On Sunday we visited a village called Bancoumana.
Rene had told us it was a place outside of Bamako near to Siby where we could go island-hopping or do watersports. He told us that travel-wise, our options were to take a sutrama to and from Bamako which would take an hour or so and cost 1000CFA for all of us, take taxis at 8,000 Francs per taxi each way which would take about half an hour, or hire a sutrama for around 40,000CFA. Seven of us went and we decided that the most efficient method would be to take taxis there and the sutrama back. Fran, Fliss, Bridie and I took one cab, and the other girls took another. Our taxi left first and quoted us 8,000, which we accepted. The other car quoted 9,000. Our taxi then stopped at the petrol station to fill up. It seemed after discussion with some locals that he suddenly realised where he was taking us to, having been mistaken initially. He upped his price to 20,000CFA which we declined and left the vehicle, knowing that the other group were paying 9,000. The next car quoted 30,000CFA, then the third car 10,000, which we accepted, and we continued with our journey. This little VW was the scrappy car pictured in the previous post. It was rattly, falling to bits, and didn’t even have a communal window-winder… In this car the windows merely fell open! We set of driving, then the driver stopped at the roadside to buy petrol, but there was none. We stopped again at another pump further down the road. We travelled a bit further and stopped again whilst he bought some water. On the country roads, we stopped again as he bought cigarettes. It became amusing to guess what we would stop for next. After driving for about 45 minutes, we stopped to fill up the bonnet with previously purchased water, then we stopped later again for a young man to come running over to request a ride, but of course our car was full (people commonly share taxis here). After driving along the country roads for about an hour and a half, the wind blowing our hair and dust pummelling our faces on account of the permanently open windows, we started to question if we were going the right way; the driver asked a man on a scooter and it seemed we were. So much for a half hour drive! Shortly after this we pulled-up in the village of Bamcoumana, but the river was nowhere in sight. We called the other girls, and it turned out they had temporarily stopped because their car had a blow-out; not surprising given the number of speed-bumps on the already bumpy road. After again asking for directions, we found a sign pointing towards the ‘Fleuve Base Nautique’, so we followed it. And followed it. And followed it. It was a very loose dusty road, and we felt incredibly guilty that the taxi driver had been driving for an unexpected two hours, and was now subjecting his already dodgy car to a dirt track that was seemingly passable only by 4×4. After driving down this road for about 15 minutes more, we arrived at a secluded riverside village. Luckily a guy scooted over on a moped and knew the centre we were looking for, so finally we arrived, hungry, hot and sweaty after a long journey. There was no food here however. We were also a long way from the road, so a sutrama back wasn’t a viable option, and there would be no way of flagging down a taxi here. We resorted to asking the taxi-drivers to wait all day, at a pricey 30,000CFA per car= a transport total of around £90 for the day!
With this resolved, we opted to take a boat for the afternoon (which, rather than island-hopping, would take us to an island, leave us there, then pick us up) and paid one of the men to travel into the village on his scooter to buy us lunch (bread, bananas, oranges and mangos). The boat ride in a traditional wooden canoe was short and sweet, and we arrived at a little island in the River Niger, comprising sand, rock and trees, and it was really quite tranquil. We stayed for the day, sunbathing, chatting, eating our picnic and swimming in the River (well, those who were willing to risk Bilharzia and possible crocodiles- me included!)
On Tuesday, a few of us went to the salon de coiffure to have our hair done, and it was so tranquil! The salon, Chez Dominique, is run by a tubabu who has lived in Mali all her life, but the salon had such an air of Paris, with western amenities, air-con, chill-out music and a wide range of teas to drink! It was a very peaceful afternoon.
The rest of the week has been a continuation of the usual work, planning and delivering various projects, meeting with partners and complaining about the heat. There have also been a few hurdles to overcome playground-wise, but all should become clearer next week. On Wednesday I left the cool office for around twenty minutes to price-up some goods at a nearby shop, and ended up sick with heatstroke for the rest of the day- we really mustn’t underestimate how powerful the heat can be.
Today, 8th March 2012, is International Women’s Day, and in Mali those women who work have the day off. It is important to remember however, that many women don’t work in an employed capacity here, and gender inequality is still widespread. In Mali, 40% of women are married before the age of 20, and polygamy is practised, so Muslim men here can have many wives. By law, men control the household. 83% of young people here believe it is justified for a husband to beat his wife. 92% of women experience female genital mutilation/cutting (which is recognised globally as a breach of human rights and can lead to complications including infection and difficulties at childbirth). The literacy rates for women are half that of men. Only 1% of men can cook. This website is full of information if anybody is interested: http://genderindex.org/country/mali. Having been given ‘International Women’s Day’ fabric from the men in the office as a gift this week, we all had outfits made to wear today (although I simply went for pyjamas and wore the bottoms today).