10 December 2011 – 15 December 2011
Wake up feeling like we were eaten alive by little critters. It’s an early morning so we can get on the road and get through the border. Because, you never know how the border crossings will go. Eat breakfast, gather our stuff, and head out the door.
The road to the border was okay. With okay meaning drivable but rather littered with potholes. Traffic wasn’t bad. There were a few other cars leading the way around the potholes. It was almost stomach turning wandering back and forth across the road over and over again. Finally, make it to the border town. There are big rig trucks on both sides of the road. We drive through them looking for the border. End up on the other side of town and decide we missed the turn for the border. Back track a little and take another turn through town. End up on a different side of town out in the Sahel and realize we must have missed a different turn. Back track and find the turn. Arrive at the Senegalese border. The guards look up and see our dip plates and decide to just wave us through the border. No exit stamp. No formalities. I’m 100% certain that we are going to have to come back and get exit stamps.
Drive a few more kms and come to another barricade. Stop and go to the immigration office. It was really hot in the office, but there was a nice breeze blowing through. One of the Malian immigration officers wanted to practice his English with us. That happens to us a lot. We want to practice their languages and they want to practice ours. So, it ends up being us asking information in Frenglish and them responded in Frenglish. Good times.
Stamped passports and one ticket (a carnival type ticket for prizes not a speeding ticket) for vehicle registration information and we jump back in the car. Before, the guy working the barricade will let us through he needs our ticket. Really. Couldn’t you have kept your ticket and let us be on our way. It’s not like there are a ton of people at the boarder crossing right now (we were one of 2 cars).
Cross the border and find a tollbooth. Hmmm. I wonder how much this is going to cost us. Turns out the rates are set and it’s a pretty legit operation. Good work Mali. However, the road is horrible. So, can you use the tolls to actually repair it???? The heat makes the road so soft that when trucks brake it pulls up the payment and creates huge bumps and holes in the road. This is not a road that should be driven above 80 kph. It was an insane drive. I was so nauseous by the end of it because of the bumpiness and swerving back and forth to avoid the holes.
Pull into Kayes. It’s a pretty large town. Lots of people running around. Now, we have to find one of two hotels we have a recommendation for (Thank goodness for Lonely Planet and Bradt – otherwise it would be three westerners totally lost in Africa. Drive through the majority of town and don’t see either hotel. Find the train station. One hotel is supposedly across the street. But, we drove up and down the street twice and couldn’t find it. But, all of a sudden a tiny sign appears behind a building and we find one of the hotels. Perfect. Now, let’s go find a room.
Check out the rooms and they are actually pretty nice. The room is clean with en suite bathroom and the a/c works. What more do I really need? Baby wipes because there is no toilet paper. But, this isn’t our first rodeo and we have a giant pack in the car! Grab our stuff and take it up to our room. We lay down and take a nap. What else are you supposed to do when its 40+ degrees outside??
Wake up and try to go find the first French fort and rapids east of town in Medine. It’s about 15 kms outside of town. End up near a quarry and figure out the Chinaman has blocked the falls. We spend the next 30 minutes trying to find a road down to the falls so that we can go walk around them and take pictures. Well, Chinaman has restricted the view with their pool and buildings for the quarry. I wonder what else they are taking from Mali. It’s amazing. China has its hand in almost every country in Africa. My question is how long will it take before China has taken all of the resources from Africa???
Give up on the falls and head over to Medine to look at the fort. Part of the fort is now a hotel. There were a few little canons but nothing really impressive. While wandering, we drove through a few villages. I love the looks people give us as we drive by. It’s like they’ve seen a ghost or don’t believe their eyes.
We head back to the hotel and clean up before dinner. The restaurant at the hotel is supposed to be one of the best in town. We all order kuku and pomme de terre frites. What shows up is a pile of greasy fried potatoes and half a chicken with an onion and pepper piece on top. While it was tasty, I knew the grease was going to have me running to the bathroom in 20 minutes. Stupid Gallbladder.
After dinner, we decide to go check out the casino onsite. We wander in and try to play but someone tells us that you need tokens. We exchanged 2000 CFA (~ $4) for tokens and away we went to play. All of the games were electronic slot or poker machines. I went straight for deuces wild blackjack. My favorite. Except I couldn’t figure out how to get to deuces wild. So, a few gentlemen helped me figure out how to work the machine. They then felt they needed to teach me how to play. But, they quickly learned that I’m not a blackjack rookie. Didn’t do too badly. But, played through all of my tokens because I was having fun!
