In Bamako: finding a balance

I feel like I have a fuse that’s about a millimetre long these days. As if 8.5 months travelling has done nothing to toughen me up, but which has instead turned me into a cowardly princess who cries at the first brush with something unpleasant.

I’ve been in Bamako for almost two weeks now, and I’ve really gotten to know nothing about it, other than where expats go to party. So obviously that’s been fun, and I’ve met some really cool people. But I read that there’s an artisanal market in a certain area, that’s supposed to be a bit more laid back than the central one. So why not go and check it out? If I can see it on the map, it can’t be that hard to find, right?

Well, no surprise here. I was wrong.

In the streets of Bamako, looking for the Niarela artisinal market

The thing is: I’m so hesitant to ask anyone for directions, because that’s turned out so badly so many times, that I no longer trust anyone. I want to look anything but vulnerable. So instead of letting anyone know that I don’t know where the hell I’m going, I opt to wander around lost, pretending I’m not. And sometimes that works out, but many times, it does not. So I give up and go home. Which is what I did today.

Well, sort of. Instead, I came to the Parc National. It’s said to be very calm, cool, and quiet. Which it is. Because I’ve got time to kill as I wait to pick up my Burkina visa, which will be ready this afternoon. So I had in mind going to the cafe inside for some tea. And while the Maison du Thé itself seems to be closed, presumably for Ramadan, the other cafe is open. So I went in and asked for tea, only to be told that they don’t serve tea even though I can clearly see the box of tea on the shelf behind him.

And the worst part about that is that instead of reacting like a reasonable, logical person would, and either choosing something else, or even inquiring further about the tea situation, I just shut down. Everytime now, I just shut down, and I cry. Not always immediately, but soon enough, my frustration translates into tears. I’m upset about whatever little thing happened, and them doubly upset at myself for being upset over something so small. And for no longer being the patient person I thought I was. And for no longer being able to justify this damn tattoo on my wrist (sorry, Eric.)

Inside the Parc National du Mali


My default thought these days is always this: I’m so tired. I just want to go home.

Which is ridiculous. Because I’m not tired. I’ve done nothing strenuous since I got to Bamako. I’ve hardly left the Camel, and if I have, it’s usually just to go out with other travellers and expats to the bars, or the pool. Hardly tiring. Hardly as if I’ve been coming up against this stuff all day, everyday. I’ve had a good break here.

But maybe I do want to go home. Maybe I just need to be back in an environment that is familiar, that I understand, which is hospitable to tourists, which is not so aggressively competitive.

Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just not cut out for this. Or maybe, as much as I hate to, I need to give in to the ways of the expats; you pay for what you get. So if I want to find that market, or a place to have tea, I have to pay someone to take me there. Directions don’t come for free, you know.

3 thoughts on “In Bamako: finding a balance

  1. Africa is a lot more demanding than the places most travellers go to and probably more so for a solo female, so dont beat yourself up about it. Most travellers are too wussy to even try what you have done. Like it or not West Africa is a no pain no gain destination but I have endured the shit because when the high points come they are something special that you wont get anywhere else. Dont lose your trust in people as you will be rewarded, just dont be afraid to split if the situation doesnt feel safe. Keep up the good work


    1. Thanks so much, graham, for your kind words. I really appreciate the understanding. You’re right; travel here is both extremely challenging and extremely rewarding, making it all worth it in the end. A little extra encouragement from another traveler is always nice though. You sometimes get to feeling so alone, right?


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