Africa, the Outside Edge

Nov 2, 2007
Author: Kingsley Holgate

We continue with the adventures of modern day explorer Kingsley Holgate and the yearlong humanitarian journey around Africa following the coastline, the expedition known as Africa, the Outside Edge…

Blog 17 Cote d’Ivoire

Driving through the streets of Grand Bassam past crumbling old French buildings…

Greetings from Cote d’Ivoire or the Ivory Coast as it is known in English. Our travel guide reads “You are ill advised to travel here.” That’s because of the recent civil unrest during which time the large French expatriate population were evacuated. Here in Cote d’Ivoire it’s referred to as the crisis.

We get off to a bad start. The border is a ‘dogfight’ with seven bales of the Grindrod supported expedition’s life saving mosquito nets being impounded by customs. This means that 700 pregnant mums might go without. Out comes our Scroll of Peace and Goodwill and the negotiations continue into the dark.

Finally thanks to the assistance of the South African embassy in Abidjan the nets are loaded up, passports stamped and we are on our way. Flack jackets and tight fitting camo outfits, sunglasses and red berets at an angle, French style, automatic weapons at the ready, the frantic blowing of police whistles. Twelve roadblocks in the pouring rain. Tyre bursting spikes and logs across the road. It appears that this is a major smuggling route out of Ghana and to be fair the large bales of mozzie nets could be contraband.

To make things worse Anna goes down with malaria. It’s her first time and we dose her immediately and take digs in the original French colonial capital of Grand Bassam, a place of crumbling old French buildings, palm trees and a massive lagoon that stretches all the way to Abidjan and beyond. The heavy rain is continuous and at times the humidity is unbearable. The truth is that an expedition like this is certainly not always easy, but I assure you that we’ll not loose our sense of optimism. After all there are still 21 outside edge countries and 7 months to go – we’ll keep you posted.

Blog 18

The expedition in charging ahead, Anna is over her malaria and we’re in Abidjan, the gleaming high rise commercial capital of Cote d’Ivoire, sometimes referred to as the New York or Paris of West Africa.

It’s quite a culture shock for the Outside Edge Expedition. Fancy cars driven by rich Lebanese, chique girls in tight jeans, we stretch the budget for a few items at an air-conditioned supermarket. Mashozi ogles at the imported French cheeses, hams and salami’s. I spend time at the wine tasting counter.

Before the crisis this city must have been a gem. There’s still a bit of tension and roadblocks abound and the elections have been postponed again. The contrasts here between rich and poverty stricken are incredible, ankle-deep mud and six-lane motorways, corrugated iron shacks and 30-storey buildings, Paris fashions and rags.

We meet John Segbo who heads up a NGO called Stop Malaria. There is a malaria crisis here and since the French were evacuated and civil unrest hit the country the organised malaria control programme has virtually stopped. Malaria is the No.1 killer here with approximately 300 people mostly children dying every day.

Saving lives through adventure with blue packaged long lasting PermaNets recognised by the World Health Organisation

We move in to assist by distributing long lasting insecticide treated PermaNets to maternity clinics, outlying schools and villages. Through the Land Rover speakers John Segbo translates the malaria prevention message in French. The expedition team does demonstrations on how to use and care for the nets. There’s singing, dancing and drumming. We push on up the coast and take a boat out to an island to deliver paw-paws and yams to a resident family of four chimpanzee. The humidity and the rain is endless. We’re heading for war torn Liberia. Some warn us not to go.

Blog 19 Liberia – what a wonderful country

Trying to cross into Liberia. Virtually no travellers come this way. Cote d’Ivoire Customs and Immigration are friendly and we even share a Captain Morgan together, but oh my god, Mr Big of the military is a hard nut to crack, he’s demanding 15,000 CFA’s just for permission to use the ferry across to Liberia. There is tension here. Ross uses the old trick of taking out the satellite phone and pretending to phone the embassy. I see a flicker of concern in Mr Big’s eyes.

He is not the sort of bloke you mess with. I turn to John Segbo who’s assisting us with our One Net One Life malaria programme “Please plead with him John. Explain again that we’re a humanitarian expedition, that we’re born and bread Africans – not rich foreigners.”

Ross pretends to have the embassy on the line. Mr Big agrees to 5,000 CFA’s. I jump at the chance. We wave goodbye to John Segbo and its low range first gear onto the crumpled ferry and into Liberia. It’s getting dark. We’re feeling a bit uneasy.

