It’s a small world. The words are such a cliché, but wait a minute. How much truth is held in that little phrase?
A river cruise in the Sahara? Yes. My girlfriend, Chris and I (we worked as CUSO volunteers way back when) plan on a circle tour of West Africa. We’ll start by taking the flatboat, the General Sumaré, up the Niger River from just outside Bamako, where we live through Tombouctou to Gao. From there we’ll fly to Niamey, make our way by land down to the coast, visit Lome, Cotonou, and meet her parents inAccra.
“Yes, there is a hotel in Gao, but you must not stay in it.”
Chris and I look at each other. Her raised eyebrows say, “Why not?”
“Pourquoi pas?” I ask.
The old nun who runs our school shakes her head. “It would not be seemly. Two young girls. A Muslim village. No, no, no. You must stay with the nuns.”
“The hotel in Gao?” Our elderly neighbor, Moussa, frowns. “Non. Pas acceptable. You are two young girls. You must not stay at the hotel. Go to the nuns.”
And to the nuns we go—unannounced. No phones. No telegraph. We find the sisters easily enough with the help of a young man who also traveled upriver on the flatboat.
The nuns cluck and flit about and before we know it we have beds and a supper waiting. Guests must be shared so the two French priests working in Gao are invited to join us for the meal.
“I have been to Canada,” says one. “I passed two years in Montreal.”
Delighted to share a bit of home in such a faraway place I tell him about my experiences working at Expo in the Canadian Pavilion.
“You are not from Montreal?” he asks.
“No. I was born in a small town in Saskatchewan.”
“Pas vrai!” His eyes light up and his voice rises. “I passed four years in Kamsack.”
I’m sure my mouth is hanging open. “But… but… that’s where I was born. Did you know my grandfather? My uncle? My cousins?” The names of my relatives fly off my lips.
“Mais, oui,” he says. I knew them all.”