Someday I’ll get sick. I’ll double over with cramps, vomit into a smelly toilet, and wish I hadn’t eaten that thing I shouldn’t have eaten.
But it didn’t happen yesterday when I filled our 30-liter jug with a hose from a village near the Senegal/Mali border. The locals didn’t seem to be paying but I gladly handed over 100 CFAs (about $.23). The rest of the crew went with bottled water and could have shook their heads if things went differently and I tried not to shake mine when they didn’t.
It didn’t happen tonight either and tonight was a fun night.
Mali doesn’t have many touts or hassles but outside our guesthouse there are a few and I asked the drummer in the teal shirt if he knew someone who could change some money. His friend offered me 415 CFAs to the dollar and the banks are giving 440 so I declined. But my drummer friend offered to take me somewhere else to get a better rate.
The sun was just setting in a very beautiful way and it streamed down the east-west streets and blasted through the tree branches and lit up all the dust a warm orange. It was getting dark now and in a lot of places I wouldn’t follow an un-known tout to an un-known moneychanger but I decided I felt okay about it.
I feel safer in Africa than almost anywhere else I’ve traveled.
I certainly feel safer in Mali than in Spain, safer in Senegal than in Brazil, safer in Morocco than in Thailand. I can’t fully explain it but I sense it like I sensed the water was okay to drink. The hose ran under a fence to a freshly painted medical clinic and the villagers were all filling their big jugs and there was nothing to fear.
So the teal-shirted drummer and I headed east into the Bamako dusk looking for a moneychanger or an ATM.
I asked him if he knew who Barack Obama was and he said no.
Then I explained he might be the next president. “Bush and then Obama,” I said, gesturing.
“Oh, yes. Obama,” he said. “The black man.”
He didn’t say anything else directly about Barack but what he chose to say next was very interesting to me.
“People from Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, they go to the U.S. or France and when they come back they are white,” he said, and as he said it he turned his forearms upside down to show the light skin there.
“They never come back to Africa. They send some money to their mom and dad but they never come back here to live.”
The first bank didn’t give me money and the Western Union was closed for the night and the tourist restaurant was offering 400 CFAs for my dollars. So we went across the street to one more bank, which took my card and gave me money even though the Lonely Planet said Mali was a country without working cash machines. God help anyone researching a guidebook here.
I asked the drummer if he wanted to grab some food and we stopped at a street side food stall in the full darkness. The woman filled a wide bowl with pasta and a good bean sauce. She fried some potatoes and put them on there too. She had a bowl of warm, soft plantains and she inspected them in her hand—as she did the pasta—and then put each chunk of plantain in my plate with the rest of it.
Just behind her were coals under a clay bowl, warming irons made of iron. A man there was pressing the patterned fabrics and the drummer and I were eating our food.