July 14, 2010
It has been over five years ago that I first visited Mali. I was about to turn 40, and I felt that the occasion called for something out of the ordinary. A friend of my parents had recently become director of Peace Corps in Bamako, Mali, and invited me to visit. Since I knew nothing about Mali - had in fact never even heard of it - I decided that a month-long trip to Mali would qualify as ‘out of the ordinary’. I felt ‘stuck’ in my life, and I was hoping that visiting Mali would help me become ‘unstuck’, and offer new perspectives and goals.
The trip went well, and my friend Mary and I had a good time. The trip got me ‘unstuck’ and changed my life – and consequently affected my family and my friends – in the most profound way: Malé and I met, we fell in love, and we have been living here in Bamako since November 2006. (Which is when I started this blog.)
Life in Mali is challenging in many ways. Going from being a single, childless career woman to being a partner and mother to Malé’s four children literally overnight is daunting at times. In addition, we run three businesses, manage six cats, lots of house guests and visitors, and negotiate profound cross-cultural differences.
I want to blog again more regularly. I occasionally receive emails from blog readers who encourage me to write more. I have made friends with people who contacted me via my blog. And, most importantly, it is a good way to process some of my experiences.
So this is the official revival of my blog. It starts with my travel journal from that first trip, when I was still a tourist. If it whets your appetite and you are considering visiting Mali, check out our travel business: www.maliadventuretours.com. I can’t promise that you will meet the love of your life, but I can promise you an unforgettable vacation! (If you are considering staying in Bamako for a couple of months, we are always looking for casual English teachers for our language center: www.connexionsmali.com.)
January 4th, 2005: Depart Paris for Bamako
My friend Mary and I leave Paris for Bamako in the afternoon. Our flight is with Air France, and it is very comfortable, and feels quite luxurious after having taken American Airlines from NYC to Paris. I am thinking that this will be our last exposure to Western comforts for the next several weeks…. I am nervous and excited about arriving in Bamako in a couple of hours, and anxious to see if our one and only itinerary will work out: somebody is supposed to pick us up from the airport and deliver us to Francoise’s hostel, where we have reserved a room.
We land in Bamako at around 10pm, and I am struck by how dark the airport is. I can hardly make out the runway when we approach! The terminal is small and crowded, and we get in a semi-orderly line to have our passports checked. We jostle our way to the baggage carousel, and much to my relief I see a guy holding up a sign with my name on it. His name is Biton and he is a friend of Francoise. He speaks English, and he is here to take us to our hostel. The little car has seen better days (sometime in the 70’s….), and can barely fit our luggage! We arrive at the hostel, where we have a little room, a bed with a mosquito net, and a desk and a chair.
January 5th: Bamako
We have a lovely “petit dejeuner” on the rooftop: coffee, bread, butter, jam. There is a good view of the neighborhood, and all the early morning activities: women hanging up laundry, children on their way to school, and chicken, sheep, goats and donkeys foraging the streets for food. Women everywhere are beginning to prepare lunch over charcoal fires. We then meet Francoise, who herself arrived from Paris the night before, and very generously offers to spend the day with us. We of course welcome the offer, since we feel extremely clueless in face of all the errands that we have to run, and all the decisions that we have to make! Francoise shows us how to take a “Sotrama” (minibuses without seats or windows, instead with benches that run alongside the interior, squishing as many as 20 or so people and their bags/chickens/kids inside), takes us to exchange money, finds out about flights to Timbuktu (too expensive), finds out about the festival in Essakane (expensive), and takes us to lunch. We decide that we will take a bus to Mopti (646km), and then see if we can find a ride from there to the festival. Francoise takes us to the bus station to buy tickets for the bus, which will leave at 7:30am the next day. Later that night we have a lovely dinner at the hotel, on the rooftop, with Francoise and Dega, a girlfriend from Canada. Sengaré’s wife Fadouma comes by and drops off a cell phone, which we can use for the duration of our trip. That will make everything a lot easier for us. We feel that things are really going well so far…..The night is lovely: there is no moon, just massive amounts of stars, and the voice of the muezzin calling for prayer.
