“May your eyes always be brown.”

The next morning following the sacred forest ceremony we pedaled on until the road ran out at Bandial. Kris had already visited once where we swam with children around a mermaid island covered by a broken Baobab and sea shells who then sent us home with buckets of oysters so she was aware of the enchantedness of the place. Naturally, the village has a boat, a canoe painstakingly hallowed out from a Fromagier tree, and then painted red and fitted with a motor. As Bandial is, in essence, an island, (it is only now in the dry season that one can ride all the way to the village – quite reminiscent of Bounou in fact), from there Rémy and our boat captain Gabriel took us on a tour of some of the neighbouring fishing encampments, a dilapidated 5 star hotel, and to the exquisite Pointe St. George.

Sadly, it was a day of what-could-have-beens. One of the fishing villages, Xariyala, appeared at first to be a utopia where literally every ethnicity from W. Africa was represented, living in complete peace and harmony, trading fish for shrimp and crabs for tomatoes, speaking a language mixed to the extreme,
living and sleeping in shelters along the river banks, making money by selling fish to countries like Mali without coasts. Except, early that morning the very day the we arrived, people from a neighbouring village had attacked the fishermen and destroyed many of their shelters in an effort to force them to leave. Apparently the year before they had in fact moved as one of their members had been killed in such attacks.

On the island of Djirimat was built the would-have-been five star hotel. It was (key word was) magnificent. Three stories overlooking the river, gardens, a swimming pool, huge suites, balconies, pillars, the works. But, since its completion in 2000 it has been left to rot, never having been opened because of a lack of funds for its inauguration. The former candidate for the presidency had financed the construction and promised further funds after his induction into office but when he lost, everything was halted and now the entire place has completely fallen into disrepair. Sadder still was our companions’ excitement over the beauty of the place. Surely they saw what it could have been rather than what it was. Again, we see the despair the hope brings.

Our destination was the truly magnificent Pointe St. George. On the coast of the Casamance, not only does one swim with dolphins, but also at low tide with the occasional manatee, protected by the Senegalese government. Though our lodge was by no means five stars, it was comfortable, peaceful, and right on the beach with the sound of the river’s waves lulling us to sleep at night. The village lodge which would have been even more fantastic instead only was in a state of being half built as the other half of the money to fund its completion was embezzled.

To suggest that the solution is simply a tightening up on the controls of corruption is certainly inadequate though above proverb does speak to these acts. When you are ashamed, you lower your eyes, thus when they are visibly brown, you have nothing to be ashamed of.

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