I admit, I feel a little weird telling people I am going to travel to West Africa next weekend. I feel like I immediately have to qualify the statement with a “but I’m not going to any countries where Ebola is!”
And that statement almost would have been true.
While the first case of Ebola diagnosed in Mali happened back in late October (coincidentally, the same day I picked up my visa to the country), the 21-day quarantine for people who had contact with the victim (who later died) ended this week. By all indications, swift action by Malian authorities succeeded in stopping an Ebola outbreak before it began.
But then this happened:
A nurse at one of the best clinics in the country, in the capital of Bamako, died. She tested positive for Ebola. As it turns out, she had treated an imam (religious leader) from Guinea a couple weeks earlier. He died of Ebola-like symptoms, but was never tested for Ebola. And because they didn’t test him for Ebola, his body was washed in a nearby mosque per local tradition and then returned to his hometown in Guinea. Of course, this is largely how Ebola spread widely in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This case raises all sorts of concerning questions, but as I write this, authorities have quarantined dozens of people in Bamako and are working on tracing all possible contacts of the imam and the nurse.
This does not change my plans to travel to Mali.
Nothing I wrote about a couple weeks ago changes.
Ebola is still very hard to catch while you are just out and about – something that is evidenced by the fact that none of the family members, health care workers or fellow bus passengers of the first Ebola case in Mali got infected with Ebola. Likewise, no one got Ebola from riding the subway with Dr. Craig Spencer and no one on Amber Vinson’s plane from Cleveland to Dallas got Ebola.
The only thing that concerns me is the possibility of being quarantined when I return but all common sense says that should not happen – I’m not a health care worker and I won’t be in direct contact with anyone with Ebola. Election Day has passed and the politicians have stopped with the fear mongering and hysteria, so I think/hope I should be okay.
Of course, there is also the whole situation in Burkina Faso – a sudden military coup occurred in the country less than two weeks ago and the question of who is in control is still up in the air. That was about the last thing I expected to happen! All I can say right now is that I have been looking into back up plans if it ends up looking like I need to skip Burkina.
All that said, here’s a look at my itinerary as it stands right now:
Monday, November 24: Arrive in Bamako early afternoon (one day later than planned because my original flight was cancelled). Fight my jet lag and check out the city a bit.
Tuesday: Travel with a staff member from buildOn to one of the two villages in southern Mali where our Passports with Purpose schools were built. Stay overnight with a family there.
Wednesday: Travel to the second village and stay overnight with a family there.
Thursday: Return to Bamako and spend some time exploring. Try to check out some live music as Mali is supposed to have a great music scene.
Friday: Travel from Bamako north to Segou.
Saturday: Spend the day in and around Segou, possibly taking a boat ride on the Niger River to visit a few other villages.
Sunday: Move on to Burkina Faso, arriving in the second capital, Bobo Dioulasso, in late afternoon or early evening.
Monday: Spend the morning exploring Bobo Dioulasso with a guide, including a stop at a Sudanese style mosque. Then move on to Banfora. Because I will be short on time and don’t speak the language, I am planning to travel with a guide and mostly by private transport while I am in Burkina.
Tuesday: Explore the area around Banfora, from ancient rock formations to hippos. I’ll visit Tengrela Lake around sunrise to hopefully see some hippos before visiting a sacred baobab tree. Then, I’ll move on to Sindou to visit the famous Sindou Peaks. I’ll spend the afternoon stopping at a couple villages before returning to Banfora for the night.
Wednesday: This morning will start with a visit to the Domes de Fabedougou, a rock formation geologically similar to the famous Australian Bungle Bungles. From there, I’ll walk with my guide to the Karfiguela Falls before setting out on the journey south to Gaoua. As I enter what is known as Lobi Country, I’ll stop at the Royal Court in Obiré and the Loropeni Ruins (Burkina Faso’s only UNESCO World heritage site) before spending the night in Gaoua.
Thursday: I’ll spend the morning checking out Gaoua and visiting the beloved Musée Poni. After lunch I will continue on to the Parc Deux Balé, where I will spend the night on a bungalow on the Mouhoun River – and maybe get to see elephants!!
Friday: This will be my last full day in Burkina. After looking for more elephants in the morning, I’ll mov on to Boromo, where I’ll catch a bus to the capital, Ouagadougou. Depending on when I arrive, I may have time to check out the handicraft market or the National Museum.
Saturday, December 6: Time to say goodbye to West Africa as I will hop on a flight back to the USA via Niger, Ethiopia and Rome.
Of course, given everything going on in Mali and Burkina Faso right now, the chances of me actually sticking with this itinerary are slim, but it at least gives you an idea of what I hope to see and do on my first trip to Africa! A huge thanks goes out to Monique from Papillon Reizen for helping me put together the itinerary and for keeping me well updated on everything happening on the ground in West Africa!