Monday, December 05, 2005


Salif Keita and Oumou Sangare blared alternately from the tinny loudspeaker of the bush taxi. The blurry view out the windows was brown and dry and sandy with an occasional straw hut surrounded by goats, and suddenly a tall purple-turbaned Tuareg galloped by on a camel. You don't imagine camels as being so fast and graceful, but they can be.

This time when the creaky old bus stopped for a break, Kate and I knew what was up.

On our first Malian bus ride, when we took a bus from Bamako to Mopti, the driver finally stopped at dusk by a tiny mud-walled village. Relieved, since we had to pee, we clambered off, maneuvered to the muddy ground near the front side of the bus since most of the men had gone to the back side, and then lifted up our billowing skirts and squatted, only to realize that we were being gawked at by the entire crowd of Moslem men rolling out their prayer mats. The group of men had not gotten out to pee, but to pay their due respect to Allah.

We were nearing Gao, driving on the edge of the Sahara, and I couldn't wait to finally see the last tribe of desert elephants in Mali. Would we really find them? The only animals I could see by the side of the road were camels and goats. I said my own little prayer to the elephants. Did they really have such a long memory? Did they really mourn their dead? I remembered a PBS special I had seen where elephants passed bones of a deceased member of the herd from trunk to trunk, in a manner that could only be perceived as solemn.

Mac had seemed sure that his French friend Jacques would know where the elephants were, and we were on our way to Jacques' place.