Dateline: June 28: To Gao and back
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A little light reading for you.
PS: Funky Madagascar shirts to the first two people who send me some
Peanut Butter Crunch...
Paul & Gigi Dever (and Whistle)
Washington, DC 20521-2050
PS: Rand, I never heard if the Wise family and Ms. Bell got their
I had to go tot Gao, in the eastern most province of Mali, to scout out houses for a regional office. To prepare for this trip we ad the Regional Representative, Paul Gilman, find three or four and have the owners ready to show me. I happened to mention my trip when I was at the embassy health unit, and the nurse there, an RPCV from Mauritania, asked if I could take her husband's bag which he left the day before when he went to Gao.
Originally my trip would have meant driving there on Monday to arrive there on Tuesday in the late afternoon. It is about 1600 Km, and you can cut the trip in two by stopping in Sevar�. Convenient since we have another regional office there. I had planned to visit PCVs on the way there and give out goodies, and get some contact information from them. It turned out that I had to deliver some fuel coupons to the regional office in Sevar� also. Of course the office called me after I left the office to tell me that.
As it turned out, we are still without director, so I had to shorten my trip, and that meant flying up one day, and returning the next. All in all not a bad plan, but the flights at each end leave at 7AM, and you gotta be there at 5:30. One day a week is not bad, but two days back to back is not the best for one's health.
I got to the airport on time, but there were already fifty people ahead of us. It was okay, since we had our ticket, and we sort of have connections. That does not always mean anything. Sometimes you have to threaten them with lawsuits to make sure you keep your seat.
Anyway, we got on the plane (a fifteen-seater Russian design, crew included), began ouit flight. It was basically uneventful, but the engineer seemed like he was on the end of a bender. He smelled of stale sweat and dirty clothes. But the plane stayed in the air; I guess that is the most important thing. The Russian guys own the plane and rent it to Air Mali. They have two: the fifteen-seater, and another that holds about 60.
Our first stop was Sevar�. A few people get off, and a few more get on. We wait around for about a half-hour so they can fuel up, then we take off again. Next stop Timbuktu, also known as: Timbuktu, a thousand years of history, unhampered by progress.
I get off the plane here to see if I can find my friends, Lyme and Halla. No luck. We hopped back on, and headed to Gao. Interestingly enough, we hugged the Niger River the whole way up. Maybe it is easier to find the wreckage if they know it is no the river�
We arrive in Gao, only to find this dusty, dirty town. The driver, who had left the office on Sunday, was weaiting for me. While there we told the guy that we wanted to reconfirm our flight. He said, gee the flight is already overbooked, I don't think so. We explained that we had already confirmed it in Bamako, and had the 'ok' on our ticket. He said, oh, that's different. He said that we should go to the office at the hotel and reconfirm it again. Never a bad idea to reconfirm your flight at least ten times before you fly.
Our hotel, the Atlantides, just happens tobe across the leatherworking place, and they are curing the rotting flesh off the skins out in the street. If you don't understand this smell, go to a slaughterhouse out back near the trashcans, and suck in the air. Paul is there waiting for us. We register in the hotel, get our rooms, and then go for lunch. My room is basicwith a bed, an AC which worked sometime this century. It still worked but didn't have the directional thingees, so it blew cold air out at chest high level. Unfortunately, the bed was a little lower.
Wee go to the Amity Restaurant. You can find good grease here and bad grease. I was huingry so I took a steak and fries, as well as rice and sauce. I topped it off with a coke. I don't drink much soda pop anymore, so the Coke was really sweet to me. After a rest, and a glass of tea, we were off.
We went to the first house. I liked it immediately. It was in a large concession, had three building and two shelters already. It would need a little clean-up and that was it. Plus it was on the hospital's electrical line, so there would not be too many outages. It also had a phone line attached, just not connected. I am sure we could use the ambassador's help to get the phone line hooked up.
Just to go through the motions, I looked at two other houses. One had a PCV living in one part of it, and the other was the old UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) office. The house was locked up, and the PCV was not there the first time we looked, but then we said that we would come back.
We went to the second house, and I didn't like it much. It was part of a concession, and it was a bit small. I could not see a program growing in Gao and having the compound for an office and rest house. We went back to the second house, since time had passed so we should find the owner with keys. We got there and found the PCV burning PVC and other trash. I gave her two MREs. I looked at the house since the owner did show up with the keys. It didn't really suit our purposes. We thanked him, then split up: Paul went home, and we went to the hotel to rest a bit.
I took a shower, and then noticed that I forgot that I had changed dop kits. I brought the one that had the medicine rather than the one with soap, toothpaste, etc. Luckliy, there was a store right next to the hotel so I bought some soap.
I did a bit of souvenir hunting. I stopped at one of the stalls near the hotel. This guy had some of the ugliest animals I had ever seen made of bronze. He didn't want to go down on his prices. I guess there are some French tourists who will really pay about $25 for a hunk of metal. I won't though. I stood fast at $8, but he wouldn't budge. I got an amulet for Gigi, and a coke for me.
After tossing and turning in bed for about a half hour, I went to get dinner. We picked up Paul and then hit the road to the restaurant. We got more grease, different version. Again, beef fries and rice. It was pretty good. Three people ate for under 7 dollars. Then we dropped Paul off and went home.
I set my alarm clock for 4AM again, and kept tossing and turning. I guess when you are a Volunteer you don't mind the heat. At least back when I was a volunteer, I didn't. Now I do.
We got to the airport at 5:30, and of course even beat the Air Mali staff. I was however first in line. There were about thirty people waiting for a seat on the plane. Only fifteen got on. But they had a lot of bags and boxes. Luckily the Russian pilot had scruples, or was not sure his plane could take all the weight so he said they could take only passengers' bags only, no deliveries. Then he was limiting the carry-on people could take: a first in Africa. I was worried that the plane would be too heavy to lift-off, and we might crash or something. Irony though: I was telling Paul that although I like Gao a bit, I don't think it is where I want to die.
Some old man kept saying: "If my bag can't go on, then I won't get on." I got no problem with that: both can stay off. Finally they agree that he can bring his bag on, but they have to take some more luggage off the airplane. You see it is the anniversary of Mohamed's baptism, and everyone wants to go to Timbuktu for it. There is some festival for it, but of course people waited to the last minute.
Lucky for me, everyone gets off in Timbuktu. I am the only passenger, and there is the flight crew who takes up a small amount of space there. All is well until I notice that the engineer is dressed up today. No more stale sweaty clothes. He is dressed just like the pilot. I should have guessed why, but didn't. It is only when I see him switching places with the pilot that I see why. He gets the pilot to take a picture of him at the helm. I remember that there was a plane crash in Russia a while back because the pilot let his six-year old son play at the helm, and I just didn't want that to happen here. Also I had finished "Airframe" by Michael Crichton only hours before. Picture taken, everyone back in place, and lo and behold, the engineer changes into his sweaty clothes again.
We stop in Sevar� to refuel, and I again am the only one to get back on. We arrive at the airport, and of course Mama is not there. You see, there was another Air Mali plane in Sevar� that took passengers, and no one in Bamako knew that the second one was also arriving. Imagine that, no one at Air Mali knowing that they had a regularly scheduled flight arriving on Wednesday�
I used my handy phone card to call the office, and Mama came back. He had waited for me, and checked all the passengers coming off the plane, but of course, there was none.