Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Bamako Express

By the way, naturally Sierra Leone turned out to be the most photogenic country so far. Included among my lost pictures were great billboards, hills going down to the sea, ladies balancing huge burdens on their heads, and wonderful beaches. My 'favorite', though, was a poster that said, 'The Special Court Will Be Looking Into These Crimes', and then had simple drawings of a guy running off with a television set, a woman about to be raped, a car exploding, a woman about to have her hand cut off, and snickering soldiers about to cut a baby in half. Lesser crimes need not apply.

Also, by my last posting I didn't mean to imply that all Africans are saints. Nor that they accept their fate cheerfully. Senegal seemed a happy place. But in these other countries everyone knows only too well how crappy it all is. In fact, there is a sort of reverse patriotism going on: the Guinean is sure that his country is the worst, the Malian thinks his is, and so on.

Finally, it is interesting to note that you can appear to be the only white man in a hundred miles, and no one ever does even so much as a double take. It's not that they're blowing you off; if you talk to them they're very friendly and curious. They're just very, very polite.

Anyway, back to the trip. I got to the taxi place for Bamako at 10:30 and bought the last two seats. This usually means that we take off, but not this time. About an hour later I found out that they were waiting for a passenger and freight that were showing up at three. Fine, I'll sit in the hot sun in the slums for another three hours or so. They finally started loading the roof at four: on top of the regular four feet of baggage and parcels they now added two large motorcycles. At five we started and by seven we were about 20 kilometers along.

Then the night fell and we kept on driving. The police this time weren't that bothersome, and it seemed like Guinea traveled at night: when you consider the heat of the day that made sense. I dozed on and off as the driver kept driving along.

In the morning I felt like an African Gene Autry, because I was back in the Sahel again. Actually, it was dry forest, which alternated with scrub forest for most of the rest of the way.

(Some of you might not be aware of how empty much of the Third World is. After all, if the land could support teeming masses, by now they would have developed agricultural surpluses, etc., etc.)

We hit a brand new road at Kankan and continued up to the Mali border, then across it by 3pm. Then forward for another hour when the road collapsed to a dirt road condition, made worse by it being a construction zone. So the last three tiresome hours were a hot dusty hell. I was in Bamako at seven pm.


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