Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mali Pictures! (and explanation & apology...)

Here are the Mali pictures I promised to post a long time ago. It was not that I was slacking. In fact the opposite it true. I have been working overtime to try and figure out what is wrong with my computer. I finally figured out that my problem is my computer but the proxy I must use to connect to the internet at school. It was causing the website script to not run properly. I am right now sitting in a little cafe Les Petites Delices paying to use their internet. I feel like I am in France and not Africa and it is great. Anyway, below you will find the posts that I wrote about my Mali trip as well as the past two weeks. It is a lot, sorry. I have a lot say, but in the words of Anne Shirley, "If only you knew all that I wanted to say and didn't, then you would at least give me some credit." My suggestion is break it up and read it a little bit at a time... maybe over your lunch breaks ;) Regardless, I am so happy to have finally figured out my problem was and to have discovered this little gem of a place that Mary Ellen and I went to this morning for omlettes. I ordered tea to drink while I am working here. It is some Russian blend and it is the best tea I have ever had, sweet not too sweet, fruity but too fruity and no unpleasant after taste. It's a real winner. Kind of like you.

I leave you with an amazing thought from the sermon I listened to this morning.

If you want to change the world around you, start with where you at.

Missing home, loving packages, and wishing you were here to share in all the little things which make life amazing!

Well, well, well it is Sunday again. I feel like Sunday is my benchmark day. I know the weeks and days are just flying by when it seems like Sundays are back to back! This week was much better than last week for sure. I calmed down a little and gave myself some slack. I am admittedly my own fiercest critic… Sunday of last week was very very relaxed. I slept in. I listened to a sermon I had on my computer instead of going to church. I think this was a good option for me this week. I read a lot of the book I was reading called, “The Devil in the White City”. More on that to come. I also finished my washing, ironing and had a nice tennis lesson. I really like my tennis lessons :) Watch out Venus Williams! (Just kidding… it might take a while for that…) I talked to my parents which was also nice and much appreciated.

Monday started off well. I was able to do take my water samples and run the microbiology tests. I am still getting the procedures down. It is hard to remember all the details, but you have to because if you don’t you can contaminate the test and you have a false result which is not good in the least. Monday afternoon I went to the shoppette which I think I will make a weekly occurrence. You know, to get food for the week ;) Before I used to eat at the cafeteria all the time, but now that I am getting better at cooking and used to the system of things, even though it is a bit more pricey I feel like I am eating better for my system not having rice and pasta, ALL the time… That afternoon I made spaghetti sauce. It was SO good. I wonder why I ever bought sauce, even in the states. I hope I can continue to make this good food when I get back to America. Anyway, that night I invited Marie and Susan to join me for dinner since I had just made the spaghetti sauce and had enough to last a while… They both agreed and we had a nice dinner. All the conversation was in French which was awesome. I enjoy my lessons, but feel I have gotten to complacent with my French level, which is not all that advanced, so I really do need to continue to work on it. Just getting by isn’t good enough. Monday night I finally broke out the guitar and played for a long time. It was SO therapeutic…

One more quick little story from Monday was that I bought ground beef the last Monday and had the intention of cooking up the leftover for later. Well I kept putting it off and putting it off, but I wanted to use it in my sauce, but it was at this point 7 days old. It didn’t look that bad and only had a slight odor so I cut off a 1 inch layer all the way around the meat so only the red still okay looking stuff was left I fried it up good, but still could not bring myself to add it to the sauce… So I didn’t, but I had nothing else to eat for lunch so I made a random ground beef, tomato sandwich. This was a bad idea. I had really really cooked the heck out of the beef so I figured I would be okay, but then after lunch I went to my office to learn about cooking ground beef (admittedly something I should have done BEFORE this little episode of bad choices). I was horrified and then terrified I would get sick. Luckily, I made it through the next couple of days without a problem and so I think I am home free. BUT NEVER AGAIN I tell you! If in doubt, throw it out. I knew this. I genuinely knew this already, but I was dragging my feet because it is such a hassle to go to the store, ect. Anyway, I learned my lesson. The fear of getting sick I had was enough to make someone sick… Since that day I have been very very cautious about meat and other food items, hopefully a habit that keep with me for life.

Tuesday I was kind of feeling a bit out of it. Somewhat frustrated with work, again… So during my break time I went and ran like 6 miles. It felt amazing! I was on fire. That afternoon my spirits were way lifted and I even found time before my French lesson, which was just so-so, to submit my request to join the Young Water Professionals Sustainability Initiative. IWA is continuing to develop the toolbox I created by making a task group of young water professionals to work on it together. Since I helped create it I thought it appropriate that I stay with it. I look forward to helping make the resource even better than before. Also, that same afternoon Keith from IWA forwarded a paper to me that came across his desk. It is all about the ceramic water filters I am working on! Awesome!

That night I had resolved to prepare my lesson for WIRED on Thursday as well as make some pitas. I had a recipe I wanted to try and Marcia had left what I thought was yeast in the refrigerator. Well, turns out it wasn’t yeast. It was more like a baking soda thing. I couldn’t tell because of the French label…but my dough wouldn’t rise. So instead I rolled into tortilla shapes and cooked them on a skillet. Not all was lost. But just wait, as I was washing dishes I heard a crash. The cutting board on the stove holding the pitas had fallen! Luckily the pitas were stacked so I only lost about half of them. Not all was lost… but most were ;) Anyway, I also cooked up the rest of the peanuts from Bianca. This time I had a recipe and it went way better. They tasted really quite excellent. I bet you have never roasted your peanuts have you?! So after the cooking quasi fiasco I settled in and wrote my lesson. The catchy point was that “If God demands he will plan”. We looked at the story of Abraham and Isaac and Jesus feeding the 5000. It is really neat to see throughout the bible how whenever God demands something of you he has a plan and provides you with what you need to do it!

Wednesday I was feeling really pretty homesick. It had to be pretty bad if I am willing to admit it. Ali stopped by my office to give me another package notice slip… I tried very hard NOT to get my hopes up that it would be something cool. I was planning on swimming as my workout that day so I left work early to go to the post office before my workout and lunch. Well, I was so excited to see that it was a package from my roommate Cassy! I love Cassy! She sent me a lovely card and a Max Lucado daily calendar. I have one in my office, and now I love having one in my room at home as well as at work :) Swimming was fun. I used the goggles my parents sent me which are really really nice. I need to keep practicing with the whole swimming thing. It is harder than it looks! Anyway, the swimming and Cassy’s package really brightened up my day. That afternoon after getting back and showering I attempted to make hummus. It was an okay first attempt, but needs to be improved if I ever hope to serve it someone other than myself ;) First off I don’t have a masher so I was using a fork, secondly I didn’t have lemon juice so I used citrus juice (not the same thing, FYI) and I added too much garlic. BUT whatever. I did eat it on some of the pitas I made the night before so that was fun I also spread some of my good pasta sauce on one like a mini pizza minus the cheese….
Also, I should mention Wednesday morning I also was informed of several things. 1. I did not get into the IPER program at Stanford, this isn’t a huge shock, but I thought I would try. It is really a doctoral program and they were looking for people with a Master’s Degree and already work experience… So. 2. I was invited to visit Duke. They offered to pay, but I have to email them because I really don’t think they mean from Africa… But, who knows, if they want to pay for me to come out and visit them, I might be willing to make the effort, which it would be a huge effort both physically and emotionally. 3. I got the editorial responses back from the paper I submitted on my thesis topic. NOT GOOD. Boy is it humbling to have candid unveiled evaluations of your work from experts in the field. I knew there were some weaknesses, but to have them pointed out and really reprimanded for what I wrote is hard to take. SO this took some major prayer and Sara time to digest. All is not lost with the attempt I can re-write the paper as a case study which I think would be a better idea anyway. Also, I think it is incredibly helpful to have that kind of scrutiny early on in my career. If I can learn how to write a legitimate journal paper this early on I will be way ahead of the curve. So I struck out my first time. Big deal. I can give up and get discouraged or realize that I do have something interesting to say and that I just didn’t say it quite right the first time. Practice makes perfect. One of the rules of now President Klawe (She used to be the Dean of the Engineering School at Princeton and is not the President of Harvey Mudd College) is to fail openly and often. This is a tough one for me because, by God’s grace, I have been very successful in my endeavors. BUT as I keep moving out and into more challenging arenas I know I will fail at times. It is part of the deal. Regardless, Wednesday was a loaded day for me.

