Every piece of clothing in my backpack seems to be covered in a layer of red, sandy dust – just like my shoes and sandals and backpack and camera and pretty much everything else I brought with me for my two week journey through Mali and Burkina Faso in West Africa.
The last two weeks have been like nothing I could have expected and I think it will take me a while to fully process everything – I’m not sure how to put it all into words. Incredible, amazing, outstanding – none of those really capture the experience.
Random signs of the Ebola threat in Mali, from hand washing stations outside public buildings to billboards on the side of the road to locals not shaking hands with each other, smiling and saying “Ebola, Ebola” instead.
Getting waves from kids everywhere I went, but never feeling hassled. Watching kids run around freely, rolling tires and chasing chickens, and seeing mothers carry their infants with scarves on their backs. Marveling at the women carrying buckets of bananas, piles of wood and everything else imaginable on their heads with ease and grace.
Passing by miles and miles of sugar cane, wheat, rice and corn fields and trees bearing every type of fruit imaginable. Enjoying fresh papaya and bananas and apples.
Nervously taking my first motorbike ride as my guide Ibrahim assured me, “no worries, no worries.” Then wishing I could have ridden longer.
Floating in a wobbly wooden canoe, looking for hippos, while fearing that one wrong move would send me flying into Lake Tengrela.
Driving for hours on bumpy dirt roads with potholes that would put Chicago to shame – all in a car that seemed as though it might fall apart at any minute.
Watching the sunset over the River Niger in Bamako and again in Segou. And then watching it rise over Tengrela Lake in Burkina Faso and then from the Domes of Fabedougou.
Sitting in the aisle on the bus from Segou to Bobo Dioulasso, with a plastic water jug for a chair, until a seat eventually opened up for me.
Watching villagers who lack electricity, running water or indoor plumbing chat away on cell phones and take pictures with digital cameras.
Chatting with Alhouss about Mali and Burkina politics and with Ibrahim about Islam.
Listening to the appreciation from the village chiefs in Menie and Folona (home to the two Passports with Purpose/buildOn schools that I went to visit) at the opportunity for their children to get an education.
And finally, the village chief in Folona telling me, “Americans, Europeans, African people, we are all the same – when we are happy, we smile; when we are sad, we cry.” Poignant words that I won’t soon forget.
Much more coming soon…