Most likely, you at some point in your life have suffered the hassle of a delayed flight. The crowd groans as that dreaded announcement is made. A few irate passengers start yelling at the attendant behind the desk (as if that poor soul has anything to do with the postponement). "This is an outrage!" "I have a very important meeting!" "I've been here two hours already!" "I want my money back!"
But eventually, you give up fighting, and you go grab your double tall iced nonfat caramel macchiato, and you hunker down with your laptop and the free wireless internet. In the air conditioning.
In Africa, however, delays do not go quite as such. The bus ride from Bamako, capital of Mali, back to the border of Mauritania ought to take something like six hours. It's a straight shot, all on a newly paved road. We left our hotel at 7 AM. We crossed the border around noon -- the next day.
The long-distance buses in Mali were not exactly kind to us. Sure, I expected them to be hot, I expected them to be uncomfortable, I expected the tattered upholstery, and I certainly expected utterly nonsensical delays -- but a few of our experiences went above and beyond. My patience found new heights never before realized. You want to cry, then you want to scream, then you do scream, and you do cry, and then you’re finally so beaten down that you just go numb. And I force myself to remember that sometime soon, this will all be a memory.
Example: we had hoped our ride from Bamako out to the Dogon Country would put us into our destination before nightfall. But the bus stops constantly, and the passengers pour off, going to relieve themselves or grabbing bread and cold drinks from roadside vendors. There is absolutely no sense of urgency.
At 11 PM, the bus pulled over and the engine was cut, with no explanation. We were no more than halfway along our route. After some inquiry, we learned that the driver was tired and intended to sleep here for the rest of the night, and we could continue at 7 AM. Despite our best efforts, Teresa and I could not get any money refunded to us, but we did successfully procure our bags from the storage chambers. We flagged down another bus, where we had to pay again, and we reached our stop at 3 AM.
We had to wake up our tour guide to come fetch us from the bus station, and as if we didn't feel bad enough about that already, we later found out that he was very ill with malaria at the time. Then after arriving at his house -- sweating, filthy, hungry, exhausted -- we discovered that my bag was open and had been looted on the bus. Among the random things stolen were all my contact lenses (a three-week's supply of dailies) AND my glasses. I was so worn down I couldn't even think about it, so I just collapsed on my mattress pad outside to fall asleep.
But then it started raining.
Also, this was Teresa's birthday.
What are you gonna do.
All that misery aside, however, I absolutely loved our trip to Mali. Bamako is a really neat city. As much as I appreciated Dakar in Senegal, it is just SO big and SO much more developed than anything else in West Africa, so it feels more like Europe. Bamako is big and has a lot to offer, but it is unquestionably Africa. People dress similarly to the Pulaars of Mauritania, and almost everyone is Muslim, but it's not quite as conservative. Certainly attitudes toward females are more open -- it's not strange to see shoulders (shock!), and many women scoot around on ever-present motorbikes. We found some excellent restaurants and a surprisingly well-presented national museum, and we oohed and aahed over all the beautiful green trees (curse that creeping Sahara in Mauritania!). Oh yeah, and alcohol is not illegal. Overall, big thumbs up for Bamako.
And then there was the mystical Dogon Country -- hailed by Lonely Planet as one of the "top 10 places to see before you die." How to describe it? Visually reminiscent of the American West, but with ancient African villages thrown in the mix. Sheer soaring sandstone rock faces, with straw-and-mud huts nestled protectively into the cliffs. We hiked through the area for three days. It was physically exhausting as we climbed up and down under the relentless sun, but worth it for the breathtakingly beautiful sights. My photos do it no justice, of course, but they can give you an idea. (These uploads are brought to you courtesy of the internet in glorious Nouakchott, far faster than that of poor little Boghé.)
Teresa and I after we finally made it to Dogon... with our Malian beers
This is how we crossed the plunging gorges: by scooting over a few little sticks. Looks pretty safe, right?
Houses built into the cliffs
A Dogon girl looks out over her village, split into three sections for animists, Muslims, and Christians
Collection of "fetishes," that is, skulls and furs and other animal parts used for traditional medicine and rituals
...thus, this monkey is perhaps not long for this world.
Traditional mud-built mosque
The Dogon are known for their indigo dyeing
These girls were very excited when they discovered their reflection in Teresa's sunglasses
Baby crocodiles! Eek!
Some villagers enjoy watching an amazing video on Joe's camera of a grown-up crocodile eating a chicken
Unfortunately, while in the Dogon, we received news that was something of a one-two punch: first, the Mali-Mauritania Peace Corps soccer game had been cancelled, due to some potentially dangerous political goings-on in Mali. A big bummer, especially since we fully intended to return home victorious.
But worse news than that: our new training class, who were due to arrive in-country today, June 18th, has been pushed back indefinitely. We had heard rumors for some time that the Mauritanian government was refusing to issue visas to Americans, a result of the unstable political situation since the coup last August. We were all hoping this could be cleared up in time for the new trainees, but needless to say, it was not. All the current PCVs are very disappointed. The presidential elections that were supposed to take place June 6th were postponed until July 18th, but it is not clear what will be the result of that. We’re all watching and waiting...