Sunday, July 27
Segou, Mali

Sleep comes easy in Segou, a quiet town on the Niger River.

Lucky for that, since I’ve spent the first half of this weekend in my hotel room (more like my concrete cell), defeated by a migraine. I get them when I’m overtired, and I was exhausted after a few sleepless nights in hot Bamako.

This morning I woke up rested and headache-free, ready for a run along the Niger, just steps from my bed. A photo doesn’t do the scene justice:

View of the Niger River from my Segou hotel.

View of the Niger River from my Segou hotel.

Photoshoot on the Niger River in front of my Segou hotel.

Photoshoot on the Niger River in front of my Segou hotel.

I prefer Mali to Senegal, mostly because — I’m about to make a generalization here — Malians are less aggressive and less arrogant than the Senegalese. I’ve had a bit of hassle here, including a guide who follows me every time I leave my hotel trying to sell me his services, but nothing on the overbearing scale of Dakar.

Bamako, Mali’s capital city, is a bustling place where residents use mopeds to get from one place to another just as much as cars (Yes, I’ve gotten rides on a few!). Unlike Dakar, there aren’t many high-rises there; even most new buildings are only a few stories high.

Food and accommodation there are cheaper than Dakar, although that’s probably partly because I’ve learned to live on the cheap. When I first arrived in West Africa, I overlooked the street-side food stalls, not realizing they were open for business because they often are surrounded by pieces of cloth.

Push aside that cloth and take a seat, and you can eat for a dollar or two. Here’s a stall where I ate breakfast in Bamako, a coffee and fried eggs on bread for CFA 200, about 50 cents.

Food stall in Bamako. Many are smaller than this.

Food stall in Bamako. Many are smaller than this.

For lunch and dinner, street vendors usually have a few large bowls that contain rice, spaghetti, fish and sauce, meat and sauce and french fries. You pick your combination. My preference at the moment is beans and spaghetti. If you have a Coke, that costs twice as much as the food.

Considering Mali is the fourth-poorest country in the world, I was surprised to find its transportation system more orderly and upscale than that of Senegal.

To get to Segou from Bamako, I chose one of several bus companies, then arrived at the station, where no one accosted me or my bag. Instead, I got in line, bought a ticket (A ticket! What a concept!) and waited on a bench for the bus to depart. Rather than leave when it was full, it left at a certain time. And the bus was a charter bus! No air conditioning — we left the emergency doors on the roof open for ventilation — but I was a pretty happy camper.

Until we stopped for prayer, at which point a man who I guessed was a policeman got aboard the bus with a whip and started hitting a woman who stood in the aisle. I don’t know why; I guessed she was selling something that wasn’t allowed.

She cried out in pain as he hit her, backing into a crowd of people who also were selling their goods in the aisle. Soon she was off the bus. No one seemed to think anything of it, minus a French couple sitting a few seats behind me who looked as horrified as I probably did.

Tomorrow I’ll board a bus again, this time for Djenne.