa began.

One guy gave me this instrument called a bongo – a bowl-shaped object made from a calabash, hollow inside with three or four saw blades halfway across the hole cut into the instrument’s top. When the metal keys are twanged, they produce different notes of varying pitch. I felt the smooth texture of the wood and marveled at the instrument’s light weight. I twanged a few notes, creating a basic rhythm, before letting the local experts take over. Simon took pictures.

One guy played the bongo and was accompanied by fellow musicians tapping rhythms on beer and water bottles. The

Local kids around a vehicle on the road.
Local kids around a vehicle on the road.

singing began in accompaniment to the rhythm and I joined in with the sway/dancing. The combination of the music and singing coupled with the rolling ocean waves created a fabulous energy in the air and all around.

The trees and sand, sun and ocean and the local culture and music produced this powerful emotional electricity that I was able to feel through my skin and body.

It was what the Africans might call a spirit as they appear to be very superstitious in this region.

It is one of the main reasons I travel. I’ve been on many long travel adventures to recapture those moments of magical energy or feeling when everything of warmth and happiness comes together and you feel wow, I’m alive in real nature or culture.

This is pure and real. I can feel it and absorb it – no sight is necessary, just an open mind and sensitive body  It is a bit like falling in love for the first time over and over again. True ecstasy. Exaltation of recapturing that travel moment when the full picture of sound or smell or vision is realized.

blind tourism1
Tony on the beach in Senegal.

For me, it is the moment of the energy flowing through my body, which has been created by the environment I find myself in.

To finish the event off, I had a man come sit beside me with his pet monkey and I was stroked by a semi-wild animal – what a cool way to end a day of real African culture and environment.

Finally, I walked down the beach and entered the water. The coolness was delightful after the heat from the sand. I paddled and enjoyed the sound of the ocean as it rolled and slapped, rolled and slapped. The sun was setting: I could tell by the change of temperature on my body and the change of the sun’s rays on my face.

Tony Giles is the author of Seeing The World My Way, the first in a trilogy of travel biographies, which was published in October 2010. He plans to self-publish his second book, travels in North-South America, later this year. Visit his Website: www.tonythetraveller.com

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2 thoughts on “Traveling Blind: Tony Giles Visits West Africa

  1. Thank You Tony, you describe travel in a way that is absolutely different from anyone else, and it seems you get more OUT of it than some people. Travelling to a great place IS really a bit like falling in love!!! Why have you not visited Iran, yet? That is where I have been to.. I really love your blogs and your video explanations on what you do; I aim to be like you, but I’m not sure anyone could ever replace you. You yourself are a gem, you are GOLD tony, GOLD. thanks for telling ordinary, average, every-day people what a human being can really do if they keep a pure heart, and appreciate!

    You’re so interesting to watch on BBC, AND, really really a great guy! YOU ARE A ROLE MODEL FOR US ALL…

    I Love you, fellow lover of travel,
    PEACE!
    Suphie Wesner

  2. It was great to have you stay Tony and we hope you return soon. You are amazing and I always laugh about when I met you back in the UK last year: “you’re lucky to catch me Simon, I’m off to Papua New Guinea tomorrow!”

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