#1, Senegal/Mali, Dec. 26, 1990

Dear Everybody,

On the Air Afrique flight on which I flew to Dakar, Senegal, about 60% of the passengers appeared to be Senegalese, judging by their colorful, flowing clothes; about 30% appeared to be African-Americans, judging by their clothes; and the remaining 10% appeared to be white Americans. In Dakar, after checking into my hotel and having a nap, I walked over to the Plaza Independence, where several young men approached me, wishing to be my guide. They were not as aggressive as in Morocco, but this is a poor country and there are not many tourists.

I took a taxi to Le Village Artisanal de Soumbediorine, to peruse the crafts; I went next door to see the pirogues (boats) where fishermen were selling the fish they had caught; and then ate dinner at La Region du Fleieve, stopping for ice cream next door, afterwards.

The next morning I walked to the train station to try to buy my ticket to go to Mali, and waited for someone to open the ticket window. Eventually someone came out and told me to come back at 3:00 PM. I explored the downtown area, had lunch, and returned at 3:00, finally able to purchase the ticket. From the train station, I went to Sandaga market and became acquainted with Badou, another of the young men clamoring to be my ‘guide.’ We visited the IFAN Museum that had, among other things, a wonderful collection of masks worn in ceremonies. They were beautifully carved of wood, with straw and other colorful embellishments. We saw the Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, and then had a beer in a lively beer garden. While we were there, a group of students came in singing and dancing and passed the hat for money. Another young man, a friend of Badou’s, joined us and we three decided to visit the friend’s wife and six-day-old baby. We took a commuter train, then a bus and then a car (kind of a shared taxi) to the outskirts of the city and finally arrived at the friend’s apartment. He was told that his wife was not home as she had taken the baby to the hospital because it has an umbilical hernia, a common problem in this country.

The apartment was one small room with a bed and not much else except a tape player. The friend played music and made tea. The tea was mint and very sweet, but quite good. After two small cups of tea (Badou said that they always serve three cups) the friend asked for money for the Marabout (Holy Man) and the fiesta that they were planning to have for the naming ceremony of the baby. By this time it was getting dark and I was getting a little uncomfortable, and so I said I wanted to leave. I did give him some money and he gave me a gold-colored pendant.

We got a bus, which only took us part way; when we got out of that bus, I proposed taking a taxi. By this time the friend had gone back home, and it was just Badou and me. When we got back to the Plaza, we walked around the square and went to the Hotel Independence for a beer and a view of Dakar from the 16th floor.

The next morning I took a taxi to the train station to go to Bamako, Mali. Badou came to see me off! On the train, I sat next to a Frenchman who turned out to be a teacher in computer science at the University of Dakar. The scenery was flat and dry with small trees and many compounds of huts with thatched roofs. I saw many goats and some cattle with long horns.

Whenever the train stopped, which was often, many people would come to sell things—mostly food, but some crafts, too.

The Frenchman was helpful to me when I wanted to get a berth as the train would take 32 hours to reach Bamako. He spoke in French to the conductor for me and soon I was shown to a berth with bunk beds, the lower one occupied by an African woman, who had a very beautiful dress and hairdo. I ate dinner in the dining car, which was chicken with potatoes and peas. My passport had been collected earlier, and at 12:00 midnight, I was awakened by the conductor and told to ‘follow him,’ as he pointed to a young man in the doorway. The ‘guide’ led me outside of the train and up and over a parked train in the pitch dark to where there was a large group of African men. A man was calling their names and handing out their passports. He handed my passport to me—I appeared to be the only woman. I think perhaps that Senegalese and Malian people did not have to do this as the lady in my compartment stayed on the train. The sky was very dark and so the stars shone brightly overhead, and yes, there was the Milky Way, Orion, and the Pleides. The young man ‘guide’ took me back to my compartment.

I had barely gotten back to sleep when the conductor again awakened me and told me that I would need to get my passport stamped at Keyes. He spoke French with a few English words to make me understand. Again, the guide took me to where the group had reassembled; this time the official was sitting on a chair under a bare lightbulb. I was given a form to fill in. Unfortunately I hadn’t brought my glasses but the Frenchman appeared and told me what to write. Then I was given a special chair, right next to the official’s. “Merci!” I said, and the official responded with, “No problem!” Back to my compartment and back to sleep.

The next morning I got acquainted with my ‘roommate,’ who seemed to be the wife of a railroad official, maybe the dining car chief. Since she spoke French we couldn’t communicate very well. Alternately, I enjoyed watching the exotic scene from the window and resting on my bunk until we finally arrived in Bamako, which is the capital city of Mali.

