Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Antipodes of Mali & Paree: Into Afrika With the Wild Wild East I

08.28.09 - "Goddammit honey, I left that owner's manual to life around here somewhere! Have you seen it?" I'm looking exactly for the page that tells me what to do when I go from Paris, France to Bamako, Mali. I'm sure that's in the index somewhere. Isn't it? Awe, fuck it. We'll just have make it up as we go along. Pay special attention to the contrasting photos on the left and the right-hand sides of the page, and see if you can guess where they are from.

Aigle Azur, Bamako, RCNevada, France, Kiwi Corner, Mali, Muslim, ParisBooking your trip to Afrika through a Vietnamese travel agent in Paris, France is not a move recommended in the Lonely Planet Guide or any Fromers book I've seen and should I ever write a travel guide I'll be sure not to include it as well. Our day started off with a jostling of the sleeping feet in bed as my partner, fully clothed, ready for travel battle and standing at the foot of my sheep counting platform, announces that I need to get my ass out of the sack and off to the Internet cafe to print out our visas for Mali - a move that had been curiously overlooked by our head travel planner earlier in the week. Hmm, that's an interesting one. On a team of two and I'm not the head travel planner, who the hell's responsibility might that be? Awe, fuck it again - I am reminded by a post earlier in the week from RCNevada that the rule in these situations regarding women and arguments is to "Always apologize, especially if you're right", so I forgo the almost ritual-like pissing match we usually have over these things and get on the job. The last thing I want to do on the precipace of entering the dark continent is to apologize for something I didn't fuck up - there will be plenty of other things I didn't fuck up to apologize for later in the trip I'm sure.

Returning from that job well done, I am accosted by a man speaking German to my partner in the apartment we are vacating. He has been sent by the leaseholder to make sure we haven't broken anything or stolen any trivets and we, of course, would like to see our full six hundred Euro deposit returned. Our job is to be incredibly nice to him and he is a complete asshole. "I've been vaiting heah foh fohty minootes", he announces to me as I start to wonder who the fuck is paying the bill and realize it is we, just right before I tell him to go fuck himself - and then I stop. All my bags gave been packed in a way that one might stuff a sausage and I quickly understand that he has had quite the intimidating effect on my diminutive partner, forcing her to rush the packing of all my gear. "Do you think a man would like to have a shower before he gets on a plane to Afrika", I ask him? "Yes", he answers in a way that can only be described as man #1 understanding man #2's line in the sand just before man #2 hauls off and pops the bitch. Crisis averted. I shower and then repack my bags just to make sure he knows who's the boss.

Aigle Azur, Bamako, RCNevada, France, Kiwi Corner, Mali, Muslim, ParisWe bid farewell to the folks at Kiwi Corner, the charming little bistro just downstairs from our Parisian home office for the month, and we're off for Orly. Fleeting scenes of all the architecture I've comeAigle Azur, Bamako, RCNevada, France, Kiwi Corner, Mali, Muslim, Paris to regard as common whiz by as I travel fully well knowing that the next urban assault on my eyeballs will be one of the capital city of the 187th poorest country in the world, Banako, Mali. It's a little like watching yourself going to your death in a movie. You know you're not really going to die, because it's a movie, but it still scares the piss out of you. Orly arrives and the taxi driver asks of course which airline we are flying and to where. He is told Air France by the head travel planner and given a terminal location but that doesn't seem to add up for him. He asks to see our reservation form which doubles as our e-ticket and takes a look. "Oui, oui", he says, "Dise es pour Mali en Aigle Azur, Mademoiselle!" Translation please? "You International numbskulls! You're flying to Mali on Aigle Azur Airways, not Air France." The look between the travel partners in the back seat was absolutely priceless. Weren't we supposed to be ready for the bush pilots once we got to Afrika, not flying in with them? Visions of us wearing goggles with our scarves flapping in the wind rush through my mind as we unload the luggage to the curb. "Pay the man honey, and let's see just exactly what we've gotten ourselves into. And make sure to slap whomever didn't know we were not flying Air France. Oh, that would be you...", me mutters.

For our comfort and safety, the Aigle Azur staff at the airport in France was crack professional, helpful and went out of their way to smooth over some travel hurdles like the fact that my Mali visa had been issued in the name of "Eduardo Carlos" Instead of David Edward Carlson (Everitt, being my birthname and Edward being my given middle name) an oversight sure to have raised terrorist threats in the US but not so much as a raised eyebrow in France as the list of Swedish surnamed terrorists is pretty short and the passport numbers matched perfectly. A shout-out to John from Aigle Azur who was just very helpful and friendly to us both and helped me steal a cigarette on our way back from the security office to the check-in desk in my second week of my no-smoking drive (a whole other story about that later).

Aigle Azur, Bamako, RCNevada, France, Kiwi Corner, Mali, Muslim, ParisWhen a plane bounce lands - that means the wheels hit the ground at least three times - you're either happy that the new pilot didn't crash it or happy that you got yourself thoroughly smashed on theAigle Azur, Bamako, RCNevada, France, Kiwi Corner, Mali, Muslim, Paris cheap wine for seven and a half hours - In our case, we had to settle for the no-crashing sort of happiness because even the cheapest of wine is not served on flights to predominantly Muslim countries. What we didn't realize was that landing safetly would have found itself to have been the least of our worries. The driving and the drinking, in that order precisely, was going to be another thing entirely. You can thank the Catholics for that. In a country that otherwise would have followed Mohammed's law to the letter, Jesus' boys brought the booze.

Our host makes quick work of the immigration boys who have detained us for not having yellow fever vaccination cards. What the hell - we're not bringing in any H1N1, so let us get the Malian disease du jour! "Just spend all your foreign cash before you croak or end up like the English Patient", they told us in French. Or at least that's what I thought they said.

And so the story ends here for you all today. Feels just like a soap opera doesn't it? Just enough drama to keep you wet for the next episode! Suffer girls, cause it don't get more pretty than Paris around here, that's for sure. If you were looking for the antipode to Paree I'm sure Bamako, Mali will fill the bill.

For more in the "Into Afrika" series, check here:

I) The Antipodes of Mali & Paree
II) Good Morning Mali and the Red Toilet Paper
III) Family Feuds, Singing Children & The Sounds of Silence
IV) How to Get From Mali to Munich
V) The Trouble With Mali
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