That night I made tomato soup. I love tomato soup especially the kind Colonial makes. But I’m not at Colonial anymore so I made my own. It was exceptional! After my tomato soup dinner I went back to the office to hopefully talk to my parents who had not responded to my earlier emails which was disappointing to say the least. To my dismay my Mom hadn’t come home and so I couldn’t talk to her. Instead I IMed with my friend Claire and wished her a Happy Birthday. I also played my guitar and read a lot that night. I needed it.

Thursday was ridiculous. I had a meeting the next day with Nicolas I needed to prepare for, but in the morning there was supposedly a tour group coming through and Kokou asked me to explain my project. They were supposed to come between 10:30 and 11:00. No problem, since my tennis lesson wasn’t until 12:00/20ish. Wouldn’t you know they didn’t come by until 11:30. And then after following them around I never even got the chance to demonstrate or talk about what I was doing. Frustrating! Whatever, I still made it tennis in time. Again, it was a very fun lesson. I can see I am making progress each time which is great! After coming home I had planned to make tuna salad for lunch. No problem. But, I get out my can of tuna only to discover to my horror that I bought tuna in oil and not in water and it has peppers in it as well. Oh, no. But I use it anyway. Not to be repeated for sure. The peppers added a little too much spice for my liking, but it was still good. In the afternoon I returned to work and completed the second set of microbiology tests. These went even better than the first. I am improving. I am glad I have these ceramic filters to work on since the others ones are still not working!

In the evening, I taught my lesson at WIRED. It went well. The kids were really hyper which make it more difficult. I was in a funny mood though. I hadn’t talked to anybody all week and had brought myself through a lot by myself and was just so happy to relax and be excited about something and tell someone about my failed hummus attempts and great news from Duke…

I also want to mention that on Tuesday or Wednesday I got a .pdf file from someone associated with Potters for Peace all about marketing Point of Use water treatment systems, i.e. the ceramic filters. Since my computer isn’t hooked up to a printer I had to have Konate print it. It reminded me of why I like to work independently. his computer wouldn’t send it right, and so I had to walk back and forth several times across the building to pick of the various pages. And I didn’t even get all of the pages until the next morning because the secretary left and locked the door. Oye.

Friday, was definitely a TGIF day! In the morning I worked on trying to get my AcrGIS to work, but it was to no avail! I wanted to have a map to show Nicolas, but that wasn’t going to happen. I did, however, read the whole marketing document which was incredibly informative. Also, the test results from Thursday’s microbiology labs were reasonable and good :) Nicolas came to visit in the afternoon which was a good visit. We started planning the Terms of Reference for the market study, but he really needs to read the paper from the Potters for Peace people. Tuesday we will go to CREPA to talk to the people there. I am looking forward to this “field trip”. Our work was, however, cut short at 5:00, by my French lesson. The lesson was incredibly irritating this week. He had me write as he read a passage and it was absurd because I hadn’t heard half of the words and just grump. It was not fun. I hope next week goes better. Then I was supposed to talk to my Mom, finally. But when I got on the phone with her I just didn’t really feel like talking at all. So we ended the conversation and I left my office. Thank God! I do not want to go back until Monday…

That night I went to dinner at Abigail and Marta’s house with Susan and Mary Ellen. It was great fun indeed! We had bruschetta as an appetizer, then leek soup and a carrot avocado salad. Fantastic dinner, capped off with ice cream and cookies. We sat around and talked for a while and them Susan I rode our bikes back. Fun night!

Saturday I made plans with Marie to go to the village artisanal. She hadn’t been and was leaving that night to go back to France. I thought it would be a fun thing to do. Susan came with us. It was really nice because Marie had access to a car a driver so we didn’t have to pay for a taxi. It was a sweet deal indeed! I was able to buy the belt I was looking for to go with my new top and Susan bought some very cool African instruments for her son Ross. I was looking for a nice silver necklace but couldn’t find one I liked… After coming back I headed to the rec club to work out since I had taken Friday off and was feeling sluggish. To my disappointment there were already two women there and one was on the treadmill. Even though I went at 12:30 when there is usually no one there! (and on a Saturday, come on people) and not to complain too much but if you are going to use the treadmill, use the treadmill for crying out loud. RUN. don’t walk. You can walk outside. Run. So I used the elliptical and then lifted some weights. Finally, the other ladies left and I was able to go use the treadmill. I ran 3 miles with some speed which felt good.

I got back in time to have a quick lunch and then Leanna came to pick me up at 2:30. We hadn’t hung out in a while. I brought my laundry and used her washer. Yeah. I love my friends. They are so good to me ;) We also washed and froze about 3 kilos of strawberries and then just talked for a while. It was a good conversation and I was happy to be there to listen. We made a very nice pasta with alfredo sauce and broccoli for dinner and followed that up with a nice thirty minute stroll through her neighborhood. I don’t think I have ever just gone and walked around since I have been. One because I had no one to walk with and two I had no where to walk. It was SO nice and refreshing!

Later we went to the American church service that happens every other Saturday evening. It was nice to worship with familiar songs. This was the first Edge service of the 2008. Fun! Afterwards, Leanna and I went back to her place and watched Pride and Prejudice something we had been meaning to do for a while, but never got a chance to because we were always hanging out with our guys friends who do not want to endure 2 hours of Jane Austen. Leanna drove me home around 11:00 and I read a little, but then hit the hay and feel asleep rather quickly.

Sunday, today, started off well. I had a tennis lesson, but it was weird because Mary Ellen showed up too so we had a like a double lesson. It was not a problem and I really enjoyed playing with someone. I think next time though it isn’t necessary to have the teacher there if we are going to volley back and forth. After the tennis time we went to a little restaurant around the corner and each got an omlette. They were fantastic! I am so glad she showed me this place. They also have wireless you can use for 500CFA an hour. I think I am going to try it out this afternoon to see if I can post to my blog (i.e. find out if the problem is my computer of the proxy at the 2iE) and talk to my parents NOT at my office.

Hmm, anything I missed or left out… Marie and I had this system going where one day we spoke French and the next day we spoke English. It was fun! She was a fine houseguest. Oh, also on Sunday an Italian woman, a professor, stayed in the house. She was only here for 2 nights, but it was a funny feeling having a full house like that!

To end the things I am looking forward to this week are… Tuesday’s visit to CREPA, Thursday’s Tennis Lesson, Wednesday I am starting a girl’s bible study, I am not teaching at WIRED on Thursday, phew… nice break and on Saturday I am going to the toastmaster at the Toastmaster’s Meeting. Wish me luck!

Fondou, filters and fresh strawberries :)

Saturday after getting back from Ghana was an awesome day. I am so glad we decided to come back on Friday so we could have the weekend to prepare for going back to work. Friday night I am not sure when I went to bed nor did I set my alarm. I simply slept until I felt rested enough to get up. Lucky for me that was still in time to get to the bank before they close, which is 11:00 on Saturdays. I stopped by my office to quickly check my email messages before heading to the bank, but to my surprise over break maintenance had come in and worked on the network connection. Unfortunately for me, they had only half finished the job. Africa, not surprising. I made my withdrawal from the bank and went to SIM to pay Georgie and Maggie the money I had owed them from the trip. I wanted to get things squared away before we forgot who owed who what. We also made plans for a Mexican dinner at my place on Monday night to exchange pictures. Yeah.

Since I had no internet at work I did what any other person in my place is likely to do, I went to Leanna’s house and used her connection :) The cool thing was Bianca was there. Her parents, who came to visit her over Christmas, had just left Friday night to head back to the States. Bianca was debating whether to go back to village that afternoon or wait until the morning. After much discussion the decision was that she would stay and the three of us would have a girl’s day and then a sleepover. Ooooo, exciting! So we watched Casino Royale and then made Lasagna for dinner for later. Then we watched Take the Lead followed by eating the delicious lasagna. The last movie of the night was The Prince & Me. Do you see the progression of like action, to drama, to major chick flick. That’s right. That’s how it goes. Also, while watching The Prince & Me we had chocolate fondue with pineapple and bananas. It was awesome.

Sunday Bianca was supposed to get up get the early bus. Wouldn’t you know it was sold out? So she bought a ticket for the afternoon bus and came to church with Leanna, Lorinda and I. After church we stopped by Marina Market to do some grocery shopping. I got some good stuff :) But I knew I would have to go back to the store on Monday to get the rest of the food to make the tacos. Sunday afternoon I wrote the December update letter, chilled out and generally just lamented the fact that work was starting again. I had made plans to talk to my family hoping the internet would be back up. It wasn’t, so I biked it over to Leanna’s… again. So much biking! I talked to my parents for a while and it was great :) I had missed talking to them while I was in Mali.

Monday was a fun day. Everyone was in such high spirits after the holidays. I wanted to get right down to work, which I did, but it was a challenge. Every time you saw someone they wanted to do the four cheek French style greeting while uttering stuff about how they wish you good health, fun times, ect. in the new year. It was very culturally normal, but seemed pretty silly to me. I like the Happy New Year, how were your holidays? type of greeting much better. I got my filters soaking and fired off a bunch of emails I had been saving. I had my French lesson and then talked to Moumini about changing the time we meet to Tuesdays and Fridays from 5:00-6:00. We’ll see how it works for this month and then just go from there. During the repos on Monday I took at taxi to and from Marina Market. Usually I bike, but having had the marathon weekend of biking back and forth to Leanna’s I needed a break and I knew I would buy more groceries that I could carry. At the store I bought fresh strawberries. It is just the beginning of strawberry season and I am so pumped. I LOVE strawberries. They aren’t super cheap compared to the pint prices in the states, but they are still reasonable. Anyway, I got everything to make the tacos :) Georgie and Maggie came over after work was done and we whipped up an awesome meal! After dinner we loaded all the pictures on my computer and then burned CDs of the files for Georgie and Maggie. The whole operation went off without a hitch which was great.

Tuesday at work was again pretty hectic. People still cheek greeting, still annoying. I complete the saturated flow rate test on my filters and moved them to the their housing in near the filter station. I also spent a whole heck of a lot of time getting a virus off my computer and installing and updating more antivirus software. Things are running smoothly again which is good. I am glad that as of now I have been able to avoid having to reformat my computer… In the afternoon at work I got this little slip of paper indicating I had a package waiting for me at the post office. I was pretty psyched. After asking Konate how the heck to go about getting my package, i.e. where and when… I left work early and got to the post office at 5:05. Just my luck they closed at 5:00. Can you believe it! I pleaded to be able to get my package, but it was to no avail. From there I went to work out. Again, another road block in that someone was on the treadmill. However, I did get to use the elliptical machine and was able to sign up for tennis, extend my membership to compensate for the 10 days I was in Mali, and renewed for another month. I don’t think he wanted to give me the 10 day extension, BUT I was renewing for month after that and buying tennis lessons so he didn’t argue which was exactly part of my plan ;) The other fun thing is that Tuesday night Leanna was going to watch a replay of the LSU OSU football game so after working out I sat and watched the game with Leanna, Tyler and Tyler. I left at 7:15, the night was still young so started writing my Mali blog. I only got up to the second day in Timbuktu before I decided it was time for bed.

Wednesday I got up early to be at the post office when it opened at 7:00. Well, just as it closed early, it also opens late. GRRR… I didn’t get my package until 7:24, and people wonder why these countries aren’t developed. It’s responsibility and accountability people! Anyway, from there I hit the gym for a thirty minute run. When I first arrived there was NO ONE in the gym. I went and changed and came back out and bam! There are like 8 guys in there working out. Luckily when I said I wanted to use the treadmill the guy on it kindly got off. Thank you! While I was expecting that after working out in the morning I would be raring to go for the day I was so tired. Not part of the plan. I started with my original filter plan which worked out well. I also met with a guy in the GIS department to look at a project he is working on and offer my opinion. The cool thing he is also going to be able to help me as well by getting me maps of Ouagadougou I need for defining what areas the market study should focus on. Wednesday was Ben’s Birthday and also Georgie’s last night with us in Ouagadougou before heading off to Cairo for a three week trip (sounds like fun, eh?)! To celebrate we went to the Gondwana, the resident place to go for a nice dinner. I split the Taxi Burger with Tyler. What is the Taxi Burger you are asking? Well, you know how they load up the bush taxis with tons and tons of stuff, that is what the burger is named for. It’s not even on the menu. It is 4 count them, 4 patties and buns, lettuce, tomate, onions and this amazing sauce in between each one. Definitely something that has to be split between two people. For dinner it was Ben, Will, Tyler, Maggie, Georgie and I. Afterwards we went to Leanna’s for cake. Yum. After such a fun night I was not looking forward to work the next day. Ben picked me up and gave me a ride to the restaurant on his moto, so Leanna drove me home. I arranged this instead of just riding my bike because Tyler B got a guitar for me from ISO. It was in Leanna’s car and needed to get to my house, so voila she drove me home. What a nice friend :)

