Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day at the Beach

Hot season has decided to come a month early this year. The thought of 4 months rather than 3 months of biking around in triple digit Fahrenheit heat is a bit discouraging the second time round. One can imagine that in West Africa, on the fringe of the Saharan desert, it’s hot. But, you can’t really understand until you’ve been here and felt the strength of the sun. To be beneath it, is to believe some cruel joke has made you the recipient of all its rays.

A day at the beach was in order. To feel a slight breeze off the water or better, the cold current itself. To love the feeling of the sun on my skin, rather than despise it. To enjoy pinching sand between my toes rather than fixating on the deep cracks designing the heels of my calloused feet. It began like a day at the beach might at home. My friend and I got a hold of a small cooler, which we packed with ice. We strolled to the shore taking us through mango groves (the only positive element of hot season is about to ripen). We found the shore lined with young palm trees.

Quick geography lesson: Mali is a landlocked country. I may have romanticized this day. The ‘beach’ is actually the exposed bed of the Niger River, downstream from the polluted capital of Bamako. I also skipped over that in addition to the mango groves, I walked past numerous trash piles, or rather, through sprawling dumps. And after we passed the neatly planted palm trees, we trudged through another quarter mile of still water and donkey droppings. The dredging of sand (piled onto donkey carts) has begun again as the river has dramatically dropped to make it impassable but by dugout canoe.

Anyway, this didn’t take away from my awesome day at the beach. The Niger had the current of the lazy river at the water park. Between dips, I lay in the shade of a make-shift sun umbrella – an indigo died traditional piece of Malian cloth tied to four twigs twisted into the sand. How cool to be able to lay in the middle of the Niger on bare sand, looking at the large rock formations that protrude up around my city and later at the large African sun setting behind thick horizontal bands of dust. Best of all, I had my friend there for endless entertainment. Her swimsuit was a pair of black capris and a halter bedazzled with silver sequins. She goofs around as much as my friends at home, and sings to me my favorite Malian tunes. While I’d had such a wonderful afternoon, my friend Awaha could not say the same. She confessed to me a few days later that she was clowning around to distract herself from the irrational fear she had…of me. She had been fretting over whether I was really ‘Aminata,’ her friend she had gone to the beach with, or the river goddess Mami Wata. Apparently, my lighter-than-normal complexion and long dark hair rippling freely in the water was enough to convince I might be the ominous mermaid-like mythological figure. She told me she kept telling herself to focus on the fact I had two legs, not a fishtail, and therefore everything would be alright. I've been to the 'beach' a few times since, but my closest friend Awaha has still not summoned the courage to go alone with me.

1 comment:

Nima said...

The Albino Shark strikes again!