January 6th: Bamako to Mopti/Sevaré, and then on to Timbuktu
Francoise is too kind: to make sure that we get on the right bus, and to make sure that the driver knows where to deliver us, she gets up very early to take us to the bus station herself. People who have been sleeping at the station are just waking up, and there is a lively crowd of animals, taxi drivers, vendors, bus passengers, friends, relatives, children, and exactly three tourists, excluding us. I am not sure how people know which bus goes where (no signs, no PA system, no posted schedule …); that’s probably exactly why Francoise insisted on accompanying us. We find our bus, the driver is not there yet, but his “apprentice” is. Francoise tells him several times that he must make sure that we get off the bus in front of Peace Corps Baba’s store, not at the bus station in Sevaré. The bus is crowded, but quite modern and relatively comfortable. It also has a great sound system, and we are treated to tapes of Malian music throughout the trip, as provided by the passengers. We drive through countless villages, many towns, some major cities, but mostly we drive through the Sahel. It is the dry season – the next rainfall is at least six months away – and everything looks dusty and parched; the vegetation is sparse at first, then some baobab trees, then sparse again. Unfortunately, the landscape is littered with black and blue plastic bags. The traditional “sanitation workers” of Mali (= goats, pigs, donkeys, dogs, and sheep) are not capable of ridding the country of plastic bags.
We are delivered to Baba’s store at around 5:30pm, and are greeted warmly by Baba and his entourage (employees, relatives, random visitors). We quickly take a shower, and have some couscous in the restaurant next door. Baba tells us that he knows an American woman, Daphne, who is traveling to the festival, and she is looking for people to share the car with. We walk a couple of houses down the street to meet with Daphne, her friend Moussa, the driver Douda, and three other guys who want to get a ride. We agree on a price, and shortly are on our way to Timbuktu (410km) and the desert festival in Essakane!
It is dark, off course, when we leave, and so I break the first rule that I created for my trip to Mali: do not drive on the roads after dark. The roads are notoriously poorly maintained, speed bumps are plentiful and unannounced, livestock is everywhere, and the other cars may not have break lights, head lights, BREAKS, etc. But since I seem to be the only one concerned, and this is the only way to get to the festival scheduled to start the next day, I just surrender to the Mali-way.
The road is very bumpy and very dusty for the next couple of hours. Just when I get used to it, though, around midnight, we leave that road and veer North on a “washboard” road. This road is bumpier, and significantly dustier than the previous one, but it is the best road to Timbuktu. Our driver is very skilled, but also very fast, and we seem to be flying through the darkness. Good thing all the luggage is tied down. I am holding on for dear life, while all the other passengers are sleeping!
The driver stops at around three or four in the morning. We are at the river’s edge, he explains, and we have to wait for dawn, and the first ferry to arrive. Mary and I try to sleep on the ground, the driver on the roof of the car, and the other people inside the car. I can’t really see where we are, but I expect to wake up at a ferry terminal or so. When we wake up I realize that we are in the desert, among some dunes and donkeys, and the “ferry terminal” is a particularly tall dune, which has to be surmounted by the vehicle to get to the ferry. Good thing that there are some people camped out next to the dune, and able to help us when our vehicle gets stuck in the sand. (Why are they there? Are they there for that particular reason? They do not get on the ferry. They do not receive any money for their help. Are we of entertainment value? I never figured it out.) The ferry finally arrives around six, the camels etc. get off, we are able to get on, and we cross the Niger River towards Timbuktu.
January 7th: Timbuktu, and finally Essakane
But we are not there yet! We still have to drive about 20 km, since the river has changed its course in the last 20 years, and Timbuktu no longer is on the banks of the Niger. We finally arrive, and stop at a hotel for some breakfast, and to use the “chaise anglaise” (= European-style toilets). (I had been holding it since we left Mopti the night before. Mary went in the dunes earlier.) We go to another hotel to take a shower and get cleaned up a bit. We “tour” Timbuktu with Daphne, who has been visiting Timbuktu for the last 10 years, and Moussa, who is originally from there. They greet some old friends, and make arrangements for us to have lunch at a friend’s home. (In front of house I meet a particularly tall, charming and handsome man, who just arrived after having worked in the desert for four months. His name is Malé, he says, and we are meant to be together … (okay, he did not say that part, but he felt it, he told me later.) After a great lunch at Anna’s house (Malé’s mother) and the obligatory nap, we depart for Essakane. (I am quickly adjusting to the fact that life in Mali entails much fabulous food, and multiple naps throughout the day.)
