Tuesday, January 25, 2011

So... I’m here. Again. In Mali. Yep, I came back and what a long trip it’s been to get here.

After multiple changes, I was finally scheduled to leave on Sunday, the 9th of January. Not finished packing as of the morning of my 4:30pm flight, I was scurrying around my house finishing up when I got the call from United at 1:45pm finally canceling my flight. It had been dumping snow all day and, knowing my flight was bound to be cancelled, all I could think about was being out on the mountain for one last day of snowboarding before I leave. It was just late enough that since I’d already put all my gear away I didn’t really have time to get out. Re-booked for the same flights the next day, I finished up so I would have time on Monday before my flight. A blue-bird sky and over a foot of fresh powder greeted me as I caught the first chair at Snowmass where I did a few runs, including the Wall, before heading over to highlands to hike the bowl. A great last day in Aspen and my last run of the season was nothing but fresh turns through untouched powder and narrow glades. Quite the contrast to the next 7 months I am to spend in Mali, West Africa.

Of course, it wasn’t that easy and my flight from Colorado was delayed again – this time, I ended up missing my connection and had to stay the night in Chicago. Luckily, the airline put me up at the airport Hilton, which was nice since I had a 6am flight the next day! After some meetings in Washington D.C. going over project details, meeting my future co-workers (albeit remote as they would be from me in Mali, “co” is a relative term), I met up with Isabelle and Tim who’d been in Peace Corps with me in Mali for a quick drink. Just after nightfall, I headed off to the airport once again in a blizzard.

This time, I almost didn’t even make it to the airport. Just as we were getting near the airport, the taxi driver turned off the freeway early into a construction zone. Not heeding my calls to stop and go back, the road narrowed and narrowed and he didn’t stop until it had narrowed so much that the front left tire was hanging about 4 feet off the unfinished highway to our side. Now a raging blizzard, I got out to direct him as he attempted to reverse the couple hundred yards back towards the highway. After five minutes and about five feet later, I reached in the driver’s side window and had him control the speed while I steered us back the barely car-wide road. With about 6 inches total to spare, it was a balance between not scrapping his car against the concrete dividers on the passenger side and not letting the wheels fall off the four foot drop – all while walking the tightrope of asphalt next to the car, squinting into the dumping snow and trying not to fall myself. Averaging barely half a mile an hour, almost 20 minutes later we were back on our way and I arrived with just enough time to make my flight to Paris.

It was quite the experience flying back into Mali for the first time since leaving two and a half years earlier. Mind you, I only flew into Mali that one and only time when I arrived in August 2006 (I didn’t get on another plane until September 2008 when I flew out of Accra, Ghana). It was amazing how the Malian passengers, who had so calmly boarded the flight in Paris, all of a sudden switched back into African transport mode. I was seated about 10 rows from the back of the aircraft and, once we landed and everyone had stood up, these two Malians started squeezing past a few passengers until they got stuck since by then everyone had stood up to gather their things, get their bags down, etc. So what next? They started yelling for people to move and get going so they can get off the plane. Why were people just standing there?! This persisted for the next 10 minutes until the ramp was finally wheeled along and the door opened. Never mind you, almost 2 hours later when I finally had my bags, they still were waiting for theirs to come off the conveyor belt… Yes, I was back in Africa.


Jasmine L said...

The taxi driver story cracked me up. oh my god that's classic. Looking forward to more of the story.

Wayfarer said...

Seven months? What kind of project are you working on...Will you be at Segou for Festival sur le Niger?

Martin Horowitz said...

Was the DC taxi driver from Mali,
Haiti, Pakistan... ?

Volunteering in Uganda said...

Nice stuff,, I am really happy to read it

Where I've Been...