Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mauritanian Man, Service Station, Northern Road, The Gambia, 2006

We set off from Dakar, Senegal to Banjul, Gambia. Our guide and driver tells us that we are to drive along the coast and arrive in about twelve hours, perhaps more depending on the photography.

He then hears us talking about wanting to see more and, in one split second, makes a decision to enter Gambia from the East. We look at each other and answer in the positive, thinking that surely we will see more.

Little do we know the terrain, the distance.

The plans change all of a sudden. He decides to drive much faster in order to reach a small town just inside the border between Gambia and Senegal. Photography has taken a back seat alongside me.

We arrive at a small border crossing, the men are at prayer. So we wait alone.

They come back, review our papers and chat a bit before letting us through.

It seems like every other mile someone wants to see our papers. We oblige, they stamp the passports and we move forward. The sun sets and we continue forward. Finally we arrive at this small town to find out that the driver's family has a home here. It seems a little coincidental to us but we are glad nonetheless. He drives us to the small motel nearby.

Because the sun has set, we take our gear and walk in complete darkness to our rooms. We are shown inside, given a half candle for light. Our driver then leaves to see his family and informs us that he will be back sometime tomorrow. In response, he comes to understand our need to leave before sunrise and hesitatingly answers in the affirmative.

We go back to our rooms, light the candles and hurry to wash ourselves before the candle burns down. The plan goes well, washing is accomplished and my eyes are almost closed as the light from the candle expires. The rest of the next hour before sleep my mind imagines the rest of the room with much anxiety.

We wake up the next day, have a wonderful breakfast and are treated like royalty by the host of the hotel, a young man that has inherited the place at such a young age. The driver arrives at his own pace and we all meet in front of the hotel. The young hotel owner looks at the car and asks us how we are to cross Gambia to Banjul. We point to the car and he lets off a less than reserved laugh.

We then look at each other and then at the driver who then answers that we are to take the good road, the northern one. The young hotel owner still laughs, albeit a little less knowing that he worried us with the first laugh.

We take off and realize that five to fifteen miles an hour is the pace. At this rate, we wonder how we will reach the eastern shore of the river in time for the ferry to take us to the western shore where the hotel sits. With this in mind, the driver decides to move a bit faster and without stopping for photography. We manage to convince him here and there to stop and make some images.

The above portrait is made at a service station as we stop for fuel. A man and his friend approach our car as we stop, asking us for a small donation. We decide to make it mutually beneficial and ask them for their portraits. They agree, we make the exchange and they sit down against the western wall of the service station for their portrait, the sun is still to the east.

His portrait is made first, then the portrait of his younger companion. The first few exposures are made with his lips covered. Then he pulls the fabric down to allow his lips to show, resulting in the above portrait. He gives me more today than anything that can be given in return.