Photographer, Jason Florio, walking down the jetty at Kunta Kinteh Island (formally James Island), in the middle of the River Gambia, near to the towns of Jeffureh and Albread, The Gambia, West Africa. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the island was once served as one of the major ports on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade route, of West Africa.
Late last year, Jason Florio and I traveled the short distance, south, across the border from our home in The Gambia, into the Casamance region of Senegal, West Africa – on assignment for a local NGO, Concern Universal; who we had worked with on previous projects. The purpose of the assignment was to document a celebratory ‘Festival des Forêt‘, taking place in the village of Koudioubé; a juddering (hold-onto-something-fixed-down-and-mind-your-head-whilst-you’re-at-it) 20 minute drive down a deeply rutted ‘road’, through the bush – which, we were told by the driver, is often impassible during a heavy rainy season – from the small Senegalese border town of Diouloulou.
The festival was particularly important, in the fact that it brought people together, from neighbouring communities whereas previously, due to a 30 year old civil war, they had been too afraid to mix and gather, in large numbers.
We were also accompanied by our friend, and adroit writer, Louise Hunt, who was covering the story for The Guardian:
“We have been dancing all night together. In the past, people did not even attend funerals in neighbouring villages,” says a community leader, Bakari Jallou.
Casamance is Senegal’s most ethnically diverse region, separated from the rest of the west African country by Gambia. But it is not ethnic or even religious differences that have divided people for decades, it is whether they are pro-government or support a separatist movement to become an independent state.
The 30-year civil war, Africa’s longest-running conflict, has killed thousands and displaced many more. Senegal’s extensive hardwood forests were battlegrounds for the rebel Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) and the army.’ Louise Hunt for The Guardian – read the entire feature here.
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On my many meanderings around the streets of Malta, I often come across sites, such as the above. Beautifully decaying doors – from another place in time – starkly juxtaposed by the surrounding modern, steel and glass environment. Yet, conversely, you could very easily walk right past these exquisite, woefully neglected, facades, without even noticing them.
What is behind the doors… now, that’s what I’d truly like to see… .
I have ridden in many, many, taxis in parts of Africa where cracked windscreens seem to be de rigueur. However, this one defied the realms of possibility. The screen – barely held together (it wasn’t even taped up!) – has to be the finest I have seen… yet, that is.
Knowing how much dedication and hard work the whole crew, and MSF (Medecins sans Frontieres) – along with photojournalist, Jason Florio – had put into yet another successful mission, I was honoured, to be able to watch, from the vantage point of one of Malta’s ancient ‘Three Cities’, Birgu, as the Phoenix glided into the Grand Harbour, yesterday.
The MOAS owned vessel (migrant offshore aid station) was returning from Sicily, after disembarking, for the fourth time in their three week mission, another boat full of rescued migrants. from the Bouri oil fields area – which lie about 40km off the coast of Libya, in the Mediterranean Sea.
Then, a quick dash through the back streets of Malta (thanks to Charlie, the MOAS driver, whose Maltese style of driving invariably brings the the contents of my stomach up to my throat!) towards the Bezzina Boat Yard , to catch the Phoenix as it docked, and the crew disembarking, smiles, laughter – and a few tears – happy to be welcomed by family and friends. And, perhaps with some relief, to have a little respite from the exhaustive, and often emotionally-charged, rescues of hundreds of men, women, children, and babies – many of whom, openly sharing their hellacious experiences of war, persecution, rape, abduction, and extortion. And, then, to be pushed out to sea – for many, their first time ever on open water – in battered, old, wooden fishing boats, originally made to hold a small crew of fishermen, not the 400 plus people, crammed onto (and below the decks of) most of them.
Jason Florio: ‘Completing the first recorded source-sea navigation of the River Gambia, documenting life along one of Africa’s the last, major, free-flowing rivers – a 1044km expedition, by canoe and motorcycle, with my wife and expedition partner, Helen (Jones-Florio).‘
How do you protect yourself? How do you measure risk? Other questions, and more, answered by Jason more, on the Battleface website
‘Some 150,000 migrants are believed to have reached Europe by sea to date so far in 2015, with virtually all of them landing in Italy (74,947) or Greece (75,970), according to the International Organisation for Migration.. .’ read more on Migrant Report, by Mark Micallif