On the Liberian side everybody a bit rag tagged and speaking a crazy Rasta type English. “Haya all do’in. Welcome to Liberia.” They look at the Land Rovers and the 33 flags of the outside edge that run down the sides of the vehicles. “Yaah come from Saa Africa – what’s ya mission in Liberia?” People crowd into the immigration office. It’s a shack on the river. There’s muscled dudes in tight t-shirts, sleeves cut off. A boss man appears. Mashozi is in agony with stomach cramps and we have to shoot her off into a nearby rubber plantation. The boss man stamps the passports: “You’re going have to go into Harper to see immigration and customs.”

“But it is dark,” says Ross.

“Roads baad, rainy season,” says another.

“War’s over,” says the boss man, ”yah’ll be safe, Wilfred here will go with yah.” And so we rumble into the bombed out port town of Harper, capital city of the county of Maryland – never seen so many UN Peace Keepers in all my life. Sandbagged sentry posts, blue helmets, flack jackets and guns at the ready – will keep you posted.

Blog 20

the endless mud road to Monrovia…

We’re over the initial shock of war torn Liberia. The people are welcoming and friendly, but oh how they’ve suffered in the recent war – nearly 20 years of Hell. People murdered, raped and butchered, limbs cut off by the rebels. Guns bought with diamonds. We’ve left Harper and are heading for Greenville. Never in this entire Outside Edge journey have we’ve had it so tough, the rains are endless, mud holes deeper than the Land Rovers, winching and pushing, red brown mud everywhere.

war torn Harper, Maryland County, Liberia

Helping the occasional fellow travellers who are limping along in battered Hilux bush taxi’s. In the back of your mind there’s always the fear of an ambush. We sleep in a clearing in the jungle. It’s dark, the villagers come rushing out, amazed to find three Landies and a group of very muddy travel worn South Africans. They ring a village gong and a “town crier” spreads the message that we come in peace, no danger here. They help us with fire wood. Later the rain beats down on our rooftop tents.

Next morning we distribute mosquito nets to every pregnant mum in the village. A lovely mama called Deborah joins us around the breakfast fire. “It waah terrible,” she says in the sort of Deep South lingo the Liberians speak. “I was only 12 when the rebels came, we ran to the forest, they shot my grandfather in front of me. We went to a refugee camp in Cote d’Ivoire. I sold fish and firewood to survive and when the war was over we came back to our village. But then it started again and we had to run again, but now we are back and Ellen Johnson, she’s our new president, she’s a woman and we hope that she will treat us like her children and now we are hopeful. We grow food and UNHCR gave us some blankets, a tarpaulin to sleep under, cooking pots, some food and five dollars each. But there’s no money now and no jobs.”

There are some poor-sighted people in the village and we are able to distribute spectacles through our Grindrod supported Right to Sight campaign. The smile of gratitude on these old people’s faces is endearing. They can see to read and to do handcraft – its instant delight.

The little fellow looked at us through soft brown eyes as he sucked juice from Mashozi’s orange

We pack up to leave. A man walks out of the forest holding a dead white faced monkey, blood dripping from its nose. It’s bushmeat for his pot tonight. Another man brings us a tame baby chimp. Mashozi offers it bits of orange and it gazes at us with soft brown eyes as it sucks out the juice. The chimp owner shakes his head and says: “The road ahead man, it’s baahd, really baahd. You can get stuck in a mud hole for weeks.”

Blog 21

In Greenville we buy diesel in a bottle

The Shell filling station in Johnson Street, Greenville sells diesel from glass 1 gallon Blue Plate Real Mayonnaise jars, the small print reads: Quality since 1927 bottled in New Orleans. One US dollar equals 60 Liberian dollars and you can change money in the street with the Lebanese diamond traders.

We get into shit with immigration because Wilfred who has been travelling with us since the Cote d’Ivoire border has no papers. They demand we pay him off – he’ll have to take a bush taxi back to the border, a killing journey through the mud and rain. The Ethiopian UN Peace Keepers allow us to camp at their base. There are search lights, razor wire and armed sand bagged sentry posts.

the Ethiopian peacekeepers allow us to camp at their base

Next morning it’s on through the mud, direction Buchanan. The pole bridges are a problem, many of them are washed away and we are forced to take detour after detour. We camp in an old logging clearing where we meet Thomas Davix who shares our breakfast of left over peri-peri chicken, Nando’s sauce and local rice.

