Africa 2009 – 06 Mali

A fragile moment just before the frontier when we realised our car insurance had run out. Having never been asked for proof of it before, the document is demanded by two customs officers. B negotiates a bribe with one. Anger, followed by bananas, solves the other.

We are blown away by the colours. After the monotony of the Mauri blue and white robes, across a divide of land comes a mass of bright coloured turbans and patterned cloth, vibrant individuality, strong women, and music. Every shop has music – regee and mali music seeping out of the pours of the black skin.

Other changes: Horses appear. Cattle change immediately to the horned cow. Motor bikes. Parking signs on roads. A payage.

Mali, once an African great empire, rich in gold, made so by the trade routes through desert via staging posts such as Timbuktoo, routes aided by the transection of the great Niger river running east west through the country. Festival of the desert, world famous music in sand dunes.

Niro is our first town. B researches beer after dry Mauri, and we follow a motor bike to find a Guiness and an 8%er in a run down but friendly shack. B has a taster, the evening draws in, light fades. To stay or go? Here we finally found a meeting place: To stay, eat fish, drink beer but room not en suite. Or to go, into uncertainty, but freedom of bush toilet. Bush toilet won. We chanced it motoring in the dark, driving off the road when we saw shadows of potential bushes. Cigarette and paradise. Oh the freedom of Africa, to drive off road park and settle on land without individual ownership.

Our love, it comes and goes, like the signal on a mobile phone.

Connecting easy over oceans as if a next door room,

Or down to one bar or less, behind a mountain, in a dip,

In an insurmountable void.

Calls of donkeys in the night and a full moon.

Samsara circles: ‘These women never look after their children’. Pre judgement of the they. Goat butting. Reacting. Not reflecting. The only give is the Elvis refrain: I may not have treated you the way that I should. Tom. More girl than boy. You’ve never sustained a long term relationship. Prefers to be on her own. Bossy know it all, commanding. Too serious. Lived a cushy life.

Why now, and not before. Rhythms in relationships. When you get near it, the old soar inflames. Needs to be kept clean. In the olden days we jested: Yerbut. Where now?

Meanwhile we drive on tarmac road, east then turn south, and are struck by the swiftness of land changing. In hours, we’ve moved out of desert. The land gets a mantel of unfriendly thorn bush and sporadic scrub, the scrub gets taller into bush, the bush into tree, and before we know it we’re in Mango land.

Bamako

Auberge of Travelers or a Hotel with a swimming pool?

So summaries our first days in Mali, in the heat of the basin of Bamako.

GPS finds us exactly to our Auberge – we trusted and it delivered, taking us down into the pit, through the hot centre of the city, across the Niger river, right then left, to the very gate. I love GPS. Recommended by our Maison D’Hote in Nouachotte, it was not as I imagined. A travelers rest, and surely not to B’s standard. In a garden, people sit comfortably around a table on a wide fan cooled veranda, they greet us as we move far too swiftly to find a chambre avec une sal de bain. It is given the OK by B.

I walk. The pavement is flag-stones covering a semi open nala. I am drawn, like the nala, towards the great river. The smells – strong on urine – and heat, men squatting by the river remind me of old India.

That first evening we fall in with a group of French. Jean takes me under his wing before I fall for a misunderstanding – no, the rasta haired young man does not want to buy our car, he wants a lift in it. Jean, (from Brittany, works with a spider installation, theatre scenery and design) looks South American, shoulder length dark hair, SA hat. He eases our way that evening, eating with him and fellow travelers, mostly in Bamako to sell cars, all lean and sun burnt at ease with exchanging talk. Like Sylvie, Jean is from a well heeled family but rejected that life, traveling for the last 10 years, one year in South America, finding nourishment from the talk of travelers, he is well informed, intelligent and quietly commanding.

The auberge, however, was full the next night so we case the town, and find, down by the river, Hotel Mandi, E60 a night (compared to E15). It boasts the best restaurant view in Bamako, stilted over the Niger river, and it has a pool.