I had contacted an acquaintance of a colleague of mine, whose name was Sam. He lived in Bamako and worked for an NGO. He called me the next morning and suggested having breakfast with me. He was a pleasant, fine-boned man from Ghana. I told him that after breakfast I needed to go downtown to do some errands and he offered to take me. When we both had gotten into the car, he turned to me and said that he would like to say a prayer. He prayed for a safe journey (we were only going downtown!) and that we wouldn’t come to grief. He drove me to the ‘suritee’ so that I could extend my visa, which required leaving my passport to be picked up later. I could see why he said the prayer! He was the poorest driver I think I’ve ever ridden with! After the suritee, he took me to the airlines office to book a flight to Mopti, but the flight for the next day was full, so I would be taking the 10-hour bus ride. But I was able to book a flight from Mopti to Timbuctu and a return flight to Bamako, but was told I would need to book my Bamako-Dakar flight after 3:00. Sam left and I went to the Grand Marche’ (the market) and bought a leather purse, a silver pendant and some sandals. I became acquainted with two young men who could speak some English. I asked them if they could direct me to the Air Afrique office to book my flight from Bamako to Dakar, so they showed me the way. I got the reservation, but my ‘guides,’ interpreting, told me that I couldn’t get the actual ticket because the “headmaster” had taken the tickets home with him and he wouldn’t be back today. Such difficulties!

I walked down to the Hotel L’Amitie (a Sofitel hotel) to book a room in Timbuctu at the Sofitel there. I then had a late lunch, after which my ‘guide’ and I went back to the ‘suritee’ to pick up my passport but it was closed, and it will be closed tomorrow for Christmas! The man at the suritee told my guide that they had given my passport to my friend, Sam, whom I gather had stopped in at the suritee to look for me. Very confusing!

My guide and I looked at the mosque and at the Artisanias, then had a beer. Over the beer he told me that his name was Mamadou (Malian for Mohammed), that he was from the Dogon, an area that I was hoping to visit, and that when I returned from Timbuctu to Mopti, I should telephone him so that he could be my guide to the Dogon.

I returned to my hotel and was given a note from Sam who said that he had ‘collected’ my passport. Later he stopped by with his wife, Letitia, to deliver the passport and gave me instructions about taking the bus to Mopti. Then they went home to celebrate Christmas.

Mamadou had given me his phone number. He had also mentioned something about going to a discotheque that evening, and since I was at loose ends, I thought I would try to call him and maybe go to the discotheque. Well! Nobody at the number that I called had ever heard of him! And I had given him some money for his ‘transport’ to Mopti to be my guide—in Mopti we were to meet at the Hotel Le Bateau—-MAYBE!

Over breakfast in the hotel the next morning, I had a nice conversation with a lady from Switzerland that works in Togo. She told me that “tension is in the air; people are sick of being oppressed and are rebelling all over West Africa.” I taxied to the Ghana du Nord bus station but the bus did not leave at 8:00 AM as Sam had said it would, but would be going at 4:00 PM. Another taxi driver rescued me and took me to another bus station, but there the bus to Mopti went at 3:00 PM. So he took me to a taxi brousse station and I got a Peouget 504 taxi brousse which left tout d’suite! I rode in the front seat with just the driver (I had purchased two seats); there were seven people plus a little girl in the back two seats, built for five.

We had a wonderful ride. The scenery was beautiful—many villages with traditional huts, granaries and mosques, all made of mud. The temperature was perfect and the landscape was unspoiled. When we finally arrived in a village near Mopti, a Japanese young man and I were transferred to another vehicle, aided by five obnoxious chattering boys, all shouting instructions.

In Mopti, I asked to be taken to the Hotel Le Bateau, which is a boat with no name. I had a goofy room, with just one sheet on a mattress, and shared an Asian communal toilet, a cold water tap, and a noisy bar. I had dinner in one of only two restaurants in town, the Nuits de Chine, where I had terrible Chinese food.

The next morning I walked down to the Sofitel to get a room but they were full—so back to the pits! However, I did make a reservation for when I come back to Mopti from Timbuctu. I walked into town through the market where I saw many women with gold rings in their noses and tattoos around their lips. I saw the local mosque, and then had lunch at Mozo’s Bar where I ate Capitaine (fish) and French fries. I hired a small boy to punt me on the Bani River (a tributary of the Niger River) to visit the Tuaregs. I bought some amber and silver jewelry from them for my secretary and for myself. Then he punted me over to a Bojo village where they were very tourist-aware. One man made signs to follow him to take a photo. He took me around a hut to where a 13-year-old girl was sitting, wearing only a skirt. He motioned that I should take her photo, but she looked quite unhappy and exploited, so I didn’t.

After resting with a beer, walking back through the market and heading back to Mozo’s Bar I was able to find my punter to give him some money, which I was unable to do earlier as I didn’t have change. I stayed at Mozo’s Bar for dinner, where I had a lovely view of the sunset over the Niger River. While I was eating, quite a few workmen walked by the restaurant and to the river to bathe after a hard days work. As they were bathing, although the light was dim by then, I could see enough to admire their wonderful physiques! They were really stunning examples of physically gifted mesomorphs!

My face had gotten quite sunburned that day from being on the water. Later I walked down to the Kanaga Sofitel and had coffee and used their facilities. I see that they are just as unhelpful as a third-world expensive hotel always is!

Tomorrow I shall fly to Timbuctu!

Carol

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