37-5, The Ovens of Niafunke-Making Bread_902x768SYNOPSIS:  How “the situation” put a halt on my plans.   A glimmer of hope: the mission team.  Wasting time in Niafunke. 

Hamidi, the big important looking guy from the market, did not deliver.  No phone call, no car, no shared taxi, no bus, no nothing!  I knew that I was stuck when by 3 PM nothing had happened.  It takes 3+ hours to get to Timbuktu and you cannot cross any check points after 6 PM.  All this is the result of a collapsed economy, not enough fuel to go around, no business to conduct, etc, etc.   I had forgotten to take that into the equation when I disembarked here.  This was not the situation when the guidebook mentioned this as a “pleasant breaking up of the trip”.   I should have known better.

While waiting for the phone call from Hamidi, I had worked at the computer all morning assuming that I would be on my way in the afternoon.  That obviously did not happen.  All that was left to do now was walk around town a bit, see Farka’s house, photograph some of the typical ovens and wait for civilization to kick in at 6 PM and work through the night.   But the jolly encampment owner told me around 5 PM that “Electricity is finished”.  This was the second bad news in one day.   Supposedly, he had received a phone call from someone.  I can’t quite picture who this someone would be who makes phone calls to jolly encampment managers, but everyone else also seemed to know and it was certainly the stark reality.

Now I got frustrated.  I don’t mind slowing down a bit if at least I can catch up on my blog and my images, all very time-consuming tasks.  But not only was my computer now run down to less than 3%, I had no hope of recharging it and eventually had to move on into even more iffy territory.   If there is one thing I depend on it’s fully-charged camera batteries and a working computer…

I was already frustrated since all day long people had tried to hit me up for money for one thing or another.  One guy offered to take me down to Farka’s house.  Nice of him, but I could have found it by myself with just one or two words of guidance from the encampment.   In a town of mainly mud buildings, Farka’s stone house certainly sets itself apart.   A huge satellite dish in the courtyard also speaks of means, at least past glory.  I have no idea how royalties work in Mali and if the descendants of the 2006 deceased musicians still can benefit.  I was just mildly curious, nothing more.  I said hello to a bunch of people sitting around in the courtyard, assuming that they were the son and daughter?, or son and wife?, or daughter and husband? of the great man.  My “guide” certainly was of no help.  When I said goodbye and parted after taking a polite photo – nobody spoke English there – I thought I was done, but the “guide” insisted that I give them money.  I was going to give them $2.  Not enough, he insisted and made me give them $5.  For what?  For sitting there and not even being hospitable?!  Then he wanted money himself and was disappointed when I only gave him$1, but I did not budge any more.

When I went to the market to replenish my water supplies – the doctor from the mission team had advised me to take water with me since supplies in Timbuktu are still unpredictable – kids had swarmed around me and in one of the most enthusiastic, musical, and rhythmic chants shouted their “Tubabum”.  I tried to record it as it was nothing short of spectacular – but each time I turned around with my camera they either stopped, and arranged themselves to pose for an anticipated picture, or were dispersed by a nearby adult who had enough of the deafening chorus.   But wherever I stopped to buy something, not just kids but adults also begged me for money.   The poverty level out here in this rural town is definitely substantially more severe than I had seen in towns such as Mopti or Segou.   We are now also closer to the crisis area in the North, hardest hit by the political unrests.

The day was wasted, but just as I was losing hope, the mission team had finished in Niafunke and it turned out was on its way to continue in Timbuktu.  They agreed to take me.  Thanks, Ganesh!  Timbuktu, here I come after all!

And so I settled in for another sweaty night.

3 comments so far

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  1. I continue to be amazed at the trust you put in the people you must depend on, albeit not without some caution. The need to bail water regularly would have put me on shore the minute a bucket was put into service. I know I will never fully understand the desperation of these people, but your experiences and vivid retelling of them give me enough to truly appreciate my way of life. Thank you.

  2. Ah, Elisabeth, I hear the Greek chorus, their brown robes flowing around them, their bright and shining eyes peering out from their hoods…listen….

    “Elisabeth, you think that a boat,
    A bus and a taxi denote,
    A means for a ride,
    Put that thought aside,
    Your chances seem very remote.”

    But it sounds like you did find a way to get a ride…and we hold our breaths awaiting word on Timbuktu. Wow…the suspense!!! And what does that Greek chorus know anyway!!!

  3. Oh how I marvel at your finding your way in strange territories. I am now hesitant to use the term near Timbuktu, when I describe our home up north… Although I feel on some of the trips I have made a journey similar to yours.

    I have so enjoyed following your adventures on the maps…Hope the rest of your journey is as awesome as the rest.