It’s a Monday and I am ready to head to my market town to meet up with my friend and to take care of some business in town. The morning started off great. I woke up early, around 6:15am to the sound of millet being pounded in big mortars with equally as big of pestles at the hands of women who pound millet with ease time and time again. They wake up before the sun rises to get the day going for everyone, men and children, thus making sure that the house is well organized in the morning and breakfast is cooked. So they start the day way before anyone else does. The sound of millet being pounded gets me before the rooster does. After getting myself prepared for the day, I eat my usual breakfast, oatmeal with millet powder, peanut butter, powdered milk, and honey, coffee, and a multi-vitamin, breakfast of champions, I set out to ride 12km to my market around 7am. I leave this early because I want to arrive at the bank before 8am to get a good spot in line because any later will guarantee at least 2 hours of my life sitting in the bank waiting to be called upon. The bank has two window tellers, though only one bank teller at all times which makes things go incredibly slow. To put it in perspective, when was the last time you waited in line at the bank just to withdraw 20 dollars? Or to deposit a check? Never. But this is the banking system in Mali. The bank company I use does have ATM’s at some branches, however there is no ATM at the branch in my market town. Just my luck. When that day comes, I’ll be dancing in the streets. Until then, it’s a race against time and everyone else that has to do business at the bank. I check my bike to make sure its up to code for the ride and I take off down the dirt road toward town.
The ride is pretty and the temperature is cool. During the hot season you can beat the heat in the early morning for a pleasant ride. I am making good time, greeting people along the way on the road who are going to town in order to sell goods they have. Most have a thing called “sebe”, which the fruit of a palm tree. Malians anticipate its arrival and love it when it comes in. Personally, I don’t care for it. It has a bitter taste and there is no real attraction to it that I can find. But they have donkey cart’s full of “sebe fruit” to sell. I wish them luck by saying a few blessings as I pass them on the road. During my ride, about half way I start to feel sick from something I am not sure about. It came pretty sudden with body aches and a head ache. Mentally I didn’t feel sick so I kept riding to town and told myself that later I would rest to pass it by. I am getting close to town when I look at my watch and notice that it’s close to 8am and I am still 15 minutes away from the bank, at least. My goal of being there before 8am is gone and I pedal faster to get there as soon as I can. Whizzing through town, people greeting me on all sides, passing donkey carts full of various items, motos approaching me from behind and in front of me, I set my sites on the bank through 20/20 tunnel vision. I arrive at the bank and no surprise, the bank is full with at least 40 people in front of me. Some are not in the bank though, they left there cards as place markers and went into town to do some other business and will return before they are called upon. Good thing is that if they are not present when the tellers calls their name, they are skipped, making the line go faster. But all I can do is put my card down, take a seat, bring out my reading material, and be patient knowing I will be in the bank for at least a hour. I am prepared, I’ve brought a book that I am about to finish so in the time I have at the bank , I can realistically finish it. The book is called The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. Its an account of the first exploration into the canopies of the redwoods in Northern California, home to the last groves of redwoods in the world. These trees are considered among the tallest trees in the world and some of the oldest living organisms in the world. It follows the story of a few botanist and arborists who are in search of the worlds tallest trees and their quest to find the ultimate tree, the king of the forest while discovering a vast and diverse micro climate 30 stories in the tops of these redwoods. If anyone has ever seen the redwood groves, you know how spectacular these trees are and how small we are compared to their size. If you haven’t seen them, take a trip up the 101 highway and you’ll be amazed at the size of these trees and how they are the last remaining remnants of what used to be the dominant tree species in the North American continent before climatic change and intensive logging reduced their size to only 1% of what their numbers used to be. They only grow in the North West, in sparse areas from Northern California to just inside Oregon. A wonderful book that I recommend special thanks to the person who sent it to me way back in December. You know who you are.
On my last page, I am called up to the teller. Perfect timing! Finished my book and now its my turn to do bank stuff. I am out in 2 minutes, feeling satisfied that I knocked out a book and that the major time consuming chore of the day is over. I head over to my friends house where we chat a little while before I take off to run a few more errands. I head over to Mali’s Department of Forestry, wanting to meet the director and to ask a few questions while leaving my name with him for future consideration on any work involving re-forestation of the surrounding areas. Basically to get acquainted with the Department and to offer my services. However, I just missed him so I will have to come back another day. Though I did meet his wife, wonderful woman. A gentle face with a warm smile, stout in stature with loads of hospitality, she answered all of my questions and was extremely helpful. I still wasn’t feeling well so she brought me some cold water to drink which soothed my aches and cooled my temperature from the heat. I bid farewell to Tabitha and headed back to my friends house where I slept for 4 hours to shake my ailments.
After my nap, I gathered my things because it was getting close to when I had to leave. My ride is at least 35 minutes so I want to be sure to beat the sun before it goes down. I said my good bye to my friend and headed to get some food before the ride. While picking up some water, I was approached by a man who spoke English as he greeted me. This is somewhat of a rarity so initially I was excited to greet him. Not much farther into our conversation, he said he wanted to show me something. Out of his satchel he pulled out a newsletter that looked very familiar. To my surprise, they were Jehovah’s Witness newsletters, “Awake” and “The Watchtower”. I am familiar with these from my time at college where the very same messengers would find you and talk to you about God’s message, handing you these newsletters to read while trying to entice you to come to their meetings. Come to find that this guy was from Nigeria and that he spoke English pretty well, well enough to convey the same message that I heard from others who where the same messengers in the states. We talked for some time but out of the corner of my eye I could see an ugly looking mass of cloud building behind me, not a good sign when I have a 12km bike ride ahead of me. I bid the man farewell and set off to ride back to my village, hoping to beat the coming storm.
I was pedaling hard and fast, still feeling under the weather, but wanting to get a good head start on the rain that was in count down mode on when it was going to arrive. Each time I rode a few hundred meters, I would look back to see where the cloud was and how much longer I had before I would be engulfed in it. This cloud had some serious teeth on it. Draped in rain, it was shadowed by a cloud of dust in front of it that was moving low and fast ready to blanket everything in its path with a layer of sub-Saharan dust. I was making good time by normal riding standards, but I could see that there was no way I was going to out ride this one. There was a window where I could beat it but my legs, not even Lance Armstrongs legs, could have beat what was coming. I got to the 8km marker when in from of me I could see things going south quickly. Trees, the sky in front of me, all turned into a wall of dust with the ground moving debris at 30/mph. I could see where the point of my entry into this zone of chaos would start and braced for impact. I had enough time to pull my shirt over my mouth and nose and say “here we go” before I felt the full brunt of a sudden sand storm. Then like that, I was bombarded with sand that pelted any exposed skin I left out. I had no goggles to protect my eyes and the best thing I could do was glance to one side to avoid a full frontal of sand on my face. The wind would slow my ride suddenly with every gust of wind no matter how hard I peddled. It wasn’t headwind that I was fighting but wind coming from all directions, swirling in all directions pulling me and pushing me at will. My vision was obscured as the cloud of dust got thicker every meter I rode deeper into it. It was a dust hell and all I wanted to do was get home and in doors before the rain came. That last 4km was grueling, one I wouldn’t like to repeat, but I finally made it home where closed all my windows and doors and passed out until it was time to eat dinner. Good news, hot season is over, rainy season has arrived. Halleluiah!!!!