Journey Across Africa

Below you'll find stories of my two year experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the small West African country of The Gambia. After my service I traveled solo, with only a small backpack, across West Africa; reaching N'Djamena, Chad after two months. Visa problems for Libya and Civil unrest in the Darfur region of Western Sudan made Chad my last stop.

Peace Corps Service: Aug. 2003 - July 2005

Journey Across Africa: July 2005 - Sept. 2005

Location: Boston, MA, United States

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A bad day

Day 43
Monday Aug 29

Didn't expect that to happen! As I was getting ready for the day I check the guide book on what to do in Bobo. "Bobo-Dioulasso only really comes to life at the weekend; on weekdays, you're likely to be the only clients." I checked my watch: 7:45 am Monday morning. Doh!

Also, before I forget to to do it later I did my accounting. Maybe I should have put off on that for another week since it ruined my mood a little. I spent $124 this past week since cashing that check. While only $17/day, I could have sworn I was saving money while being in the city. Throughout the whole day I had the unjustifiable fear that I was spending money way too fast and that I would run out again. The truth is, I'm actually below my budget and other then a few tourist things (e.g., Dogon Country, Timbuktu, etc.) you can't get much cheaper! I eat street food where I can, travel local transportation, and lodge at the some of the cheapest places I can find (and in some cases in the street!). Yet, it still had me bogged down that money was going fast. To make up for this nonsense I decided to really splurge. I'd find a restaurant tonight and treat myself. I never actually had splurged in this trip yet, always in the under $10 range for a good meal.

In the morning the wind picked up, knocking over signs, blowing dirt in the air, and people running for cover before the rains came. I didn't make it. Toured the market, and down-town in the rain while getting back to the hotel soaking wet. How many times do I have to be caught in the rain, I asked myself?

I wanted to leave. Jake had suggested I tour Banfora, further south, where you can rent a moped for $10/day and explore the green countryside with waterfalls a few kilometers away. There's a "McDonald's" restaurant in town (no relation) which the volunteers rate as not to be missed.

Another thing that bugged me today, as well as being cold, wet, still sick, and worried about money; was that I wasn't going as far as I planned. I have been travelling 43 days and when I looked at the map (especially since backtracking) it didn't seem that far! Doubts of completing the trip, running out of money, making any progress, raced through my mind as I'm laying in bed. I wanted to leave the town, leave the country, leave the continent. I had enough of Africa. The children bothering you in the streets, the sellers who won't take no for an answer, people ripping you off. I've seen the deserts, the markets, the mosques. What does this town have to offer that's different from the hundreds of other towns? I've been here over two years and all the inconveniences of being in Africa I want over with. I've lived in mud huts, not showered for days, been hot, sweaty, hungry, singled out as a tourist or as a white person or rich person (ha!). I want to be anonymous again, another face in the crowd.

I didn't want to go to Banfora, either. It was more of a detour, more money, and it would probably rain - and knowing me I would be caught in it.

I saw the market and it was just like any other market. The bumsters were around the Grand Mosque and wouldn't leave me alone. I just wanted to scream at them or throw whatever they were trying to sell me at them. Why couldn't they just let us tour their city alone, why do they feel obligated to interrupt your casual walk with "Excuse me, excuse me,..." (The first time you hear that, you turn - then you learn). I wanted to scream to the children begging for money, the bumsters trying to sell wood carvings or be my guide, the shop owners signaling me into their shops to "just look". I wanted to scream at them all "Shut up! Let me be!"

I stopped in my tracks and sat down. The guy was still on me like a magnet to a refrigerator. I'd push him away and he come back stronger. Couldn't he see I didn't want anything? If when the pot boils temper explodes he was sure adding heat to the oven. When I thought the first bubble would burst two French tourists turned the corner; more oblivious then I was; and the magnet found a better refrigerator to attract onto. As I watched him take another target I could feel the ice being put in the water, cooling it just enough as that little air bubble creeping up to the surface stops and heads back down. I sighed in relief.

Today wasn't a good day.

By late afternoon I had my thoughts in semi-good order. I am making progress; yes, this is a detour, but look at how far you HAVE gotten. This is your fifth country in six weeks. Despite Burkina Faso being, as a whole, a detour, it is not as much as the possibility of having to make one to Ghana to get to Niger. Look at all you've seen and done: camel rides, train rides, Sahara, Timbuktu, Dogon country. You've been traveling for six weeks, four of which by yourself, in a language you don't know.

One other thing made me think about the money more: I can splurge on any day in Africa and it would be less than spending frugalily any day in Europe.

That helped some. By dinner time I was good to go and ready to splurge!

I stopped by "L'eau Vive" which is a Catholic Missionary who also run a restaurant. The open air gave a sense of eating under the stars (despite being cloudy), and the breeze was cool. Only six other patrons were there, despite having room for close to a hundred. The nun who showed me to my table spoke some English and I struck up a conversation with her. She was from Kenya and is doing her Missionary work here. At any time they can call on her to go live and work any where in the world. Asked if she chose Burkina Faso, she simply said: "God chose for me. I obeyed."

This is one of the finest restaurants in town, and the nuns know how to serve wine properly and make you feel like your at a five-star restaurant. Casual music was played in the background, more upbeat then you would think for a missionary but still calm enough to be enjoyable for the atmosphere.

I ordered steak, medium-rare. With a bottle of water and a glass of orange-juice.

It came with bread! I ate everything they gave me, forgetting it is the African custom not to eat everythign on your plate. If you do, they think you are not full and will give you more. I ate all the bread, they gave me a second helping with butter. I ate all the butter with all the second helpings of bread - they gave me a third helping of bread. I need dessert! Ordered some ice cream (really splurging!); after that an after-dinner tea.

After an hour and half or so I went to pay the $20 bill.

"You are not leaving now are you?"
"Yes. My hotel is far, I have to walk."
"We are about to sing."
"Oh, ok. I will hear you sing."

I sat back down, had more tea and listened to the nuns of the L'eau Vive Missionary serenade me and the rest of the diners in a song of about the Virgin Mary - in french. Beautiful end to a horrible day.


Blogger olivia said...

found your blog today and enjoyed reading about all that you're doing. something i'd love to do at some point in my life! good luck


8/30/2005 07:56:00 PM  

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