Well today it happened. One of my fears came true.
The illusive it. The possibility of something not going according to plan. Or in today's case, the it was getting lost. That's right, I got lost trying to find the fabric store.
I have been living here going on 4 months now but I really do not know my way around the city very well. Bamako is huge, very condensed, and completely confusing. Think I'm exaggerating? Well you tell me how effective directions are that include... oh you know go to the hippo monument and turn right, go past the Nems stand, look for the tin roof shop that has brooms outside then turn left, then go to the stop light with the flashing numbers and then turn right after the roadside shop that has a cell phone painted on the side of it. [these are pretend directions but you get my point]
If you can master the directions in this city, you are golden. As for me, well I like GPS and addresses with house numbers and street names. But that's just me! Don't get me wrong, I like adventure, that is if it is carefully planned.
So it is obvious to say that I don't venture out and about the city alone all that often. However, today, today I needed to go to the fabric store. I have been waiting on a chair to be recovered for weeks now and finally heard back for the carpenter that he needed more fabric. Inside I freaked out a bit and had a little stomping moment, knowing that him needing more fabric meant that I would have to go get said fabric.
After carefully going over directions with my teammate I thought I had a pretty good idea of where I was going. I had been there once before so the landmark directions she gave me where vaguely familiar. So I put on my big girl panties and headed out! I was going to do this. I was determined!
The first 2 minutes in the taxi should have tipped me off that this morning was not going to go as planned... but that's a story for another time. We made it over the river and into the part of town that the fabric store is in. I saw the monument to pass, the first stop light to go through, the banks on my left. I saw all the landmarks and well I got us off path somehow. Knowing I was in the general area I asked the taxi driver to let me out. I figured I would have more luck on foot.
As soon as I stepped out of the taxi a rush of "you're not in Nebraska anymore" thoughts hit me. "I got this" I whispered to myself as the barrage of comments began. Let's just say a small white girl sticks out like a sore thumb in a large Malian market! ha! I honestly had no idea where I was going so I just started to walk.
I never felt scarred. Uncomfortable? Yes. But never fearful. So I walked. And walked some more.
Finally a guy approached me and I told him I didn't understand what he was saying but thought maybe he could help so I told him where I was trying to go. Well, as anyone who lives here already knows how this ends, he had no idea. I ended up in an ally, ushered to a back room full of fabric. Yes, it was fabric but most definitely not the large fabric store with a specific name that I was looking for. This continued with two other guys who thought they knew exactly where I needed to go... two more back rooms with fabric. But finally at the last back room, as I was about ready to ask them to help me find a taxi, the guy said he knew the store I was talking about...
What's one more attempt I thought to myself. I thanked them for their help and said my goodbyes. They left me with a lovely saying in English... "good-bye short friend!" I just had to laugh. And like that we, me and another guy, were off to find the fabric store. It was then I realized just how lost I really was because I had NO idea where in the world I was! As I was pondering just how lost I was I managed to lose the guy who was helping me.
Yes. I know.
I soon caught up to him and he promptly grabbed my hand and set off again. Thankfully he took my hand quickly enough that I did not have time to process what was happening and thankfully I don't speak Bambara well enough yet to understand the slew of comments that started as soon as my hand was in his.
Fabric. All I wanted was to buy more fabric from a store. Yet, I found myself lost in one of Bamako's largest markets, fumbling over French words in back ally rooms, and walking hand in hand with a older Malian man. Oh, for the love of fabric already!
But by golly, you know what? That guy got me to the fabric store! I'm sure I broke many cultural rules as I thanked him for his help and nearly ran inside the store. Even though I couldn't find the store on my own, I knew exactly where the fabric was that I needed. And like that, five minutes later I walked out of the store with my fabric.
As I rode in the back of the taxi on my way home, the dusty wind blowing in my face, I had to smile and laugh a little as I replayed the events of the last hour. One of my fears I come true and I was still in one piece. I was fine! I was smiling. That my friends, that is what I would call breakthrough. I might make it here after all!
Wait. Where you worried?!?!