The year is 1972. We’ve spent a week in Morocco and now we’re in Mali to visit our friends. Their house is too small to accommodate us, but we’ve been offered the apartment belonging to a young couple from France who are away for a few weeks in Europe.
We also have a mobylette to scoot around town, so we’re set for the trip of a lifetime. We visit the zoo, swim in the Olympic sized pool built by the Russians, drive up to the hospital to see our friend and her brand new baby.
We also stop off to see the doctor and feel terribly embarrassed when we are escorted to the front of the long line. People have been waiting for hours, but we’re first—a courtesy to the guests. In answer to our protests, the doctor says, “You have left the comfort and safety of your home to visit a Malian friend. You do us the honor.”
“I think I’ll go get an ice cream,” my husband says one afternoon. “Want to come?”
The ice cream shop is just a couple of blocks away. He can manage on his own even though he doesn’t speak French. He leaves and a few seconds later I hear him calling my name. I step out and look over the balcony.
My husband is facing a soldier who has a very large gun pointed at his chest. Our apartment is opposite the court house which has been heavily guarded for several days as there is a trial on for the men who attempted coup a few months back.
I call out an explanation. It doesn’t get me very far as the soldier apparently has no concept of what ice cream is. I try again with a more general message that le monsieur is going to the store. The soldier nods and waves his gun indicating my husband can leave.
Later I look over the balcony again to see my husband handing a cone to the soldier and then demonstrating with his own how to eat it. They both look mighty pleased with themselves and I breathe a sigh of relief.