Work on Thursday was the opposite of good. I was frustrated, kind of depressed for reasons I can’t but my finger on, and generally just didn’t want to talk to anybody. I couldn’t get into the filter building because Omar with the keys was MIA. I put in a request for keys to the labs and rooms I need access to before Christmas. Come on people, it is not that hard to have keys made! I was also planning on having a tennis lesson but had to reschedule because things were kind of not going so well at work. I did, however, still make it over to the rec center and ran a vigorous 5 miles, just to get out all my frustrations. I think I was also a bit stressed out because I supposed to be teaching the Junior High kids at WIRED and hadn’t come up with a plan. After the repos I used my time at work to get started. I had to stop though because there was a school wide administrative meeting held by the director to talk about the New Year. It was held in the auditorium which was cool since I had never been in there before. I was also pleased by how much I understood :) The best part was that it was followed by a reception with food and drinks. First time I had seen a Princeton style event (i.e. providing food for everyone). I had originally wanted to do some microbiology tests that afternoon, but gave up on that idea when I saw that the reception was not something I could skip out on. And it was nice to get an early dinner too. No complaints here. I did have to cut my mingling short though and finish planning my lesson.

6:45 came way too fast, but luckily I was ready. The lesson turned out really well and I even played in the game with the kids. They have really really fun games at WIRED. I need to start writing them down so I have a repertoire of games ready, who knows when I will need one. The worship was also awesome. It was just three songs and nothing out of the ordinary, but it has been so long since I had a chance to sing in English with other Americans. I felt very uplifited at that moment indeed. The main point of my lesson was to look for the blessing that come out of every circumstance, even circumstances that don’t seem like blessings. I also let the kids share about how they spent their holidays and used a baseball for the kids to toss to each when it was their turn to talk. I really enjoyed the lesson and felt the kids really understood the message. It was nice to get to forget about everything else for a while and enjoy the fun fellowship!

Friday I was bit down still, but tried to suck it up and get through the day. In the morning I was able to get the maps from the guy I met with on Tuesday and then during the repos I had my first tennis lesson. IT WAS AWESOME! I am SO PUMPED about learning to play tennis for real. My teacher is also very good. I was skeptical thinking, humm… will these be African quality lessons or American quality. Well, I guess I can’t really know for sure since I never took lessons in the States, but I think my teacher Emile is great. And really you can’t beat the price of about $4.50 for a 45 minute one-on-one lesson. Yeah! In the afternoon I did my microbiology test. There were some problems, but it is the first time doing them for real. Of course it will take a few tries to get things just right. The important thing is that I have started and am moving forward. It is funny because I am really working independently on this project and not having to wait for other people its actually going somewhere! Look at that! I had my French lesson at 5:00 which went well. I need to make more time to practice and study outside of the lesson times. I feel like I have reached a plateau and need to start climbing again. I went to dinner at the cafeteria which I hadn’t been to in a while. After having started to cook for myself the cafeteria is looking less and less appealing even though it is cheaper. I think I will be healthier have a variety of foods instead of just rice, couscous, or pasta.

I made plans to talk to my Mom online that night so I anxiously went back to my office to wait for her get home. Then to my disappointment I get an email from her saying she won’t be home for another hour or so. SO, instead of throwing in the towel for the night I decided figure out how to add songs to my new mp3 player and seriously start planning my speech for toastmasters, which was the next morning by the way. I always say, “Oh I am going to prepare early this time” and it never seems to happen. Anyway, I developed an outline an introduction and conclusion which was pretty good for having only an hour and no real assignment on the topic. You could talk about anything and deciding what to write your speech about I think is half the battle. I decided to speak on the benefits of volunteering. This was a topic I felt was relevant in motivating people to volunteer in the New Year and a prepared speech that might be good to have in my back pocket for the future.

It was nice talking to my Mom, but my overall mood was still a bit low which I could tell was a bit of a problem at least on my enc as far as facilitating good conversation. While we chatted I also dusted my office and cleaned up a little which made a huge difference in the feel of things. Everything gets so dusty here, so fast too! It’s incredible… Anyway, we talked until like 9:00pm my time at which point I headed home and forced myself to write my speech. My reward for getting my speech done would be popcorn and watching Pride and Prejudice (or at least part of it…). By the time I finished writing my speech and going through it a few times it was already 10:30. My speech needed more work it was about 30 seconds too short, but I needed a break so I started the movie. Any girl knows that once you start Pride and Prejudice there is just no stopping until the end… I finally crawled into bed around 1:20am after having spent another 45 minutes or so figuring out how to lengthening my speech.

My alarm at 7:15 this morning came way to quickly for my liking. So I snoozed it twice… But I still had to transfer my speech to note cards and meet Professor Maiga at 8:00 to go look at the filters, eat breakfast and be ready for toastmasters at 9:30. The meeting with Maiga went well. I am somewhat frustrated because one of the faucets has a leak that I can’t figure out how to stop. There a problem with the gasket I think. I will have to contact Nicolas about it on Monday. The toastmasters club meeting went well. I was the listening evaluator as well as gave my second speech. Susan complimented me very nicely when I was done. It was also interesting to hear the African response. My speech evaluator talked about how nice it is to now understand why people come from rich nations to live in Ouagadougou to help others. BUT the funny thing is I really meant it as an encouragement for the Africans to start volunteering in their community. However, now that I think about it I haven’t seen anything advertising opportunities to volunteer. What a concept? Instead of aid agency coming and doing all the work, why don’t they facilitate volunteer programs where it the Africans making the positive change in the community. People work all the time here without pay, but as far as organized volunteering there is little offered.

I invited Susan for lunch at my place. I had wanted to make a tuna wrap for lunch all week, but was waiting because I didn’t want to make the meal for one since a can a tuna is more than I should eat at once. And really, who wants a tuna wrap to meals in a row? After lunch I cavalierly tried to wash my clothes. Hand wash, mind you. It didn’t go so great. I used my bathtub to soak the clothes in. End of story, my clothes are hanging up outside drying as I write this. I didn’t finish early enough for them to dry before it got dark so I wait for them to dry in the morning… I did, however, buckle down this afternoon and finished my Mali update which is quite long as you have seen. I also worked out for 30 minutes and then went over to Susan’s to meet the tailor. He brought the dress I had ordered and I really liked it except it is really short! So I can’t really wear it as a dress. It looks really nice though over a pair of black pants. It’s kind of a mod style, very funky and color looks great on my skin. I think it is actually something I will wear back in the States :) I also gave him more fabric to make a cool pair of billowy pants and a skirt. Mary Ellen and her two friends were there as well. It was nice to catch up a little bit and we agreed to practice tennis with each other and be swim partners too. It will be nice to have someone to workout with. If my day wasn’t packed enough I went with Leanna and Lorinda to watch some of the Packers Seahawks game. It was just the right way to finish off the week.

