Things started happening as soon as we crossed from The Gambia into southern Senegal’s Casamance region:
Good things, like the border crossing involving almost no bureaucracy and a large number of compliments (“You people are great!”).
Bad things, like waking up from a siesta under a tree to find 14 soldiers pointing guns at us (the incident ended in a nice chat and an exchange of email addresses).
Exciting things, like rounding a bend to see a group of wild monkeys playing on the road.
Mysterious things, like a group of machete-carrying young men chanting and dancing outside our window, one of them dressed as a lion.
Worrying things, like convoy after military convoy zooming past, carrying soldiers whose fingers were poised over the triggers of their primed M16s while the vehicles wildly careered between pot holes.
Revelatory things, like finally discovering – after several days there – that the escalated military presence was a result of Casamance’s “deadliest attack in three years” (we’d been so busy researching the precarious situation in Guinea before we crossed the border that we’d forgotten to check the news from Casamance. According to news sources, six soldiers were killed. According to a tipsy expat we met in a bar, 24 rebel fighters were also killed, along with most of the herd of cows they took shelter behind to launch their attack.)
Tedious things, like having every pannier emptied and checked by roadside soldiers (there was no hint of a request for money or concern about our journalist-like kit; presumably they just wanted to make sure we weren’t mercenaries).
And hopeful things, like dozens of conversations with young people who hadn’t given up on Africa, as so many of their northern Senegalese and Gambian counterparts seemed to have done.
In short, we liked Casamance. Towns seemed to have more work and less aimlessness, rural areas seemed vibrant and active, and people seemed to be busy building a future. There was a feeling of optimism and purpose here that we hadn’t felt in northern Senegal or The Gambia – whether in spite of or because of the on/off civil war between Casamance separatists and the Senegalese military that’s been rumbling on for years, I’m not sure. Either way, we wish it many good and peaceful things for the future.