Pipe dreams & rocket stoves…

How many people have a pipe dream in which they make a new life for themselves in a sunny climate? Whilst many of us do, particularly in the depths of a British winter, few of us have the guts to make that pipe dream a reality…

How many people have a pipe dream in which they make a new life for themselves in a sunny climate? Whilst many of us do, particularly in the depths of a British winter, few of us have the guts to make that pipe dream a reality…

One person who has achieved just that is Simon Fenton, the former head of the award winning social enterprise StreetWise, who left a 9 to 5 job and career, to make a new life for himself.

After travelling to West Africa,  he found himself in Abene (in the Casamance region of Senegal). Now settled with his partner Khady and their two children, Gulliver (4) and Alfie (2), they run the flourishing guesthouse The Little Baobab which is now a feature of Abene life. With a steady stream of guests – many of them repeat, myself included, the business has expanded from nothing to being able to accommodate up to 16 guests. 

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Returning after two years, the traditional “terranga” (hospitality) welcome from Simon and Khady is enthusiastic. Over the obligatory bottle of Flag (one of the many Senagalise beers), I have the chance to chat to Simon  about his experiences of living as a Senagalise family, customs and life in general.

In the course of his time in Abene, as well as running the guesthouse, guiding tours into neighbouring Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry, Simon has found the time to write two books about life in Senegal as the “Accidental African”. They make for interesting tale of life as part of a Senagalise family. Far from being seen through rose tinted glasses, this a warts and all take on life in West Africa…the two books which are available through Eye Books (UK) or from Simon direct – “Squirting Milk at Chameleons” and, “Chasing Hornbills”.

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In the meanwhile, Alfie is running around causing mayhem, with his fingers in everything…including helping with the work of building a “rocket stove”.

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The rocket stove, whilst not a new concept, is a very simple means of increasing the efficiency of cooking. The stove works by increasing the heat output, by means of an L shaped pipe, which by causing an increase in the flow of air through the chimney, acts like a throttle…a bit like the way in which a blast furnace functions. This has the effect of both improving the efficiency of cooking, and also signicantly reducing the amount of fuel needed to a fraction of that normally used (charcoal).

Charcoal is the principal means of cooking for the majority of families in urban West Africa (and in many other parts of the world). In addition to improving the heat generation, it also has the effect of reducing the amount of smoke generated – a major problem in many countries and the cause of numerous respiratory complaints.

Whether Simon’s attempt to bring a more efficient means of cooking will be more widely adopted remains to be seen.

 

 

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The joy of the “Sept Places”

If you’ve never experienced a ride in a sept place, it’s something to add to the bucket list. They can be good, bad…or very very bad!

Two days in Dakar and it’s time to head north to the old Colonial city of Saint Louis – capitale de l’Afrique Occidental Francaise from 1895 – 1902.

Leaving Dakar involved an early start (or would have been if I’d set the alarm correctly), with an hours taxi ride to the Gare Routier at Boux Mariachers in Pickine, some 10 km out of the centre.

Travel in Dakar is challenging at the best of times, but at rush hour, it’s a killer. The pollution is off the scale, with the air dark blue with choking fumes, which as you crawl slowly though the traffic, becomes overwhelming.

Arriving at Pickine was a relief -the Gare Routier is well organised (unlike the former site at Pompiers), and within 2 minutes of arrival, I’d found the depart for Saint Louis, paid my 5000cfa (plus 1000 for the bag) and was sat in seat 2 of the ubiquitous sept places. As ever my luck, sat next to me was a rather large lady who overflowed on to my seat…

If you’ve never experienced a ride in a sept places (7 seater Peugeot 504s or similar), it’s something to add to the bucket list. They can be good, bad…or very very bad! The cars have all seen better days, having outlived their working life many times over. They continue to function by the sheer ingenuity of the drivers and mechanics who seemingly can fix anything on the roadside. The cars are totally shot – suspension, engines the lot. All have cracked windscreens, doors that may or may not open or are wired shut… (and with a nod to Simon Fenton), no window winders [not true]. If you’re of a nervous disposition, probably an experience to skip!

Hitting the road, we crawled for the next dozen km or so until we reached Ruffisque, then it was open road – a well paved road at that. For a change, the driver was good, not taking risks or seemingly wanting to get to Saint Louis in to much of a hurry.

As the journey progressed,  the heat of the day built, leaving everyone dozing in the soporific heat. A sharp braking brought me to my senses, just in time to see a camel legging it across the road just missing the car by a hair! The adrenaline rush kicked in and wide awake, I sat watching the passing countryside, which had now changed to a mix of scrub and Baobab trees.

Then the fatal mistake – I looked at the kilometre markers…2 hours and still 157 to go. Despite trying not to look, I spent the next hour or so magnetised to them, watching them slowly tick down to 100km… then, it was down to 40 to go with the end in sight.

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Arriving at the Gare Routier, I crawled out, dusted myself off and shook off the accumulated stiffness acquired after 5 hours cramped in the car. Finding a taxi, I headed off to the Island with fellow travellers Vincenzo & Marie to find a hotel – my supposed pre-booked room having been cancelled enroute. Thanks to Vincenzo and Marie who had managed to book ahead, I ended up at the Auberge d’ Chateau, home of the contemporary dance group Duo Solo – rooms 10,000cfa per night, cheap and cheerful, but more than adequate.