Between Books aka Wallowing in Author Limbo

Latest novel published – sigh of relief.

Holiday in Mexico – brain reduced to mush in the heat.

Back home – routines restored.

Time to think of starting a new book, ie procrastinate.

And procrastination leads to sorting through old photos which leads to this blog.

Much of Whispers Under the Baobab is set in West Africa in 1970, and among my pictures I found a few I had taken back then that will give you a glimpse of what Flo saw and experienced as she fled across the Sahara to safety in Bamako.  Between Books aka Wallowing in Author Limbo                                                                    Click here for more information.

Here is the only picture I still have of the 14th century mosque in Tombouctou, destroyed by Islamists in 2012.

Between Books aka Wallowing in Author Limbo

From Tombouctou, Flo and Josef traveled by boat – the General Sumaré – down the Niger River. Flo was on the second level and was able to go up on the top deck to view the surroundings. Josef, on the main deck would not have had that luxury.

Between Books aka Wallowing in Author Limbo

When the General Sumaré beached on a sand bar, the women and children were taken to shore in these pirogues. They are propelled by pushing poles into the river bed and walking along the side of the boat. Back in 1970, goods were transported hundreds of kilometers from Guinea to Mali in these (heavily loaded) pirogues powered by man.

Between Books aka Wallowing in Author Limbo

Nearing Bamako, this is what the terrain looked like with calabashes growing in the fields.

Between Books aka Wallowing in Author Limbo

The Tuareg ring that Flo bought on her journey and wore on a leather thong.

Between Books aka Wallowing in Author Limbo




Naigra falls

I stood under the shower for much longer than I needed to this morning. I should know better.

I’ve lived in Mali where we dared not touch the water from the river for fear of disease, where children sold this same water tied in little scraps of plastic to bus passengers, where plants and people withered and died during the dry season.

I’ve traveled from Edmonton to Tombouctou via Toronto, New York, Casablanca and Bamako.  The most expensive stop? Tombouctou—and that was for the bottled water which cost more than the night’s stay in the hotel in New York.

On safari in Kenya we stayed in a tent camp. Water for the shower was heated in bags and hung outside the tents. My roommate and I showered M*A*S*H fashion. Turn the water on. Get wet. Turn the water off. Soap and shampoo. Turn the water on. Rinse. Turn the water off.

I’ve seen the scant water holes in the Serengeti. I’ve seen the murky water coming out of the taps in Mexico – the water that leaves your skin feeling dirtier after your shower than before you got in. I’ve seen the sharp demarcation between lush green and arid desert in the Nile valley.

Here in North America, we take water for granted, waste water shamefully. Not just any water, but clean water, drinkable from the tap water.

How lucky we are to have such luxury


What’s that I hear? Adventures in Tombouctou


“I hear something. Turn on the light.”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“I’m telling you, there’s something in our room.”

“It’s your imagination. You watch too much TV.”

They’re in Tombouctou. They’ve toured the town, seen the mosque and market, and the water hole which looks like an inverted cone with maybe a pail or two of water way down there. How do the people survive? Yes, the Niger River is just a few kilometers to the south, but still….

“I still hear something. Turn on the light.”

“If you want the light on, you turn it on.”

“The switch is on the wall by you.”

With a heavy sigh, she crawls out of bed and reaches for the switch. “Oh, my God! Look!”

The room is crawling with insects. Big and small they swarm over the walls. Some are feeding on others. There’s no mosquito netting to build a fortress, to tuck securely around the mattress. Hell, a mosquito net wouldn’t do anyway.

They scramble wildly for clothes, shoes, and blankets and escape to the relief of the cool night air. They settle in arm chairs on the hotel terrace with the added security of the staff sleeping on the ground nearby. Wrapped in the blankets, they hear the howling of the Harmattan winds, unaware of the sand dunes building over them.

Burrowing out from under those dunes in the morning, they discover that ears, eyes, nose—every body crevice, and pore plugged with grains of sand. Little dunes of sand form in the bottom of the shower stall for days after.

But, hey, they can say they’ve been to Tombouctou.

The Mali I love – as it was then

Many years ago I lived and worked in Mali as a CUSO volunteer. I shared a house with another volunteer, who subsequently married a Malian and still lives in Bamako. For now, she says they are okay, but of course I worry.

The experience for a young Canadian was eye-opening to say the least. We were fortunate enough to be able to travel extensively. Segou, Mopti, Tombouctou, Gao … We enjoyed the hospitality of Malians and had great respect for their ability to cope in impoverished conditions. Wide warm smiles greeted us wherever we went.

I cannot and do not want to picture the devastation and destruction northern Mali is now enduring.

Here are a few pictures of Mali as it was then.





See also:

West Africa Tour – part 2

We don’t see Tombouctou on this trip. The river, during rainy season, flows about a kilometer south of the town. We’re told that an American sailor who was captured and taken to Tombouctou, came back with stories of a mighty river in the desert that was so wide he couldn’t see the other side. Explorers who came later dismissed his tale as that of a mad black man. If they had traveled a bit beyond Tombouctou they too, would have seen the mighty Niger.

Our boat trip ends at Gao where we stay with the nuns. (see ) before flying off to Niamey, the capital of Niger. The bits we see of the city look much like Bamako, but we don’t explore more as I am very ill. We find the local hospital where I’m diagnosed with malaria. My own fault as I haven’t been careful enough about taking my antimalarial pills. I’m given an injection and a bottle of pills. The remainder of our Niamey sojourn is spent in the hotel where I rest and my friend laments that she doesn’t get to pile the covers on me and then take them off as I battle bouts of chills and fever. I tell her that I’m quite happy my case is mild, roll over, and ignore her grumbling.

While dutifully taking my anti-malaria tablets, and trying to get comfortable on the lumpy bed with worn, but clean sheets, my friend is out organizing our transportation for the next leg of our trip–a long drive from Niamey, crossing the border into Dahomey (now called Benin), south through Kandi and Parakou to Cotonou.

To be continued

The Cowboy

He decides to wear his western clothes for the trip to Mali and France. He scrapes the manure off the boots and polishes them to a battered shine, spot cleans the hat and has it reshaped, checks the jeans for tears to be mended, buys a new western  jacket, sportcoat style, and a couple of new shirts.

First stop – Mali.

“Texas!” the kids call out.

“No, Canada,” he says.

“Texas!” They insist and there is no changing their minds.

“Marlboro Man,” they screech with delight.

“No, Canada,” he says, but Marlboro Man he remains.

Who knew westerns were so popular in the sub sahara?

He goes to Timbouctou and receives the same warm reception. Here he demonstrates riding a horse along with sound effects. The boys gathered around giggle and roll on the sand, then jump up and demonstrate camel ridin,g again with sound effects. It’s his turn to laugh.

Second stop – Avignon.

“Cowboy,” the children scream. A grade six school group from Spain, all of them speaking perfect French. “Cowboy,” they holler and the cameras are out and up close. There must be 6,000 pictures of the cowboy’s belt buckle and little else on the kids’ cameras.

Third stop – Paris.

Young men see his hat and look immediately at his feet. The battered boots invariably receive an appreciative and approving nod.

But it’s the elderly, immaculately dressed and coiffed French women, who provide the greatest delight.

They look up, bat their eyes, and say flirtatiously, “Quel beau chapeau, monsieur.”

He grins, doffs his hat, and bows slightly. His wife groans and does her best to ignore it all.