The Road to Kayes by Nike Ojeikere

Posted: May 7, 2010 at 11:01 am

Today we hit the road quite early. We leave the Tamana Hotel before 6AM. Snow white heads out of Amical Cabral Street and winds its way through the Dossolo Tràoré market which is just stirring awake. A stench overhangs the market trail that is reminiscent of the Iddo Market in Lagos. Traders are beginning to set up their wares.

We go past the Parc National du Mali. Nearby, where a police road shelter is serving as a canteen where early risers are catching a meal on their way to work. The Musee Nationale Du Mali flits past, then the Zoological and Botanical Gardens. We mount the “Presidential Hill” where the residence of the President is located and its walls decorated with a string of orange lights that have the glow of fire from afar off. From this hill you can look down on Bamako.

The road sign shows that Kita is the next major city as we head out of Bamako. A policeman is checking papers. He tells us asks us about certain unstamped portion Snowwhite’s Laisse Passe . We are unaware of that, and say so. The man is adamant. Something should have been stamped. He asks us to follow him to the building to the right of the road. Uche, Emeka and Chriss alight and follow. We wait impatiently for about 30 minutes wondering about the delay. Traders are milling around with trays bearing expensive apples, bread and some locally made cakes. Arab-looking people and when they return, they inform us there had been a suggestion to pay a little cash for the stamp, but this being out of synch with our set principles for the journey, they declined. The alternative is to drive back into Kita to get the document signed. We are glad to do so. We enter Kita and find the station, get the document stamped without ceremony in less than 5 minutes, thank the officers in charge and continue our journey.

Ngalafounga. Taotome. Wolokaro. Didiem. Diema. Segue. Siradou. The expressway is full of sharp bends and the crossing of cattle, sheep, and donkeys. Some have been hit by speeding vehicles and we occasionally, encounter their carcasses on the road. We drive and drive sometimes seeing nothing, save herds of cattle. The heat is immense. Everyone falls asleep except Uche the Navigator, Charles the Provost and I. The vegetation is a terribly scorched wilderness.

At Diema, where we stop to refresh ourselves after about 6 hours of continuous journeying, we encounter a sight for sore eyes: three Nigerian girls aged between 16-25 who run a roadside restaurant business! We has alighted wondering which of the canteens to enter, when someone blurted out under her breath to Charles, “I beg o, Broda, I get food for here o!”

What? Pidgin English in Diema?! We can hardly believe our ears! Everyone is excited. We troop happily into the shack that served as restaurant. It is spick and span, easily the most decent roadside ‘shack’ we have seen thus far. Blue food warmers sit pretty on a table laid with blue nylon “tablecloth”. Flowery blue fabric has been draped around the shack walls lending a cool and calming ambience to the shack. It is unbelievably cool inside. It is noon and the sun is directly overhead.

At Diema, IB team with Nigerian girls selling who sold us food. photo by Amaize Ojeikere

The proprietor is…. jet black, bubbly and funny. She is the most senior and ‘mother’ to two other young girls – Agnes and Promise. She serves us home style rice (long-grained and parboiled, thank you!) and well-fried stew with BEEF! We are delighted beyond words. But what in the world were these girls doing here in Mali, selling rice and stew, in the middle of nowhere ? They replied us with a question: “Wetin go bring person come here again na? Na money we find come na! Money! Na money we dey find.” These are certainly Nigerians, if that joke about Nigerians answering questions with questions is anything to go by.

They are free-spirited and jocular, quick on the uptake and have lost the traditional shyness that younger people display before unfamiliar seniors. A Malian youth stands by the door winking and pouting silent kisses to the one called Agnes. She gets up, unashamedly before us, throws her arms around him and gives him a peck close to the lips and goes back to her seat to continue the discussions that was interrupted.

According to them, that they were on their way to Spain from Benin City, Edo State when their ‘trafficker” Okey got arrested by the authorities. The proprietor, Jetblack, says her mum paid a N50, 000.00 advances to Okey to help ferry her to Spain. They have no clue whether he is dead or alive and haven’t seen him in the 3 years that they have lived here. After Okey’s arrest, they became marooned in Mali and got to start this food making business through the help of a nameless “good- Samaritan”. They hope to go home in December but only one of them has a valid Nigerian passport. Are their parents aware of their predicament? Yes, said Jet-black, “we dey call them for phone”. We dey lucky o; many people from Naija dey come here o, and them just dey die, dey die!

“So why una come stay for dis kin’ dry place wey hot like so? Shuo, na money we dey gather na! If we gather am finish, we go come go Naija.” blurted Agnes. “And again, accommodation cheap well well for here”, added Happy.

We know that a lot more has not been said: they are another unknown statistic in the number of those who leave the country sometimes starry-eyed , sometimes hard-nosed, but all victims to the lust for money made, ‘by any means possible”.

Time to leave, so we take photos and give them our posters; some of us give them token gifts of money. They are happy and grateful and ask us to inform them about our next scheduled transit through the village so that they can cook us a delicious Nigerian dish. We exchange numbers, say goodbye and move on discussing human trafficking all the way to the Mali- Senegal border, till we enter Kayes where we meet Joseph and his Calabar wife from whose restaurant we eat yet another authentic Nigerian meal: Egusi and vegetable soup, cowleg, meat accompanied with Eba or Foofoo. Clearly, today is our lucky day.

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