Leave the casino and Al heads to bed. Liam and I meander into a side bar. They have a giant projection screen set up and are playing the Madrid vs. Barcelona game. As we were walking in they were moving a table and two chairs to have a better view of the game. The waitress asks us if we want to sit down. Why, yes. We will. Sitting in the middle of nowhere in Mali watching a major European soccer match on a projection screen. Wow. Life’s not too shabby! Order a couple of beers and figure out who the crowd is cheering for. We haven’t picked our EU soccer team (or teams) yet. But, it’s going to happen soon. Especially, with us moving to Italy.
I love watching soccer matches overseas. The crowds are so passionate and excitable. It’s great. Every time a team scored or blocked a great shot, both sides would erupt in excitement or anger. When Madrid scored for the last time before the end of the game, I thought the shanty roof was going to come crashing down as everyone ran around high-fiving and celebrating. What a great experience.
At night, the town comes out to play. The discotec was bumping. The casino was full swing and everyone from the soccer game was migrating to other areas of the hotel. Left the bar area and headed over to the hotel garden where they had live Malian musicians. Mali is know for their music. In fact, Liam read in one of our books that famous guitarists from all over the world to train and improve their technique. Pretty cool. The guitar they play here is called kora. It has up to 21 strings. It’s an amazing instrument. There is a Grammy winning artist who offers lessons in Bamako. If we ever move to Mali, we are going to take a few. But, first, we have to find a kora.
After listening to music for a while, we decide to head upstairs and go to bed. We have a long drive tomorrow to Bamako and want to get some sleep in case the roads are bad and we all end up driving portions of it.
Wake up on the morning of the 11th as the power cuts off. Wonder how I’m going to take a shower/bucket bath. Have Liam move the bucket full of water out of the shower area and turn on the faucet – just to see if it would work. Well, it does. But, the water is scalding. Put some hot water in the plastic teapot and let it sit for a minute. Then, take a sponge bath using scalding and cool water. Only thing I didn’t do was wash my hair because it was going to be a bit of pain. Felt nice to be so fresh and so clean! Liam wasn’t going to take a shower. However, he broke down. Our first pseudo-bucket shower is a success!
Gather our bags and head to the car! Load up and get on the road to Bamako. It’s 612 kms and could be a very long day. We have not been given great information about the roads because the conditions change frequently. Turns out, minus about 60 kms the road was pretty new. The biggest threat to our safety was the donkeys, cows, dogs, and goats roaming around.
Arrive in Bamako and make our way around Bamako to the embassy. We are meeting up with Mike. Mike & Jayne wonderfully offered to let us crash at their place to maximize the travel budget. Jayne was out of town but we still managed to play Words with Friends without any issues. Gotta love the Internet!
Met up with Mike and wandered to their house. Arrived to a nice home cooked dinner. Their housekeeper is an amazing cook and so sweet. She does not speak a lot of English and I don’t speak a lot of French but we were able to have a few basic conversations over the few days we were in Bamako and she taught me some French!
Spent some time talking to Mike that night about life in Bamako and the plans for the week. Then head to bed. It’s an early morning for everyone!
The alarm goes off relatively early on the morning of the 12th and I want to hide under the covers. I was so tired. But, pull myself out of bed after Liam gets out of the shower and begin to get ready for my day. Wendy, Mike & Jayne’s next-door neighbor is going to pick me up and show me around town. Since I’ve had a good feeling about Mali the whole we have been here, I’m excited about exploring Bamako to see if it continues.
Wendy comes over around 9am and we head to her house to let the puppies out and then off we go. We head to the Botanical Gardens on the north end of town. It’s a beautiful garden area. There is also a National museum and they are building a zoo in this area. Within the garden, they have miniature replicas of the famous mosques around Timbuktu area. Additionally, they have a photo exhibit on display. The pictures were taken by African photographers following the theme “Sustainability.” It was very interesting to see Africans bring light to many of the major issues on the continent. I enjoyed their interpretations and hope that the exhibit receives international exposure.
After the Botanical gardens, we visited to local shops that had a lot of artwork. We also drove through the major market in town. It would be a lot of fun to come down here and shop. Next, we headed to the big grocery store. I like visiting the grocery stores to see what’s available and how much tings cost. It helps to make decisions on where we want to move next in Africa. Also, bought a few more snacks for the road.
After the store, we walk down the street to have some ice cream. The ice cream parlor had a bunch of delicious flavors and for 1500 CFA you get two scoops in a waffle cone. Okay. Bamako is looking amazing. Granted it’s winter and there is no summer heat to contend with, but, I like it here.
