Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Arriving in Style

As predicted, the baggage area at the airport was extremely ‘colourful’. And ‘dead ethnic' – as another English traveller once said.

About 35 degrees, a hundred percent humidity, it’s the height of the rainy season, hordes of people, all shouting at each other, battling to get huge trunks and cases onto the three available trolleys.

Not surprisingly, one of our nine boxes was missing – finally after a despairing hour, I saw the towering figure of Dr. Amadou, our director here, fighting his way through the throng. Then, after just the merest bit of shouting at obviously just the right people, the lost box appeared.

Then comes the battle with the customs. Again Amadou saves the day – with just the right mix of yelling, contrition and back-slapping, and the head honcho gets his magic stamp out of the drawer, applies it to our many papers, and Bingo ! (or Voila !, whichever you prefer).

Then all that has to happen is for all the boxes to pass through the x-ray machine.
This used to be the most dangerous job in Mali, as some poor bloke had to actually push it all through by hand. They only used to last about six weeks, but now they’ve installed a motor-driven conveyor belt, and life is easy. So then all that’s needed is a half-hour shouting match with the ‘helpers’, who loaded the boxes onto the belt, over their due payment, and then we’re off. A mere two hours after landing.

This morning, after a few hours much needed sleep, it was off to the police station for the confirmation of our visas (there is unsurprisingly no Malian Embassy in London).

Amazingly easy this time – once they told us it would take a week – then off to meet up with the SPANA team treating animals in one of the city’s poorer districts.
As usual, they are hard at it, with about sixty donks and half a dozen horses. On the whole the donkeys are in pretty good nick – Amadou says it’s not surprising after more than ten years of bullying their owners into looking after them a bit better.

One woman proudly shows me her donkey mare – apparently she’d lost four foals in successive years – salmonella in her milk – then after SPANA’s treatment she at last reared a colt-foal successfully.
She announced loudly she’d therefore called it Amadou. Much falling about with laughter.

Then the heavens opened, the rain came down like stair-rods and a vicious wind tore the leaves from the trees and sent the plastic bags swirling up into the leaden skies.

Rain stopped play.

Jeremy Hulme

No comments: