What a good decision that was - I would recommend this carnival to anyone! A riot of drumming and colour!
The parades started at 4pm on Monday, with each of nine districts of the capital putting on their own displays in a relay that lasted until well after dark at 7.30pm (a little sad for those parading last given the lack of street lighting in Bissau), with the same pattern the next day for the regional displays. The basic format was the same for each district, first the dancers in costume, and then those sporting giant papier-mache masks, all accompanied by fast and frantic drumming.
The papier-mache masks were enormously varied and impressive, from tigers and dragons, pieces of fruit and vegetables, army chiefs and colonial administrators, fishing boats and - my favourite - a turtle mask, its poor 'wearer' having to crawl along on all fours around the carnival route.
The crowd were enjoying it all immensely, pressing forward into the road; every so often the police would hit out with big sticks to get them back into place. Others were perched in the branches of trees to get a better view - and at one point a branch fell with the weight of the people there and a commotion ensued as an ambulance forced its way through the crowd to collect the injured. But nothing could stop the party spirit.
It all reminded me, again, of what it is that makes me so enjoy my life here. It is that Africa, unlike the West, has not yet lost its primitive side. The rhythms are of night and day, and seasons (rather than of clocks and calendars) accompanied by the rhythms of the drums and the wonderfully expressive forms of African dance. They bring both a feeling of being at peace with the environment and a joy in being alive. Perhaps that is why most Africans, despite the pervasive poverty, are usually smiling.