So, the stuck Land Rover. This is de rigeur: you have to drive out into the bush and get stuck: it's just the done thing, don't you know. And we, always wanting to do the in thing, promptly got stuck on the fourth morning of our trip.
Let me back up a little. We spent a day in Bamako after our night arrival, and shopped out the Artisans' Market downtown, which is where, on Mondays and Fridays, the mothers of twins are allowed to beg. (You give them money with your hands crossed one over the other, so as not to favor either twin with your right hand, I am told.) I trailed along after our host and enjoyed the odd sensation of being in a place at once completely new and completely familiar. I've never been to West Africa before, so the faces of the people (oh, those gorgeous women!), the brilliant head-dresses, the languages, and the food were all new. At the same time, the smell of rotten fruit and exhaust, the mix of mud and dust underfoot, the press of bodies, the molten copper sun, the glass bottles of Sprite, Fanta and Coke, the markets selling everything from shoelaces to sugarcane, and the riotous mix of traffic (donkey carts, Land Cruisers, bicycles, scooters, pedestrians, buses) on the roads felt completely familiar. It was as though I'd stepped back ten years, to when I was single, childless, and on the road.
I hadn't stepped back, though. I could feel the umbilical pull of my kids at home all the time--not in a bad way, just in a THERE way--and I couldn't get over the incredible luxury of so much TIME to do things. When we went out, I could just put on my shoes and go: I didn't have to put on anybody else's shoes for them. When we came home, if I was tired I could lie down and read, or rest. Oh my, it was the height of decadence, I'm telling you.
But I digress. The morning after the market visit, we flew to Kayes, a town in the northwest interior, just over the border from Mauritius, and let me tell you, they don't call Air Mali "Air Maybe" for nothing. We walked across the tarmac to a propeller plane which looked like the plane which carries Indiana Jones to Nepal in Raiders of the Lost Arc, and I wasn't at all reassured when we stepped inside and found ourselves squinting at signs in the Cyrillic alphabet. A secondhand Russian aircraft: THAT's confidence inspiring. Complete with Russian pilots, I might add. On the other hand, they gave us fruit juice and croissants (handed to us as we boarded: there were no flight attendants), which is more than American Airlines deigns to do on transcontinental flights, so who am I to be picky about things like avionics?
We landed in Kayes after an hour and a half of deafening flight over red, dry country dotted with baobab and thorn trees, and, after the usual shuffle of officialdom (passport numbers recorded, etc: why?), we piled into a Land Cruiser and a Toyota pickup and drove through more red, dry country to the town, which lines the banks of the...wait, is it the Senegal river? I'm thinking so. We roosted at a missionary guest house overnight, and had our business meeting with Indielou that evening, going over his accounts, and his plans for this year, and his need for a four wheel vehicle of some kind, and his work in the clinic, and his new employees, and all that, and good grief, the man works SO HARD, and so does everyone else at his clinic. I mean, this guy straps a portable vaccine cooler to his back and rides all day on a motorbike to go vaccinate the kids in these tiny hamlets in the Sahel, and then he rides back to his little concrete-and-mud house beside the clinic compound, and is essentially always on call. So if grandma shows up with a broken hip (yes, they break their hips there too), he's got to stabilize her and organize transport to Kayes. Which...drumroll please...consists of a TWO DAY ride on a donkey cart. So, you know, we kind of think he has a point asking for a four wheel drive.
Oy, there I have to stop for tonight, because the Rooster-doo is whimpering in his sleep. Again. But he had a big day, because Rabbit's fourth birthday party was today, complete with a Thomas the Tank Engine cake, and ice cream, and six other small boys (and their very cool parents, who sat around and drank Anchor Steam, so I enjoyed the party a lot too), and a trip to the pet store this morning to pick out a hamster (because two cats, a betta fish and two turtles just didn't seem like enough, especially with the looming move). And now either Roo is too tired to sleep, or too full of ice cream to sleep (most likely) or too working on an ear infection to sleep, or all of the above. So off I go to the Roo-rescue.
Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of The Perils of Pauline or Gunning the Land Cruiser Won't Get It Through the Sand Pit Any Faster Now That It's Stuck.