My Plans for West Africa

Mali mosque
A mosque in Mali. Photo courtesy of John Spooner via Flickr.

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.

Malie Menie school
Students at the school buildOn built in Menie – one of the two I will visit on my trip.

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.

Sindou Peaks
Sindou Peaks. Photo courtesy of Jurgen via Flickr.

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!

12 thoughts on “My Plans for West Africa”

  1. So how did this trip turn out?

    I’m fascinated to see all about it but there’s no link to the trip itself here. I came over here from Twitter out of curiosity and I’m not sure if the Related Posts are linked to this one. Just a thought, you can ignore it but maybe throw in a link to how your plans turned out so we can all find out what happened.

    Did you end up getting quarantined?

  2. I think it’s awesome you’re going. Personally, I feel like the ebola outbreak has been somewhat overblown. I have a few friends who are from different parts of Africa and none of them seemed particularly concerned about it. That’s not to say it’s not an issue, it’s total fear mongering as Adina said. I look forward to your posts!

  3. Interesting. Whilst it is hard to catch ebola and the media are definitely out scaremongering as usual, the fact that no one caught it on the subway in NYC or on the Cleveland to Dallas flight are pretty different cases to what’s going on in Mali.

    Of course no one was infected in these circumstances as the patients were at said points in time, asymptomatic. In Mali, it’s my understanding that it’s currently unclear whether they will be able to trace everyone this nurse and leader were in contact with which presumably makes the threat much higher.

    Personally, my concern would be that more cases show up in coming days making it not as contained as we would hope and without the healthcare and infrastructure to handle such an outbreak, the dangers of it spreading would increase.

    I’m an avid traveller myself and I would never wish to question one’s desire to explore and adventure but in this case I am curious. With these changes in situation (two deaths from an extremely terrifying virus and current uncertainly in terms of whether or not it will spread in the city you will be travelling to) why so determined to visit at this moment in time?

    Wishing you a happy and safe trip there and back!

    1. Well, for one, I would be out a lot of money if I cancelled altogether and travel insurance wouldn’t cover it. Two, I am going specifically to visit the schools in Mali that I helped raised money to build and if I don’t go now, I likely would have to wait another year to do the trip, by which point the excitement and thrill of the students at opening their new schools would likely be diminished. They just started classes last month and I really want to visit them while it’s all still fresh.

      Finally, and most importantly, from everything I have read and everyone I have corresponded with in West Africa, I still do not feel the risk is great at all. Even if you look at Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the people catching Ebola are family members, neighbors, health care workers – those in very close contact with those who are ill. As the experts keep emphasizing, while Ebola is highly infectious, it is not highly contagious – it is very difficult to catch.

      Consider Liberia has a population over 4 million, Sierra Leone over 6 million and Guinea close to 12 million. 22 million people in these countries and only about 14,000 cases have been reported. That is less than one-tenth of one percent.

      The risk is so incredibly crazy low, I really don’t see any reason to cancel.

  4. Safe travels and hope everything goes smoothly traveling back home as well too. Totally hear you on explaining yourself to everyone when you mention your going to Africa….gets old really fast 🙂

    1. Well, if they quarantined me in my home, it wouldn’t be so bad (although my boss would probably not be happy!). But if they stuck me in a tent with nothing to do like they did with the nurse in New Jersey, that would not be cool!

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