Senegalese cell: +221-240-2331
With the intention to finally start to select about 20 pictures from Iraq for a gallery show that will open in the fall, I am turning on the computer. As usual the little machine is placed on my knees while I am sitting in the front seat of my Land Rover. Outside itâ€™s already dark. The sun was swallowed by the Atlantic Ocean some time ago, ending a hot and humid day. The inside of the vehicle is being dimly lid by the computerâ€™s screen, making me blind to the dark surroundings of the makeshift campground that I am calling my home for more than a week now. I am the only guest. Just a few moments ago, while deep in thought, I noticed some sort of movement on my right side. When I looked up I saw the dark face of a huge man just millimeters away from the glass of the carâ€™s side window staring at me out of the night in total silence and with great seriousness.
Overcoming my shock and surprise I stumbled a clumsy â€œBon soir.â€, gratefully recognizing the manâ€™s face as the one of the night watchman, who had come to say hello and observe me at work.
I am in Dakar, Senegal.
First of all I would like to thank everybody who responded to my last dispatch. Not all responses were positive, which I was quite happy about, because it helps me to improve things. I never felt very confident about my writing and I only see it as a supplement to my images. I am a photographer not a writer. Nevertheless I feel that it is important to condense some thoughts into words sometimes. I am continuing to write in my little blue diary every night.
To sum up the reactions to my last dispatch: My mother loved it. My sister thought it was too negative. My father probably did not read it because it wasnâ€™t in German. (And I admit, it was terribly long, too. He has my full sympathy on that one.) My girlfriend just kept laughing.
Please do not hesitate to let me know if you want to be taken off this email list. I do get tons of annoying mass emails myself, so if you think that my occasional dispatches are just unnecessarily adding to the mountain of â€œfree Viagraâ€ and â€œInstant penis enlargement formulaâ€ emails, please tell me.
I completed the first part of my journey. From Daun in Germany to Dakar in Senegal. 8,515 Kilometers in about six weeks. The trip went very well so far, but it has to be said that this was probably one of the easiest parts of the journey. I am in good health, and the car is running without any problems. Like an old steam locomotive. Itâ€™s not the fastest or most elegant vehicle around, but it just never stops functioning.
I am happy. It was a bloody good idea to do this trip. If Iâ€™m lonely? Yes, I little bit. I miss my girlfriend. A lot. It makes a huge difference if you are in a relationship or not when you do such a long journey. When I was traveling from Argentina to New York, I had no girlfriend, well, most of the time, so there wasnâ€™t really anybody to miss.
From Nouadhibou in Mauritania, from where I sent the last dispatch, I was traveling off road through parts of the Sahara to Atar. The track, which passes several long stretches of sand dunes, follows the train track that runs parallel to the Mauritanian border with Western Sahara. Several times a day the track is used by the supposedly longest train in the world, which is carrying iron ore to the port in Nouadhibou. The train that is pulled by at least three heavy locomotives has a length of about 2.5 Kilometers. Itâ€™s an impressive spectacle to watch and hear this monstrous machine slowly plow its way through the barren landscape of the desert, while creating a deafening noise and kicking off huge clouds of dust.
About five days I spent camping in the desert. I think these were the most moving moments of this journey so far. I saw the stars at night shining so bright like Iâ€™ve never seen them before. It was almost frightening. Certainly an overwhelming and humbling experience.
During daytime I was driving my Land Rover across huge flat gravel plains, through stone fields and over sand dunes. The window was always open, while hot and dry air was blowing in my face. I was deeply impressed by the landscape of the Sahara. An experience I find impossible to describe in words or pictures.
These were not days and nights spent in complete solitude, though. I had two companions while I was traveling in Mauritania. Vula and Akis are from Greece and the couple is traveling with a brand new Land Rover Discovery 3 around the world. Akis is a journalist for the biggest automotive magazine in Greece and they are both reporting from their two and a half yearlong journey for Greek radio and TV stations as well as for their online blog.
We got along very well and I was happy to have a second vehicle with me, especially as I got stuck in the very first tiny sand dune that found its way underneath the tires of the Land Rover. Although my sand driving skills rapidly improved after this first encounter, both our vehicles got stuck in deep sand several times over the following days and we helped each other out by digging and by using sand ladders and long pulling straps.
It made me very happy to drive the Land Rover under desert conditions and I was once more impressed by itâ€™s abilities. Although almost ten years old and with more than 100.000 Kilometers on itâ€™s back, one third of them being travel kilometers on South and Central American roads, the â€œEnglish Ladyâ€ as one friend keeps referring to my car is holding up very well. We had no problem to follow and match the performance of the brand new, well equipped and with 100 additional horse powers, much more powerful Discovery 3 of my Greek friends.
