A Visual African Travel Story

This is not a story about broad adventures across the continent. I don’t have any. But I do know the remote paths of the back bush where I work.

Let me share some of the scenes seen on my trip to the village. My crappy writing can not do it justice. But this is how full every day is, from a sensory perspective. 

My day began with me packing my bags with a water filter, a cliff bar, and oral re-hydration solution. 

I start the motorcycle and pull out of town at 5:30 am.

I have ten irrigation buckets and a thousand feet of drip irrigation on a coil, strapped to the back of the bike, like some white trash NGO.

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Photo taken later in the day.

It is still dark outside. I dodged the usual pot holes through town to the outskirts. I clear the police stop on the edge of town, and they don’t bother to stop me.  I look up at the harmattan filled night, and I can barely see one star. The sky is too full of dust.

About ten kilometers from town I pass lines of women carrying huge bundled loads on their heads. Bundles of grains or grasses, three times larger than their bodies. They are walking in the pitch black darkness, a long distance to town.

In the beam of by headlight I also see a line of six women carrying firewood. Bundles a meter in diameter, and a meter and a half long. How do they carry such heavy loads? Why in the darkness of this hour?  Where are they heading with such body wrenching loads? Life of women in Mali is hell. Patriarchal, female genital mutilation is 98%, and women work like a dog.

I dodged sheep and goats any time I neared a roadside village. But, thankfully, this morning there are no dead donkeys, from fatal night collisions.

I pass a bus coming toward me, rapidly closing the distance between us, with no lights. It scared the crap out of me as it rapidly emerged  in my high beam. Driving in the dark, the passengers safety seems irrelevant. 

An owl is sitting on the road, and when my high beams touch him, he takes to flight.

I begin to see and evenly spaced  string of grass clumps tossed on the road. The African sign of a broken down vehicle. I slow my motorcycle down, swerving to the center of the road to clear any vehicle  that might be stopped on the shoulder, and all of a sudden I see the broad side of a tractor trailer truck blocking the whole road. It must have stalled going up the hill, then rolled backwards and jack-knifed on the road.

I am not even certain a bus or truck would get around it. I envision this truck getting rammed into…. say by a bus without headlights. 

Further down the road, on the opposite side, is a dump truck half on the shoulder, half on the road, but parked for the night. In front of the truck, by the bumler, on the pavement  is a sleeping body. Totally wrapped up in a blanket, from head to toe is a man sleeping on the bare pavement, not even a mat that i could see. He is trying to keep the mosquitoes off his body as he sleeps. How could he? Being an African truck driver has to really suck. Bribes at every stop, extortion, poorly repaired vehicles. Long distances, no hotels to sleep in. Hell.

At least a dozen night time feeding bats whiz by my helmet in the dark, Just a blur in the dim lights of my bike. None have ever hit me yet.

About 6:10 AM it begins to brighten up. The sun is white through the harmattan haze as it first peaks over the horizon.

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On my right I see A man is on the the roof of his mud hut. He is stirring some grains he has placed up there to dry in the sun. He has a homemade grass broom in his hand to sweep the grains back and forth.

A bird comes flying out of the bush, landing on the road just to my left. It finally sees me, but it is too little too late. It jumps to fly away, and the bird  hits the clutch lever on the handlebars of my motorcycle, leaving feathers behind. Too bad for the bird, but better than hitting my face visor, which is what I was prepared for as I ducked down.

A huge hawk or eagle of sorts is following the roadway ahead of me, looking for nightly roadkill. I catch up to him, pass under him, but he holds his course. I can still see him in my rear view mirrors as I continue down the road, he is still searching for his easy roadkill feast.

Sixty five km down the paved road, and I arrive to the dirt trail I need to turn onto.  It is time to pull over.

Yep, a potty break…. I laugh at the fact that I am going to a remote village where Canada, among other partners have sponsored a program to promote using outhouses, rather than practice open defecation. Here I am, in the middle of nowhere and I stop in the woods to openly, and unapologetically defecate into a small hole scrapped by the heal of my shoe.  What other choice do I have here?

I again pull over on the trail at another point. I am suppose to meet a Malian partner out here today. I wait. I take pictures of what I see around me.

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A small tree encased in termite mud.

When my friend arrives we continue on our journey.

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We cross a small stream of water, and as we climb up the bank on the other side, my friend has blown his front tire in the river.  I always carry spare tubes on trips into this remote bush.

However, we got caught this time. On our last bush trip we met a man with a flat tire. I gave him my spare tube to get him out of the bush, while saying to my colleague, “Remind me to get a replacement tube when I get back to town” 

We both forgot.  We had to push him to the village as a result.

They could not fix his tube as it was in too bad a shape. 

So he hopps onto my motorcycle with me, and we drive 18km in the bush to a small town. He stops me on the way saying he needs to visit someone in the bush. He too practices open deification in the  woods

While I wait. I take a picture of cool termite mounds that look like mushrooms. They are all over this place.

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We continue to the small town where we buy a tube, and a new tire,  both of which I paid for, as his other was worn out anyway and he is as rich as a mouse.

We drive back into the bush behind the mountain, where the village is located.  I am sun burned badly by now, as we both left our helmets in the village for this journey.

I take pictures of some amazing elderly people.

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I watch an elderly woman winnowing some seeds of some kind. Seeds she will boil and used to make homemade soap.

I am always drawn into looking at their hands, their old hands. I don’t know why.

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I take pictures of an old lamp.

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We had set up two drip irrigated gardens here a few weeks ago, now other women want in. We setup ten more gardens today, for about 100 people in those families.

I walk the village in the early morning harmattan haze.

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My friend is staying behind. So I say my goodbye, and head out of the bush alone.

I get back to town by 2 PM. I snack, shower, and lay down. For whatever reason I did not wake up until 7:30, and I could easily have stayed in bed till the next day.  I don’t know why,  I push myself to get up and work until 9:30 PM, but it is all I can do in Africa today.

I give in and sleep again….

 I wake up to Christmas eve day. 

This is how rich every day in Africa is for us. Not our eyes, nor our hearts can keep up with it all.

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