May 25, 2006

The train to Bamako is hot, slow and everything I hoped it would be. I am pleased to be moving again with my small pack, to be out of an apartment, to be moving forward. Unfortunately, my luck changes when I arrive in Bamako.

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Bamako is filled with color, sweat, markets, mangos, tired and overworked women who don't bother to smile and absolutely mad young men who think about nothing but money and white women. They are not the only men in Bamako. But on some hot, frustrating days (which are the only ones I get to see) it seems like Malian men come in town types: soft and loud. The crazy, young, crazies are clearly the minority, but they are an active minority, cruising around the streets looking for trouble. Trouble isn't very hard to find this time of year.

It is a tough town for two pretty young Tubabs fresh off the train from Senegal. We have left the Lion of Hospitality. Gone are the music, smiles and laughter of Dakar. Instead virtually all interactions leave that dirty aftertaste which is a special mix of desperation, ego, greed, pride, misogyny, ignorance and a perchance for violence. When you are called a Tubab in Bamako, it is not just a comment on the color of your skin – the word is spit at you. These men have no shame – but they also cannot handle loosing control or being proved wrong or being called a liar even as they continue to lie, intimidate and abuse you.

It must be even worse now in the hot season when there are few tourists, no work and when everyone is tired and angry. The men roam the streets like rabid dogs looking for a Tubab to bite.

I spend four days in Bamako with my German friend Helga staying with a family in Hamdalie. In those sweaty days, I was stalked, grabbed, screamed at, and threatened. One particular crazy followed me all over town starting fights with anyone I might appeal to for help, trying to hit me with his motorcycle, then screaming, crying. I have bruises on my arm and the last time I saw him, he chased me for five blocks yelling all sorts of abuses at me in Pulle and Bambara and French. All the time waving his registered guide card in the air. As if that gives anyone permission to hit and abuse white women. Eventually he spit in my face and drove away. It was quite a climax.

I suppose it is good to have another person spit in your face completely unprovoked. Makes you develop a certain sense of humility and bewilderment. Things remain very surreal until I leave Mali.


It makes a girl tired, and these run-ins ruin my experience of the city. I can't even go out to hear the music this town is famous for. By Monday, I just want to escape. Tuesday morning I jump into a 16 hour bus ride to Mopti hoping things will change. The bus ride leave sweat stains on my clothing. You can't drive away from 45 degree weather.

The heat is unbearable.