“It wah terrible,” he says chewing on a bone. “Ra-ta-tat these rebels just killing, stealing cars and property, bodies piled in the streets of Monrovia. I went and hid in the Nigerian Embassy.”

I ask him if the guns have all been handed in and whether the rebels had all been integrated into society. “Yes,” he says, “The UN collected the guns and now without the guns the rebels have no power and we have forgiven them, despite the fact that they’ve killed my mother.”

Sitting on one of our camp chairs, a panga in his hand, Thomas gives me a broad smile. The Liberians we meet are just so friendly and optimistic. They are so sick of war and the only thing to hang onto is the belief that things will improve in the future. I guess when you’ve had it so bad it’s the only way forward.

We give Thomas a mosquito net to be shared with his wife and small boy. Ross helps him with some fishing line and hooks, there are big catfish in the river. We leave him some clothing and a little money – what a lovely man.

The sun comes out and the mud road improves as we head for Buchanan and the capital city of Monrovia. We’re pushing it. First, second and up into third and then back down into first or low ratio difflock for the next mud hole or plank bridge, clutch, accelerator, breaks – the Landies go through absolute hell. Sweat drips through onto the khaki Melvill and Moon seat covers. We pull into the jungle for lunch.

“Remembaah my name – it’s Paatrick,” says a bare chested hunter with a grin as he proudly shows us the antelope. “Just caught it in a traap! Get me one a day, sell whole body for 700 Liberties.” Blood drips from the animal’s nose. “Don’t look,” I say to Mashozi as she and Anna dish up sweet corn, bananas, local bread and some sardines from the tailgate of the Land Rover. “How long to Monrovia?,” I shout to Patrick as he walks away with the antelope hanging over his shoulder, panga in his hand. “Can take you a month, roads bhaad mon! Rainy season.” Monrovia here we come – will keep you posted.

Blog 22

War torn Monrovia with little Providence Island under the bridge

We’ve survived the mud road to Monrovia, capital city of Liberia. Never seen so many UN vehicles and peace keepers in all my life. The US Embassy has taken over Mamba Point, razor wire and security everywhere.

We meet Mr Sekou Cisse who heads up the Vestergaard PermaNet operation in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. They are the people who we are drawing tens of thousands of life saving mosquito nets funded by the various expedition sponsors who care for Africa. The shocking statistic is that for every minute of every day and night two African babies die from the bloodsucking bite of the female anopheles mosquito and these war torn countries are crying out for help. We meet with the head of the National Malaria Control Programme, radio, press and TV are present – all curious about the story of a South African humanitarian expedition tracking the outside edge of Africa through 33 countries and bringing help to war torn Liberia.

Later that day we climb to the top of the bullet holed shell of the multi storied Ducor Palace Hotel – before the war this was one of the most prestigious hotels on the West Coast of Africa – the flotsam and jetsam of war have been moved out and all that remains is graffiti, old clothes and endless views over a city that struggles to shake off the mantle of war.

Sekou points over to Providence Island, to the place where freed slaves from America first landed before settling in Liberia.

“It’s crazy,” says Sekou. “This tiny minority of freed African slaves with American names who brought with them the Bible, guns, a smattering of American education and ruled over the African majority for nearly 100 years. We were colonised by our own people, and this started the revolution. So it was no wonder that when Sergeant Doe took the government ministers and shot them on the beach, that the people danced on the street. But then Liberia turned on itself and it was the beginning of the end.”

He looked at me sadly. They were just kids, the rebels. Cocaine rubbed into razor blade cuts in their foreheads. They would tell you. “Hey old man, fall like a palm tree.” And so at attention with your hands to your side respected members of society were made to fall backwards onto the concrete. “If you put out a hand to save yourself you were shot dead. If you fell straight like a chopped off palm tree the back of your head would hit the concrete and you’d die on the street.”

Crazy on booze and drugs they would grab a pregnant girl “Boy child or girl child,” they would debate before cutting her stomach open for the answer – horrible! “I don’t know what get into them,” says Sekou with tears in his eyes. “It’s all so crazy.”

And so we leave the streets of Monrovia and head up the coast for Sierra Leone, stopping at a little school to give each child a life saving mosquito net. They dance and sing and wave the blue packaged nets in the air – malaria is rife here.

without three Landies to help each other we could be stuck in Liberia till the end of the rainy season…



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