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention is that on Thursday I saw the Wolters family and was able to get all my stuff that my parents and family sent for me. Thursday after WIRED was like my Christmas. I got a new mp3 player, hard drive, two very cool new t-shirts from Old Navy and lots of Propel water packets. Yeah! AND last thing on Sunday I got a new housemate. Mari from France. She is really nice and we get along fine. It’s not like having Marcia here though… Mari will stay for 2 weeks. She is teaching a course on management at for the Master Level 1 students so she is busy with her own things. I have also been crazy busy this week as well, but hope to have more opportunities to get to know her this coming week.

Things I am looking forward to this week. Playing my guitar. Tennis Lesssons. Friday dinner at Mary Ellen’s friends’ house. More filter experiments (hopefully successful). Less hectic days!

Catch you on the flip side…

To Timbuktu and back again!

So to explain my title, which kind of gives away the highlight of this post… after Christmas I traveled to Mali for a 10 day adventure with Magdalena and Georgie, AND we went to Timbuktu. Sweet. So to answer the question that immediately popped into your mind: Yes, Timbuktu really does exist and it is in Northern Mali. I’ll tell you all about it later, so just hold tight and keep reading.

First, let me set the stage. Magdalena (a.k.a. Maggie) is from Germany, but also speaks French and pretty much perfect English. Maggie is in Burkina for 5 months teaching in a private school in Ouagadougou. I met Maggie through Leanna in November. Georgie is from New Zealand and was in Burkina for a short term mission trip. While the rest of the team headed back already Georgie chose to stay a bit longer and is now off to travel around Egypt for three weeks with here flat mate from uni (i.e. one of her housemates from school, if you need a little New Zealand lingo translation). Georgie doesn’t speak French. Add me, an American, here for 9 months, speaking Spanish and now decent French… you have quite the international ensemble. The trip to Mali idea was first concocted on Thanksgiving when Maggie and I decided we wanted to go somewhere over the two weeks of break we get for Christmas. At first we thought Ghana, but the bus ride would be too long (24 hours to Accra!) and it was too expensive to fly. So instead we looked North. Hence, Mali. Before the trip the three of us got together to make some tentative plans… the plan: Dogon Country, Mopti, Djenne, and Timbuktu.

I believe I left off going to bed on Christmas at three o’clock in the morning after having cleaned my house, packed, made chicken stock from chicken parts left over from the dinner on Christmas Eve, and writing up an eight page post. As horrible as it felt getting up at 6:30 after only three hours of sleep, it was worth it. I would have never been able to remember or want to recount everything that happened before Christmas after coming back exhausted from Mali. Leanna and Tyler came to pick me up at 7:00 and we got to the STMB station without a problem. I was planning on a taking the 8:00 bus to Ouahigouya. I had texted Bianca to check on the bus times and she said 6:45, 8, 10, 12 and then after that she wasn’t sure… well, sorry to say there was no 8 o’clock bus. It was 6:45 and 10, and I had missed the 6:45 bus. I didn’t really care too too much about going later, but I would have slept for two more hours instead of sitting around at a nasty bus station for two and a half hours. The only consolation was that I was able to buy a baguette with salami for breakfast without leaving the station. It sounds gross, but I was really hungry and its really not all that bad tasting. When I finally did get on the bus I was genuinely excited because the bus was in really nice shape. It was also a smaller bus and so there were two seat on one side of the aisle and a single seat on the other side. So, being smart and knowing, just knowing that even though the bus wasn’t full yet it would be full, I took a single seat. Funny story: even as we were pulling out of the bus yard there were still empty seats and I was regretting my single seat choice when it looked like I could have had two to myself, I was getting greedy I admit it, but as we are moving people start jumping into the bus. IT WAS CRAZY! Of course they didn’t have tickets. A few people bought them from the guy on the bus, but another jumped back out later when he got in an argument with the bus guy. Whatever.
Bottom line = I was happy to have a single seat. I put my camera bag between my feet with my ankles laced through the shoulder straps and my backpack on my lap. I rolled up my fleece as a pillow and promptly fell sound asleep for an hour and a half. It was glorious! I woke up when the bus pulled into Yako, but stayed in a state of semi-awareness until we go to the Ouahigouya peage (toll booth).

When we rolled into the station I spotted Maggie and Georgie. They had arrived earlier and had already found us onward transport from Ouahigouya to Koro, Mali. They were coming from a town called Djibo to the West where they had spent Christmas. The onward transport was… wait for it… a bush taxi. A legitimate bush taxi, with like 25 people in it. This old van seemed like it could stop running at any second. The trip was only 91km but it took a good three and a half hours. It was a dirt road, but the road I would later come to find was in pretty nice shape, comparatively. The border crossings took a while. There was the military pull off, the government stamp stop and then the customs stop for both Burkina and Mali. Why all three stops aren’t in the same place instead of 5 km down the road from each other is beyond me… We made it to Koro at 4:30ish and made the bold decision to keep going to Bandiagara. We would take a Peugot taxi, worse than a bus taxi, on a 4 hours trip through the rock escarpment. Our motivation for forging ahead was that we wanted to get the tough travel portion done all in one day. Also, we wanted to start our trek the next, Thursday. We already had a guide lined up thanks to my friend Bonnie who got me in touch with her friend Elspeth who was in Peace Corps in Mali and had some connections he hooked me up with. The guide was going to pick us up from Bandiagara the next day so we steeled ourselves up and squeezed three together in the back seat. The Peugot taxis are station wagons basically. Expect, instead of putting the same number of people in the taxi as there are seats they put 10 all together including the driver. There are three in the back, four in the middle seat, and two sharing the front seat. Not the most comfortable mode of transportation. But we made it. The hotel we stayed at that night was called the Hotel Satimbe. It was alright except we were famished and we ordered food, but it took, and I’m not exaggerating, 2 hours to get food. AND all we ordered was pasta. How it takes two hours to cook pasta you tell me?! Aside from that it was fine. We had a mattress on the floor and since we couldn’t hang up the mosquito net we just kind of put it over ourselves like another blanket which I’m not sure really helped, but it was better than nothing.

The next morning Hassimi the guide came to pick us up. We stopped and bought some water which was twice the price to buy once we started into Dogon, and snacked on bread with Guava jam. Guava jam, by the way, is amazing. It has become my mission to find some for sale in Ouaga. Anyway, Hassimi spoke English which was great and we thought he would be our guide. Wrong. He pulled some crap about just getting over malaria, and how it was last minute and he has all this other stuff going on. Anyway, instead we got Hassimi’s brother Omar as our guide. Omar was only 22, and didn’t speak much English. I was fine, but Georgie only spoke English so Maggie was constantly translating and it was difficult for Georgie to express her concerns. And I would like to reiterate that Omar was 22, and an immature 22 at that…just a bit of an attitude and little arrogant. BUT, in spite of that we did have a really great time. We trekked for four days. Hassimi dropped us off in a village called Dourou which is on top of the rock escarpment. Short side explanation: Dogon county was first inhabited by the Tellum people. They were dwarf sized cliff dwellers who became extinct when the Dogon people arrived after being driven out of Bamako for religious reasons. This was all a long time ago. p.s. the Dogon people are animistic. Freaky. The landscape is famous because there is a huge rock cliff. So you’re just going along through the plains, la dee da, and then bam! There is this huge wall of rock, i.e. the escarpment. There are Dogon villages resting on the top of the escarpment, villages clinging to the sides of the escarpment and villages whose people have migrated to plains where farming is easier. When we first traveled to Bandiagara from Koro we took a rather iffy winding and bumpy road through the escarpment. Frankly, I’m glad it was dark so I couldn’t see what we driving through. While hiking on the last day we could see the road we took. Glad I wasn’t driving.

