The deep anger I felt towards the authorities, now turned into a much deeper compassion for the people here who have to live under this regime. In itself a very rich, oil-producing country, the wealth is restricted to the happy few, while most people don't even have access to electricity or running water. After all the trouble of getting into the country, I was up early the next morning, and walked around the small town. I had hoped to do so the afternoon of the day before, but it had been raining, and moreover, I had been kept inside the police station until well after sunset. The sunlight was now coming from the wrong side. The Spanish sisters had talked to me about how Kogo is being redesigned, how a modern hotel, a conference centre, and a supermarket are being built at the seaside, where buildings have been torn down, including their school building. I now saw those projects rising from the ground. One person asked me if I had a visa and my passport stamped, but otherwise, I was not bothered. I did take pictures, but only after looking around me carefully. Every time I pressed the release button of the camera, it felt like a small victory over the Commissar. I walked along the waterfront, with some good views of the Muni estuary on which Kogo is located. Several islands appeared, separated by quiet waters in which the clouds were reflected. I visited the small convent and the church, where mass was being conducted.
While they were singing in church, I walked around the area, found an empty house with good views of the hill behind, covered with colourful houses. I felt at peace here: no one around, no one could see me, I didn't feel the sense of urgency and a little fear of being caught while taking pictures. After the encounter with the officials the day before, a mere hundred metres from where I was, I realized they could do anything they wanted, without restrictions. They would always be right, I would always be wrong. I sat on a wooden bench in a seemingly abandoned classroom which still had some math on the blackboard, to write some notes. The mass had ended, and I walked into the empty church. Someone was cleaning a statue; it was the most peaceful scene I had witnessed in the country until then: the morning light coming through the tall windows, the man working the statue with a cloth. At times, it looked like he was embracing Virgin Mary. I walked around the church with the stained glass windows, many of them damaged.
It was time to visit the school of the sisters that had helped me so much the day before, just a few minutes walk from the church. I was soon spotted by one of them, the headmaster of the school, and she gave me a tour. I ended up spending several hours in the school. In every classroom, I found kids of a different age of course; some had up to 50 kids. It was especially interesting to be in the classrooms with the bigger kids. The teachers eagerly used me as a guest teacher, and the interactions with the kids were fantastic. A little timid at first - considering the very low number of visitors to the country, they are not used to foreigners - they were more than charming once they started to talk. In one class, they wanted me to teach them words in my language. In another, they were doing math: I told them that Equatorial Guinea was the 155th country I visited, and asked them to calculate how many countries I still had to visit before I would complete my goal. I asked the oldest kids what they wanted to become in the future, and what they would do if they would be president. When the answers came in, they touched me a lot - provide running water, electricity, and a hospital. The feeling of that morning came back - here were these 12-year old kids, asking for basic things in their lives, that their own president was denying them. The sisters later told me that the daughter of the president was planning to turn one of the islands in the estuary into a golf course, and I heard someone else say that the president himself is in the process of building the second most expensive private yacht ever built. Hearing the kids talk about their country, and knowing their lives could be so much better, made me very sad. But I had to catch a ride to Bata, and wishes the sisters a lot of luck and courage. They will need it, just like the population of Kogo and Equatorial Guinea will need it.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Kogo (Equatorial Guinea). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Kogo. Read more about this site.