Thursday, April 14, 2011

Busted flat in Dabola

Or, ruins everywhere...

Just because I think this is fascinating, I wanted to share one other thing I’ve noticed about Guinea, unique little country that this is, from my travels. Ruins are everywhere, in ways I have not seen in any other country—French houses dating from before independence, depots, and train stations. Most impressive is the colonial-era railway, running like a backbone, the spine of this country’s skeleton that has not yet decayed. I mentioned Camara Laye in my last blog entry, and one of the most evocative descriptions in his book L’Enfant Noir is of taking the train from Kouroussa in Upper Guinea across the country to Conakry, on the coast.

Well, that train is certainly no more. The ties have been ripped up and sold for metal. The remains of the stations stand out because they are surrounded by old mango trees, planted by French colonialists who liked shade (I don’t blame ‘em!) It seems almost any time you spot tall, aged mango trees, you know the French were lurking there in the past. The decaying train station in Dabola, my town, is my favorite. A few photos, courtesy of my friend David.

On the platform.

“Busted flat in Dabola, waitin’ for a train, and I’m feeling just as faded as my gray pants…”

You just keeping waiting for that train to come, David.

Remaining colonial-era houses and depots surrounding the train station. You can even see the mangoes, like little green Christmas ornaments, hanging in the trees in this one.

Cartwheels on the platform, just cause :)

One big-ass tree, a silk cotton. (That’s me in the roots!)

Since the train station faces away from town and the main market, all you see is fields. It’s calm and quiet, and for a minute you’d think you are somewhere else—maybe rural France fifty years ago—as it seems so different from anything else I’ve seen in Guinea.

The station masters’ huge house, dripping with dilapidated colonialism and wrap-around porches, is a surreal past-meets-present mix, where people have set up shop and an impromptu café, moved in, and are cooking meals under the trees. I’m glad to see that at least it’s being used!

During our travels to another town, Dalaba, we saw the old French governor’s house. It was beautiful and spacious, situated on the edge of the mountains of the Fouta Jallon. I could imagine long-ago soirees, pre-electricity; the magnificent huge room lit up by candles, women swishing around in ball gowns, and men talking about the colonial government. Windows stretch to the ceiling and give a view of the mountains fading into the distance. Now, paint is peeling and there’s a table with souvenir bracelets laid out for tourists’ perusal, but the view is still stunning. I like the lack of maintenance, it feels more authentic. It seems in most places, when a new group comes to power, they quickly take as their own the fancy buildings and relics of others who have come before them. Maybe it’s a statement of how Guinea felt about the French (and I can’t blame them!) that the Guineans have almost completely turned their backs on buildings/infrastructure/anything French. (Likewise, the French and all their architects, engineers and technicians completely abandoned Guinea after it took its independence.) Throughout Dalaba I saw other buildings that seemed once grand, and were now just shells, ever-present reminders of Guinea’s one-of-kind history.

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