Entente Hotel is to the cosmopolitan traveler what an oasis is to the desert traveler. It is a modern, well run hotel in the very heart of the city near the Marche Central (Central Market) and a short distance from the Town Hall. Its grounds are garnished with lush greenery and beautiful objets d’art and the reception is manned by the friendly but professional Sylvie. Its walls wear a warm but mellow shade of orange. Entente Hotel is a walking distance to the Dioulassabar Mosque built in 1880, the ancient Dioulossabar village and the place of the drums where the guild of drummers ply their art, and where I am treated to a session of brilliant drumming courtesy of Zakaria Sow a card carrying member of the guild, and his friend, Iddris.
There is a lot to document so we spend a good chunk of the day inside Entente. Everything is going well despite occasional disagreements not unexpected in a team of ten, until the soul of the journey finally departs from one of us and she elects to return to Lagos.
Since “proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten”, and since we are blessed with a good number of local language speakers, and translators, the events of the journey and the Entente hotel begin to breed their own lexicon and the Iyalamiya Theorem and extrapolations begin to spawn.
Iyalamiya – a state moving off track, going off point or off tangent
Gbala-gbala fere oke oburu ala – Something overdone, becomes madness.
Alashe ju – (S)he who overdoes things
Agba nsi nkiti o n’esi – Excrement that does not get packed off will keep on smelling.
Amaize then takes over as the bus comedian and begins to bug us with the Iyalamiya Theorem, clarifying and interpreting the events of the night against this background, with additions and subtractions from a few others: When relating with people, you must be careful not to constantly manifest Iyalamiya, otherwise, you will manifest, gbala-gbala fere oke which will inevitably lead to Agba nsi nkiti o nesi. Laughter erupts in the bus but is bitter-sweet…
It is 5th of May, a sunny Bobo Dioulasso morning. We have breakfast, say our goodbyes to our newly made acquaintances, and are good to go. We take the Marche Central road, and derive out of town. We get to Bama, move on to Samadeni where the earth is all dry and dusty. Cows cross the road suddenly, then sheep, then goats causing our driver, Mr. Sam Solomon, to slam a little too frequently the brakes. I observe a road sign depicting an incline with 6 degrees imprinted on it and I become amazed all over again how easy it is for a driver in Nigeria to do inter state travels for years but never be able to interpret road signs- having never seen them before on our expressways! If I were blindfolded and taken to any expressway outside Nigeria, and asked to guess my location, the road signs would be my marker that I am certainly not in Nigeria. They are the visible signs that would indicate that we have crossed borders even if invisibly.
We come to the border post at Kouri. We waste no time more than necessary. The officers recognize us and there is no tension at all. We make a gift of our posters and cards. They bid us fare well with friendly au revoirs. The blue-yellow Diarra Transport bus that we met at the border is still doing its own checks, its numerous passengers milling around under a tree. It has certainly made all the difference that we came in our own private bus. Last year when our bus, the Blackmaria broke down in Accra, and we had to continue the journey to Bamako by public transport, the processing time was certainly much longer.
Kafo Jiginew signboards begin to appear by the roadside and indicating, for sure, that we are in Mali. Tandio. Ourikela. Houcicoma where we refuel the van. We enter Koutialla and it is time for lunch: short grained mish-mash rice doused with groundnut soup and a fiesta of fried onions, with chicken or fish. Many are only able to eat the meal accompanied by a paste of hot red peppers. Chidinma cannot eat much of the meal. Amaize goes to get some garri and groundnuts from our van. Chriss eats the meal with relish-as usual. We hear our driver Mr. Sam speak a smattering of French to convey his order. We are thrilled by this development. We congratulate him on his successful crossing of the language border.
Bankou, then Benguele with its aesthetically pleasing well finished mud houses and on to Falema . It is Baobabs galore, nature’s sculpture of hardy trees. Then we reach Segou with its tankers, trailers, and “Northern Nigeria’ traditional architecture. It could well have been a Nigerian town, only that a black and white sign at the end of the road says that Bamako is to the left.
Segou is the first well-planned town that we have thus far come across since departing Bobo. Its street lights stand on silvery parade in the town’s main trunk road, becoming smaller as one views the line up down the horizon. I recall the teaching of perspectives in my fine art class in secondary school. Parallel to the Segou Road, the River Niger runs along its course, as if in competition with the road, then it recedes and the horizon metamorphoses into scorched earth. The trees too are distant, as if afraid of the road.
Masala moves into view; India flits past my mind. The sky is postcard blue with puffs of silver lined clouds. The vegetation becomes wiry with a profusion of stunted trees and aggressive looking bushes. We drive on and on for stretches of kilometers wondering when Bamako will show. At Konobougou, life bursts forth again: markets, donkeys, cucumber, men lounging under trees, teenagers strolling in the streets, women are also about their business…
Region de Koulikoro says a sign, and then Fana and we now proceed on what seems an endless drive on the road to Bamako. We pass Korokoro, and Kasala and finally, the most welcome sign of all signs says District de Bamako. The time is 5.50PM Bamako time.
We meet up with our friend the photographer Adama Bamba and roost at the Tamana Hotel, off Rue Amical Cabral, (aka Rue Princess) near the famous BlaBla restaurant. A heavy Bamako storm stirs and pours down a little later to give us a most welcome, welcome.