Thursday, June 17, 2004

Final Thoughts

View my photographic journal from West Africa

Well, folks, this is it. I only have 15 minutes to sum up my travels in one concise rambling. I am leaving in a couple of hours, and I'm both sad and relieved. After I wrote you last, I think it was my first day in Timbuktu, I went on a camel ride... felt extremely touristy, what with three black people walking the 4 km through the desert, and just the white girl on the camel... but what can you do? We actually got a decent 4x4 to take us back to Mopti, so it only took like 7 hours instead of five days. Then we went to Dogon Country, which was by far the highlight of Mali. Did some great hiking up the escarpment, steep rocks, sand dunes, you name it. The first day Omar got us lost, and it was only because of me that we found our way back to civilization, such as it was, though when we arrived, we found that the path we took no one takes anymore because it's too easy to die there. Oops. Well, we spent four days hiking through Dogon Country, going to places named things like Djiguibombo and Yaba-Talu. It was beautiful and the people were the nicest of anywhere I saw in Mali. After that I spent a night in Mopti, after which I had a harrowing three day journey by bus back to Ghana, sleeping on the ground at a bus station, on the ground in back of a hotel (they did me a favor because I arrived at 3am and they knew me from before), and being hassled by Nigerians for help getting US visas. I was in no mood. I got back here and have been seeing various friends who have shown an incredible outpouring of love prior to my departure. I had two come from Kumasi and one all the way from Benin, and then there are the ones here in Accra who have been so generous with me, it really erases so much of the bad feelings I had after Mali.

I guess by and large my feeling about this trip is there is no way I can ever really communicate all that I have experienced here with either words or pictures. For the first time in my life, I'm finding that I don't look forward to telling all about it, because nothing I say will ever do it justice. Until you have talked to people here, felt the fear, the frustration, the anger, the amazement, the gratitude, the joy, and the generosity, there is just no way to understand being here. Pictures will never communicate the smell of rotting fish and human waste that accompanied the images. But they will also never communicate the openness of the people, the times I was invited into homes of strangers, with absolutely no intentions other than showing me hospitality. I think most of the ideas I had about Africa and Africans before I came were turned basically on their head. I've met a lot of disillusioned volunteers here who have had a similar experience. That's for a later discussion if you're interested, but suffice it to say I came thinking maybe someday I'd come back and volunteer, but I've decided that if and when I do that, it wont be in Africa - not because I don't like it here, but because really, volunteers are neither welcome nor able to accomplish much at all here. I've learned to be mean to people out of necessity, something I never wanted to do, but it's just self defense. But I've also learned there are people in the world who will give you everything they have, even if that is basically nothing, just because they want you to feel welcome.

Well, there's a lot more I could say, but my time is up and I have to go. Alas, I was unable to upload pictures during my trip because the computers here suck, but I will have them up within the next month for you all to see. Although this kind of trip is not something you might call "fun", I am absolutely glad I did it, and if I had it to do again, I would do it. I have learned so much, met so many wonderful people, and I think in a lot of ways it has changed me. Anyway, down to one minute. I'll be back tomorrow evening, and I'll be talking to you all very soon!

much love,

Wednesday, June 02, 2004


Permit be to be shamelessly touristy for just one minute... can you believe I'm emailing you from Timbuktu??? Ok, now that that's out of my system...

I was clearly at a low point in my trip last time I wrote you, and afterwards I talked to Gustavo on the phone and told him how horrible Mali is, and how I was thinking of returning to Ghana, and Spanish is similar enough to French that someone at the hotel understood that and decided to try to "avoid bad publicity for Mali in the US" and took me under his wing, after which my luck here changed dramatically. My new friend, who goes by Omar Sharif, took me around on his pirogue the next day and showed me little tiny Bozo and Peul villages, after which I went with him to a few small villages and made the extremely arduous trek to Timbuktu. Having an African with me means the guides leave me alone, which is a huge relief, and it has been very interesting to see the tiny,non-touristy villages, even though it means I havent seen running water, electricity, or a bed for a week now. First we went to Youvarou, Omar's hometown, which has about 500 inhabitants. I was invited to eat with the men because I'm white, which meant 6 men and me squatting around a bowl of rice and unrecognizable sauce... and you eat it by dipping your hand in, grabbing a handful, and then licking your hand from bottom to top in one big stroke.... mmm, sanitary... the most interesting thing I saw there was an Italian project to build a garden, which had been abandoned the moment the Italians left. Although they only need the equivalent of something like 50 dollars a year to keep it going, no one trusts anyone else enough to put them in charge, so as a result there is no garden, even though the town can afford it and the thing is already built. From there we took a series of pickup trucks, 4x4's, and cargo trucks, surprisingly the most comfortable because we were sitting on huge bags of rice, for the next four days to Timbuktu. The last leg we were in a 4x4 with several live chickens tied to the top, and during the ride two of them fell off, and another car brought them to us, squawking unhappily, when we stopped. It was pretty comical, especially because their owner had been mean to us. On arrival in Timbuktu, we went to the house of a camelier friend of Omar's, and the bathroom had more cockroaches and other large bugs in it than Ive ever seen in one place in all my life. I almost couldnt go in there, since they were all over the walls, floor and ceiling, but I had no choice. Fear Factor doesnt seem so bad after two months in Africa... But Timbuktu is interesting, very hot, but interesting just because of the history and the fact that its Timbuktu.

Omar doesnt speak English, so my French is improving pretty fast(though mostly words like sandstorm, millet, and camelier), and Im learning a few words of Bambara and Peul, even. It's also been very interesting to see Omar's reaction to the racism here, as Africans don't see it until they travel with a white. And though I already went through the stages of rage and acceptance a while ago, I'm having to walk him through them now, too, which is an experience. And I'm sick, which doesn't help. However, Omar has shown me that there is a multitude of nice people here in Mali, you just have to find them. Nonetheless, I wouldnt recommend this trip to most people... it has been an amazing experience, but difficult. Anyway, my hour is up. Till next time...


Adventure map for 2009...