Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mali Babi!

I have been putting off taking notes and writing this entry for far too long and have decided that the only way to do it is just to start. (obvious I know.)

When we were in Ouagadougou I managed to write a quick post about Banfora and our elephant sighting. This side trip was not really planned but was recommended by a Canadian we met on our way up to Ouagadougou, it was also needed to pass the three days it would take to get Lizzy the Niger visa. To Banfora we had the best bus ride in West Africa; it was air conditioned, on time, and they even sold sodas. There were only two downsides. One was that a bucket of paint spilled onto a bag. So I was called off the bus to examine it. The only distinguishable feature about it, now being covered in white paint, was that it was a Jansport. By asking my fellow travel mates which one of them had a Jansport is how I found out that Lizzy was the lucky one to have her bag whitewashed. It should be mentioned that in Ouagadougou you can buy strawberries off the street. There are also people selling various magazines including the current weeks Economist.

From Ouagadougou we headed north to the Dogon region of Mali. We met up with our guide Omar in Koporo-Kenie-Na. Finding Omar turned out to be much easier than we thought it would be, first off he was waiting at the bus stop asking for Tara, and secondly he was wearing a shirt that said: “Omar: Dogon Guide Mali. Peace Corps Approved” He took us to get something to eat and drink. He warned us that beer was expensive in Mali (1,000cfa, twice the price of that in Benin). After eating and getting the vague plan for the next 4 days he put us in a van heading back from the market to Bankass where our trek would start the next day. It has to be said that Omar knows Peace Corps very well. He has been touring them around Dogon for 5 years. He speaks English well with a British accent with American slang, curse words included). After meeting Omar we were pumped and couldn’t believe that we got to spend 4 days with this guy!

The next morning we headed off towards the town of Teli with the first escarpments by horse cart. After visiting the cliffs where once the Dogon people lived to escape from animals and invading tribes we continued on foot to the next town, Enndé (Omar’s hometown) where we benefited from more expensive beer and a shower.

We spent the next three days walking in the morning, having lunch in a small town and continuing on to sleep in the next. We would spend the night in mud houses or just sleep up on the roof.

When we were hiking from Gimini to Dourou we had to decent from the top of the cliffs to the bottom where the next town was. Being with full packs and not wanting to sustain any injuries we were taking out time this also let us soak up the amazing views. Suddenly one by one then a dozen kids started bounding down the bounders asking us for candy and saying hello to us in French. The speed and agility they were moving was astounding. We just had to move aside and watch them, and then it occurred to us that they were heading to school. This ‘hike’ we were doing was their daily walk to school in the neighboring town. We just continued walking down and used the little Dogon we picked up on the way.

Uwanna – Good afternoon

Omarsayou – Hows your family

And the applicable: Dege dede – Carefully!

After Dogon we headed north to Mopti a city on the convergence of the Bani and Niger rivers. This is where we found out that there had been some civil unrest in the town of Bobo-Dioulasso in Burkina just days after we had passed though. People there were generally ‘unhappy with life’ as the Peace Corps safety and security officer put it. People were unhappy with the increase in taxes and they rioted, looted and burned shops. “The town hall has no memory now. All our archives have been destroyed, from births and marriages to property records.” Mayor Moustapha Tinto told Reuters. Peace Corps Burkina was put on stand fast. Our plans to travel back through Burkina to go to Niger would not hold. After sending a couple of relaxing days in Mopti and taking a day trip to Djenné; home of the worlds largest mud building which happens to be a mosque, we took a night bus to the sleepy town of Gao at the entrance of the desert. This bus ride was a whole story in itself. We left 3 hours late due to repairs being made to the bus (not unusual) however when I asked what was going on I got the cryptic reply: “We are waiting for a part but its not important”. The bus was the most packed I have ever seen a bus. Luggage was covering the entire isleway and the spaces Lizzy managed to find for us was in the back above the motor next to a family who had placed some of their belongings where our feet would normally go. The man whose family this was refused to move next to his family with their luggage for some unknown reason. Arguing with him and explaining that he should sit with his family and let Lizzy and I sit together just did not work. We ended up sitting in the seats that turned would have easily been converted into a kiln. As soon as some other seats in the front opened up we moved. Just as we were enjoying the migration to a cooler climate Tara was telling us how hot is was in the front and that you can barely get a breeze. We gave her a look and then tried to get some sleep.

Driving though the night was somewhat surreal. Glimpses of desert and the slowing of the bus to let a camel cross really emphasized how far we were from Benin. There also was an armed gendarme on the bus. When Lizzy and I spoke about him later she was surprised to find out that he was for our security and was not just another passenger going to Gao. Maybe it was better she thought that.

In Gao we were able to stay with some Peace Corps volunteers and it was interesting to see how different Peace Corps can be from country to country. For example a majority of Mali volunteers learn one of the few local languages and hardly speak French. We also found out that they do not use toilet paper but rather the water tea pot as locals do. The one main attraction in Gao is the sand dune you can take a river boat to and walk up. Since northern Niger is closed to Peace Corps volunteers this was our taste of the desert.

After two days we continued the next morning to Niamey the capital of Niger. Again we had a long bus ride. To cover a distance of 460km it took us about 13 hours. Niamey is a very cool city. It is very vast and open with large streets and has many things you just can’t find in Benin.

In Niamey we met our country directors husband who is the Minister for Restoration of Peace in Niger. He took us out for dinner and he answered our questions about the Tuareg rebellion in the north. He was very nice and welcoming and helped get us a car so we could go see the giraffes on the way south back to Benin. In the town of Koro you have to stop and pick up a guide who will take you though these dirt roads where you just stumble upon herds of giraffes. We

Little stories that don’t belong anywhere

On the way to Natitingou from Kouandé as we were passing the town of Oroukayou I saw a very pregnant goat standing in front of the maternity ward. I wonder what she was thinking.

On the road from Natitingou to Ouagadougou when we stopped to see the roadside elephant the driver of the car put two big pieces of elephant shit in the trunk of the car. When asked why he said he wanted to show the kids how big the elephant’s ass was.

4 countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger)

A dozen camels

30 giraffes (They have really long necks)

A few intestinal parasite hitchhikers

8 hippos (best guess)

1 roadside elephant

Some of the most amazing sights in West Africa

The world largest mud building

A special 30th birthday (Tara’s)

Travel in the form of walking, horse cart, bush taxi, private car, bus (both old and new), truck, van, 18 wheeler, bicycle, and pirogue.

and finally to explain the title of this entry:

Tara: "Mali Babi"
Lizzy: "Write it with an i"
Tara: "Why?"
Lizzy: "I don't know, I just pictured it that way"


Adrian said...

"In Niamey we met our country directors husband who is the Minister for Restoration of Peace in Niger. He took us out for dinner and he answered our questions about the Tuareg rebellion in the north."

I'm writing my thesis on the Tuareg rebellion, so I'm pretty jealous!

Anonymous said...

So good to hear from you again.
You are getting your fill of wonderful memories and extraordinary experiences. Jillian is currently visiting Lucian in Nicaragua. They are doing some traveling with other volunteers.
Stay safe and happy,
Mama Reynolds