December 14, 2006
I have been in Bamako for 6 days now. Things are taking a little longer than expected (that’s a shocker), and I am not sure when we will set off towards Timbuctou. I am anxious to leave, though. I still feel suspended between two worlds….
I wake up in the mornings to the sounds of gritty, dusty, and congested Bamako. The women in the courtyard are pounding, sweeping, and chatting, and I can smell the smoke of the cooking fire. I can hear the children talking as they start their day, and the roosters crowing. The small hotel we are staying in is affiliated with an orphanage, and the kids are always back and forth between our courtyard and theirs, along with other neighborhood children. The sun comes up around 6:30 or so, and depending on the day the sky is either bright blue or hazy with yellowish dust. I wash with a handheld shower: the water is cold, and I squat in the tub while I soap myself. Since it is not really hot right now, the cold shower is not something that I look forward to. Only when I want to wash my hair do I request some hot water, and engage in an interesting procedure with the shower, a bucket, and a cup.
Breakfast is served in the courtyard under a tarp. We have coffee (Jacob’s Krőnung!), and some Baguette with butter and jam. (I realized the first time I was here that they also have really good yoghurts here in Mali, locally produced, and since then I always try to get some for breakfast. It’s usually a big production and causes a fuss; I am not sure why, since they sell it in all the little stores. I have never seen anybody else eat it, and I have never been offered any. Could I be the only one? But since it must appease my enormous appetite for dairy products, I go along with the fuss every morning, and I just wait patiently until I get it!) I take all my vitamins and supplements (Grapefruit seed extract, Kelp, a probiotic system [if you have to ask…], multi-vitamins, calcium … the Malians who watch me probably feel sorry for this white woman who is so sickly…). We chat a bit with a French couple who is staying here and has just adopted a tiny Malian baby, and any other random people under the tarp. The courtyard is bustling with activities already: the women are washing dishes, clothes, food ….I am in awe when I watch them, and I feel guilty for just sitting there, but at the same time I am so grateful for my life and my options.
Malé and I discuss the plans for the day, while his phone is already ringing off the hook (that expression doesn’t really work anymore, does it?). He makes appointments with people who have a car to sell. We get ourselves ready, and we walk a block or so on a sandy road until we get to the main road, where the traffic is just roaring by. Roaring, or more often stuttering, clanking, banging … depends on the condition of the vehicle. Many of them are just held together by some string and a prayer. He flags down a cab and negotiates the price. Just my presence can triple the price, but eventually he finds a cab that agrees to his price. (When I was visiting Karen in Moscow, she made me hide behind a phone booth for the same reason while she was negotiating with the cab drivers. Parallel pricing systems exist in all sorts of places…) To get to the center of town we have to cross one of the two bridges that traverse the Niger river. There are “The Old Bridge” and “The New Bridge”. The one we are taking has two lanes, and also a path for pedestrians and/or Mopeds. It’s morning rush hour, and everybody and their mother/baby/goat/chicken/firewood/cooking pots is heading into town. The river underneath is broad and lazy, its river banks unrestrained. Some men are fishing, some are washing, and the water is twinkling in the sun. Right behind “The Old Bridge” to the left is the Kempinski Hotel where Malé has been dropping me off these last couple of days. There, in its air conditioned confines, with view of the river and the bridge, I have been working and writing and reading. Tough life I have here. Malé’s brother, Papa Amadou Dioum, is the manager here and sends me food and drinks. I am most endeared with the new WiFi system – why, surfing the internet is as fast as in NYC here! It’s very pricey ($8 for one hour), but I gladly pay it.
Later in the day Malé meets me here and we leave to eat something or visit with somebody. His sister lives here, and she wants us to come and eat with her frequently. Everybody calls her “La Veille”, and Malé insists that this is not impolite in the least, and that I should call her that, too. It seems that when somebody was named in honor of a grandmother/elder/uncle/aunt, they are called “Le Vieux” or “La Veille” from childhood on. Malé’s son Moustaphe was named after Malé’s father, and that’s why he, too, is called “Le Vieux”, even though he is only 5 years old. Just one of those small, confusing details of life here….