Traveling Blind: Tony Giles Visits West Africa
A day in life During Africa travels Without Seeing a Thing, 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 travelling 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 travelling 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 traveller – 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 traveller 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.
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 organised 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 half way 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 marvelled at the instrument’s light weight. I twanged a few note, 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
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 African 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 realised.
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, 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