Meanwhile back home, B&P on brink of collapse. Spend our first day bank transferring to allow us to continue the venture. Next days spent trying to change our un loved English pound on the black market. The heat is enormous, the pool a blessed relief, as we return from town sorties and flop exhausted into cool water. Des is much in demand. Where ever we go people are offering serious money for him. It takes 24 hours for me to get used to the idea of us selling and leaving our black beauty behind. Selling cars here is good business ‘The Mali people are like the English’, explained Khali (French African) to us. ‘They identify with their cars’. Peugeot, Mercedes or Land cruisers are top of the list.

…………..

Getting out of Bamako is like getting out of Bissau. Always one more day. Khali has been here over a month (trying to sell his 2 cars). Every day we are thwarted in finding exchange for our UNLOVED pound. Much calculation, and its decided : American Express Dollar TC. But at the last minute the bank demands the original receipt. Amazingly B has kept it, but its at the bottom of the bag well tied down on Des roof rack. In frustration B heads down town to Street Changers. B relays story: ‘They was all round Des, climbing in the window, opening the doors. Pushing money through the window. But it was all one note short. They slid away when they saw I counted each note. In the end I kidnapped one. Drove him away. He must have wondered what happening. We almost got a deal, when the rest caught up and refused the rate. They’re all in it together. They knew I was desperate. So back to plan A the bank, and unloading the case to find receipts.  We drove out of Bamako at 4pm on the 4th day.

En Route camp and Segu

Camp Africa, (but not East Africa)

It was a bit mad to go off tarmac on piste so late. Come dusk, B opened his view and we camped. It was very still and very hot. B even agreed to keep windows opened. It would not be possible in East Africa, we agree. How come their large game have all disappeared? Hunting?

The call of the crickets in the morning vibrates my ear drums.

We follow the Niger River, passing through village industry that surrounds its banks. It’s a route recommended by Anne and Alex, back at Roi de Bedouin, nice to remember them. Mud house villages, friendly people stopping their chore to take us to find bread or to the river. Once when we lost our way, a worker boy downed his axe drove 2 kilometers with us in Des to find the right piste. It was only because our fruit was more valuable to us than 50p money, we gave him the 50p, but he was immediately uncomfortable with it. His stark complaint to another who arrived and spoke French so could translate ‘This is not right. I have no need of this. I did not do this for money.’, reminded us of how things could otherwise be.

Segu is laid back friendly, on the bank of the river. We find an Auberge run by a Lebanese, clean and welcoming. Naturally en suite.

Djenne

Two serious tourist destinations are on our itinerary: Djenne and the Doggons.

Djenne, on an island off the Niger River delta, is home to a famous mud mosque and supporting Koranic schools. Over the two days we were there, it reminded me of Safed, in Israel, another scholastic religious city, centuries old, and little changed with time, with prayer and study part of the everyday street life.

Most surprisingly (I begin to realize) B was accepting Hamsa as a guide. Aged 12, with Ghana English and the cheek of the street, he jumped on Des’s running boards as we arrived (late as usual) at dusk. He talked so much B told him to shut up! But undeterred by such gruffness, Hamsa returned the following morning.

‘Le petit guide’, he was known as by all, I gathered as I tried to find him at mid-day, searching in piercing heat around the mosque where he said he was going with my camera. Yes indeed, I began to doubt such trust: had I fallen (yet again), innocently giving my camera away to a street kid, enjoying his playful command of the technology, taking photos and learning like bred to butter.

When he did return three hours later and a hundred photographs (including, usefully inside the famous Djenne mosque which is forbidden entrance to us non-Muslims), he took more confident command of us, perched in the front seat of Des, directing us to a Bossou and Fullana villages. B has a love of un-shirted native people. It is a strange life, to visit villages, create a buz, take photographs, and leave, and I am not altogether comfortable with it.

