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The port of Kafountine, in the Senegalese region of Casamance, attracts every morning its locals and hundreds of go-getters coming from neighbouring West African countries. In this area, popularly known under the name of tefes (beach in Wolof language), fish is the precious pearl of the ocean and the commercial activity around fishing is the sustenance for many of the inhabitants inside and outside the region. An effervescent place that beats as frantically as calmed, a rhythm typical of the great African bustle.
With the sunrise the
streets of Kafountine get flooded with people heading to the beach; everyone
has its role within the port complex gear. "I started studying law in
2007 but I quit the following year. I didn’t had a job to pay for my university,
so I came from Dakar to work in the port. On a hard day of work I can win three
thousand francs, about five euros." Most sailors like Usman Yuf do not
even know how to swim, but every morning they carry nets, gas cylinders and
some supplies to the colourful wooden pirogues that wait inside the sea. Thousands of fishermen set sail seaward to sink their nets and fill
them with fish, at least enough to cover the cost of fuel and the crew's wage.
Early in the afternoon the boats begin to lean out the horizon upon their return. It is time to unload the goods and the strongest ones are responsible for carrying over their heads full boxes with up to 30Kg of fish. They make their way through the waves from the boats to the sand, and then run through the port dusty alleys to the fish market and smoked ovens. After a few trips, the porters end up exhausted and some street vendors like Sedou Bah look for their opportunity. “I come from The Gambia every Monday with concoctions, unguents and soaps to sell to the port workers. I walk through the crowd offering my imported products and with what I earn from sales I return home for the weekend to be with my family and buy more stuff”.
In addition to the local sale, fish caught on the Kafountine coasts generates a large merchant network. The surplus capture are exported to Burkina-Faso, Mali and to the inland areas of Guinea-Conakry and Côte d'Ivoire. They do it inside retread refrigerated chests to keep it cool, or they are previously smoked in large wood-burning ovens. In any case, the fish will leave the port loaded in the old and rusty Renault trucks that are piled up next to the main port alley.
But not only fish for consumption monopolizes port activity. Outdoor fish dryers are spread out across the beach, and after days of drying, it is ready to be crushed and shredded at the stroke of a stick and then pressed with canes in 100kg bags. "It is important to separate the fish skin to crush it separately— says Salman Jallow, who arrived two years ago from Guinea-Conakry— after being crushed and packaged it is sold as fertilizer for agricultural farms, or as a main ingredient to prepare flour for livestock." Nothing is thrown away here. The work of reuse and the activities derived from surpluses are a key part of the port productive gear, at the same time that they occupy hundreds of manual workers.
Meanwhile, technology makes its way timidly among some of the port labours. Ablay Yuf is one of the small shipyard workers that remains next to the beach. "We have now some circular saws to cut wooden slats— he says while sipping his ataya tea, the country's most popular brew— with enough manpower we can finish a medium-sized boat in a week. " Western-style industrialization is resisting to reach these latitudes of the African continent, and the contrast between the old and the modern gives these coasts a picturesque, somehow timeless, but above all marked by a large dose of tradition.