I had hitchhiked from Bamako to Mopti with overnights in Segou and San. Mopti is in the center part of Mali, a country that looks like a butterfly on the map: the southern wing is jungle and the northern wing is extremely hot and dry desert. The town itself is on the Inner Niger Delta.
I arrived in Mopti early in the morning, in time to see early morning Ramadan prayers at the Grand Mosque, the Komoguel Mosque – a huge mud and wood framed building. It is now a World Heritage Site. Town life stops for the morning prayers that ring out from the minarets.
Afterwards, I managed to find a place to hire a motorbike for the trip to Sangha. It was already ridiculously hot around 9 when I started off on the motorbike on the road to Sangha. It was 74 km to Bandiagara and another 30 km to Sangha.
Did I mention the heat? It was hot. It was hot standing still. It was even hotter riding on the bike – my backpack was secured but uncomfortable on my back. The faster I went, the hotter it got. It was like driving in a blow drier with the hot wind keeping me dry, perspiration evaporated as it formed –the bright relentless sun baked me. Vegetation was left behind once I left Mopti.
I would stop periodically to flush water over my head and on my goat skin hat covered in fur to help retain the water. The water evaporated quickly. I was passing through scrub like farms, with brown stalks peeking out above parched and furrowed fields.
I began to feel lightheaded, then a little faint. I pulled over off the side of the dusty road and stopped near a dry parched field. There was a village camp a few hundred meters away from the road. I felt blurry eyed, grabbed my camera for a quick blurry Pic, as I leaned over the side of the bike, and then slid sown into the dust beside the bike. I passed out.
In a while, I half woke – I was passing in and out of consciousness. I felt myself being carried or dragged by some kids across a bone-dry field to some mud and thatched structure. I was too weak to protest or ask why.
They brought me through a break in a wall into a compound of huts, around one hut and inside another more into the compound where I was gently placed down on a bed or hammock. It was a lot cooler in the darkened hut than outside. I passed out and everything went blank.
When I gradually awoke, it may have been a few hours later, I was in a circular hut with a high pointed thatch roof. There was light poking through an open door. There were a few people in the hut.
A woman handed me a gourd. I drank the milky liquid in it. It was cool and almost refreshing, but I was still dazed. After ten or 15 minutes, I was offered some spicy cassava with some vegetable, which I ate. The gourd was refilled with more milky liquid. I was coming back to life. It was now late in the afternoon.
I was told, in French (Mali has 12 national languages), that I was welcome to spend the night, which I weakly and graciously accepted. I thanked them and asked if there were any villagers with cuts, which I would be happy to clean and bandage. After a few minutes, I cleaned and bandaged two kids with nasty cuts on their legs. After smiles and thanks all around, I was once again alone in the hut. I had no trouble falling back into a deep sleep.
After a full night sleep, I was escorted back to the road by the same kids who had rescued me the day before. I was thankful for my rescue. Dehydration can sneak up on you, and I had already crossed the Sahara, but the combination wind and heat caught me.
These people saved my life and just thought of it as another day, helping a stranger who would pass through and never return. Throughout my travels in Africa, I found support and hospitality from people with little to give. Yet they gave it freely to help a fellow human being.
In the relative coolness of the early morning, I got back on my bike for the journey to nearby Bandiagara and on to Sangha, the heart of the Dogon country and the last village before the cliff-dwellers on the Falaise de Bandiagara of Bananin.