Like Djenne, the first village of the Bossou tribe was an island, surrounded by shallow water, where children played and people waded across. We, however, commanded a pirronge. It was astonishing from the start how the young and old alike obeyed the confident patter of young Hamsa. With movie camera in hand, (after 5 minutes tuition) he commanded all the children who came running over to us to dance their tribal dance. (What Tourists Want). Hamsa found and commanded the Chief. We heard the word Morocco and feared the worst. Yes, indeed Hamsa assured the chief we were visiting from Morocco, we were white Muslims and important film makers, who required entrance to the mosque. It was unlocked, and we obediently followed through, albeit sheepishly. A forest of wood scaffolding inside and very cool.

Our gift to the Chief was a great success: a wind up torch from the Science Museum in London. Wish I’d bought 10 of them.

The abandoned play of the children, running in and out of the mud water was innocent and magical: as Shirley Bassy song, they ‘Remind us of how we used to be’.  An old woman came up to us showing us a small kid with bad boil on his head (and huge belly button, that seems to be common here). ‘I am not a doctor’, I said. I gave her the only thing I had with me, a freaky squeezy head, which if you squeeze snakes come out of the eyes. What will they make of this here?

‘Is it for rubbing on his head?’ she asked

‘No just for play – sell it and buy medicine’ I was all I could suggest.

Oh to sit and live here for a while. But Hamsa is keen for us to leave

‘Let’s go’, was his other name. He wanted Motown in our motor, dark glasses, and to be seen.

The DOGON

According to LP, the Dogon is one of those top 10 places to see before you die. We were saved from mass tourism by the increasing heat – only us mad English, a few stray Italians, and a young Croatian couple were met on the way. The tourist traders, hotels and souvenir peddlers all had the tiredness of the end of season spirit, lounging in the shade.

The Dogon was ‘uncovered’ for the west by a French anthropologist Marcel Griaule, who lived and studied the tribes around Sanga publishing his his book in 1956, which is still available today. Dogon Country is defined by the three tiers of geology: the first is high plateau of molten lava rock, baked and layered. The second the Falise, a huge wall of rock descending from the plateau 1000 feet, down to the third layer, the plain, desert sand with mix scrub and acacia and Baobab trees.

The Dogon people of today have taken over the ancient Tellem peoples habitations which they made, extraordinarily high on the Falise using the natural rock ledges as their foundation. Being made of the same mud they blend impressively, and it takes a few focusing looks to notice that you pass a village in the rocks. The Dogon tribes are noted for their complex culture, which for 5 days  we lived amongst, driving and walking from village to village, along the rock face which extends 150 kilometers through the Sahal, starting from the south we made our way north, towards our final destination Tombouctou.

We began at Bandigara, where we stayed in a most unexpected original Swiss run, Italian architect designed ‘campement’ of stone Igloos, portholes for natural light and the second best swimming pool I’ve swum in, carved down into the natural rock with different layers of stones. Areas of dark uncertainty were disconcerting and I walked the perimeter checking for sea snakes. The beautiful and spacious dark igloos, however, were hot despite the ac – stones keep heat. Sadly only one night, as we left the next day our trip sorted with an English speaking guide: we would drive the Dogon as it was too hot to walk, with the compromise we’d return one day in the future for the walking.

So we commence, Des for the first time with back seat occupied with Ibrahim, our guide. From Bandigara we are soon over the hot stone plateau, which tops the great Falise de Bandigara. We motor down hair pin bends descending the Falise to the plain.

The impact of tourism over these last 40 years must be strong and I am curious to see its effects.

Bon Bon Madam, or Madam Bon Bon, the kids all call out from the first to the last village. I imagine French tourists have given them sweets and so have trained the kids with  Pavolvian response to salivate on seeing a tourist. It is harmless and they do not seem unduly disappointed with our lack of bonbon. They come up and hold my hand as naturally as if I was their mother. (And where is their mother? Children walk wild here). As they talk I copy their language, which bursts them into laughter. The name of the village, Dgigibombom is like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which I sing, and it curls my heart to hear them repeat ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang I love you’.

Des is a great hit. The children are intriged to see their image in his dark metal shine and come close to examine themselves, making faces, and pointing. I presume this means they don’t have mirrors and this lack of self consciousness feels free. Oh to live in a world without mirrors.

