The passengers stood waiting in the yellow-tinged darkness of too-early morning. Children slumped at their feet on top of bags and boxes and other children, and a stillness pervaded them, the kind only found in these early morning hours. Soon, the sky would brighten and the bus station would bustle with its general chaos, but for now, things were almost orderly.
I, too, was there, standing with them, my body hollow from lack of sleep, my bags already loaded under the bus. I stood there watching the scene in front of me: the porters with their wooden carts stacked with millet sack-covered boxes, the women whose bright scarves concealed sleeping babies bundled to their backs, the low murmur of morning greetings uttered from each arriving passenger. I watched them almost in disbelief. I’d imagined this day for almost exactly two years, and now here I was, too tired to be appreciative, excited, or nervous.
My mind echoed with conversations from another world, one I’d felt no more a part of the night before at a French-run rooftop bar, stocked with cocktails, tapenade, and well-intentioned ex-pats. “You’re taking Malian transport?” they asked, surprised, “Why don’t you just fly to San?” As if San had an airport. But standing here now, I realized I’d never before questioned taking Malian transport. In fact, I’d never questioned much about living in Mali, because before, everyone else I knew was living more or less the same as me. Now, my toubab peers knew a much different Mali than the one I knew. Many had done Peace Corps elsewhere in the past, but had moved on to verified development careers, with a house, a guard and a translator. Few, if any of them, would ever find themselves here, watching the last of the bags being packed under the 6am bus to San.
And in the stillness, I felt acutely alone, only steps from the bus that would take me a day’s drive from the next closest English speaker. Was this really what I was supposed to be doing? Or had I just squandered the last two years saving up to get to a bygone place, one that dissolved overnight in the haphazard actions of a few disgruntled junior officers?
The station attendant pulled out his list and the passengers crowded around the door of the bus as he started reading names. Amadou Kone…Jenaba Dembele…Samba Diallo…and the passengers started boarding one by one. I listened intently for my name and pushed through the crowd when I heard the familiar syllables: Bougourie Coulibaly. I took the next available seat towards the back. Before long, the bus was pulling away from whatever small comfort and security I wanted to cling to in Bamako.
And then I remembered what was pointed out to me the night before: I was entirely free. I had no responsibilities, no organization to dictate when I came or went, no one to answer to except myself. I watched out the window as the Bamako metropolis stretched and sprawled then dwindled into flat, sparse countryside. And this freedom loomed large over the dusty unsown fields, filling the sky, stretching to the flat horizon, daring me to be intimidated. But I wasn’t. This was my freedom. This was my journey, and right now I knew I was headed in the right direction.← Let Me Set the Scene Going Home →