TIA Part I: This is Africa

If you have been to any part of Africa then you know that TIA is one of the first words that you learn once there. Tia means aunt in Spanish but also means “This is Africa” in African contexts, lol.

Many hours of waiting but always smiling 🙂

The word TIA is often used to describe many “negative” things that happen daily within the African continent. I, myself have also used it as a hashtag many times to point out how late the buses are in Africa, how often they cut the electricity in the cities, how difficult it is for Africans to estimate and calculate the time, etc, etc.
But what about the other meaning? What about the positive things about Africa that people forget to mention when talking about this continent? …Ohhhh…there are sooo many.

In this post I just want to share a little story with you that inspires me to point out the positive side of the word “TIA“. A story about those gentle people that you meet along your way while traveling in Africa and who offer you everything although having nothing for themselves. Those people who are happy to meet you and call you sister/brother from the very first minute, and guess what…. they really mean it!

My story:

I was traveling in May 2017 through the Dogon valley in central-north Mali. Let me tell you that the Dogon valley is the beginning of the red zone that you should avoid visiting in Mali because it’s marked as a “no travel” area for tourists. But of course I went there and in my personal opinion, it’s not as dangerous as people say, but let’s continue with my story.

I took a guide (his name is Soumaila) with me because of security reasons and because of course I don’t know any of the trekking paths in this area or where are the best views, etc. Anyway, I told him I want to do everything with local transportation. Not private car.

After the Dogon valley, our plan was to visit Djenné, a wonderful ancient city that won’t have any other effect on you but to fall in love with it at first sight. Believe me! (It’s my favorite city in Mali so far)

So…there is no direct transport to go from where we were at the moment (Bandiagara city) to Djenné and we were told (after waiting a few hours for the transport) that the bus that was supposed to take us near Djenné and for which we had booked the tickets this same day wasn’t departing this day anymore. (Yes, you can say TIA, lol). They gave us the money back and we started looking for a solution.

Finally we managed to reach Sevare city in a bush taxi but it was already late and we knew that it would be difficult to reach our final destination on time. FYI: there are 3 check points before reaching Djenné and they all close at 6pm. If you don’t cross them before 6pm, you will be forced to sleep there and wait for the next day. Those check points were created for security reasons after the 2012 Mali conflict between Southern Mali (controlled by the central government) and Northern Mali (controlled by the rebels). If you have a foreign passport, they will write down your name in a book and ask you a few questions. They want to make sure that you check out again and you leave the area safely when you finish your tour.

The bush taxi from Bandiagara to Sevare

 

The bush taxi from Bandiagara to Sevare

 

There was no transport at the place we got off in Sevare. A guy saw us and asked us what we needed. He took us in his car to the next check point although he wasn’t even going in this direction. You can see that there are nice people everywhere, so I have to happily start using my hashtag #TIA with its positive meaning.
From the check point we luckily found a big truck transporting cows and going to a junction 40km away from Sevare in the direction of Djenné, although we actually needed 135 km in total. But we decided to go for this 40km and see what happens later. I was sitting with 4 guys (including my guide) in the front part of the truck and I think there were about 5 more guys on the back of the truck sharing the place with the cows. The truck dropped us off on the main road in a village called Somadougou before they turned left to go to another city.

The truck that took us until Somadougou

 

The truck that took us until Somadougou

 

We stayed there hoping that another car/truck or whatever would cross the road and could take us further, but nothing came across. I guess people knew that it makes no sense to drive in this check point area after 6pm and it was already almost 6pm.

There was a Boutique nearby. They offered us tea to drink, some water to wash our hands and faces (these are always dirty when you are on the African roads) and a solar power bank to charge our phones as there is no electricity in this village. The solar power bank could charge only one phone and we decided that my guide should charge his phone first so that he could communicate with a few friends and find a solution.

We were still sitting and hoping for a car. Nothing happened. It was getting darker and darker.

In Somadougou waiting for any transport
In Somadougou waiting for any transport

A guy on a motorbike came and offered us to stay at his place. We told him that we are optimistic and maybe we could still find a car that can drive us at least to the next and last check point in Djenné Carrefour (another 60km). From there my guide, Soumaila, could call a friend who lives in Djenné (another 35km) who has some contacts at the check point and could manage to pick us up there and get us into the city this same night.
The motorbiker wished us good luck and went to pray at the mosque. He told us that he will come back in 1 hour to pick us up in case we were still there. Yes, #TIA.
In the meantime another motorbiker offered us accommodation too. We told him that we already had one offer. So he left. Fifteen minutes later he came back with a bag with some cold drinks. Ohhh… I still remember this cold Fanta in the middle of this hot day. I was impressed. He probably drove to a gas station to get it because there is no electricity around and no shops there are selling cold drinks. Plus every soft drink costs almost $1, which is the average money a normal African family would spend in a whole day for eating in a village, etc. How come this guy spent $2 for someone he doesn’t even know and he probably won’t see again? Yes, #TIA. So, this motorbiker and my guide exchanged numbers. I’m sure they will meet one day again in the future and help each other again. #TIA.
We didn’t find any transport. So we decided to accept the offer of the first motorbiker when he came back from praying.

I suggested that all 3 of us could go together on the motorbike but we also had our backpacks. My guide insisted that I go first alone with the motorbiker. He said “you don’t have to worry, this guy is a good man” (although he has just met him, so did I). And yes, he was right. Abdulai was the teacher at the primary school in the village. He was originally from another town but he found a job here and moved to this village. He drove me through dark streets that of course I didn’t know and left me alone in the darkness of his modest little room with a flashlight in hand. Then he went to pick up Soumaila. It was too hot inside, so I decided to sit outside in the courtyard in the only chair that I found, right in front of a big Acacia tree and look at the stars. It was a wonderful night.

Soumaila and Abdulai went to get some spaghetti and fish for dinner while I was taking an African shower (with a bucket) in an small room outside the house with a view of the sky ☺️

They also brought some lemons (Soumaila knew that I love drinking lemonade) and then of course some tea (they love drinking tea in Mali). Later they prepared 3 mattresses in the courtyard right in front of the house for us 3 to sleep. Abdulai had to get the 2 mattresses from some neighbors/friends.

This is the only pic that I have from Abdulai. Here he is charging my iPhone with his motorbike at night in his house

I slept like a baby looking up at the stars and thinking how lucky we were.
The morning after, we woke up very early and before Abdulai went to work he took us to the main road to find a car to Djenné or the buses that normally cross this road every morning early.

I don’t know how many times I said ‘merci beaucoup’ to Abdulai (he didn’t speak English at all, only French, Bambara and few other dialects from this area). Anyway, I was so grateful to have met him and to have shared some nice moments together. I was very grateful for his hospitality. I know that we won’t probably be able to read this post because he has no internet and I don’t even have his number to tell him about it, but my gratitude is so huge than I’m convinced that my positive energy will reach him somewheh somehow 🙂

Yes, it’s true…not all those who wander are lost. We got offered so much help on this day. From people who took us in their cars and trucks, those who gave us drinks for free, to those who helped us by charging our phones using their solar power (which they could actually need for themselves) and finally Abdulai, such a nice guy who took us to sleep at his place without knowing us.

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