No one is overweight and the arms and legs of men are taught and strong, the soles of their feet cracked like dry leather. Young boys start life in command of donkey’s, while young girls master the gathering of water at the well. The morning well ritual is fascinating to observe. They race each other, chattering like birds.

We climbed up the falise on old stone steps to a deserted Dogon settlement, to see the GRAIN STORES. Simple mud on wood constructs with straw hat thatch roof. One for the man and two for the woman, both with sexual symbolism in the design. The mans with 3 openings, (penis and testicles). The woman’s with 4 compartments (breasts, cliterous, sex and virgina), giving the perfect number of 7.

The parallels with Nepali tribes and customs attract me.  Like the Nepalis, the Dogon were originally animist accepting the arriving Muslim philosophy by combining it with what existed. They easily absorbed. They use the same steps as Nepali’s, made from a single trunk to ascend to the roof of their single story mud homes where they sleep in the heat or dry their chili or fruit. Their mud grain stores are always on stilts to protect against hungry rodents. As in Nepal, masks confirm the souls of the dead ancestors. Cosmology has been understood for centuries by the Dogon, and the star Sirius is of particular importance – for example they understood hundreds of years ago, what western telescope technology confirmed in 1995 that Sirius has 2 stars.

That first night I saw Sirius for the first time. That is to say, I saw it and knew its name. The sky is full of stars with no electric light for miles.

Dogon Day 2

Up on the roof we slept with nothing covering us, brushed by the occasional relief of wind. Come morning bird song, donkeys breying, birdsong of women at the well, sheep making their way out – utter integration.

The day is blessed with cloud as we climbed the Falise up a dried up water gully to a protected plateau of agriculture and allotments, (I remember Caroline), onions prominent, up to Beg-ma-matou village. Unusually its’ three beliefs are physically separated Mulsim, Christian and Animist, into separate camps yet, we are told, they pool their money, inter-marry and are happily integrated.

We collected salad from the gardeners on the way down and made a delicious salad nicoise for the evening. Food here is otherwise very plain – rice and couscous with seasonal vegetables, which these dry days are onions! Barry however, commands a chicken.

The guides do not like the predominant French tourists. They call them Griots, for their propensity to talk so much, promise much and deliver nothing. Best liked are the Germans, Holland and English. Many of the ‘campements’ are funded by these passing tourists.

We got a puncture in this village. Our Mauritanian spare wheel does not work. Barry kicking himself for not testing it properly.

Doggon Day 3 Walking

Say-oh (greeting)

Am ba o-jeri (greeting

A-wa (yes)

O Sey oh? (how are you? are you well?)

Say 0h (well)

Unwa sa oh (Is your mother well?)

Say oh (well)

Oh didi say oh (is your father well?)

Say oh (well)

Oh mana sey oh (family)

Say oh

Oh ege say oh (is your husband well?)

say oh

Oh nin y sayo (is your cooking house well?)

say oh

This elaborate greeting repeats itself throughout the day and I wonder if this is the origin of the concentrated town greeting here throughout West Africa.

Ca va? Bien

Aller Bien? Aller bien

Bien Dormier? Tranquile

It was Ibrahim who suggested the walk. After the overcast cool of yesterday, to walk was enjoyable. I don’t imagine it was an altruistic suggestion. Last night he heard we were thinking of selling Des and he wanted to get up the Falise to Sanga for mobile phone coverage to summon his car buyers – every African knows someone who wants to buy a car.

They use the high natural shelves in the Falise, originally utilised by the Tallem, to put their dead, and we passed this place today. A rope hung down to hoist the body. Evidently when Jimmy Carter came the other year, they demonstrated this process with a dummy of a body. Near by we pass another natural shelf of full clay pots, each one representing every death in the village so they can count and know the number of dead, and when it reaches 500 they have a ceremony for all who had died and start again. We climbed up a steep rock onto a plateau, layered like molten lava. The extraordinary nature of the landscape kept us going in the increasing heat. The sun burnt rock exuded heat like a furnace. We were Dog Gone by the time we arrived in Sanga, collapsed on chairs, downed Cocacola and I refused to move.