Back to Dourou. We left Dourou at around 3pm and headed along a path above the escarpment for 7km. We arrived at a village called Benagamato just as the sun was setting. The village is divided into three sections: Christian, Muslim and animist. We were hosted in the Christian section. This village was surrounded by awesome rock formations. It reminded me very much of pictures of the American West. Since seeing Dogon, I have vowed to go explore more of the western states of the good old US of A. Anyway, we arrive at this encampment and there are like 6 to 10 other tour groups. Each with their own guide, and all the guides seem to know each other too… There are only pit latrines and bucket baths. For dinner we had pasta and sauce and that night we slept on the roof of a mud hut. We could have slept inside, it was our room and all, but it was more exciting to sleep outside. However, it was also freezing! We didn’t have sleeping bags and only two blankets between the three of us. brrr… I didn’t sleep very well, BUT waking up to see the moon rise and cast an awesome like on the towering rocks in front of us was way worth it.

In the morning we had toasted bread, butter, Guava jam (yummmm), coffee and tea for breakfast. After all of ten minutes packing up our stuff, Omar took us to this amazing vista point where the view of the plains and the escarpment extending until it disappeared onto the horizon was in one word, breathtaking. From Begnamato we trekked along the escarpment ridge. On the way we went through an animist village where Omar explained what a “fettish” is. A fettish is pretty much an alter of sorts, but it looks like just a round stump sticking out of the ground. From what I understand, if someone in the village has a need of sorts they go talk to the Shaman. The Shaman tells them what sort of offering is required and then the offering is poured over the fettish. Examples include millet, chicken blood, and goats blood. gross! As a Christian, it is moving to see this type of religion in real-life. It is hard for me to understand how people believe that by offering something to this fettish whatever they desire will happen. I asked Omar what happens if someone makes an offering and they don’t get what they asked for. He said that doesn’t happen, and if it is taking too long you try again with a different offering and maybe use a more sacred fettish. Interesting. I am glad to have a faith in the living God who offers first salvation and then a promise to always walk beside us taking care of our needs according to the awesome plans he has for us.
After this short stop our trek then started the descent to the plains. It was tricky, but very manageable. The routes we took did not require any special equipment, only close attention and sure footing. From on top the plains looked so far below, but it only took about 30 minutes to descend. We ate lunch at a village, couscous and sauce, and chilled while the heat of the day passed. I had started reading 1984, and was really enjoying the book. It was great to have something relaxing to do in all the down time we had.

After lunch we walked another 5km along the plains to get to Ende. On the way you see this tower of a rock formation sticking out above the rest. It is called the finger of Ende and identifies the town. That night we stayed in a similar encampment and had rice for dinner again. The only perk was that they had this really good carbonated pineapple juice drink. I usually got one for dinner, so I had something to look forward to ;) That night at the encampment we met a really nice young French women named Caroline. She was in Dogon for 4 days as well, but had her own guide and a slightly different program. Instead going from village to village they stayed in the same place, but took day trips to neighboring areas. I prefer our method of exploration. The breakfast was the same as before and before we got going we meandered through a portion of the village that had many local crafts for sale. We weren’t interested in buying anything and the thought of carrying everything with us really deterred us from any impulse purchases. We walked 5km to Teli. The village of Teli is right next to the cliff and there is a great view of the ancient cliff dwellings. Lunch consisted of rice with a peanut sauce that is definitely my favorite type of sauce. Maggie and I looked around the village a bit after lunch and after the rest time Omar took us up to the cliff dwellings to give us some more history of the area and feel for the size of the Tellum houses. When Omar first said the Tellum people were miniature sized I thought he was pulling my leg, but no. The houses are genuinely sized for very tiny people! The view of the village below was picture perfect and it was nice and cool in the shade of the rocks.

After exploring the cliff dwellings we walked another 3km along the plains to Kari Kanbouri, the village where we would spend our last night. Since our experience the first night was not quite ideal, the next two nights we slept indoors. When we got to Kari Kanbouri one of the villagers said there was a dance going on. I got all excited and we headed over. Man was I let down. It wasn’t a mask dance of anything cool like that, it was just a bunch of villagers standing around in a circle with like three guys playing drums. Pairs of people would go in the middle of the circle and stomp there feet about. I don’t want to sound too critical, but really is wasn’t that impressive. And, really, I don’t know how they danced at all because the drumming wasn’t even like a recognizable pattern. Anyway, on the way back we found a little store and bought first more tissue to use the bathroom and some cookies which were a lovely last night in Dogon treat.

On Sunday, our last day trekking, Maggie and I got up early to watch the sun rise. It was incredible. Afterwards we had a short prayer time together which was much appreciated. For breakfast we had bengya, which is fried millet batter. Not terrible, but not great. Dip them in enough sugar and you are golden. By this time our Guava jam had run out. Not all that surprising…

The trek for the day was again about 7km. This time we were going back up the escarpment. It is a pretty big elevation gain from base to top and I was happy I was in shape to take on the climb. After the ascent we met up with the road I mentioned before and walked along it until we got to a town called Djigibounbom, sounds like giggy-bon-bon. The name reminded me of a bad rap song. From here we started back to civilization, or as close to that as it gets here in West Africa. Our goal was get to Mopti that afternoon. Omar’s friend picked us up and drove us to Bandiagara. We grabbed a quick rather nasty bowl of rice for lunch and from there we took a Peugot taxi to Severe which is 12km outside of Mopti. We wanted to go all the way to Mopti, but we had to stop and pay Hassimi the rest of the money and write in his guide recommendation book. It was hard to find something to say since after four days we were pretty ready to dump Omar. So very diplomatically I wrote something along the lines of, “We loved Dogon Country. Thank you for arranging our trip on such short notice. It was just the kind of trekking we were looking for.” All true statements.

After we finished with Hassimi he acted like he would bring us to the taxi stop so we could go on to Mopti. At this point Georgie almost lost it. Mainly because the taxi we were just in was heading there, but Omar insisted that we get out at Severe. End of story, Omar drove us in Hassimi’s car to the Hotel we were going to stay at called Hotel Yas Pas de Probleme, or Hotel No Problems. Omar drove so fast it was scary. I could tell he was mad, but whatever. It was his own fault he could have let us go to Mopti with the other taxi. The Hotel was really nice. A pool, flush toilets. The three of us laughed about how low our standards had fallen :) When we got there, even though it was called, Hotel No Problems, we had a slight problem. They didn’t have any more rooms so we had to sleep on the roof. Fun, except that Mopti is right on the Niger River and the breeze off the water is really quite cold. We borrowed two blankets each from the reception closet to make it through the night. I can’t imagine that night without the blankets, I would have died.

