Thursday, April 20, 2006
Guinea gets its own
I did all the calculations in my mind, and decided that I had left Guinean transport in the dust. I had cleverly managed to avoid most of its nastiness -- after a week spent in-country, all I had had to suffer through was a Peace Corps ride and two hitched lifts in 4x4s. The only thing that remained was the trip from Kankan to Bamako on a road which, as the only sign of progress in the past three years, had been paved. It was an easy ride, they told me. Shouldn't take more than 6 or 7 hours. So 11:00am found me sitting in the Kankan taxi park, book in hand, confident that I would be eating dinner in Bamako. All that remained was for the taxi to fill up.
There are clearly many, many things I've forgotten about Guinea. The taxi, of course, did not fill up. I waited at that station for 9 hours, during which time they moved us to a minibus, loaded and unloaded and reloaded luggage on the roof, waited around for the driver to show up, waited some more while he disappeared again, and generally wasted time until 8:00pm. By that time I was spitting nails, furious at the thought of having to get into Bamako in the middle of the night. As it turns out, I needn't have worried. After taking our time filling the gas tank and stopping for a leisurely coffee break in Siguri, We rolled up to the Mali border at 12:30 -- half an hour after it had closed.
Along the way we stopped in a small village to investigate a fatal traffic accident. Leafy branches had been piled on the road to block off the scene, and crowds of people were milling around in the moonlight. They were gathered in front of the little white Peugeot that had struck down a villager, and in the center of the group old men with white beards were speaking softly and gesturing toward something on the ground. I tried to get closer, but as I craned my neck to see I felt a hand on my elbow pulling me back. It was a man from my minibus. "Let's go," he whispered. "You don't want to see that."
The border post was manned by 3 or 4 tired customs officials in navy blue uniforms. They sat languidly on the steps of the office or lounged on bamboo beds in the courtyard. This was the night shift, and after midnight there was nothing to do but listen to the radio and turn people away. Our minibus parked outside the office and my fellow passengers scattered into the night. I didn't feel like going anywhere at all, so I parked myself on a step, chatted to the bored officers and talked them into letting me crash on one of the bamboo beds. By 1:30 we were all sleeping fitfully under the stars: me, several men and women in uniform, and a guard who had left a car radio blasting to keep him awake. He looked particularly peaceful snoring on a bench next to me when I woke up to the morning prayer call.
What with customs drama, roadblocks and random shopping stops (someone wanted mangoes, someone else needed onions), we didn't get into Bamako until 11:00am the next day -- a full 24 hours after I had arrived at the Kankan taxi park.