Shortly after I arrived in Africa, my friend Sally (who was in the Peace Corps in Guinea Bissau) wrote me an email and mentioned that the best tasting thing, after spending some time in the African heat, is an ice cold bottle of Fanta.
After reading that, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. And, after about a week in the village, it started to become a small (okay, large) obsession. A soda I never drink in the States was something that I now craved almost as much as air conditioning. If Fanta ever wants to increase their sales, they should put their entire target market into an African village for a week. I can guarantee that sales would skyrocket. I cannot, however, guarantee a good cost/benefit ratio.
Anyway, after about a week in the village, we were finally going into the nearest big town (Bandiagara) to go to the market, stock up on food - and I was going to get my Fanta.
But, that brings me to the subject of Malian transportation. First, here are some things you should know about traveling in Mali.
- There is no air conditioning on public transport. If you are lucky, a door will be left open or there will be no windows on the vehicle.
- If the driver decides to play music, it will be loud and the speakers will lack anything that resembles bass.
- Livestock rides with people, or in the luggage compartment below the bus, or on the roof. People also ride on the roof - sometimes on top of luggage. Luggage rides with people, or on the roof, or appropriately enough, in the actual luggage compartment (but next to the livestock).
- Buses will stop often and seemingly for no apparent reason.
- There are no bathrooms on the buses. However, when the bus does make a random stop, any area around the bus is fair game for bathroom going.
- And, finally, whatever the maximum vehicle load is, take that number, double it and then throw it completely out the window because you will never be able to imagine how many people and how much stuff Malians will fit into a vehicle. You know those pictures that you sometimes see of a bunch of people filled to the brim of a phone booth trying to break a Guiness World Record or something? Well, picture a bunch of those crammed phone booths driving around Mali with goats and some sacks of grain on top of them and you’ve pretty much got what it’s like to travel here.
Also, while I’m on the topic and dragging this out, one of the most common forms of Malian transport is a little van which looks like it was designed by the same guys who created Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine. Here’s a pic of one and you can decide for yourself.
I Lamely Try to Get Back to My Original Point
Anyway, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve made a serious digression from my original story. If you will recall, I was talking about getting a Fanta and you were getting sleepy and considering clicking over to the streaming webcam of a pitch black room because even that would be more interesting than this. But, I will continue on and if you do switch over to the pitch black room, let me know if anything’s happening over there.
Here I am, on the road to Bandiagara, waiting for the bus. I’m very, very excited to be getting a Fanta.
This is the flatbed truck that took us to Bandiagara. It wasn’t overly packed - maybe about 38 people in the back with almost enough water jugs and sacks of grain for everyone to sit on. They even stopped to put all the live stock (except for the chickens) on the roof. And, that’s where this life lesson begins.
I Finally Get To The Point
The market at Bandiagara. It’s a lot like Findlay Market. Except with more buckets of rotting fish scattered about.
Coming back from getting my Fanta-On, I was rained and hailed on while hanging half-out of a jam packed flat-bed truck.
It was totally worth it.