Iâ€™m not afraid to say that I love my car. Itâ€™s not just a simple liking or a sense of admiration. Itâ€™s a deep bond. We went through so much together. There is still so much road ahead of us. We are driving over the surface of the planet and we are unstoppable in a way. We measure the world in its true greatness. Kilometer by kilometer we explore this earth and we have the privilege to meet its inhabitants on the way. We see all the worldâ€™s beauty and its ugliness, too. We collect our experiences and carry them with us wherever we go, with a certain pride and loneliness.
I wonder what my car would write in its diary at night if it could write. Would it write about the beauty of the mountains in the afternoon light? The endless desert sky? Would it write about stinking, crowded cities? Or the cute little taxi that we passed today? Dusty tracks? Stony paths? Heavenly tarmac roads?
All this Iâ€™ll never know. Maybe I am loosing my mind. Or Iâ€™m just in love with the idea of my personal freedom. Maybe I am just young and stupid. Stubbornly I keep driving. Days and days behind the wheel. It fills me with the greatest joy imaginable. Just to drive, just to touch the surface of the earth with the tires of my Land Rover. To keep moving. Obsessively running. Even long after passing the finish line.
From Nouadhibou to Atar. From Atar to Chinguetti. From Chinguetti to Nouakchott. From there to the border crossing to Senegal at Diama. St. Louis followed and finally I reached Dakar. And so it went.
I remember the endless drive through the featureless, flat desert from Atar to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, as the hottest day so far. The outside temperature was about 41 Degrees Celsius. Inside the vehicle it must have been even hotter, as the Land Rover features all kinds of luxuries like a CD player that regularly refuses to eject the CD inside, which forces me to listen to the same 12 songs for a whole entire day, and a sunroof that canâ€™t be opened and leaks when it rains, but what it does not have is an air conditioning.
Instead I usually open the side window and have the desert wind blow in my face like a giant blow dryer. A side effect of this way of traveling is that every corner of the carâ€™s interior is getting covered with layer upon layer of fine dust and sand.
Like a spreading disease it slowly makes its way into the carâ€™s seats, my sleeping bag, inside the bag with my clothes, the kitchen box, into my ears and between my teeth.
I am in Dakar now for some time already and I started to work on a story about local fishermen. I was invited to take part in this yearâ€™s Joop Swart Masterclass in Amsterdam, a workshop for young photographers, which is a great honor to be selected for. All participants are asked to produce a set of images to a given theme. And so I spent the day yesterday from 7:30 in the morning to 5:30 at night on a tiny wooden fishing boat with three young Senegalese fishermen. The three men caught only five small fish in 10 hours of hard physical labor, which is not the case every day of course, but one of the reasons why I got interested in this story. Most of the fish is caught by huge foreign fish trawlers, leaving the local fishermen only with the meager leftovers.
Idrisa, the 25 years old head of the crew, returned from the Canary Islands only a few months ago. He illegally traveled on a wooden fishing boat from Senegal to the Canary Islands along with his two brothers in order to reach European territory. About 31,000 Africans left their homes and reached the Canary Islands by boat in 2006 alone in the hope of a better life abroad. The hazardous trip takes eight to 10 days and thousands of mostly young men are dieing on the ocean while attempting the journey. Idrisa was among the first group of immigrants that was repatriated from Spain with the help of the Senegalese government. His brothers made it to Barcelona.
Now the young man is back in his old life as fisherman. Every day he takes his boat and his two companions out to the sea in search of fish. Often they are returning empty handed, or just with a few small fish that they donâ€™t bother to try to sell, but they take it home to eat instead.
I will be in Dakar until July 3rd. I will leave the Land Rover behind for a while and will fly to New York to attend my sisterâ€™s wedding. After the wedding Chiho and I will travel to China for about a week to be present during the printing of the Iraq book. The book is published by powerHouse and will come out in November. It can already be preordered at Amazon.com.
At the end of July I will be back in Dakar, from where I will continue my journey through Africa.
Slumped into his white plastic chair, the night guard fell asleep some time ago. He dutifully places himself right next to my car every evening. I am trying not to wake him up when I tip toe past him later on my way to the outdoor shower.
I am staying on a private beach. The place is a little run down and the adjoining restaurant has a distinct colonial touch. All the waiters are wearing a bright red tidy uniform and on Sunday afternoons you can see elderly French couples havening lunch alongside Lebanese and Senegalese upper class families. Every day I go to pay the fee for the camping at the bar. There are two receipts written. One is for me and the other one is promptly carried by one of the staff to the â€˜patronâ€™ of the establishment, an elderly white man, who spends his days lying on some sort of stretcher in the shade wearing old-fashioned sunglasses and a Panama hat. The waiter makes a slight, but noticeable bow while he hands over the receipt to his boss. Not a word is spoken.
The other day I saw Idrisa again on the beach, pulling his boat out of the water. He couldnâ€™t stop laughing. Proudly he showed me the small pile of big, fat fish he and his men had caught that day. He was a changed man. A happy man.
currently in Senegal,
on the way to South Africa
Senegalese cell: +221-240-2331
Thuraya Sat phone:+88216-51071135