The train trip to Dakar is a 36 hour trip through some very remote areas of Mali. As those on the truck found out, there really is no road through this area - the railway, two trains a week in each direction, is their link to Bamako or Senegal. On our train when we started, though there were plenty of seats, I noticed plenty of women sitting on their bags around the door area of the train. Actually, soon after we had started a couple of women the other end of the carriage started fighting over this space - big women really going at it, with lots of other people joining in! It soon became apparent what they were fighting over - luggage space. Once out of Bamako these women started buying things off people in the stations - boxes of mangoes, and as we got into the rural areas, cola nuts. Cola nuts are reddish nuts you can chew as a mild drug - very popular with muslims as there is nothing against it in the Koran. I am told they are a stimulant, I tried them but couldn’t get over the taste and texture.
Cola nuts were bought by the calabash off peoples heads, loaded into sacks, boxes, anything else they had brought along, until they filled every available space in the train. Under seats, overhead, piled 4 feet high in gangways. It was an obstacle course to move a yard. I had to argue hard just to keep my legroom. The train guards came through, negotiating with the women for extra baggage charges (from what I could see, probably as much again as what they paid for the cola nuts). Sleeping that night was a little uncomfortable - a baby sleeping, or not, on the floor under my feet, her grandmother to my left with all her luggage, and a midnight border crossing that took 2 hours. But most entertaining, and got to know the women there, though only a couple spoke French (mine was pretty good by now) and none English.
Dakar - the Paris of West Africa, on a spit of land running out into the Atlantic. An expensive, western city with French manners. Cool (at last!), with the sea and sand. We were camped on the beach a little way out of the city, but on the main bus route, with an excellent bar and restaurant just down the beach. But dinner was $20, a taxi $5 (all in CFA). But you could draw cash on a Visa card at the bank, send faxes, sit in French Cafes and eat croissants and coffee at western prices.
Ile de Goree, a pleasant little island off the tip of Dakar, with another old slaving fort, and a more modern fort from the first world war with some huge, rusting guns at the top of a warren of ammunition rooms and troop quarters. I met a fascinating lady Sibo there - I was looking at her T-shirts on sale, and as usual knocking her down in price. The barter system means that everyone starts with a price far too high, and you spend a long time beating them down. I liked the artwork, but was complaining about the quality - then Sibu got all huffy and explained that that was the only type of T-shirt she could get. What was unusual about this was that she was the first woman I had met who answered me back !! Having shaken off my (male) guides, who were nothing but a nuisance around women (casually telling me I could have her as a girlfriend if I wanted, interrupting conversation because they are bored - no respect !!), I went back, and found out that she was from Togo, and was only in Senegal to earn some money and try to find a producer for her music - she was a writer and a singer. That she was in her mid-twenties and unmarried was remarkable enough - that she had a career in mind with specific goals in the African culture that is so stacked against women was amazing. I stayed with her and her brother for a few days - they were strongly Rastafarian (Jah - God) and she referenced everything to the end (a la fin). Asking her about this, she believes that Jah will come, soon, and that when he does you had better have done all the things you should/wanted to have done, otherwise there would be a reckoning. It turned out that she was looking for a producer to provide financial backing - elle connait les tuyaux elle-meme. All she needed was the money. So I sent it to her when I got back - she deserves to succeed.
My travel agent had promised to have my return ticket waiting at Air France - it turned out that they had stolen my money and gone out of business, so I had a bit of a mess to sort out when I got there. It doesn’t bear repeating. I eventually got a cheap(er) ticket back to the UK from The Gambia.