My opinion of Malian roads is irreparably altered when I realize that all prior roads had been fabulous compared to the one that we were on for the next 2-3 hours. The only thing that made that terrain a road was the fact that we were on it in a vehicle. Driving 90km an hour, we “swim” up and down the sand dunes. I am prepared to meet death. The other passengers meanwhile are making small talk. (At least they were not sleeping this time…..)
We finally arrive at the festival. I am surprised to see that any other tourists had made it! There are many more Malians there, mostly Tamashek, who came by camel. (Now that mode of transportation makes sense.) Thanks to Daphne and her connections, we get a great package deal, whereby our admission fee also includes a Tamashek tent, and three meals a day. (None of us had brought a tent, and the nights were very cold and windy, so we were especially grateful for the tent.) By the time that everything is all sorted out, the car is unloaded, and we settled in the tent, we are all ready to go to bed, and we sleep through the first night of performances.
January 8 – 9th: Essakane
We wake up covered in sand. We are not real Tamashek women and do not know how to properly secure a traditional tent. Sand is everywhere, and becomes an integral part of this experience. (Local proverb: do not chew your food a lot in the desert. The less you chew it, the less you notice how much sand is in your food.) We all develop signs of respiratory disease, some sort of allergic reaction of our bodies, trying to cope with the sand.
Other than that, things are fun at the desert festival: we eat, we nap, we meet lots of people, we receive visitors at our tent, we walk around to see the vendors at the little market area, and we drink lots of African tea: an intricate ceremony that involves three servings of foamy tea, which starts out extremely strong and bitter, and gets sweeter with each serving. We see all of our “old friends” from Timbuktu again, and it makes us feel connected and part of. I am starting to understand that for me this trip is really about connecting with people, and enjoying the enormous gestures of hospitality that are being offered to us.
Malé also shows up. I appreciate his calm and kind presence more than I dare to admit to myself. He takes me on walks around the festival site. As we walk over and around the dunes, we can see groups of people scattered about. Tamashek are using this festival to trade, dance, and sing with each other, and we wander from one group to the next to observe the performances. Sometimes it is a group of women singing and dancing, other times it is a story teller who has his audience riveted. There are larger affairs, too: there are staged sword fights, which allude to the Tamashek’s life as feared warriors, and there is a big camel race, which allows the riders to show off their mastery over their animals.
The performances at night take place on a stage with sound equipment. Large fires are lit on a sand dune facing the stage, and we sit and watch. Many contemporary Malian musicians perform, and several European artists who are inspired by and incorporate Malian music into their own. The audience is enthusiastic, and dances and sings all night. Young men come around to offer African tea, which helps to keep us warm. Malé always makes sure that Daphne, Mary and I are comfortable, and then he settles in beside me, as if it has always been that way.
January 10th: Essakane to Timbuktu
We get up early in the morning. Many tourists and Tamashek have already left in the night, after the last performance. Bella women are waiting for us to pack up, so that they can take the tent down. We leave at around 9am, and even though it is the same crazy “road” through the dunes that we came on, it does not scare me anymore! I must be acquiring some of the Malian “No problem!” and “Inshallah” attitude.
We arrive at Timbuktu around 11am, and we treat ourselves to a shower in one of the hotels. We also discuss our travel plans: Daphne has changed her mind, and she no longer wants to return to Mopti right away, but instead wants to drive to Gao (424km) to stay in a friend’s hotel, and to visit some other people. She invites us to come along, and we gratefully accept. (We have already realized that we really hit the jackpot when we met Daphne, because she knows the country so well, and she knows so many people here.) She arranges for us all to have a special dinner at a friend’s house, and we can spend the night in Moussa’s house. (There are huge amounts of mosquitoes in that house, which has been unoccupied for quite some time. I discover that the Malian mosquitoes don’t know that DEET is a repellent.)
