The Journey to Mali

By Seedy Darboe

The Gambia

I used to hear from people and the Malians that their capital looks more beautiful than the capital city of Banjul. A Malian city which is surrounded by heals and stone mountains everywhere, the capital I admired when I first reached.

It took me 3 days with two-night sleep on the bus and a day before I could reach Mali.

The journey started when I was selected as the 2022 IFAJ young larders award winner and as an IFAJ award winner, I should travel to Denmark to collect my award and attend the young leadership boot camp, and also be able to attend the IFAJ congress.

I registered a bus in Banjul called Africa tour which is a Malian company but has a branch office in the Gambia, which comes in and out on Friday and Tuesday. At first, I went to ask if the bus could leave from Banjul on Saturday because Saturday was the day I planned to come to Mali. I tried to convince the guy but he told me that is the procedure in their institution, then I went undecided on what to do next.

But as I reach home, I receive a call from one of my friends. I told him what I went to Banjul for and he advised me that I should take the bus because otherwise if I go alone it is not going to be easy on me because I don’t know anybody there. so as I was undecided after a small chat with a brother then I try to decide on the last minutes of the very day of the journey and I call the bus company and I told them I will go now, so if there is any ticket left so they can keep it for me and he responded yes and he also ask me where I stay and I told him and then he said he will talk to the bus driver and also give my number to him with my ticked so that when they reach to me  I can pay him there.

I first took the taxi to Brikama while it was raining everywhere to wait for the bus to arrive, I waited  for almost 3 to 4 hours at night before they could reach me and when they reach me the bus was full and I feel disappointed, I wanted to counsel my trip but people in the bus convince me to go ahead since this is the first time of my travel to Mali, So I agree to their advice and sit and to my surprise, there was no sit for me so I had to sit on a stool from the Gambia to Senegal. The bus took off from Brikama in the Gambia at around 1:00 pm at night and we drove off the whole night and stop at Mandenaring immigration post and the immigration officers ask us to show our documents and we all show but none of the other nationality has paid any money and then we had a stop at Bansang also for some time but that was not a police or immigration stop, the driver wanted to change some in the bus . Then we left there at around 5:30 AM and we reached the border between Gambia and Senegal at around 10 AM in the morning. There our travelling documents have been checked for verification before we could leave and then they also stamp our passports to enter Senegal.

At the Gambian border, I did not pay even a single butut other than the yellow fever vaccination which was not a force but if you like and some of the Gambian and none Gambian took it, which has no use in the journey. At the Gambia our bus had only two stop one if the Mandenaring immigration post and the other at Gambian boarder before we enter Senegal.

My problem started when I left the Gambian soil. As I enter Senegal the first border of Senegal I stopped and asked to pay 1000 CFA and also for them to stamp my passport and then we all pay except for those who are Senegalese and then we proceed to another stop there also the Gambian and Malian and those from other countries had to pay 2000 CFA for us to proceed otherwise we will stay there and our bus will leave us, from there we went on again and had another stop this time we pay 15,000 CFA  and then we cross to Malian border then there that where people start crying because our first entry we were ask to pay 20,000 CFA which is way more expensive but we try to beg them on till we all get tired of each other so we have no other choice but to pay because our bus has been waiting for almost 3 hours for us to settle down.

Then we left Senegal as if that was not enough. Mali is the worst. I don’t even think Malian security is a human being or knows a simple courtesy or respect for humanity.

When we reached the Malian border, they also collected our passports at our first entry and asked us to pay 20,000 CFA or we would not enter because they had collected all our passports and kept them in them. there also we all beg seriously this time but to these people, we are just like a no human beings begging them and it took us another 2 to 3 hours before we could leave, in fact, some of the Gambians who do not have document had been sent to jail and threaten to send them back or jail them for some months. So, some of our people had to go back plus some of the apprentices to beg them to release those boys and they refuse till they have to give them something again for them to release those boys which we end up paying 30,000 CFA in other for them to leave those boys in.

As we leave the Malian first border, we now enter the second stop and there is also the same but this time smaller we have to pay their 10,000 CFA   and there again with the same bagging as if bagging is now part of us. We had to seriously beg too much for us to get them to reduce a bit and then there some had to pay 7000 and others 10,000 and then we proceed to the final checkpoint where we had to pay another money of 5000 CFA.

And this payment continued when I was coming also, I went through the same procedure by paying the same amount at both the Senegal border and the Malian border.

At the capital I show road cress crossing everywhere just like in Senegal, then the bus drops us at their bus garage and then we drop down and everybody starts busy buying Sims cards and started calling their friends and families for help and I too drop-down and call and I ask for the cheaper and good hotel and the directions to that please, so the Africa tour operator help me find one small hotel and he calls for a taxi that coasts 400 CFA that took me to the hotel.

When I reach the hotel, I was very tired and dirty too so when I enter my room, I remove my dirty cloth and wash them and then taking bath and then take my dinner and from there I chat with people there for a while and then go back to sleep because I was so exhausted after a very long and tiring journey. Then the following day I went to the embassy to review my documents and when I reached there at the visa application centre, I met a young lady there who helped me review all the documents and also helped me with the documents needed for my applications.

At the visa application centre where we took our interview, it took me 30 minutes before I can identify that place because the place is not visible and no billboard or signboard shows the direction and many Malian taxi drivers also seem not to know the place, so I was with taxi driver driving around the capital asking people about the place on till we finally found the place.

I spend 26 days in Mali and all my spending and hotel accommodation are all been taken care of by Steve Warblow and Hugh Maynard they did tremendously well for me while I was there any time, I need money or an emergency arise they stand up and fix it before I could know it and also they have been sending emails to embassy frequently every time to know how far and what’s there stand on me I must thank them so much and all the IFAJ team for making me stay comfortable in Mali.

I waited for my visa processing for almost the two weeks they told us in an email elapses and no call and till I get tired of waiting and I decided to leave and that was the time I receive a message from Steve that the Monique at the embassy is trying to reach me but she couldn’t get me and Steve send me her message plus the number on it and I try I couldn’t get her and then I sleep at the bus stop and the following day I went there and I was told that Monique is not around because she is sick and then I ask security to go there and ask if Monique did not leave my passport there or not and a white lady come out and told me, are you seedy I said yes and she said well, we are so sorry but our visa processing time is 45 days and your program is due, do you want your passport back or do you want to leave us your passport for 45 days because your program is due that why we asking you this and I told her to give me passport since the program day is on. So, he hands me my passport and a document to sign to say I have received it.

My suggestion to IFAJ in other to have success in making many African attain the program, therefore they must first have sent an invitation to the African earlier perhaps 6 months ‘before the program date, for them to start their application process early so that if there is anything that needed to be verified can be verified before the time because the lady in embassy told me normally application is sent here six months before the program date. Also, they should try and liaise with all the embassies at the early stage of the applications and their foreign affairs ministry to make them know about their program and also get in touch with the foreign affairs ministry to help them get to their line of the embassy of those invitees.

The flight reservations should be sent earlier 6 months before the program to avoid delays like this because due to the lateness of the flight reservations that why I was unable to receive my visa, Hugh and Steve were both makings following up on the flight reservation for over one month some weeks before we could have it.