Looking back: A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush, 930km African Odyssey

Chief Jara Sowe and photographer, Jason Florio, The Gambia, West Africa ©Helen Jones-Florio 2009

A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush –

930km African Odyssey

Throughout November and December 2009 Expedition: The first-ever circumnavigation, completely by foot, of The Gambia, West Africa by award-winning photojournalist & filmmaker, Jason Florio, and photography producer, Helen Jones-Florio, three Gambians, two donkeys, and a cart!

Along the way, Jason shot what have become award-winning, internationally exhibited, portraits of the traditional village chiefs – the Alkalo – and elders

‘Silafando – a gift to you on behalf of my journey

The following exert is from the expedition blog, ‘930km African odyssey’ – words by Helen Jones-Florio:

Despite turning up unannounced, at the end of a long day of walking, each village that we approached kindly permitted our raggle-taggle, road-weary team to pitch our small camp. This generous acceptance was mainly due to the fact that we used the age-old tradition and protocol for approaching the Alkalo’s – by offering them ‘Silafando’

Gambian village chief and his brother - portraits ©Jason Florio
L-R Samba Sowe (Alkalo’s brother)- farmer Alkalo Jare Sowe, Felling Koto The Gambia, West Africa ©Jason Florio

The story behind the black backdrop

In The Gambia, as in other regions in West Africa, when approaching a village as a stranger and/or traveler and you are asking something from them – such as shelter for the night – it is customary for you to give a ‘silafando’ (roughly translating as ‘a present on behalf of my journey’) of kola nuts, to the chief, which he then shares with the elders.  Once accepted, you are warmly welcomed into the village and everyone knows that you are there as a guest of the Alkalo. This, in turn, guarantees that you are treated with respect as strangers in the village during your stay. And, if anyone were to disrespect that, then they would have the Alkalo to answer to and the shame that this disrespect brings on the family.

A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush –

930km African Odyssey

We met many Alkalo’s on our 6-week journey as we traversed first the length of South Bank, to the country’s furthest easterly point on the border of Senegal, then crossing the River Gambia (which was to form an integral part of a future expedition) we walked the length of the North Bank, before crossing back over the river on the Barra to Banjul ferry to make our way back to where we began the walk.

On the Barra to Banjul ferry, a very tired Short Walk expedition team: Helen, Momadou, Samba, and Jason (and the donkeys, ‘Neil and Phadley). Photo by expedition team member, Janneh.
Helen films the team leaving Makasutu Culture Forest, where the Short Walk in the Gambian Bush Expedition began. Image © Jason Florio

Read/see more images about the expedition on our dedicated blog: 930kmAfricanOdyssey.

Related: River Gambia – 1044km source-sea African odyssey Expedition

Young men on a float taking a generator to a banana plantation on the River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio
Image © Jason Florio – young men taking a generator on a raft to a nearby banana plantation, River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa

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#ThrowBackMonday – Behind the scenes : Jason Florio’s portrait of ‘Samba Fishing’ – River Gambia, West Africa

‘Samba Fishing’, Kuntaur, River Gambia ©Jason Florio 

 

During our time canoeing the length of the River Gambia, on our exploration of the people whose livelihoods depend on the river, we spent each night wild camping on the river bank – whether it be camping on a sandbank in the middle of the river (burning a fire all night long to deter the hippos!), on rocky outcrops miles from the nearest village and, at other times, on the edge of a village, if it was near enough to the river.

Jason Florio photographs Samba, a young fisherman, in Kuntaur, whilst on the River Gambia Expedition. Image © Helen Jones-Florio
Jason Florio photographs Samba, a young fisherman, River Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio.

 

On this particular day, we arrived mid-afternoon into the village of Kuntaur, situated on the banks of the river. We had stayed in the village before, whilst on our 2009 ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush‘. We set up our campsite in the grounds of a small riverbank lodge and, as had become the norm, our arrival instantly attracted hordes of local kids – shouting and screaming, all vying for our attention, fascinated with our tents and equipment – before the caretaker of the lodge shooed them away, “atchayah! atchayah!” (go away, get lost! A Mandinka word Gambians use to scatter mischievous kids and the scores of scavenging bush dogs alike!).

'Any chance of a bit of privacy?' Camping in a the village chiefs compound comes at a price ©Jason Florio
‘Any chance of a bit of privacy?’ Helen – Camping in the village chiefs compound comes at a price ©Jason Florio.

 

As we were about to settle down for a well-deserved cup of tea, having paddled almost 33km that day – a tough, exhausting 10km of it against the tide – we noticed a young boy, out on the river, in a local pirogue that looked far too big for him to handle on his own. We called him over and he paddled towards us with such ease and dexterity, as if he was steering a small rubber dinghy and not a heavy wooden dugout canoe, carved from a tree trunk.

His name was Samba and he said that he was ‘11 or 12 years old‘ (it’s not unusual, in this part of the world, for people not knowing exactly how old they are). He had come straight from school, to pull in his families fishing nets from the river, to see what catch they had that day…‘ Exert/words ©Helen Jones-Florio – read more at ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1044km source-sea African odyssey

'Samba Fishing' River Gambia, fine art photography prints © Jason Florio '
‘Samba Fishing’ fine art photography prints © Jason Florio ‘

 

Jason Florio’s fine art photography prints – available from helenjonesflorio.com

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ThrowbackWednesday: Moto-taxi rides down the mountains of the Fouta Djallon, River Gambia Expedition

River Gambia Expedition: Moto Taxi rider, Ebu, Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry © Jason Florio
Moto Taxi rider, Ebu, Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry © Jason Florio

 

‘”It will be cheaper than taking the vehicle!” said Florio – pulling at our over-stretched  budget purse-strings – that clinched the deal!…Ebu, very convincingly, stated: “Come, we go now, now!… We will get to Kedougou in two hours… and I will also return tonight, to Mali, with a passenger from Kedougou too!”.  In actual fact, we would not reach Kedougou until 10pm that evening! If we had had even a hint that we would be on the back of those motorcycles for almost nine spine-juddering hours, not one of us would have been smiling, and joking, half as much as we did when we set off!’ Words by Helen Jones-Florio / River Gambia Expedition.

Helen & ‘mototaxi’ rider, Ebu, and River Gambia Expedition team member, Ebou with his rider – leaving Mali Ville, Guinea-Conakry © Jason Florio
Helen & ‘mototaxi’ rider, Ebu, and River Gambia Expedition team member, Ebou with his rider – leaving Mali Ville, Guinea-Conakry © Jason Florio

 

The above excerpt is taken from the ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1044km source-sea African odyssey blog.

 

The Journey – 1 river | 2 borders | 3 countries

Guinea SenegalThe Republic of The Gambia

West Africa

Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

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Throwback Friday: ‘Radio Man’ The Gambia, West Africa ©Jason Florio

MAN WITH RADIO GAMBIA
‘Radio Man’ – with his boom box – portrait ©Jason Florio, 2009 – The Gambia, West Africa

‘We met this very talented musician who just happened to walk past our campsite, by the side of the road, in the village of Chamois Bunda, The Gambia.

He played us his own music on the boom box that he carried everywhere. He even performed a nifty little dance for us too! His music was amazing – like Bluegrass, with a twist of Cuban influence. We hadn’t heard any music for a while, by that point, on our walk around the small West African country. Therefore, it was a real treat to hear such great music. What a talented young man he was. This photo, and the memory which it evokes, still makes me smile. 

Helen Jones-Florio – excerpt from ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey‘ blog