Trek for Cheese
Trip Start Mar 15, 2005
27Trip End Apr 01, 2007
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I'll admit the 90 degree weather makes it difficult to feel the Christmas spirit, however ive found myself a substitute: the spirit of adventure.
This brings me to the title of todays entry.
As you may or may not know, cheese is not easy to come by in these parts. According to my younger host brother the idea of a cheese isle in a shopping center is less believeable than the possibility that the moon is actually a floating mass of celestial cheese. (i asked)
i will now include a disclaimer: the story im about to recount is true, but the names are made up to protect the innocent (and me)
A fellow volunteer and i, we'll call him Demba, decided to embark on a journey we both hoped would bring us to the doorstep of a man who might have some information regarding the rumored small-scale production of cheese in a city neither one of use had ever been to (and the PC would prefer we never did) sound shakey?
With almost zero real information, no placee to sleep, no baggage, save my water bottles and camera, i set off on a 180 km (120 mile) bike ride with one goal in mind. Find the cheese.
Sunday afternoon Demba and i planned on biking about half of the 90 km to search for a village where the younger brother of a woman who married someone in Demba's village lived with a family who had no idea who we were. (the connection is so ludicrous i thought id mention it) The name of the village was written on a small piece of paper tucked into my back pocket, though it didn't do much good since it was the wrong name. We managed to find the village because a road sign resembled slightly the name we'd written and we had the good sense to start asking locals if they knew a Mamadou Djallo. They did.
Imagine two strangers showing up at your front door with purple skin and funny alien looking hats (bike helmets)..(and i say purple skin to emphasize that most of the children and some of the adults in the compound had never seen a white person before)..and asking you if they could eat with you and sleep with your grandmother. I didnt ASK to sleep with anyones grandmother, thats just the way it worked out.. but im getting to that. What would you do?
These generous and welcoming folks accepted Demba and i into their compound, gave us water to drink and to bathe with. Bathing was the least we could do as a token of gratitude. 30 miles of biking in the African sun had transformed us into a couple of smelly toubakos. Demba humored the old man of the house(who im fairly certain was mostly blind..or at least blinded by the reflection of the setting sun on my white face, because he called me Demba more than once) while i smiled a lot and made small talk with the women as they pounded corn into a dinner i was hopig to be offered.
Just after nine thirty i was invited to eat with Demba and the other men in one of the huts. The food was tasty and plentiful. With a full belly i decided to search for a place to sleep. The women anticipated this development and had already cleared a spot in a bed with the old mans wife. she pointed to the door and made some vague gestures indicating my possible need for a toilet, then told me she'd be gaurding the flashlight and that was that. i slept like a baby despite two crying children, a confused rooster and a surprisingly cuddly grandmother.
I woke just before sun rise and prepared my things (removed two toads from my bag and filled my water bottles) They insisted on giving us bread and nescafe before we left, a luxury im sure they rarely enjoy themselves. 8:30 and we were off. Another 30 miles to the city of cheese.
We arrived at our destination just before lunch. Demba found a lady on the side of the road making omelette sandwiches and i found some bananas. Had i not been in such a good mood i might have killed my traveling companion when he insisted on biking around town to explore. An hour later it was time to find our second connection and hope for the best. The connection went something like this:
the chief of Dembas village who died a number of years back was a powerful man who knew a lot of people, one of whom was a man who lived across the street from the Eaux et Foret in the city of cheese. We found the Eaux et Foret and started asking questions. Sure enough, Aliou Kande recognized the name and welcomed us into his home.
Lunch was served and we ate while making inquiries about the National Elevage Project where there might be an employee with information regarding..you guessed it..cheese. Aliou gave us directions and after a cat nap we set out. Miraculously we found the Elevage building and a man named Tamba who talked to a friend in Wolof and then told us to follow him. We did. He walked for about a mile out of town and just as i was wondering if we had been roped into some toubab trap he deposited us in front of a cement building, turned around and walked away.
we walked in and couldnt believe our eyes. A sign read 'Fromagerie' above the door! Jackpot!
A nice man named El Hadj showed us his operation and the small stock pile of cheese and butter in a fridge in the back. We agreed on a price and El Hadj said he would meet us there the next morning at 7 so we could pick up our treasure to minimize non-refridgeration time considering the 5 hour ride in store. He even posed for a celebratory 'we found the cheese!' photo with Demba and I.
That night was spent at Alious home watching a group of five or six young boys do push ups and lift weights (scrap metal) to beef up. As if biking 120 miles wasnt enough exercise, Demba joined in. I sat drinking cold water with Alious eldest daughter.
Mariama, Aliou's wife made a delicious dinner and prepared our beds. The next morning after another bread and coffee breakfast, quick stop at El Hadj's fromagerie to grab the kilo of loot we headed home.
I started nibbling at the kola nut in my back pocket shortly there after. For those of you unfamilar with the effects of a kola nut, imagine having an IV of caffeine dripping into your veins. The five hour ride went quite fast. We averaged about 20 km an hour, minus a stop for bean sandwiches and water.
Three days. 120 miles.
1 kilo of cheese: 2250 CFA
2 bean sandwiches: 200 CFA
2 kola nuts: 50 CFA
1 very cheesey omelette: priceless.
Warm wishes this holiday season!