A riverboat down the Niger

The green busses, or Su-Tro-Ma’s (as I think they are called here,) are the vehicles of a sort of disorganized public transportation system. Vans and trucks painted green are stuffed full of people, fly around the city, cutting corners and rattling around pedestrians. They can take you anywhere for 100CFA, or about 20 Cents. The problems arise when the driver changes his mind about where he is going, and as a non-Bamera speaker I am left in the dark about our destination. More then once I have ended up in a different place then where I was planning to go.

This time, things went smoothly, and my friend Josh and I got dropped off in the downtown market area. Our goal, abstractly, was the river.We wanted to get on a boat. We winded our way southward down the street, towards where we assumed the river to be. The streets changed from wide and claustrophobic- full of venders singing about their wonderful tomatoes and sandles- to narrow and paved with dirt. Curved paths intersected and winded back and forth towards the river.

We broke through the confusion to a riverbank town, and we ducked our heads into one of the houses, made of mud and tin, that  lined the road. Once inside, we realized that the houses were built without walls, created a laberynth full of children and women fanning fires, and men untangling fishnets.

We sat where a woman pointed to a little bench, and used charades to ask about a boat. Soon a man named Moosa ducked in. His limited English vocabulary was a miracle to us. He had a boat, and said cheerfully “lets go!” For two dollars, he took us down to the river and spent the day with us on his boat. It was a long thin wooden canoe, exactly the same as the ones that the fishermen around us were working in. He used a plastic bowl to scoop all of the water out of the bottom of the canoe, and we climbed into its slimy hull. I noticed the immediate bubbling in the bottom of the boat, where water began its trickle back in as we left the shore.

He paddled us down the river and brought us to an island where people were farming casava and corn. There was no power on the tiny island, but they had a car battery rigged up to play music from an ancient boom box. We sat under a mango tree and collected ourselves, while the polite islanders looked at us in surprise.

Then we carried on, and landed at a fancy hotel, where we drank a bottle of water that cost the same amount as our boat ride. We bought our poor boat captain a Coke and he sat uncomfortably in the environment that was like another country, right down the river from where he had spent his life.

The day was a memorable one, we made our way back to our home happy and ready to eat at Awa’s little hut around the corner.



1 Comment

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One response to “A riverboat down the Niger

  1. Debbie Kaye

    Hi, Maria —
    Isn’t life so full of contrasts? boat ride/coke.
    80 degrees in Hawaii with Baba/-10 for Rob in Minnesota.
    Hoping you are well and thriving, and learning French. Je t’embrasse. Tante Debbie

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