February 28, 2011 § Leave a comment
The past month has taken me out of South Africa, through Namibia, and into Botswana. It’s hard to post updates while constantly on the move with limited internet access; wifi is almost unheard of.
So, how have I been passing the time? Playing on the dunes of Sossusvlei, watching the wildlife in Etosha, and flying into the Okovango Delta for an awesome safari, for starters.
To those at home: I’m alive and well, but most importantly, happy as can be. Life is good and I feel blessed.
More to come…
February 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
When I made the transportation arrangements, I was under the impression I’d board the taxi in Segou and exit in D’Jenne. Instead, we were dropped off on the opposite side of the river and told to board a ferry. Once we made it across, we would need to hitchhike or hire a taxi to take us the last 4km. Awesome. That’s just what I wanted to hear after selling my left kidney for the ride.
The ferry operator charges a small fee for cars, but it’s free to passengers, or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Within minutes we were asked for money. I suppose you could say the theme of the day was, ‘Leslie and Rich get screwed’, because when we challenged the request, we were told to get off. I wanted to grab our things and go, just to prove a point, but seeing as how we’d have to hire a pirogue instead, I buckled. I was short on change, so he settled for less, which made me feel a little better about the situation; only a little, though.
While on the ferry, we struck up a conversation with an American student by the name of Gaby. She’s from the Midwest, but spending several months in Mali, studying the archeological site of Jenne-Jeno. She was nice enough to give us a lift and offer some insight on the area – thank you, thank you, wherever you are.
D’Jenne is an interesting place. It’s well known for its unique architecture and grand mosque, which happens to be the world’s largest mud-built structure. The town is considered one of the oldest in Africa and was part of the Trans-Saharan trade route, due to its close proximity to Timbuktu. Much of the salt, gold, and slaves that were transported between the 15th-17th centuries, passed through. It’s also home to numerous Quranic schools; there are said to be more in D’Jenne than anywhere else in Mali.
We were lucky enough to spend a few days roaming the town and nearby Bozo and Fulani villages. With the help of our guide and two motorbikes, we had a fantastic time. We learned a lot about the history, people, and customs. While visiting one of the villages, we both received custom ‘juju’ from a maker. If you’re not familiar with the African term, it refers to supernatural powers ascribed to an object, and the practices associated with it. I prefer to call it a good luck charm, but that’s just me. Supposedly inside of our tiny leather charms, there is a verse from the Quran, and that the maker selected each verse by what he saw when looking into our eyes. Now, I don’t recall any magical moment where the depths of my soul were exposed, but then again, who am I?
When I wasn’t strapped to the back of a bike getting burnt to a crisp, I spent my time playing soccer with little boys and teaching clapping games to little girls. I can assure you there are worse ways to spend your days.
February 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
By day three we were ready to forge on. We had a scrumdiddilyumptious breakfast at a little restaurant we found the previous night. The food was the best we’d had in a long time, and the service impeccable. To top it off, they served bissap, a popular African drink made from hibiscus flowers, frozen. It’s oh so awesome, and oh so good.
With our bellies full, we purchased our tickets for D’Jenne and waited at the bus station. Hours passed, but the bus was nowhere to be found. We had starring contests, took turns with my Kindle, paced back and forth, and watched the clock go tick-tock, ever so slowly.
It was mid-afternoon by the time our number rolled on the lot. Unfortunately, the bus had come from Bamako and was already full. The seats, aisle, cargo area, and roof, all filled to the brim. When I inquired about our seats, a man boarded the bus, moved some things around and found two tiny crevasses to squeeze us into.
I couldn’t do it; no way, no how. I looked at the back of the bus and felt my anxiety level rise, as I tried to catch my breath. The bus rides are bad enough on their own, but the thought of enduring it without adequate seating, separated – me surrounded by several large men, drowning in a pool of their sweat, after spending hours waiting in the blistering sun, was just too much to handle. Rich agreed.
If you know me well, then you know that I have a high tolerance for just about everything, but this is a recently discovered weakness of mine. I would far rather empty out my bank account by hiring a taxi than get back on that bus.
I left Rich with our belongings while I scoured the streets, looking for a place to stay and a reasonable rate to D’Jenne. Most people I talked to wanted somewhere between 70,000-85,000 CFA for the journey, which is ludicrous. After several failed negotiations, I ran into Abraham, the nice young man who offered me a fair rate on his motorbike. I explained my dilemma and he took me to meet his brother, Van, who has a car and driver. He agreed to give me a significantly lower rate, but it was still more than I wanted to pay.
After humming and hawing, we made the deal and decided on 8am the next morning. I would later learn that while the rate I received was probably the lowest I’d find, it was still far too much. It’s just the way of the world, or at least Mali.
Later that night, Abraham and Van stopped by the hotel to pitch their services for Dogon. I listened to their presentation, but still wasn’t ready to pull the trigger. Little did we know, this was just the beginning; guides would soon be hounding us left and right, and with so many options, it’s hard to choose.