Before tourists came, Ibrahim says, the children were all naked. But then when tourists went mad with photographs of such bare nakedness, their families started to clothe them.

There is much talk around Des this night, lubricated with beer.  Ibraham has given up guiding in favour of a potentially more lucrative business of motor car commission. So I walk up with another guide to the Togona – the place of Justice, high above the town where old men sit and chew the cud, where all disputes are settled, without a fight as the ceiling is too low to stand up in. They have 2 chiefs of a village, who both reside here, a secular and a spiritual, both are inherited positions. Land and permission to build is given by the chief, no contract is written.

I have done much star gazing here in the Dogon and this last night, with B contentedly beside me, I slept light watching the progress of the Big Dipper across the sky, long after Orion had disappeared. The bins and Turn Right at Orion, the heavy book I bought with me, has given me an opening. I am becoming familiar with the night landscape, starting as all humans do, by learning their names. Sirus, Procyon, Pollux, Castor, Capella and Aldercan. The moon is late in rising in the morning east.

Doggon Day 4 – Out of Doggon to Douenza

Would a London East End hod carrier, while ascending his ladder, take one arm off the hod of bricks to waive at a stranger passing by, smiling openly at the same time? B and I run our little campaigns, current is my admiration for these hard working Africans – noticably the women – as I struggle in this over body temperature heat. B points to the young lads longing in the Tagona, the slow African shuffle of the women’s feet, and my lack of heat habit.

It’s a tough slow drive up to the northern end of the Dogon, but it gives us chance to see the perspective of the great Falise, our eyes becoming accustomed to deciphering the beautifully integrated mud homes and villages within the rock. The great wall of Falise itself, folds once and gradually diminishes opening out to Douenza, the edge of the Niger delta and and the gateway to Tombouktou.

Des’s African wheel is sorted by a graceful hard working Osman, who takes us on, as Africans tend to, introducing us to the cattle, sheep and a camel market.

I meet my first Tuaregs, distinctly different from the small tribal Dogon. Taller, prouder, some with Arabic features, and associated with camels. They are known to me as Alkieda collaborators, and recent kidnapers of the Swiss, German, English group, captured a week before we set off on our travels and still held.  I gather from our mechanic guide there are two types of Tuareg, Noir et Rouge, and it is the Rouge who area active politically. I did not learn how to differentiate them.

After independence, the governments of the fledgling states Mali and Niger, inherited a deep seated mistrust on the Tuareg side towards those who wanted to confine their normadic and free life, and on the contrary side of those who remembered the Tuareg as slave owners who had prayed on villages south of Sahara. Persecution of Tuareg was widespread and they were restricted to transition camps, the constriction bursting May 1990. It escalated to near civil war, resolved with a peace accord and armistice 1996.

‘The Tuareg are neither black nor Arab, they are of the Sahara’ said Christian to me later.

TOMBOUCTOU!

Desert came immediately after leaving Douenza. Camels and thorn trees. We were warned about the road but for the first hundred or so kilometers, it was not unpleasant washboard. Then, inevitably, the groves deepened, the sand drifted, and we veered between vibrating washboard, deep sand track or off piste uncertainty. The latter two were slow going.

The piste ended abruptly at the Niger river. A lazy mud meander of a river now after we’d last seen it as a kilometer wide stretch at Segu. No boat. No sign. A few round huts and a man pointing. We followed the tracks down to the river bed driving on mud before rising up across a field, through some water, and up to a Eucalyptus lined tarmac road. ‘Cocacola welcome you to Tombucktou’, ‘Take care Use Condoms’, advertising boards welcome us to this end of the earth place.

From here to Tombouctou. The name we all knew as kids but did we know where it was? Synonymous with desert mystery, camel caravans. Once a strategic location on the salt route, being on the edge of Sahara and at the top of the ‘Niger bend’ it was then a fabulously wealthy terminus for camel caravans linking West Africa with Mediterranean. And the intellectual and spiritual capital and centre for the propergation of Islam throughout Africa in the C15th and C16th centuries.

