I must apologise for my silence. I have been writing, but as may become clear in the following pieces, as well as being trapped physically in a corner of Europe on Africa my computer began playing up which meant attempting to overhaul my opertaing system whilst stuck outside cyber space. On all fronts I’ve been cornerered! Plus as will become clear, major re-thinking about how to go forwards has been going on daily.
Events of my last post seem a lifetime away. I will try to catch you up.
28 Nov 2013, Ceuta, Spain
Oddly, I slept well in Betsy the night the border prevented our military convoy passing, better than I had since we left England. With the stress of worrying about Joe and Emma gone and having reconciled the thought of going forwards without a mechanic, the border issue seemed a minor obstacle.
George, the film maker (real names are all now changed for legal reasons) hadn’t slept well. Passers by commenting on the trucks kept him awake. Opening Betsy’s canvas I saw a throng of Moroccan women and children walking in from the border, for the day’s work and school I presumed.
We went across the road to a cafe for coffee. It was all Moroccan men, smoking on the terrace with an empty interior. It would be the other way round 1km away. We entered and ordered our café con lechés at the bar, and went out to the terrace to warm up in the morning sun.
A kindly looking Saddam Hussein without the tash welcomed us with “Bishmillah” and asked our nationalities. George trotted them out and we discussed the way forward. I would get some paint and we’ll spend the morning painting the trailer to show an effort and then try and cross as early as possible to catch the big customs chief. I was no longer convinced, it felt like pissing in the wind, but what else could we do other than return to Algeciras and re-cross via Tangier?
We finished up and went back to the trucks. Michael was antsy, possibly picking up on my lack of conviction.
Not to waste time I decided to go and find paint. I went back to the cafe and asked Saddam where I might find paint. A young lad jumped up and said he’d take me – the kindness of strangers – and seconds later I was burning round Ceuta checking out the paint stores. Not speaking Spanish, this was lots of charades and my Italio-French with “th”s and “b”s. Typical I thought – I’m trapped on the one tiniest little corner of Africa where I can’t converse and I’m in the shit.
Finally found paint that would do the job. Bought 5 liters of “peace” white – I may look a bit UN but any other colour had connotations – and returned to George who I found sitting in the back of Betsy looking out to sea.
“I got to talk to you man. You got another problem on your hands. I can’t take over from Joe and drive Maud across the border. I’ve been here before when my grandmother died and it would be mad to put myself in the same situation for my grandfather. Plus it’s just beyond journalist protocol. This is your journey, I’m just here to film, but I can’t be trappped in the journey. I’m sorry but one thing is certain, I am not having a vehicle in my name across Morocco.”
Well they come in threes! Joe, customs chief and George in less than 24 hours! Now I really was fucked. Two huge trucks, no mechanic and only me as a driver and George to film how I get out of this mess! The whole return, this journey, all I had been working for this year was falling away from me. I lay down on my bed space. “We’ll be here for some time while I figure this one out.”
Michael threw me a lifeline: “it could be the answer to your finance problems. Take Maud to Mauritania, sell her there and then use the money to come back and take Betsy to Burkina.”
“That will add 2 weeks”.
But it was an idea. Now Joe and Emma have gone, the one thing we have is time. There’s no date for the refugees, we’re already later than planned, with one vehicle we are less a military convoy…
Again the dark dark cloud lightened, he was talking sense. There’s always a chink!
I could see a truth about this journey which troubled me but also gave me a strange comfort. Despite my attempts to push the codependence of this group, I was alone on this journey, as indeed I was on the caravan of refugees project and as are the Tuareg themselves. I have sought help, partnership, I have tried to hand over to others, I have been taken on and strung along and engendered interest at high levels in the UN, but so far when push has comes to shove, when I have required a leg up, when I relied too heavily on others with power to push forwards or reached out into the official world I have found only mirages.
From now on this particular journey I had to concentrate on what was best for me and my purpose. The film, George, Joe and Emma had been having too much impact on my decision making. To move on now I had to play the same game, I had to act in my interests, which are getting to the refugee camp and not bankrupting myself in doing it, preferably with these vehicles but if not by selling them and using the money to fund the return in-situ by hiring other trucks out there. If I now have to camp up here in Ceuta for a month to sort myself out, so be it. One thing is certain, I cannot take these trucks back to UK.
I had pressed our co-dependence as a group but to no avail. Its one of those African things, and something the lone traveller relies upon but which the individual tourist finds difficult to take on. It’s letting the journey dictate, suppressing individual need for that of the group, the journey and the vehicle (s) carrying you.
I needed to go forwards now looking after my interests in the trucks and this journey or I will have nothing left for the refugees. I needed to go back to my way of travel. First principle: don’t rush. Second: trust in the community. Only problem I’m not quite in Africa Africa yet. But those guys in the cafe, they are essentially African, though being Arab they may not accept it.
“OK George. So we are staying here tonight. First I have to find somewhere to park up Betsy and then I want to paint the trailer and possibly Maud. Just a little to do today.”
First port of call. My lad who took me for the paint, his car was still outside the cafe.
With my Italo-FranglArabia and gestures I explained how I needed to park one truck for some time and I needed it to be for free. I heard in his Spanish: “I have a friend, just here, you can park for free” and he was marching to his car.
We climbed into our trucks, and turned round (not easy) back to follow our lad towards the border. A few hundred yards and right up a winding hill and into a fenced off lot perched on a hillock above the coastal road to the border. To the right was the border, to the left a gleaming European city looking out east from the peninsular to the Mediterranean sea. The day had become cold, drizzly like a British coastal town so Gibralter across the sea was now hidden. We were between Europe and Africa, at the Gates of Hercules between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. I had a massive burden on my shoulders. I’m really not sure where all this is going suddenly.