That first late afternoon evening we spent in Mopti was fun. We went swimming took showers and then met with a travel guide to discuss plans for Timbuktu. As a group we decided to ditch the Djenne idea because it would have meant five more hours of traveling and the main attraction is the market and a gigantic mosque. Well I’ve seen enough mosques and markets so we opted to brave the journey to the city of mystery. We wanted to leave the next morning, Monday, New Years Eve. We wanted to travel by 4x4 since the boat option took too many days, and we wanted to come back on Wednesday so we could spend Thursday exploring Mopti and then Friday traveling back to Ouagadougou. Besides getting to Timbuktu we also wanted to arrange camel ride and overnight stay with Tourag family in the desert. FYI Timbuktu is on the edges of the Sahara desert. It was once a very wealthy city where camel caravans traversing the continent would stop. Timbuktu is also famous for its salt trade. The ancient lakes now buried deep in the Sahara desert supply unimaginable quantities of high quality salt. Anyway, this guide wanted 140,000CFA or $250 each to arrange everything. This was an absurd price and we knew it. We were tough bargainers and at the end the guy seemed exhausted by all of our questions and determination. We paid 70,000CFA each which included the transport there AND BACK and the camel ride. Georgie was especially concerned about getting back so even though I would have preferred to pay 60,000CFA we paid the extra 10,000 for the assurance of return transport. After finalizing our plans for Timbuktu we celebrated by going to dinner at this restaurant that the Lonely Planet guide book highly recommended. It was quite a challenge to find. We had to ask like 5 people for direction, but it was well worth the hassle. We all got the same dish. It was Niger Perch in a sweet red sauce with bananas and cooked potatoes. It was a great dinner, albeit the temperature outside by the river was a bit chillier than we had dressed for and the restaurant was open air.

We left at 6:00am on Monday in this sweet land cruiser with a very good driver. The first 160km are on paved road, the next 195 are not paved and the road conditions deteriorate very very quickly. Luckily as I said we had a very good driver who handled the terrain like a pro. We got to the Timbuktu River and had to wait for a ferry to carry the car across. Bet you didn’t know you have to cross a river to get to Timbuktu. Well you do and the ferry ride is like 40 minutes. It’s a slow moving boat… Anyway, we got to Hotel Bouctou and met up with the partner guide, the friend of the guide in Mopti, who was going to take care of everything for us. After a quick snack and Maggie buying a turban we were off on our camel ride. One, camels are very tall. Two, the saddles are wooden and not all that comfortable. Three, it was amazing. The family we stayed with lived about 7km from Timbuktu and it took us between an hour and a half to two hours to get there. While we rode the camels on of the young men walked ahead leading them.

We watched the sun go down on the 2007. That night we had goat meat and buttered rice for dinner. It wasn’t horrible, but definitely different. It must have been goat butter or something because the rice had a funny taste. Anyway, it was authentic Tourag food so I was happy to try something new! That night we rang in the New Year by promptly falling asleep. It gets cold in the desert at night. Luckily Ali, the Timbuktu guide gave us two sleeping bags to use and the family let us use a blanket. We all slept really well that night. It was actually kind of cool going to sleep in 2007 and waking up in 2008 :)

The next morning we woke up with the sun. They served us this round bread for breakfast with coffee and tea. Then two of the family members brought over some hand crafts to sell. Maggie bought a ring which was nice of her to do. I’m not all that drawn to the African jewelry. It looks nice on the African women, but just weird on white people. By 9:15 the camels were saddled again and we were headed back to the city. I can’t leave this portion of the trip without mentioning the little naked boy. Yep that’s right. One of the little boys of the family probably about 3 or 4, was running around naked. Everyone else had clothes on. It’s Africa so this isn’t all that surprising except at night it got really cold. When they were making us tea the little naked boy came running up and crouched by the fire to keep warm. Poor kid. But really I think it was his choice. The best part of all was that he never walked anywhere. He was either standing still or running somewhere, and he always ran on his tip toes. In the morning we gave him two pieces of candy, one for him and one for his little sister. Then later Maggie was feeling especially generous and gave him a handful of like five. You should have seen his face. He was not only smiling ear to ear but was dancing about a bit and shaking his head back and forth in excitement. As he ran back to his family’s tent with his head turned back at us, he dropped a candy. He stopped, picked it up and shook his head again this time making a very funny face. It was awesome. Highly memorable! Just as were about to leave someone put clothes on him. He didn’t run quite as fast anymore and I just wonder how long the clothes actually stayed on that day :)

After the camel ride back to Timbuktu, which was equally as uncomfortable as the ride there, we found our day guide and headed off to explore Timbuktu. Our day guide’s name was Abdula, which makes me think of Paula Abdul which is the only way I could remember his name. Anyway, he spoke great English and brought us to the three different mosques, we saw the houses of the first explorers to reach Timbuktu, the flam of peace monument, as well as the local historical museum. We had lunch on top of the market building which had a great view of the city below. You could even see out to the desert. That afternoon, exhausted from the camel ride and tour of the town we crashed for a nap at Ali’s house. We also planned to stay there that night. The guide has a first floor room with a bunch of mattresses where people can stay. His family sleeps upstairs. It was cheaper and easier than staying at a hotel. After our nap we set out again, this time in search of fresh baked round bread like we had that morning and some famous salt. We bought 9 mini loaves of bread hot out of the stone oven. Than plan was to have them tomorrow for our trip, but we each ate two that afternoon as we couldn’t help how good they were!

For dinner we went to this restaurant across from the monument named the flame of peace. In the 90s there was a tourag rebellion of sorts and when the fighting ended the weapons collected were all burned in a great fire at that exact spot. Surprisingly, the monument was, well, crumbling. I guess it’s not that surprisingly but it is discouraging and I hope it doesn’t symbolize the status of peace in the country either…

Friday morning we got up and walked around town again looking for more bread to buy. Our hope was to leave Timbuktu very early but there were complications and such so the car wasn’t coming for us until 10, which turned into 10:45. We didn’t get across the river until after 1:00pm. Late start for an eight hour journey… As good as the driver was on the way there is as bad as the driver was coming back. He wouldn’t drive on the road because it was too bumpy and the 4x4 was older and a really rattled. If he drove fast it wasn’t a problem because car kinda skims over the top, but he wouldn’t get up to speed. So instead he drove on these paths next to the road. It was very winding and slow going. It was so depressing to glance over at the road as see other 4x4s going flying past us. To make matter worse because our driver wasn’t driving on the road, we also got stuck in the sand! It was not funny. Appropriate as Timbuktu is known to be harder to get out of than to get to. I was not happy thinking about having to spend the night in the middle of nowhere which is immediately where my mind went. However, within thirty minutes we were back in business.

