9-Bamako-View from Point G_1024x768SYNOPSIS:  Viewing Bamako from Point G, talking more to Mahamadou about life in Mali.

It was St. Christopher that I prayed to most this evening.  Bhaisajyaguru is of course in constant demand in Mali – I do, admittedly, worry about Malaria and Yellow Fever – the first few mosquitoes have shown up in my air-conditioned and supposedly sealed room…   And Ganesh is a constant companion and already proved his worthy presence manifesting what was needed and convincing me once again that there is no such thing as anything “going wrong”.   St. Christopher is the least appreciated of my pantheon, but I hope he forgives me for that.   He certainly held his hand over me today!    (For more information on my travel pantheon see the home page – top line).

Mahamadou was going to take me to a viewing point which overlooks Bamako, but I had assumed that we would do that via taxi or bus.  Instead I had to climb onto his motorbike!  Nothing against motorbikes, but if you would see the traffic here, you would know what I am worried about!!  And of course, nobody has ever heard of helmets either!!!   And just yesterday on my walk I witnessed a crash between a pedestrian and a bike in which both participants found themselves on the ground!!!!   I think they lived…

But hey, that’s what makes traveling so much fun.  You do things that you would never dream of doing while in your familiar surroundings.  I took a deep breath, invoked St. Christopher and put my fate into his hands and my feet onto Mahamadou’s bike.  And since I live to tell the tale, Christopher did well and so did Mahamadou.  Thanks, Chris, thanks Mah!

Onto the bike and into the sea of humanity again – like this morning, but faster.  It was bumper to bumper, passing and being passed within inches of each other and it was smelly and dusty, too.   I cannot make any sense of the traffic pattern.  What is especially disconcerting is the passing of and being passed by other motorbikes.  Often you ride in a cluster of 5-6 bikes and there is no telling who will, or will not turn, but somehow they work it out.  To make matters worse it was rush hour traffic.  I literally closed my eyes – a good idea anyhow if you remember the dust.  I have no idea how Mahamadou rode this bike without any glasses or protective gear.  At least all I had to do was trust and go.

Finally we reached the outskirts of town.  Traffic lightened and we started our ascent passed the National Museum, the Science Park, the Zoological Garden and up and up to Point G.  You can take a taxi there and then walk.  But on the bike we continued through a smoldering and stinking garbage dump and on via a red-colored dirt road, passed the radio and TV station of Bamako and … there we were! 

At the end of the road there is a public exercise park – it was empty when we first got there and filled with people by the time we left.    Both males and females were seriously working out here, side by side.   All the equipment needed – like in a state of the art gym – is provided, free of charge, by the government to keep its people fit!    How cool is that!

From this point down, Bamako looked like Ann Arbor!  I am not kidding.  I was shocked to see how green the city was.  Trees everywhere!  Shocked, because when you are on the ground you perceive little of that; it’s all dirt, waste, and dust.  But each and every house seems to have a court yard.  I have seen a few of them in hotels around the area.  And the streets are lined with trees, too. It does not make much of a difference on the ground – the dust wins – but it is truly nice to see from above.  And I don’t dare to imagine the city if the trees weren’t there at all.

Mahamadou and I sat down over a bottle of coke to talk.  He is the first of seven children, just about as old as my son.  He has 9 years of schooling; two more than most in Bamako but not enough to have a B.A.  Tourism is what he has worked for all of his life.  As a youngster he started out as a porter in Dogon Country that means, he carried luggage for tourists to out of shape or exhausted by the heat to manage (sounds like me).  

Tourism has been dead for over 2 years.  He does not know what else to do.   This is all he has known and trained for all of his life.   Every day he goes to the airport to see if there is perhaps the one tourist or business man who comes in who needs any services at all.  That is his job routine.  He obviously has built himself a network of connections since the taxi driver who gave me a ride gave him a call.  He was willing to work for whatever I would pay him and in the end I know I overpaid him – just because I could.

His mother and father died of Yellow Fever within a year from each other; one in Mali the other abroad.  Half of his siblings have left the country and looked for work elsewhere – in other African countries.  He is one of the few still in Bamako. He is engaged to a woman who sells baked goods on the street in the mornings.  If he can make enough money to support an apartment for the two of them, he will get married within the year.  I hope he will.

I love to listen to stories like his.  I am not sure if it is a typical story, but it is real.   And those, on the ground real stories, often give us insights into what the news does not report: 

Mali is a predominantly Muslim country (80%).  But by government it is secular.   Malians in Bamako – from what I have heard so far – were scared to death that Islamists would take over.  Many of them prepared for exile, many of them relocated internally.   Mahamadou described himself as an Animist who converted to Islam.  But he is not practicing it 100%.  He and many of the other Muslims out here in Mali regularly do things like the following, which are contradictory to the doctrine of Islam: 

1.       Drink alcohol (there is hard liquor in every corner supermarket and every hotel)

2.       Accept women on motorbikes (really, one out of every 10 bikes is driven by one or two women)

3.       Accept women’s bodies  (covering up here is really a very loose concept – more on that later)

4.       Tolerate Animists (Pre-Islamic Pagans)

5.       Tolerate Christians

6.       Date before marriage

7.       Communicate with and befriend foreigners/infidels/kufirs

Way to go Mali!   Good night.