Before heading to Mali, I read Poisonwood Bible by Kingsolver and The Shadow of the Sun by Kapuscinski. My trip to Mali was my first experience of Sub-Sahara Africa (not counting South Africa), and I was excited.
Those books prepared me well, for some of the cultural experiences in store for me. And, mostly, they opened my mind and set me expectations to be even more “go with the flow” in my attitude than usual. This was all immediately useful.
In Bamako, there wasn’t anyone waiting for me at the airport. Which was unfortunate since there were a crowd of guys trying to provide me a taxi ride (or sim card, or whatever I needed). I stood out like a sore thumb, being a blond, blue-eyed, American woman traveling alone. I joked around with the vendors in French, trying not to look like I was at all concerned with the situation. The situation being that I was alone in a country and continent that I was unfamiliar with, with no clear Plan B in place for when my transport didn’t show up.
I had hired a porter at baggage claim, since it seemed like everyone was hiring porters. Go with the flow. And, him standing beside me somehow made me feel more secure, which I know is silly since I had only met him 10 minutes earlier, and I hadn’t even paid him yet. But, he was at least a head taller than everyone else in the entire airport, and I liked thinking he had my back.
I pulled out my cell phone and called my local contact numbers. But, I kept getting recordings. Hmmm.
Just as I was starting to think about options, someone walked up “Cynthia!!”. It was the owner of the tour company. He explained that my flight was earlier than expected. No worries, just happy to see him. I met the guide, Oumar, and driver, Camara, I had for most of my visit to Mali, and we were off to the hotel.
I was feeling very satisfied with myself that I got through the first little hiccup without breaking a sweat.
I think of all those friendly vendors. Sure they were trying to sell me something, but when it was clear I wasn’t buying they were also content to stand around and joke with me while I tried to get my bearings.
When I read that the current President of Mali was attacked in his office, went to France to get medical attention, I wonder: how many of those men have been directly affected by the coup?
Even when I visited, Mali had its problems; it is among the poorest nations in the world. How is everyone coping now? Would they be as quick with a joke today? Somehow I imagine not, that today, survival is first and foremost on everyone’s mind.