We spend the rest of the day with Isa, who gives us a tour of Timbuktu. He speaks English quite well, and he is very knowledgeable. He shows us the mosques, the library that contains ancient manuscripts dating back to 1216, the hospital, and the museum. He shows us how the richly decorated doors of the houses indicate how many children the couple is hoping for, and if they are still married or divorced. He tells me that the reason that I have only seen one cat thus far in Timbuktu is because they are considered a treat for the little boys, and they either hide or have been eaten! He later joins us for dinner (beef, not cat) at Yaya’s house. Bright red fire finches live in Yaya’s living room, as in many of the houses in Timbuktu.
Malé and I say good bye. He wanted to spend more time with me, but I was holding on to Africa Travel Rule #2: no hanky-panky with random guys from the desert! As soon as he left, though, I had this funny feeling: what if he’s the one …?!
January 11th: From Timbuktu to Gao, but not quite
We get up early, and we are ready to leave at around 8:30am. We have a new passenger in the car: Jean-Pierre, who is Italian, vegetarian, and traveling through Mali by himself. He sits in the cargo area along with Von and Jordan. Mary, Daphne and I are in the back, and Douda, the Driver, and Moussa are in the front. We also are supposed to meet up with Michele and his 10 passengers outside Timbuktu, by the river. We cannot find him at first, so we pick up Random Tamashek Man in the desert, who of course knows where Michele is, climbs on the roof of the car and guides us there.
When we meet up with Michele, he already has car trouble. Something that requires frequent motor oil refills, and leaves a huge plume of smoke behind the car. But, as usual, “no problem”, and off we drive, into the desert. Supposedly this trip will take about 7 hours……
About 7 hours and several incidents with Michele’s vehicle later, we are not even halfway to Gao. We are stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the Sahara, and the two drivers are basically rebuilding the 4-wheel drive on Michele’s car. It only takes about 20 minutes before Random Desert Inhabitant shows up at the scene. The Malians in our group have decided that they need to buy and eat mutton, so the man leaves and reappears with a sheep. Money is collected, and the purchase is made. Everybody is very giddy and excited: the prospect of eating fresh mutton meat seems to do that. Jean-Pierre, though, is a vegetarian, and even though he only speaks Italian, he is trying to convey the virtues of a vegetarian society, and the evils of commercial meat industry. Needless to say, he is not making many inroads with this group of meat-loving, mutton-killing guys! For effect, he is untying the sheep from the bumper, and he is walking off, pretending to take the animal back to its home. The sheep is not as dumb as one might think, and - realizing that Jean-Pierre has never walked a sheep on a rope before in his life - quickly slips the rope over its horns, and takes off! Good thing that the car has not been fixed yet, so that several guys can take off after the animal, and spend the next several hours looking for it in the desert while the rest of the guys can argue back and forth with Jean-Pierre, who is only minimally apologetic. BIG DRAMA. After a couple of hours I realize that overall everybody has a great sense of humor about the incident, and that the entertainment value of this incident far outweighs the financial loss for the Malians! For the next three days this story gets told and retold, and told again, always causing much screaming and laughter.
A while later the car is fit to drive again, and we continue our journey towards Gao. In the darkness, Michele’s car hits a rabbit. Our driver quickly stops, leaps out of the car with his knife, finds and kills the injured rabbit, and returns to the car with its headless carcass. He hands it to “The Italian”, and announces that even though the sheep is gone, Allah provided us with a rabbit for breakfast. Much screaming and laughter in the car!
Around 1 am, and still many miles away from Gao, Michele’s car breaks down again. We continue without him. Around 3am our car gets another flat tire. This time, though, we have no more spare tires, and we are stranded about 5 miles outside of Gao. We have to sleep there (in, on, and next to the car), and wait for dawn, hoping that our driver can get a ride into Gao, with the flat tire, and then a ride back to us.