So Maggie sat up front on the way back. She has a thing about really needing a seatbelt, something about previous car experiences she’s had. Anyway, that wasn’t a problem. What was a problem was that that left Georgie and I in the backseat with then four African guys crunched together in the trunk. Well, I wanted to sit in the middle anyway to be able to watch the road so I didn’t get sick. Since we hadn’t paid for the whole car and there was any empty seat it seemed ridiculous to make the four men squish in the back like that. So we offer for one to sit in the empty seat. This was fine until the about 6 hours into the trip. I was done with sitting in the middle. We had reached the paved road and my bum hurt from the seat which was split in the middle leaving me to sit half and half on the two seats. So I traded places with the guy, who then proceeded to keep falling asleep and having his head fall either on Georgie or I. He also had really long legs which had no place to go in the middle so he kept squishing us. Whenever his head fell I would nudge him to wake him up and he would be like sorry, sorry… BUT then continue to do it again. I was like if you are really sorry you’ll just stay awake. I ended changes back places with him so he could lean on the window. This solved the problem. The whole experience has really made me think. We paid a lot of money to get a ride in that car, a lot more than those other guys. Georgie and I could have kept the back seat to ourselves, but we felt guilty about it. But then I was thinking if I had paid for a first class seat on an airplane I wouldn’t have invited someone in coach to come sit with me… Anyway, I have been struggling with this. What level of luxury should one afford themselves in the face of great inequality?

The end of the transport story is that after 12 hours we were back in Mopti. Safe. Praise God for is traveling mercies :) This time we had a room at the hotel, we reserved it before leaving. It was nice to have a room to ourselves. Our last real day spent in Mali we explored Mopti. It sits on the Niger River so there are many boats coming in and out loading and unloading any and everything. It was such a crazy scene. After just one day I can genuinely say I am happy Ouagadougou is not a port city! People were everywhere. The fish smell was overwhelming and as a tourist we couldn’t take two steps without someone bugging us. For lunch we went to a place called the Bozo Bar; again a Lonely Planet recommendation which was spot on even to the point of describing the slow service which we definitely experienced. Good thing we weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere. While out and about I bought a really neat purse made of all sorts of fabric patterns. It is a bucket style bag which the guy original wanted to 18,000CFA for. I ended up with one for 3,000CFA. It was a great purchase. I actually wish I would have bought more as presents for people. Speaking of purchases, at this point in the trip we were all pretty much out of money. I brought only my Mastercard, but the ATMs take only VISA. Georgie had to take out money for all three of us. We were to pay her back of course… BUT it was stressful and I learned a valuable lesson about making sure I have some way to access more money when traveling.

One of our other objectives in wandering the city was to search for transport back to Ouagadougou the next day. There are no buses to Bobo which we were thinking of as an alternative to the bush taxis to get here and the other option of going all the way through Bamako was a ridiculous idea. There was one direct bus to Ouaga which left at 4:00pm and traveled through the night, on unpaved paths for 17 hours. Not too enticing. So we resigned ourselves to simply reverse the mode of transport we took to get to Mopti. We started mentally preparing ourselves of the long haul. In the afternoon I took a quick, freezing dip in the pool, mainly just to move around a bit more. I read some more of 1984, the book I had brought with and was about to finish. While sitting by the pool a nice woman from New Zealand who now works in London started talking to me. Later that evening when we had dinner at the hotel restaurant, she joined us and we talked together until 10:30 which is late when you start dinner at 6:15. The woman’s name was Deb. She is a doctor who has done a lot of work in Africa. It was fascinating to hear what she had to say!

The next morning we got up very early and got a taxi ride to the transport station. We got there at 6:15ish and yet again watched the sun come up. We waited until 7:30am for the peugot taxi to be ready to leave. Basically, there are no scheduled times. When enough people come to fill up the car it leaves. Could be you wait 5 minutes could be you wait and hour plus. The trip was divided into three parts: Mopti to Koro, Koro to Ouahigouya, and Ouahigouya to Ouagadougou. The roads got better as the trip went on. The first leg in the puegot taxi was horrible. There was a problem with the exhaust and there were really bad fumes. I felt like I could feel the brain cells dieing off. We had to ask them to stop and roll down the windows, which they have to do with a wrench as the cranks were broken off. The only good thing was the driver was speedy which meant we got to Koro in good time. Problem was we waited 4 hours in Koro for the next bush taxi to leave. They were waiting for another taxi from Mopti to arrive. It was frustrating at first thinking we could have slept in, but is better to go and wait along the way that way you don’t miss anything. Who knows if we would have gotten a place in the other vehicle?! Waiting in Koro we met an American couple headed to Timbuktu for the famous musical festival in the desert. The wife works at Stanford with water stuff too, which made for fun conversations :) Maggie, Georgie and I also entertained ourselves by buying our lunch in increments, first some bananas, then some bread, then some watermelon. The taxi from Koro finally left at 2:00. This road was really pretty good, not paved, but not bumpy. Ouahigouya is only 91km from Koro but it took like two and a half hours because the van was so slow, and don’t forget the marathon boarder crossings.

We did finally make it to Ouahigouya and got seats on the 6:00 bus to Ouagadougou. Thankfully the road was paved and the bus was nice. While it was only another two to three hours, it seemed like forever. There was digital clock on the bus and I thought it was broken because the minutes seemed to just crawl by! Back in Ouaga Leanna came to pick us up at the bus station. What a blessing! I was back at my house at 9:30. It was a 15 hour travel day. LONG. I slept very well that night after staying up to figure out the money situation which I planned to remedy the next morning.

Overall it was an amazing trip. I would do it again in a second and would do very little different. I think I learned some really good lessons and will be even savvier as I travel in the future. Maggie, Georgie and I all got along great. Spending 10 days with two people who only kind of know can turn out good or bad. Lucky for us it was a very positive experience. We worked through any travel challenges together. We were understanding, forgiving, and trusted that the Lord would guide our plans and protect our paths.

Two random additions:

In the Dogon villages the children and even the adults will hold out their hands and say “un cadeau”? Which means “a present”. They are so used to tourists and white people giving them stuff they just automatically ask. It was so annoying. Then some of them even would get mad if you didn’t give them something. This continued in Mopti and Timbuktu. We gave the little naked boy candy precisely because he never asked and it was such a nice change of pace! One time walking in a Dogon village, Georgie says “some kid just threw a rock at me…” I didn’t think much of it until I felt a pebble hit me in the back of the neck. I turned around and said no and clapped my hands really loudly and shook my finger at the kids. They got the point.

Lastly is that in Timbuktu Georgie was walking to where we were meeting our camels and this little kid helps her carry her bag. She didn’t the help, but this kid spoke English and was very convincing. Anyway, he then lends her his turban. She refused it at first and this kid about 11, says in perfect English, “Oh, come on. You’re going into the desert. You need this.” Just like a Mom would tell her kids to put there hats on. I was hilarious! Later on, the same kid found us the afternoon we walking about Timbuktu and helped us find the bread and salt, ect. We ended up giving him a nice tip for his help. He seemed like a very enterprising young man. I hope he does well for himself in the future :) Along those lines, you would not believe how westernized some of the young men are in Timbuktu. Many speak English because of all the tourists. This one guy who talked to us at the hotel when we first arrived and was trying to sell us turbans said, “My name is Oamaassdiuahwe (I don’t remember it..), but my friends call me Bob Dylan.” Like where did he come up with that! I bought a sweet shirt from Timbuktu as my souvenir from a very similar type of fellow. They were quite entertaining and knew that no meant no and would leave. That was very refreshing change of pace.

Aren't you glad you read all that! Felt like you were there every step of the way... You were. In my heart ;)