How screwed can you get in Africa? Well, this was about as deeply screwed as one can possibly get on the continent of Africa, outside of a physical body tragedy.
I was heading out to the village of Niara***gou, a twenty eight kilometer bush ride on the motorcycle. I needed to check in on the progress of a mud brick hut being built for us. The mason had started the work and wanted to show me the progress.
Brent, one of our interns that year, decided to come along too.
After looking at our village hut, we drove the motorcycles across the dirt road, going down a trail out onto the now dry river bed , the village potato fields are there, by a little tiny lake, that, thankfully, has water in it all year long, even during the nine month drought season. They are a very lucky village.
We had a nice walk through the hand watered potato fields, got a few good pictures, and chatted with the guys doing the hard work of watering their potatoes by hand. Then we headed for Sikasso.
Half way back out of the bush on the dirt road, at the 12km mark, Brent stopped, realizing he had no shoulder bag, it was gone. He was waving frantically for me to stop, which I did, and he explained the bad news.
The missing shoulder bag contained all his money, 50,000 cfa ($100), $200 US bills cash, his bank ATM debit card, passport, drivers licence, and of course his Mali VISA in the passport, his immunization card, and cell phone…..all gone with the bag.
As a foreigner, this is about as deeply screwed as you can possibly get on the continent of Africa, outside of a physical bodily tragedy.
He was not sure if he left it on the ground at the gardens when we suited up to leave, or if he set it on the motorcycle’s back rack and forgot to put the bag over his shoulder, and it fell off in the bush on the way, or the strap broke…. and the strap on that bag is not going to just break.
We quickly turned around and barreled the 12 km back to the rural village. Searched where we were at the gardens, asked around among the people working where we parked the bikes….nothing.
So we informed my Jatigi (the village elder responsible for us), and left…. stopping at every village on the path to tell them what happened and asking them all to keep an eye out.
We figured the money would be gone, but hoped to, at the very least, get the passport back. I prayed all the way back to the village, and with no success, I prayed all the way back to town too, as did Brent.
I was going to give it till Sunday night, with the hopes the “Village Grapevine Network” could kick into gear fast enough to at least retrieve the passport. Everything else Brent could do without, until he got home. If there was no movement by then, we would have to take the bus 450km west to Bamako, to begin the process of replacing his passport, and then his entry visa. We would be stuck in the capital city for a week, at a very busy time in our work. I would have gladly done so if need be, but it would be very inconvenient, and a very expensive week.
We stopped at many villages on the way back home to inform them of the situation, spreading the word that all we really needed was the passport, if it could be found, because we realized the money will be gone, but the passport was of no use to anyone else anyway, so it was likely to get discarded some place. They all said they would spread the word….
It was getting late now, and we floored the motorcycles to get out of the bush before dark.
However, on the far outskirts of Sikasso, on a dirt road, with no power out that far, and still about 1/2km from our place, five guys sitting on a bench on the side of the road whistled for us to stop. I was tired, cranky, and I was going to just keep on going, because I did not know any of these men.
But, for some reason I pulled the motorcycle over, and Brent stopping up his bike too.
“What is up?”, Brent inquired.
“I don’t know, but those men back there wistled for us to stop. We better go see what it is about.”, I said.
So, Brent and I walked back to the men on the bench to see what they wanted. They informed me that the guy in the store they were sitting in front of wanted to see me. I stepped into the little mud dungeon store. He pulled out Brent’s bag, asking if it was ours? He said a man found the bag on the bush road… He saw it fall off Brents’s shoulder, and he tried to stop us in the bush, but he could not get our attention, or keep up with us. The old farmer knew we were from Sikasso, as he sees us passing his hut in the bush all the time, but he had no idea where we lived in Sikasso. So he gave it to his friend at the store, on the outskirts of town, who sees us passing by often as we are on our way out into the bush.
We examined the bag, and I kid you not…… EVERYTHING was in there…. every penny of his money, his cell phone, passport…. Everything.
Imagine that, we lost all Brent’s valuables, and the valuable lost bag actually got back to Sikasso before us, not behind us, intact. We gave the man 10,000 cfa ($20) for his honesty, and help.
The strap had indeed broken. However, it was because at some time a mouse had chewed the strap almost completely though, with only a small thread remaining. The leather comfort patch for the shoulder slide over the chewed section, hiding the danger up inside the leather, but one of those quick snaps on the bush road snapped off the remaining threads.
Was it luck? Was someone looking out for us? You tell me!
One thing for certain…. there is an unrewarded, unnamed man of great integrity and kindness out there in the bush. I thank him deeply.