Head back to the house and relax and read. The guys come back from the embassy around 3:30pm. Mike came home about 5:30pm. There are a few other TDY guys and Wendy coming over to join us for dinner. After dinner, Abu, a Tuareg from Timbuktu, came over to Mike’s to show us knives, jewelry, and camel leather boxes that his family made. It took him about 20 minutes to set up his wares on a cotton mat on the floor. We all gathered around the on the floor and began shopping! The design on most of the pieces is the map to cross the Sahara from Timbuktu to northern Mali and onto Morocco. We spent a lot of time thinking and talking about what we wanted to buy and ended up buying a knife, a necklace, a camel leather box, and a bottle opener. Abu also gave us a camel tooth necklace and a small knife in a pink camel leather sheath. I for one had never seen camel leather anything. It’s beautiful. And the way they designed the boxes, sheathes was impressive. After everyone had bought the items they wanted, Abu said that he would be willing to come back over to Mike’s in a couple of days to have tea and talk about life in Timbuktu and the Sahara.
Admired our new items for a while and then headed onto bed. Tomorrow’s going to be another fun filled day!
Wake up on the 13th and the guys are going to an exercise or conference or something for work. I’m going to play again. Wendy and I meet up around 11am and we are heading across the river to check out the other side of Bamako. We end up driving past Jasmine & John’s house and stop by to say hello since they are leaving post this week. Jasmine joins us for lunch at the a hotel café around the corner. Lunch was fantastic. The food was great, the company enjoyable and a nice view of the Niger River. After lunch, we went for a walk in Jasmine’s neighborhood to check out a small fishing village. As we walked through the village, we saw an area that had recently been on fire. Apparently, something exploded in one of the houses and they burnt to the ground. Right after the site of the burnt homes, there was a baby toddling around with a singed arm from elbow to the top of his knuckles. Wendy, Jasmine, and I were all concerned. We walked back to Jasmine’s house put together a first aid pack and headed back to village to take care of the baby.
Then, we had a 3-way translation to show the mom how to care for the baby’s arm to keep it clean and hopefully infection free. Jasmine translated my instructions into French. Her cook, Jeremiah, then translated them into to the local language, Bambara. Of course, insert the standard crowd of Africans watching the crazy mzungu take care of the baby. We cleaned the baby’s arm, used a sanitary napkin for an absorbent and protecting pad, and then wrapped it in that sticky brown gauze that I normally hate. The little guy was a trooper. He barely whimpered and once we had his arm all wrapped and protected, he began to smile. Jeremiah had just baked cookies so we dispersed those among the people who had gathered. I just hope that baby doesn’t lose his arm to infection. Such a simple thing to take care of – if you have the right stuff – which they do now because we left everything with them.
Returned to Mike & Jayne’s and told Liam and Al I worked today and was hopeful that we might have improved the outcome for the little boy. First thing out of boy of their mouths, “But, did you get paid?” Insert obligatory eye roll. So, much for being high on my nursing kite. But, at least I know they have the products they need to take care of the baby. I just hope his mom actually cleans it and takes care of it.
Funny story. The guys were leaving the conference hotel and Al pulled up to the gate to exit. But, the guard at the gate wouldn’t open the gate. Because, Al did not drive around the circle to the gate. He drove straight to the gate because it was only a few feet away. The guard absolutely refused to open the gate until Al drove back around the circle and re-approached the gate correctly. I’m dead serious. Just ask Al. But, be prepared for him to get a little excited and flustered. I think he is still annoyed that the guy wouldn’t just open the gate with instructions on how to properly exit for next time. We tend to take our higher order of thinking for granted sometimes.
Enjoy another home cooked meal and tumble into bed. It was a long day. But, I didn’t sleep very well. I kept thinking about the baby and how I should be doing more to help. So, frustrating. I love what I do but sometimes it’s really hard not to take work home with you.
Woke up on the morning of 14th. Wendy and I had talked about going on a photo safari of Bamako, but Mike made an appointment for me to talk with the Regional Medical Officer about working for the State Department. I’m so glad he set up this meeting for me!!! It was very informative. If I work for the State Department as a nurse practitioner, they could move me anywhere in the world. Which could be problematic since Liam will always be in Africa. But, we will figure it out. Luckily, I’m in a field where work is fun and I’ll make it happen wherever we are. But, one thing that came out of our discussion. We can do 10 years in Africa, and then spend the next 10 of my career wandering the rest of the globe. Oh the possibilities to wander the world. I’m feeling very nomadic.
Hung out at the embassy in the lobby reading my book while the guys finished all of their meetings. Wandered around the library at the embassy in Bamako. Pretty impressive. There were a lot of African history books and I spent some time flipping through them. Around 2:30pm, they were done with their meetings and we were able to head back to the house.
Spent the next couple of hours writing and stalking my class to see my final grade for Patho. Final grade isn’t posted yet, but at 96% is an A. Another great score. Amazing how that happens when you have all the time in the world.