We arrive with the advantage of prejudice. Not one person we’ve met on the way spoke kindly of Tombouktou, not one traveller waxed lyrically, rather each expressed a disappointment, ‘It’s a hot dust bowl’. LP says ‘Timbuctou has become the byword for the wests disappointment with Africa.’ Uncertain exactly what this means.

We sit outside a restaurant opposite the first place the obligatory Tombuctou guide bought us to and Barry fatefully declined and asked for a hotel with a swimming pool. The story came back to sting him, and he, with his easy mirth, laughed later at his folly. (We found the hotel with a pool, Russian style, and soulless yes with a pool pool but ill with green weed (‘I’m not swimming here’ i declared) with promises to clean which predictably were not fulfilled, so the explosion of anger, the vessel into which all our past and present grievances were poured, overflowed to no gain but a loss of precious energy in Tombuctou heat)

Check is with us. Mate is Barry’s new name, and I am ‘Let’s go’. Check (probably spelt Sheik) is another child guide, once more acceptable and non threatening to i-shall-have-no-guide-barry. He follows us as we get lost in the sanding lanes, unit we have to turn to him and ask ‘Which way to the Grand Marche?’ So he evolved from one ignored who followed us, to one who leeds and we depended on. He has a charming open smile, which became a guiding torch in the darkening streets, as we go in search of a place to eat (he knows), and then a place to find beer (he knows), at least a kilometer walk. Capitain from the Nile for Barry, Couscous for me, chips and coca cola for Check. Check listens to our talk in our strange tongue that he quietly and independently imitates. He has a little English already. He does not press us with a camel. He does not have one, but rather he owns 5 donkeys. B asks Check to bring one to our restaurant to take us back home.

Aware of the impending heat we begin early the next morning to walk the streets. The famous old mud mosque is being repaired and is closed.

There are libraries on most street corners in the old town, containing old manuscripts with illuminated writing some on skin, some not eaten by termites. In the shadow of the the Mosque walls the young boys rote learn the Koran, reading from wood tablets age old. Yes, Tombuctou was once a centre of Islamic scholarship, forbidden to non-muslims. Houses are plaqued with the names of Westeners who eventually made it across the desert, traveling in disguise, too many dying on the way or way back. Of the 4 people who made it to Tombuctou only 2 got back to tell the tale, one killed, one died of fever. No washboard road then.

B does not like this place. It’s low mud homes are more often in ruins, and sprawl in sand filling streets, littered with discarded rubbish. There is nothing to do. He is disappointed. So we agree to an English speaking camel persuader, and go for a camel ride out to the desert to a Tuareg village. Our last desert night.

‘Don’t say I don’t do anything for you’, says B fatefully, as we walk towards 2 waiting camels on the outskirts of Tombouctou town.

‘Worst night of my life. Bored out of my mind. And I paid for it’ were some of the words expressed later, under the night sky laying on very hard sand, living amongst marauding goats, a farting camel, a cat with one eye and no doubt flees, a crying child, an arabic conversing family. Someway not so far away we can hear a Tuareg dance party (paid for by American tourists) with drums and a convoy of 4×4 wheel cars relaying the tourists, which Barry longed to be transported back in.

‘English, French, Germans like too much the desert, but American people  they are too much afraid to sleep here’, said Mohamed (naturally) our camel man, in whose compound we were residing that night (Just one night, I assured b). Unusually the village is composed of very dispersed compounds deliniated simply by a circle of thorn bush branches, to protect against wandering goats.

‘It is good for the animals and the children – non stray too far.’ explained Mohamed. There was much looking out to see who comes and goes, and occasionally there is a conversation shouted across the sand.

The tranquil talk of Mohamed, as he led us that evening reminded me much of Hayat Khan and other camel drivers in India; there was no difference. Their easy banter, passing news, chewing cud, their watchful eye on their camels making sure the saddle did not rub.

It was the same here, he said. ‘Only male camels were used, for the female could not be tamed and lived wild to bring up her children’.

Hm, says B, who eventually gets to sleep with the help of his hip flask.

