Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Yes. Yes, it can always get worse.

Rose and I are sitting on the gravelly shoulder of a road. Again. Some more. This time in Senegal at 11 o’clock at night.

The other passengers of the 7-place are arranged along the shoulder or sprawled out on the rocks further off the road. The driver, a couple of the male passengers, and a driver from another passing 7-place are fussing under the hood, an activity that has occupied them for at least half an hour.

We’d been on the road for nearly 40 hours. The glamorous coating of dried sweat and red dirt gave us the healthy glow of a fresh mystic tan. The last real meal we remembered was some rice and sauce in a town 25 hours back during another breakdown. Since then it had been bread, mangoes, and, because I couldn’t—COULD NOT—eat more bread, a box of hard-to-find (in Guinea) imported Turkish cookies. And, just before crossing back into the luxurious arms of home, sweet Senegal, there were grilled beef skewers.

And. In Labe. Cold Fanta Citron. We’d been dreaming about it since the walk to Guinea, when I’d promised Rose I’d buy her the coldest Fanta Citron in all of Mali, if only the mountains didn’t kill us. There was no Fanta Citron in Mali, nor, for that matter, were there any cold drinks at all. But three days and hundreds of kilometers of terrible mountain road later, I made good on my promise. We bolted them down in 35 seconds while the driver gestured impatiently (not at us, it turned out). It might have been the best 35 seconds of the trip. Certainly the best 35 seconds of that day.

Now, nearly 30 hours later, we were so close to Dakar, I could taste my bed. The hot shower. The clean clothes.

Rose: I’ve never been on a trip like this before. I mean, you get the occasional landslide—

—she was being literal, referring to a trip in Asia, where she escaped a midnight landslide by hitching a ride in the pouring rain on a tractor with no headlights driven by a drunken Chinese man—

—but not landslide, after landslide, after landslide. Every time I think it can’t get any worse…

But every time, it did get worse. This was our 4th 7-place in two days. Except in Guinea, they put 11 people (not including children) in the same car, plus any number of people on the roof. We’d spent the entire previous day and night crammed into the middle row of the station wagon so tightly our hips were bruised and the people on either side had to lean their heads out the windows.

We’d broken down so many times we’d lost count. We’d crossed a river on a hand-cranked ferry at midnight-—and watched two other cars stall out every time they tried to drive onto the ferry, until all the men had to hoist one them from a dead stop with chains and brute strength. We’d spent two hours the previous night sleeping in our Guinean 11-plus-place on the side of the road, while we waited for our driver to come back with a spare part to fix the car that he couldn’t get moving anymore, even with all the tricks he’d used the previous 25 times the car wouldn’t start. Then we spent 3 more hours sleeping in the next town, 45 minutes on, waiting for the sun to rise, because he’d given up on trying to get the headlights working.

And, finally back in Senegal, in a car with the same number of passengers as seatbelts (if the car actually had any seatbelts), we’d grown cocky.

When we’d stopped at sundown for the Muslim passengers to pray, I’d called Théo.

Naomi: Guess where I am!

Théo: Are you back?

Naomi: Well…. No. But I’m close. I’ll be sleeping in my bed tonight. We’re supposed to be back in Dakar before 1 in the morning.

At 8:30 am, dirty and exhausted, traumatized, near tears, and laughing hysterically, I finally collapsed into my bed.

“How was Guinea?” people kept asking over the next few days.

“Well…” I’d say, and pause. “It was beautiful there. The mountains are spectacular.”

Dame de Mali


Blogger jeanne said...

Gosh, you make it sound so...so...ROMANTIC! Next time throw in a little drama, will ya?

What I get out of this story is this: I love that your bf has an accent aigu (right?) in his name. How cool is that.

Keep 'em coming. Photos are glorious.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Scooter said...

Kind of make you appreciate what we call "unreliable cars" here in the USA.

10:53 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home