Here's how I get home from Boghé (where I am able to use electricity and internet to write these lovely blogs for you). It's never the same thing twice, but this is what happened last time.
In the morning I walk the 15 minutes to the market, which is the center of activity and home to the "garage" for cars heading out of town. (So it is called anyway, even though it's just a dirt clearing that serves as a parking lot.) I search for "my" driver Moctar, who lives next-door to me in Dar El Barka and drives to Boghé daily for supplies. He lost his cell phone a couple months ago, so now looking around for him in person is the best way to get a hold of him.
Today, as many days, my search is in vain. I do, however, spot another vehicle that I know to be headed to Dar El. It's a big white van resembling a paddy wagon -- indeed, PCVs call them prison vans. This one in particular is more deluxe than most and has careful lettering painted on the driver's door: "Air Dar El Barka," a man's name, and a phone number. (Don't ask me why it says "Air," in English no less. No one would mistake it for a plane.) I save the number in my cell phone.
I walk back from the market, still hoping against hope to spot Moctar. He has a nice pick-up truck, and since he likes me, he always saves me a seat in the front with him (the other option is hanging on for dear life in the bed of the truck). But still no dice today. Air Dar El Barka it shall be. I dial the number, and with my best Pulaar I explain my situation. I ask the man if he's leaving this afternoon. "Of course, of course," the driver tells me. I ask what time, knowing full well that this question is foolish since it means nothing -- as you will soon see. He says, "1:00, or 2:00." Fine by me.
At 12:15 my phone rings. It's the driver: "Come to the garage, we're leaving right now!" Fortunately, I've been here long enough to know that I still have some time to spare. I finish eating my lunch and gather my things. Then, just in case this guy is really serious about "right now," I spring for the luxury of a taxi back to the garage. The fare is 60 ouguiya, about $0.24 USD. (FYI, "taxi" is defined as any vehicle that you can successfully flag down. In America this is typically referred to as hitchhiking.)
I spot my prison van, and I talk to the driver. "Yup, no problem," he says. I find a spot in the shade to sit down on my backpack and wait. Next to me a girl, aged 14 or so, is selling cold drinks out of a small cooler. She takes one look at me and immediately says in French, "Give me a present." I force myself to remember that this is acceptable behavior here and not considered rude. "No," I tell her flatly. I've gotten pretty good at this.
Then I have an idea. "Do you know Barack Obama?" I ask her in Pulaar. "Of course!" she brightens. "He's the President of America!" I pull from my bag the special inauguration edition of Time, which my mom has just sent me from the States. The girl scoots toward me eagerly. For the next full half-hour, we pore over every single photograph. The girl is full of questions: "Is he really black? Is he Muslim? Is that his house? Is that his wife? Is her hair real, or a weave?" We attract a small crowd, but the girl protectively smacks away the hands of other children who try to turn the pages.
When we finally finish, she thanks me profusely. Then, as an afterthought, she tugs off her ring and thrusts it toward me. "A present?" I ask. Her eyes light up as she nods. I proudly put it on my finger. It's hideous, bright orange-y fake gold. I love it.
It's now past 1:00. About an hour later, the driver tells me he just needs to go pick up some supplies and he'll be right back to get me.
At 4:30, I board the vehicle.
The other passengers and I sit on jugs of oil and 50-kilo rice sacks that cover the floor from wall to wall. One man has in his lap a baby goat, umbilical cord still visible. We all pay our fare so that the driver can buy enough gas for the trip. We pull out of town at 5:15. I walk through my door at 6:30.
I take time at my house only to drop my things and find my gifts for my family. I always bring them back something from Boghé. This time it's mandarin oranges (a true indulgence) and ever-needed tea. I hustle over to their house.
"HAI-YO!" exclaim Faasidi and Goggo when they spot me. (It's not a Pulaar word exactly, more a sound effect expressing delight at someone's arrival.) They run over and engulf me in hugs -- a gesture that really has to be earned here. Everyone falls over themselves greeting me. "How are you? Are you healthy? You returned safely? Are you tired? How was the trip? How is everyone in Boghé? Are they healthy? Welcome, welcome!" Everyone has been sitting on a thin woven mat on the dirt ground, but they bring out a large foam pad for me. The children, starved for attention in my absence, commence a cartwheel contest for my adjudication. "Raky, Raky! Watch me!" Three-year-old Fatimata drapes herself across me and accidentally calls me "Mommy."
Over 6 hours to go 40 miles. But it's so good to be home.