Des  in Tombouctou

Des now lives in Tombouctou. Not in the Dogons with the Campament owner who wanted to drive people to hospitals. He is not owned by Michael a tourist operator to drive tourists over washboard roads. He does not live with Mohameds father in Bamako, nor with the Lebanese man still waiting for a phone call.

He lives with Madiou Toure, the Minister of Hydrology and Energy in Tombouctou, who is a man of few but well chosen words, a bit like water here. As soon as we arrived in Tombouctou Des created a stir, and middle men fixers appeared from all corners of his hot and dusty city, hungry for commission. I lost count of the people who looked him over, but even I was getting tired of showing him off. After all we had four certain buyers waiting for us in Mopti and Bamako, all of which called us once a day.

There we were just back from a night in the desert, B exhausted from lack of sleep, collapsed on the bed, AC on, both of us uninterested in another looking under Des bonnet. But 7,000 Euro could not be ignored. Des had done the journey and doubled in value.

In an hour (while we still in resting ac) Toure had drawn the CFA from the bank, found the best rate of exchange in the Marche Noir and returned, with 7,000 Euro to seal the deal.

‘You see I am a man of my word’, boasted Ay-eu-be, the side kick, the facilitator, who neither of us particularly liked.

Des was never just a piece of metal, just so the sale was not a simple exchange of pieces of paper. That evening B – with generous spirit – invited Toure and others to dinner with us at our French run Auberge Caravanair, where we opened our last bottle of Spanish wine, a very tasty Tempranillo slightly chilled. Our hosts were Christian and Frank (father and son), who had upt their sticks from Paris 3 years ago to live in Tombouctou, building this Auberge for travelers. Three months ago the party of Swiss German English who were kidnapped by the Tuareg, passed through here on their way north after the Festival of the Desert. Christian is much like Barry with departure aged 14 from school and that conventional life, embracing travel as his university.

An impromptu garage sale evolved the next day as we unloaded ‘all to go’ from Des. Ay-eu-be was the first to appear to claim the cream – mattresses etc. We gave him the tent for his commission, although he was not much appreciative. For two days people came and went, offering bargains, pressing us, winding Barry up, looking through telescopes and tools.

Naturally we gave Des a good clean with a passion confounding the locals.

Barry is not a sentimental man. He would not stay to see me drive Des out of the gates. So I drove out alone, along Tombouctous sand encroaching streets, to the home of Toure, Frank Sinatre playing ‘Two Drifters off to see the world’.

I left the Sinatre CD to Toure, along with a coconut, a Hindu custom I explained. Can we eat it? Toure asked the next night, when we dined with him and his very warm hearted wife, who made me cry with her emotion at receiving Des.

I see Co-Operative Save the Planet bags in different homes, our bucket, plastic sheeting outside different doors. Here in this the bare desert, such individual Western things are rare and valued. Only onions exist in the market. Olive Oil, Tamari, a pepper grinder, these are indeed exotic luxuries. The last to go our our feather pillows, donated to Christian.

That night Barry went down with fever. I cannot remember when Barry was ill (except the gout), nor could he and he disliked it. The chemist assured me many suffer in this time. The Harmatin wind that blows from the north whips up the sand dust, obliterating the sun.

‘C’est le Pouissance’ he explained, the tiny sand particles that collect in our lungs and sinuses. Like the dog, Barry slept all day. We are dreaming of English rain, overcast clouds, Radio 4 or even Radio 2. Our flights to Bamako are booked. Our cases packed and well over weight.

End days: Bamako Banjule

That 7,000 Euro cash burns a hole in Barry’s pocket: he was never one to save. The last jacket has no pockets, is his mantra. The journey back lightened the load of the cash, with swift jumps to Bamako – a few days easy swimming in Hotel Mandi  cocooned in the oasis of Niger River cool – an 8 hour taxi drive to Banjule arriving on the last and slow ferry across the Gambia river at mid-night. A few delightful days with our old friends, Damiano and Giovana, before a flight back to somewhere in the midlands, and a taxi down. Somewhere along the way I went into the world of The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, back into Bihar and Darkness. I was exiting Africa.

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