today is april 29th.
a day where you were supposed to be in mali.
and more than likely, yala yalaing with your two favorites.
instead you’re in france.
still watching an election. just not the one you really care about.
you’re also figuring out what is going to come next.
but you’re also constantly thinking about your final days in mali.
as nice and official and perfect the michelin maps are, what you’d really like to be looking at is the hand painted mural map at the peace corps training center in mali.
with the rest of your peace corps family.
ok, maybe not all of them.
just the ones
there’s only one perfect way to leave mali.
a last yala yala with your closest friends.
just the three of you.
plus a fourth: a path toward the niger river.
the river is low.
it becomes easier and easier to cross.
low enough that cows come and graze in areas that were once covered with water.
you’ve also just realized that you’ve never written about why the niger river is so important to you.
you were saving the explanation for a day when you were going to explore the niger.
but that day never had a chance to come.
so here will be the last chance you get to write about the niger, since you won’t be visiting it in person anytime soon.
let’s look at one more map. a map of the niger river’s path.
and let’s agree on one thing though: rivers flow toward an ocean. or sea. or lake. or some sort of body of water that it can call home.
the source of the niger is only 240km (150 mi) from the atlantic ocean. so close. so near. there isn’t much work involved for it to be reunited with that giant body of water.
instead of taking the short and easy route to the sea, it decides that a detour of 4,180k m (2,600 mi) through mali, the sahara, and various other countries is necessary before finally rejoining the atlantic ocean.
thanks to this detour, west africa is rich with stories thanks to increased sources of water, where cities such as bamako, timbuktu, and segou can flourish, where millions of people can build houses close to the river, where businesses can transport their goods, where cattle can go and drink from the river, where people can wash their laundry, where fish can be caught for dinner, where gardens can be planted nearby, where bridges are constructed, where life can be found.
imagine! imagine west africa if the niger decided to take the short route. imagine if the niger didn’t pass through all these areas. so much would be missing.
you loved using this allusion for your own life. and your own path.
before the coup, you thought of mali as a detour for your way back to france. you were going to return to france two years richer with culture and language and experience and friends and so much more. you were going to be so happy.
but now that the coup cut your time short and you are back earlier than expected in france, you realize that being in france is just another detour for your way back to west africa.
because that’s all you can think about. the dust. the people. the language. the mangos. the hospitality. the heat. west africa is what you want. not for a permanent home. but a home for longer than six months at least.
all of this, of course, was discussed with your yala yala buddies.
with them, no topic is ever taboo and no conversation is ever forced.
you couldn’t ask for a better friendship.
or better people that listen when you need to think out loud.
the sun sets.
and it’s time to leave the niger.
one game of frisbee.
then it is kan bei to mali.