Day break comes, and the guys make fire for tea ... and to roast the rabbit! Douda gets a ride into town, and we wait, and wait, and wait. Around 10am he finally returns, and we finally pack up to continue to Gao. The charcoaled rabbit carcass goes on top of the car, thank Allah.
January 12 – 14th: Gao, at last!
This dusty desert town looked so good to us when we arrived! We go straight to a restaurant, wake up the manager, who has to send for the cook, since he has the key for the refrigerator. We eat, we drink, we use the bathroom, and we celebrate the fact that we made it out the desert alive! (Well, I did. As usual, the others were not particularly stressed out.) We also rehash the “The Italian and the Sheep” story several times. We then go to Michele’s hotel, but Michele is not there, of course, since we left him behind in the desert about 12 hours ago. Later that day we all eat the rabbit, much to Douda’s delight.
We pursue the usual activities (eating, napping, relaxing) while in Gao. In addition, we visit the artisan market, and take a pinasse to visit “la dune rose”, a short ride up the Niger. It is a huge, red sand dune right on the river’s bank, and after we trek up the dune, we have a great view of the desert on one side, and the Niger on the other. We watch the sunset, and chat with our “escorts” Speedy and Jordan. The dune is one of Gao’s major tourist attractions, and we do see any other tourist while we are there.
While in Gao I also call Male. I tell him that I should have applied rule #2 in his case, and that I would like to see him again (… to find out if he is the one!), and we agree to meet in Mopti in a couple of days.
Michele and his group arrive two days after we did. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate the fact that we are all in Gao together now, and to retell the story of “The Italian and the Sheep” a couple of times.
My birthday is a “un-event”. Birthdays are not really celebrated in Africa anyway, so only Mary knows that it’s my 40th (!!!) birthday. I am content that I am not stuck in the desert anymore, that I can take a shower, and that I treated myself to having an unorthodox and adventurous experience! I also break Africa Travel Rule #3 (Don’t eat any salad): I am eating a big salad, with beets and cucumber and lettuce and tomatoes and peppers and carrots. After so many meals consisting of rice and meat, I decided to throw caution to the wind! Salad has never tasted so good.
January 14th: From Gao to Mopti (600km)
We leave Gao, and we leave behind the Italian, Jordan, and Von. We travel south-west towards Mopti on what must be the BEST road in all of Mali. It is black and smooth and wide enough for two passing cars … Mary and I are in awe.
Halfway to Mopti the landscape changes considerably: a mountain range in the distance breaks up the usual flat surface. Soon several mesas dominate the landscape, reminding me of the American South-West. These are the Hombori Mountains, the highest range in Mali. There are many native stories surrounding these visually striking mesas, the most famous of which is the “Main de Fatima”, which does look like a hand from a particular perspective. Apparently this is also a destination for rock climbers from all over the world, but we do not see any other travelers.
We arrive in Mopti at around 9pm. We call Baba, who had been worried about us because he was expecting us right after the festival. We both get a lecture from him. (We did not know that he was our “Baba”, [Baba=father] but he set us straight!) Well, he wants us to be delivered to his house, because that is where we will be staying! We arrive at his house, and we are greeted by his wife, Mariam, and shown to our room. Baba’s house is actually a large compound, where many of his relatives and their families all live around one courtyard. Baba and his wife live in their section with their seven children, their maid with her children, and pet birds. We get the guest room, and we sleep soundly until the next morning.
January 15th- 21st: Mopti/Sevaré
Mopti is a busy, bustling city. It sits on the banks of the Bani river, which is a tributary to the Niger. Each year, after the rains, it floods the surrounding land, and allows for the planting of rice. The road to Sevaré, a small adjoining city, is on one of several dykes that surround the city. Traveling on that road every day, as we travel between Mopti and Sevaré, allows us to get a sense of the enormous flood lands that dominate the landscape here.
We spend the next couple of days with Baba, either at his store in Sevaré, or with his family in Mopti. His wife, who does not speak French or English, presides over her family’s compound from the couch. We are amazed how many chores the children have to perform! Visitors and vendors enter the compound constantly, providing entertainment and merchandise to Mariam. Her main focus currently is our wellbeing, and she sees to it that we eat huge quantities of food every couple of hours, that we nap, that we bathe with water that the daughters have to heat up, and that our clothes are laundered.
