[Друзья, сразу скажу, что пост на английском, и если у кого нет желания читать его весь, прошу не минусовать именно за то,что он не на русском. Это следующая часть четырехмесячного путешествия по западной Африке (первая - здесь) сентябрь-декабрь '11. Спасибо!]
In a square hall that one can enter directly from the yard - no door, no fence - I'm sitting on a chair, a big black man is delicately snoring on a couch in front of me. It's far past midday and a thousand of busy flies all around.
Bamako, where Sunday is the day of marriages, is an immense low-story city expanded out of sight on both shores of the Niger River. Garantibougou, Badalabougou - how do you like it - Hippodrome - these are a few of major districts of the city, and if you need to get around, barely moving asthmatic Volkswagen vans, and yellow Mercedes taxis will take you from one quarter to another.
It's been a few days now that we couchsurf with Moussa. The big black man sleeping in front of me, I presume, is Moussa's cousin. I don't know for sure, though, every time I saw him he was sleeping, so I never asked. Delicately snoring and changing positions from time to time. Moussa speaks French, plays football every evening at 5:20, and, as every other man we've met in Western Africa, loves to brew and drink the bubble-tea, called the Chinese tea, which, after it’s brewed, is called the Mauritanian tea. The desert tea, if you prefer.
- We will drink tea now, - Moussa says.
Here in Mali, just as in Mauritania or Western Sahara, it goes in three sets.
- The first one is strong as the Death, - he mentions.
Maybe it is, but it was Bakkar, the Sahrawi man, who said the first one was hard as life...
The way to Bamako is long, and if you take the bus you also seize an exclusive chance to capture how it all gradually changes all along. Nouakchott, with a feeling of getting through an absurd delusion, and I can't help it, is left behind. The desert, you haven't seen a few days and surely missed, emerges again and comforts. Police control happens every 30-50 kilometers, and solely because of the two foreigners on board, bus stops for 10 minutes. Every 30-50 kilometers. Passengers and equipage - the driver and two swappers are patient and helpful. And tea, of course. Two of us alone had more than all other passengers together - hospitality. It goes without saying that it's free. Tiny thatch-roof huts built of clay, tent covers stretched on posts that make home to most, open-air table-bench cafes - all that would be a typical Mauritanian roadside village, a long-term desert campsite.
Hard, as life, as we see it.
You drink it from mini- glasses just taller, than our shots. But first, you will pour, and surely spill, tea from one glass to another, relentlessly, until the thick foam rises. And please be patient.
- We do it because of the sand, - Bakkar explained.- In the desert the wind blows it all over, in your glass, as well, so the foam doesn't let it go in, and you can easily drink, not worrying about swallowing the sand
When Bakkar passed me the second one, he said it was sweet as love.
We reached Mauritania-Mali border well past midnight. The choice of a roof for the night is mere - bare-floor rooms of single guesthouse nearby for a few thousands ougiya, or the starful sky if we chose to sleep by the table bench road-cafe. Free is cheep, and, I guess, we had never needed our sleeping bags more than during that short night.
At sunrise soon awaken, eyes are open, the mind is still in the mist. Steaming pot is on the coals, the fellow-passengers gather around the only table for a brief breakfast.
The border-crossing is no problem, but slow. Officials are welcoming; still it was a right thing to get visas in advance. And again, 3 km of no-man's-land between the two border posts.
It’s not the easiest of things to pass a slow afternoon in Bamako. The big black man turned on his back and a thousand of flies soared with doubled energy. The garden is shared with other families - here women do the washing and prepare mafe sauce. Just now I realized that I haven’t seen a man in the yard by far, not taking Moussa or the big black man, who is now smiling right at me through his dream.
The heat together with the petrol fumes of ancient green Volkswagen vans and motorbikes that are like those flies, but on the roads, red dust too – it all discourages if you want to go out to kiosk to get water, or bread, or sweets. Those grocery kiosks, convenience stores and fruit stands are along the main streets of the city quarters. And for the sweets it’s not that much of a choice – some analog of milky chocolate, black baobab honey in 30cl plastic bottles, and muss au chocolat.
When Moussa handed me the second glass he said it was sweet as life.
Usually we would get honey.
- Children are the treasure of Mali, - the mother of Moussa’s friend says. – How many brothers and sisters do you have?
- One, – I nodded.
- Oh! In Mali you will go to jail if you have only one child.
- Well, I mean, my parents have two children then.
- Or two.
Sweet as life, indeed. And that is true – seeing all those kids playing around on the streets puts a smile on one’s face no matter what.
Right now, if you google a map of Africa and zoom it to the West, you will find the territory in contour lines South of Morocco. Western Sahara, the official area that hasn’t seen independence since it was colonized by Spain in late 19th century and later remained an object of battles between Morocco, Alger, Mauritania until the first initiated the organized march (named The Green March) to ‘free’ the territory in 1970. Again, the wish and opinion of a local civilian was disregarded.
Not so long before we bought our bus tickets to El Ayoun, also known as Layounne, I had first found out that there was such a city on the World map. The city, we found with a feeling of a revelation and left with unhidden sympathy.
Peach-color, two-story boxes are planted on square miles of what used to be genuine desert. Thousands of them, a good part of which are derelict or never lived in – people move away.
- Maybe one day you will come to West Sahara and stay forever, - Bakkar is very welcoming. – I have five houses here. The one we stay in is special for couchsurfing. If you move here, you can have a house for free…
Sometimes we’d been walking for hours between the blocks, from one friend’s place to another’s, idly pausing for tea, avocado shakes, or, as we once did – to taste camel milk, natural energetic drink that gives you diarrhea before you can possibly make it home.
- We need more people to stand up for our freedom, - Bakkar continues.
What goes around comes around. I might have been somewhere else with my thoughts then. Might have been at home. But this works anywhere – we need more people to stand up for our freedom if there are those who want to take it away.
Bakkar passed me the third glass of sweet pale tea toppled over with thick foam and said it was fading as death.
Moussa said it was pleasure and honor to host us, though, he definitely preferred the company of my wife rather than mine. Must admit, I was, grumpy, complaining and not speaking French, so fair enough.
- You know, we feel inferior to white people. From birth they tell us, that you the whites are wealthier, more intelligent, have a different life, but no I don’t feel that we are so different.
And then, when Amandine brought in the topic of West African countries being colonized by France, and that she is ashamed of that part of the history, Moussa surprised us by saying the contrary.
- If you ask, I would rather we still be colonized. I was told that once the Europeans left, it turned much worse for most, as those who came to power took advantage of their positions and were getting richer while millions were sinking in poverty. So to me, freedom like that doesn’t make sense.
Further we went, less we knew what to expect, and thus shouldn’t have expected what we were going to find next. But if the path kept surprising us, should have we wanted to know where it leads?
He prepared the last set of tea, handed a glass that we would share, and reached out for mosquito net – to free the room for us he was about to sleep on the roof.
- The third one is secret as love.