After dinner, Abu came back over to the house to have tea and talk to us about life in Timbuktu since we can’t make it up there due to safety warnings. There are three pots of tea. The first pot is strong like death. The second pot is sweet like life. The third pot is sugar like love. The first pot was green tea leaves and sugar. The tea was so fresh. It smelled delicious in the plastic bag. I know it’s going to taste fantastic. He served the tea in two small glasses that we shared. The first wife always gets the first cup. Since, I was the only wife there, I received the first glass. So, yummy. But, strong. As we drank the first pot, Mike stepped outside to speak to a coworker and we asked Abu about life in Timbuktu. He explained how the economy has been affected by the lack of tourism. People are not visiting Timbuktu because of AQIM and other terrorist-like organizations. There have been kidnappings, murders, etc recently. When tourism is healthy, he is a tour guide. Now, to make money to feed his family, he has resorted to traveling to Bamako to sell the wares his family makes. He explained that everyone there has been affected. Even the people who do not work directly with tourism. Once upon a time, the Tuareg people were some of the wealthiest. Timbuktu was the center of trade for the region known as Sudan many years ago. And now, with decreased rain and lack of tourism, people are having to sell treasured family heirlooms to survive. Abu is pretty bright. And we were really impressed with his comprehension of economic situation of Timbuktu.
Mike came back in, drank his tea, and we prepped the second pot. The second pot he added mint and sugar. This tea was perfection. It was delicious. We also found out there are 3-4 men who travel in caravan to the cities north of Timbuktu. Abu has made the trip 3 times. The first time his responsibility was to make tea, set-up the tents, and cook. It’s very important as a man to make the trip by yourself one time to show to our community that you are capable of making the journey. I was impressed. I can only imagine how beautiful the stars are at night, alone, in the Sahara. He smiled and excited began to talk about the stars. I’m so pissed at the terrorists. They really take all the fun out of life.
Al asked Abu if the Tuareg people were trying to regulate the terrorists’ activities in the area. He said they were because they want the tourists to come back and spend money to boost their economy. It’s sounds like a bad situation. Abu also talked about a drought that occurred years ago. Many elders are worried that they are seeing the signs of another drought. They are concerned because the Malian government does not frequently send aid or assistance to the area. If they don’t receive any help, they will have minimal water and food. People will die. Animals will die. It sounds like it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. If there is a better.
We make the third pot of tea. It’s even better than the 2nd pot. Yummy. Okay. I’m addicted. I have to find a small teapot and some loose tea. I’ve studied how he made it. Time to get our tea on. Crap. I’m going native. C’est la vie.
After the 3rd pot is finished, we say goodbye to Abu and promise to visit as soon as we can! I really can’t wait. He has only enhanced my desire to disappear into the desert around Timbuktu. Shortly after Abu leaves, we all head to bed. Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.
Wake up on the morning of the 15th. The guys head to the embassy to meet with the Ambassador. I stay at home to pack and clean up our stuff. We are going to stay at a hotel tonight so Mike can have his house back to pack and get ready to go to the States for vacation. The guys come home to pick me up and change and then we are on our way to the NIH malaria lab in Bamako. Um. Yes, please. Who knew NIH had a lab to grow mosquitoes in Bamako. I couldn’t believe how many mosquitoes they were breeding. I felt like a kid in a candy store. They also have a relatively new HIV and TB lab. We were able to view a few microorganisms that they are also studying. Basically, it’s a swanky topical disease lab in the right place! What a great center! We really enjoyed the tour! (Thanks Mike for setting it up!).
Leave the NIH lab and head back into town. Grab a bite to eat at the French institute. Lunch was tasty and around the institute, vendors have set up shop. We found a mask we liked from the Sikasso region and snatched it up. The seller said I stole it for the price he sold it to me. But, I told him he didn’t have to sell it. But, I’m glad he did. The mask is really cool and detailed. This trip is going to make our mask wall a work of art!!!
Make our way over to the hotel, check in and then head to the embassy to pick up our passports. Then, off to Mike’s to pick up all of our stuff! I can’t even begin to say thank you enough to Mike & Jayne! It was so nice to have a comfortable bed and non-restaurant food while we traveled. And you guys will ALWAYS have a place to crash in the future! Also, any future IRTers, consider this an open invitation to save money during your travels!
Head back over to the hotel and drop our stuff in our room and talk about dinner. We decide to eat downstairs at the hotel for ease since traffic was so crazy this afternoon. We ordered steak. And the cut of meat was fantastic, but did you know, well done at this restaurant was still bleeding onto the plate. Sigh. I managed to eat part of it after blotting the extra blood out. Finished dinner and headed upstairs to bed.