Friday, March 25, 2011

Mali Morning

Sleeping Camel offered something I hadn't seen in weeks.

Breakfast with more than just bread and jam.

I devoured eggs and real coffee. Yummmmmmmm. I picked a good place to have to spend a weekend.

"How long will you be with us?" Bill the part-owner had asked me this when he was showing me rooms. I'd taken an A/C room with shared facilities down the hall.

"I don't know. I have to get visas."

"At least the weekend then. Have you heard about the Ghana visa? They've quit handing them out except in your home country."

"What? Ghana is supposed to be the easy one. Really?"

"Yes, people have been getting turned away unless they're residents. You could become a resident of Mali. Or try to pay at the border, maybe. Some guys on a truck came through and had to pay $150 each."

"But if I'm stamped out of Burkina and don't get into Ghana...or do I have multiple entry on my Burkina visa? Never mind. I'll worry about it later. I need to go to the Nigerian embassy."

"Better hurry. We've heard that westerners should stay indoors this afternoon. There are going to be pro-Gaddafi demonstrations in Bamako."

"PRO?" I was gobsmacked.

"He's financed a lot of projects in Mali."

Huh. I had no idea. 

"I'll be back right after lunch. I have to hurry anyway. It's Friday."

Mali is one of those lucky countries that observes Friday AND Sunday as days off. I always wonder when people work, but a 2.5 or 3-day weekend is very civilized. Most businesses knock off in early afternoon on Friday.

I showered, quickly realized my packed clothing was poorly suited to showering down the hall (fortunately the lodge's towels were large), and dressed in my nicest wrinkled clothing. I was going to the Nigerian Embassy to apply for a visa.

I caught a taxi, and I was lucky that the driver knew where to find the embassy. It wasn't far away.

I walked up to a window in a small fortress that was displaying the Nigerian flag.

"I'd like to apply for a visa."

"Okay," said the man behind the window. "You will need this form, two photos, and 75,000 CFA."

Bejesus. It was cheaper in the States.

"I have that. I am ready."

"You can't apply today. The visa man is not here today."


"No? But...but..."

The hellish epic two days of travel flashed through my head. I'd been in a car, a van, a taxi, a shitty death trap on wheels, another taxi, a Peugeot, three more taxis, another Peugeot, another taxi, a hell-swamp-bus, and two more taxis. I'd made it, barely, and had already claimed victory in my head. I had planned to apply for my visa today, collect it on Monday, then work on Ghana on Monday afternoon.

"...but I have to stay in a hotel. I have to pay for every night. I can't keep paying just because the visa man is out..."

I thought I might cry.

"You should go to your embassy," said the window man, gently. "They will pay for your hotel."

That was so damn funny that my welling-tears subsided and I laughed. He looked at me oddly. My face may have been contorted, what with my alternating impulses.

I walked back to the main road, caught a taxi back, and straggled into Sleeping Camel.

"How did it go?"

I started to tell Bill, but I realized I sounded so grumpy and I felt horrible. I thought about my old Dragoman driver, Marky, who had taken me through Ethiopia in 2001 and had been in Uganda last time I'd seen him in 2005.

When we were in a bad spot, he'd say "We're not getting out of here anytime soon. Let's have tea."

I looked at Bill, stopped complaining, and said:

"I think I need a nap."

And I sent myself to my room.

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