We take our best bus ride yet with a new company called S.T.A.F (pronounced “staff,” wish they were all that easy,) and arrive in the main northern town of Dori by 10:00 AM. After that we wait for about an hour for the bush taxi (the Burkina version of a trotro) to fill up and take us to Gorom-Gorom, the next town northward.
While we are waiting we struggle to fend off a self-proclaimed guide who looks like a lumberjack and is anxious to cart us around the area. He happily shows us his “credentials” as a qualified tour guide with a prestigious local organization and flips through his binders of pictures and info pages. However, he doesn’t speak English, and though my French has improved enough for me to understand the gist of most conversations, it would do us no good to pay someone to take us places we would already be going if we can’t understand what he’s saying, even if he is a real guide. He tells us we’ll get ripped off without him, which we might, but we are also convinced we’ll get ripped off with him, so whatever. We travel unguided!
After we finally get rid of him, another man approaches, claiming he’s the nephew of the chief of Gorom-Gorom, and that his father is a camel salesman/border crossing official at the Mali border (this is all questionable due to my lack of language skills,) and that we should come stay at his house. “NO!” we almost yell, after I translate for Lauren. He gets a little offended, but he’s not the first person to tell us he’s related to the chief, and he very well may be, but we are not interested in buying a camel or going to Mali. Sorry, man.
We finally load up into the bush taxi, with our bags and a bunch of extra men on top of the vehicle, when this strangely familiar man with googly eyes pops his head in the window and starts speaking to Lauren and me.
“I KNOW YOU!!! Do you remember me?” the man exclaims, his eyes bulging.
I start to laugh and look the other way, because he’s really creepy-looking and I’m just not sure what to do with myself.
“I know you!!! I met you in Ouagadougou, at the hotel!”
Lauren keeps her cool and replies, “No, we don’t know you, sir. I think you’re thinking of someone else. All white girls look the same, you know.”
I chance a glance back at the man, and it hits me: Oh. My. Gosh. It’s the man from Pavilion Vert (Day 2.) He found us. All the way in Gorom-Gorom.
“Is this man your guide?” the camel salesman/border crossing relative man inquires through the other window.
“NO! Oh my gosh, no. He is not our guide!”
“But wait, Lauren, do we know him? Remember, he’s…”
“NO, Sara! WE DO NOT KNOW HIM. He’s thinking of the WRONG WHITE GIRLS. Remember?” (Under her breath, “Don’t give it away, or we’ll never get rid of him!”)
“Oh, yah, you’re right, noooo, we don’t know him. Yep. Wrong white girls.”
I’m half afraid he’ll hop on top of the bush taxi and ride along with us as he continues to insist our knowledge of each other, but we roll away as Googly Bear stares after us, looking confused as to why we didn’t remember him.
As we make the incredibly bumpy 2.5 hour ride down a dirt track, we encounter numerous stops at police “posts” along the way. At most of them the mate just jumps off the top of the taxi and hands the police officers a bag of drinking water or a loaf of bread as payment, but at one the officer in charge comes up to the van and demands identification from all of the passengers. Lauren hands him her passport; I am instantly terrified that he’s not going to give it back. However he does, and doesn’t even take mine. We’re obviously together.
We finally make it to Gorom-Gorom, and I am amazed at how much the poverty increases the further north we reach. It’s market day in town, and the chaos, the dust and the heat, the garbage and the animals, are all tremendous. “Oursi?” A man inquires. “Est-ce vous allez a Oursi?” Thinking he’s another guide, we snub him a bit and venture on our way toward where our previous driver pointed to the other bush taxis. As it turns out, this man is the mate of the truck driving to Oursi, and because of our rudeness he charges us triple the price when we figure it out (I guess that’s what we get.) Our ride to our final destination is a giant cargo truck with an open air bed with 7-foot-high railings around it and already holding what had to be over 40 people with all of their belongings in the back. People were triple-stacked. Lauren wanted to ride in the back with the masses, which I admit would have been an adventure, but there really wasn’t room for us, so we rode in the cab with two ancient-looking Burkinabe men with awesome walking sticks. Lauren named them the “Father Earth numbers One and Two.”
After another 2-hour ride through the flattest, most desolate land I have ever encountered, with several stops at mud hut clusters here and there, we are dumped off at the edge of Oursi at our bush camp. We are truly, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. We introduce ourselves to the men running the camp, pick out our Fulani tent made of sticks and woven grass mats (our bed is a mattress on a platform outside in the sand,) and inform the guide-man in residence that we’d like to ride camels through the sand dunes the next day. He promises to arrange it, and we order dinner in a hurry, requesting a few bottles of water as well. (Side note: we haven’t eaten since we left Ouaga at 5:00 AM, and have only drunk a water-bottle each. Can you say dehydration?) Whoops – turns out they don’t have any drinking water. No worries; our new friend Abraham runs to the village for us.
That evening after dinner and showers (yes, we have rudimentary showers!) Abrahim and Hussein (pseudo-guide man) bring a big Persian-looking rug over to our hut with a few cushions and treat us to a serving of Taureg tea over a coal fire. It is brewed in tiny tin teapots as we watch the stars and discuss Obama (in French,) and they teach us that Taureg tea is drunk in three cups; the first for friendship, the second for strength, and the third for love. (If you’ve ever read Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea, you’ll realize how powerful this was.) It was a beautiful evening, and the tea was delicious.