Our guide around the town of Mopti is Ibrahim, who speaks English very well. He takes us to the mosque, the artisan market, and then on a pinasse, to travel to a Bozo village about 30 minutes away. The Bozo are fishermen, who live on the banks of the river, and dry or smoke their catch daily. Traveling back on the pinasse, we recline, sip African tea, and are lulled by the breeze and the waves of the river.
One of Baba’s friends, Elmaouloud, invites us to visit him and his family. He is Tamashek, and he lives just outside of Sevaré . Baba drops us of and –ironically- warns us not to eat too much meat. At Elmaouloud’s we are shown around the family compound, admire the live stock, and visit the women’s tent, where they work on decorating leather wares. We then settle in the men’s tent, which is beautifully decorated, its floors are lined with mats and pillows. We recline, and chat, and drink African tea. After a while we are served sheep heart in sauce, with French bread. We eat, we recline, we nap, and we chat. When I think that it’s time to head back, our host exclaims that we must have lunch first! Apparently the heart was just the appetizer. We are served rice with shredded mutton, and the famous Tamashek sauce: clarified butter and cheese, which is poured on top. We then have to nap some more.
Because Elmaouloud also has to get to Sevaré, he arranges for a taxi to take us all. The taxi immediately gets a flat tire. The driver has a spare, but no jack! Luckily we are in the desert, so within minutes Random Desert Guys appear to help. About 10 or so lift up the car, while the tire is changed! We continue on with our journey, but the car stalls on the road. While we remain in the car, the other passengers push. All of the sudden I can see flames shooting out the motor! Mary and I try to get out of the car, but the doors have no handles on the interior, and cannot be opened from the inside. Luckily the flames are so big that the men see them quickly, and open the doors for us. We leave the car and its owner behind, and walk the rest of the way.
Mary travels to Dogon for three days, while I stay behind in Sevaré to meet Malé. Unfortunately I am suffering from an ear infection that started in Gao, and to top it off I caught my first stomach bug. Not a good premise for a romantic rendezvous. It may be the fever, but after three days with Malé I feel like he is the one.
Upon Mary’s return, she tells me that Dogon was the highlight of this trip for her, and that I must one day return to Mali to see it for myself!
Back in Mopti, the town, no, the whole country is buzzing with anticipation: January 21st is Tabaski. On this day every Muslim man who has the means buys and sacrifices a sheep, and then feeds his family and those who are less fortunate. The occasion is the story of Abraham, whose faith is tested when Allah tells him to sacrifice his son, and the result is a three-day holiday in Mali. We are told that it is important to have festive clothes, and if we want we could get our feet decorated with henna design. Mary chooses some fabric at the market, and then has a tailor make her a beautiful outfit. I choose one of the dresses that are pre-approved by Mariam. We also get our feet hennaed the night before the fest, and sleep with plastic bags on our feet, just like proper Malian women!
The day of Tabaski we go to the stadium for Morning Prayer with Baba’s family. I have no intention of praying (obviously!!!), but after being nudged by the elderly women that I am sitting next to, I do not have a choice but to rise, bow, and raise my hands along with thousands of Malians. Baba had told us that there will be plenty of other tourists there to take pictures….we see one other Westerner. After prayer we drive back to Baba’s house, and everywhere men are slaughtering sheep in front of the houses by cutting their throats and letting them bled to death. (I have to admit that it made me feel quite nauseous. Worse: I was also thinking about all the meat that I would have to eat!) Baba kills his sheep once we arrive at the house, and shortly thereafter the sheep heart arrives for our eating pleasure!
After we nap, we get ready to visit Baba’s relatives. Everybody is wearing festive clothes, and we pile into the car to make the first visit. When we arrive, the greetings are long and formal: the two greeters take turns asking each other about the wellbeing of their wives, children, extended families, their health, their business, their live stock, etc. all in rapid-fire Bambara. We are ushered into the courtyard, and we are offered seats. I am totally mentally prepared for more sheep heart, African tea, etc. Much to my complete surprise, everybody gets up after 5 minutes or so, quick goodbyes are said, and Baba and his family are rushing out the door, Mary and I in tow. And that is the format for the next 10 visits or so. (It was the only time during my stay in Mali that something happened faster than I expected.)
