At the weekend we visited Siby, a village about an hour away from Bamako. Our trip had been organized by Rene at IS so was reasonably hassle-free. On Saturday morning we headed over in a convoy of 3 cars. Whilst most of the group left at 8am, Rachel, Hibz, Megan and I expected to leave at lunchtime because we were going in Rene’s car and he had an exam until noon, so we traded the market at Siby for a lie-in. Sadly the lie-in didn’t occur (I’ve yet to get one, the early starts are KILLING me!) At about 7.45am, The Children’s Society group who live below us at the apartments woke me up with a loud rendition of Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. Annoyed, I climbed out of bed, shut my window, then stumbled back again, fighting my mozzie net in the process (Edit: They have since said we’re now equal after we *allegedly* woke one of them up last week through stumbling home at 6am… *As if*!) Then the cockerel started. Then, at 9, the cleaner banged loudly at the door. Hibz, my housemate, sleeps incredibly well, so is never woken up by such noises, leaving it to me to answer the door every Saturday morning (including the 6am bedtime weekend). Then JJ rang to say that Rene’s exam had been cancelled so we were leaving within the hour.
Last week there were demonstrations in Bamako. Fighting in the North of the country is ongoing because rebel groups (including a minority group of Tuaregs) dominate the North, and the vast Sahel region is used as a highway for transporting weapons, people and the likes. They want to detach from the South and independently run the land. The groups have strong links with Gaddafi’s Libyan forces and Al-Qaeda. These disturbances have lasted several years, and are the primary reason we can’t travel to the north of Mali where the tourist areas such as Dogon Country, Djenne and Timbuktu are, due to Foreign and Commonwealth Office restrictions. Last week, 120+ soldiers were allegedly killed in the North after it is claimed the government sent them out to fight with no weapons. Following this, the wives and families of soldiers were protesting in Bamako around the president’s house, and the homes and businesses of some Tuareg families were set alight in Bamako and other cities. At one point we had an email alert from the Embassy, warning us of the troubles, expansion of the red zone, and temporary closure of the embassy. For these reasons, Saturday was declared a public holiday by the president to protect businesses etc. This is why Rene’s exam was cancelled.
Our accommodation in Siby was pretty but basic (5000CFA pppn, about £6). We stayed in little mud huts containing just beds and mosquito nets. We had western toilets, which was great, but no loo roll, sink or soap. Showers were outdoors with cold water (as standard). After a quick browse of the market and a cous-cous lunch, we packed into several 4x4s to drive (read ‘bounce’) off-road for over an hour to the waterfalls. Our car was packed, seating 10, lacked seatbelts, as is the case for most cars in Mali, it was hot, the seats were leather, and we almost certainly got lost. This made for an uncomfortable ride. The waterfalls were totally worth it though. I had previously asked Rene about the Bilharzia risk at Siby, and he reassured us that the waterfalls were safe. At ease therefore, we popped on our swimwear and swam in the plunge pool. Icy cold as the water was, it was really refreshing in the 30+ heat, and we played a little Frisbee. The scenery was stunning too. At one point, JJ had an anxious look on his face, and alerted us to the fact that fish were nibbling his feet. Fliss and I joked that he should enjoy it while he can because people pay good money for fish pedicures off little nibblers. It wasn’t quite so funny when they went for me. These fish felt huge! Their mouths were definitely a lot bigger than little Garra Rufas. I screamed a few times. We basked and bathed for several hours before heading back to the hotel.
On Sunday morning we had a bit of a djembe drum lesson, lunch, and then drove up to some beautiful rock formations that had carved out a natural archway at the top of a cliff. The view was breathtaking- miles of flat, sparse landscape, dotted with trees, several rock formations, and an occasional mud-hut. We learnt about the importance of the rocky area to locals. In the past, important decisions were made in the caves by village elders, before they came out onto the rocks and made announcements to the people (like in The Lion King); and in the present day, people request support from the gods in the caves and make sacrifices in return. At one point I stood alone looking out over the landscape, thinking about how lucky I was to be in totally peaceful setting, in a beautiful country, with wonderful people and with the chance to make a small but significant contribution to the lives of people less-fortunate than myself. We drove back to bustling Bamako in the early evening and watched Mali defeat Botswana to reach the CAN semi-finals.