January 22nd: From Mopti to Bamako
The day after the fest we travel with Baba and another person to Bamako. We say good bye to Mariam, all the children, the maid, the other relatives, all the guys who work with and for Baba at his store, and all the adjoining shop owners, our guides, drivers, etc. Once on the road we stop several times: to eat, to pray, to visit friends, and to visit a Bogolan (mudcloth) workshop, but we eventually get to Bamako. Françoise does not have any rooms left in her little hotel, so she takes us to another place in the same area. It is affiliated with an orphanage and an outreach project for street kids, and it is run by Mamadou.
January 23rd – 26th: Bamako
One other room is occupied by Jean-Marc and Isabelle from Paris, who are there to adopt little Tidiane. They are lovely, and so is the baby boy, and we spend the day just chatting with them, resting, napping, and eating the huge salads that Mamadou makes just for us. We also take two showers a day in the best bathroom that we have yet seen in Mali!
Now that I am in the capital, I want to see a doctor. My ear infection is very painful, and I cannot hear anything with that ear. Françoise refers me to a Dr. Sengaré, and has somebody take me there. Dr. Sengaré is very nice, and sees me right away. He received his medical degree in Germany, and we speak in German about my problem. He prescribes some drops and an anti-inflammatory medication. The visit costs the equivalent of $24.00, and the medication $6.00.
The next day we meet up with Jordan and Von, who were in Essakane with us, and several other people that we met there. They have been eagerly awaiting our arrival at Bamako, and now it is their turn to host us and entertain us! Jordan shows us around the Grand Marché, the Petit Marché, and the artisan market. We also visit the art institute, where we meet several very talented students, who study music, sculpture, and painting there. An impromptu concert in the courtyard becomes one of the highlights of our trip….
Later that evening we meet with Françoise. We want to take her out for dinner, and she suggests San Toro, a beautiful restaurant adjoined by a very lovely boutique. For the first time Mary and I see contemporary, stylized fashion and jewelry. We fall in love with several handbags and outfits, but because we are in Mali, the store does not take credit cards, cash only! We make an emotional pitch to the sales person about the importance of introducing the concept of credit cards to this country’s economy, and how there will never be more American tourists until they do! She either does not care, or does not know what credit cards are, and I leave the store without having purchased the coolest handbag for $250.00
Our last day in Bamako begins with us taking our luggage to the downtown airline office. We are amazed at how quickly and easily we check in the luggage, confirm our flight, and obtain our boarding passes! Freed of the burden of luggage, we spend the day with Jordan and Co. Today they are taking us to the National Museum (very nice), a prehistoric cave with some bats (Cool! Love bats!), and some concrete sculptures of cavemen and a dinosaur (cheesy, but our friends are very proud of the exhibit). But they are not done yet: we have to go to Sibi, which is a “beautiful village very close to Bamako”. We set off on a dirt road with very red dirt, which immediately cloaks the car and us. After 1 1/2 hours and stopping once for mangoes we arrive at the village, which is not particularly spectacular, but we are just passing through. Turns out that our real destination is a mesa; more specifically, the top of the mesa. We climb across some very surreal lava landscapes, and we arrive at a “window rock”. We have a beautiful view of the surrounding land. Apparently there is a beautiful waterfall at that location in the rainy season. The guide then leads us down to a huge cave, which is still being used for sacrificing animals. It’s all very fascinating and interesting, but now it is 6:30pm, getting dark, and we have a flight to catch. We scramble down the mesa, and gun down the red dirt road in our little car. Luckily the car does not brake down, nor do we get a flat tire! We take a quick shower, pack the rest of our bags, and Jordan delivers us safely at the airport.
It is the end of an eventful day in Bamako, Mali, and the end of an incredible journey…..
Haike and Malé in Berlin at the ITB, March 2010