Monday 19 January
Arrived at Bamako at 06.45. It was warm and breezy. In the terminal it was chaos, but we were rescued by the only English speaker, an American.
We had a long wait for a bus to Mopti. It was old and the air got ever hotter as we sat choking with fumes from a running engine while drivers argued about money. At last we set out — at 09.55. Welcome to Africa!
The uncomfortable ride was compensated by views of goats, dust, old cars, mopeds, motor cycles, and ladies with large loads on their heads. We were fascinated by ovens at the sides of the road made of baked mud bricks, and by donkeys, cattle and settlements with grass roofs.
We arrived at Mopti’s airport at 23.40 and were greatly relieved to see Ibrahim, who immediately took us to a hotel owned by a retired US missionary. Lizards and cockroaches in our room, but we were past caring and after a welcome shower climbed exhausted under the mosquito net.
Tuesday 20 January
Up for breakfast at 07.00. Pancakes and maple syrup, yoghurt and fruit; and then off in a 4×4 to Dogon with Ibrahim, Sidi (Ibrahim’s cousin) and a guide.
We arrived in the Dogon village of Sangha at 11.15 and pulled up outside the local evangelical church. This part of the country is animist with some Moslems. The church was started by American missionaries.
After a meal we drove to Ireli — an animist Dogon village. The road was so steep that the brakes overheated and Sidi cooled them with water.
We walked through the village. There were interesting views of the elders’ ‘seat of judgement’ and descriptions of burial procedures. The people were the poorest we saw in Mali.
Wednesday 21 January
Arrived at Serare at 09.00, stopped for breakfast and set out for Timbuktu. At the checkpoint outside Serare, Ibrahim gave a Bible and calendar to the policeman. They expect money but are happy with the gift. We stopped at Douenza. Here we ate ‘liver and flies’ (no spelling mistake!), and appreciated the ever-present Fanta!
Children (with small buckets) hang around the café for leftovers. The boys are not necessarily starving but have been sent by the imam to learn humility!
We reached the river Niger at 17.30 after a bumpy ride over dirt roads. We were absolutely filthy and covered from top to toe with red dust. We were invited to wash in the Niger!
We had to wait for the ferry. There were some small birds diving for fish close to us — an exciting spectacle. After a ferry-crossing in the dark we reached Timbuktu at 20.05 and Mohamed and Marcelle’s house at 21.10.
Thursday 22 January
Up at 06.30 for a tour of Timbuktu (population 25,000) with Pastor Nouh Yattara. We visited the Baptist church. Its electrically pumped water is a greatly used facility and source of contact. About 100 ladies were attending literacy and sewing classes.
Pastor Nouh says, ‘Timbuktu is spiritually so bad that even the water is dry!’ We visited the famous Mosque built in 1324 A.D.
The streets were smelly and dirty with many poor children, though none starving.
Keith spoke at the Bible study in the Baptist church; Ibrahim translated it into French and Mohamed into Tamasheq.
Friday 23 January
Up at 04.40 to catch the first ferry for Gao. Stopped by the Douenza mountains where we ate some bread and gave the rest to the hungry boys that crowded round.
We stopped the night at Gossi (population 15,000) and were met by Pastor Samuel Gindu, who has hepatitis. He serves a congregation of 25 adults and children. They have their own church building and library.
Reached Gao (population 55,000) at 10.10 on Saturday.
Sunday 25 January
A noisy night — a night club, a cockerel, sheep, locusts, the early Moslem call to prayer and mopeds revving all around. There was also rain in the night — almost unheard of in January!
In fact the heat never seemed to be too great while we were there, but in the hot seasons you cannot touch the walls or the water as it comes out of the tap!
At 08.30 there was the prayer meeting, followed at 09.00 by the Sunday service — clapping and a hand drum for the hymns, but very discreet. There were two French hymns, one Tamashek, one Bambara and one Songhai hymn.
Keith preached to about 60 people and Ibrahim translated into French, the service ending at 10.30. There is only one service on Sunday — the gospel service is on Friday evening.
The church building first floor has been completed — three guest rooms, a library, an office/recording studio, two bathrooms and a storeroom. The rooms are all off a large meeting hall.
Monday 26 January
Up at 06.45 and off to Djebock village on market day. Very exciting — selling sheep, goats, donkeys, camels and cattle, clothes, salt and fish. The well here was fascinating with two donkeys pulling up a huge leather bucket from 100 feet down.
Ibrahim gave tracts and gospels to a young man he knew — there are no believers in Djebock. Janet and I went for a walk on our own. We never felt afraid at any time in Mali.
Tuesday 27 January
Keith went with Ibrahim to do two hours teaching in the Bible School. The seven men seem ‘solid’ and asked good questions. We finished school by 09.30 and still had the whole day ahead of us!
Janet went to market with Gosia and Lydia. Gosia tells us that she was taught how to purchase by a missionary friend. She is now an expert, and though European, is accepted as ‘one of them’.
Wednesday 28 January
Keith did another two hour lecture at Bible school, after which we visited the tomb of Askia Mohamed and his mosque, built in 1495.
In the afternoon a walk through the market. It was now extremely hot. Keith spoke at the Bible study 16.00-17.00 — about 20 came.
Thursday 29 January
At 07.20 a 100km drive — fast, bumpy and scary — to Ansongo (population 15,000) with Alison (the Bible School caretaker) as our driver.
We met Pastor Mossa (Moses), who is Ibrahim’s cousin, and had tea in the church compound. There is no church building yet. Two families attend the church (five adults and four children), which meets in Mossa’s house.
Pastor Mossa moved here in November 2003 after completing four years in the Bible School. Ansongo is a strongly Moslem town and the pastor has to move slowly and carefully with evangelism. The language is Songhai.
Walk around the market. We met an young Austrian who was travelling down the Niger from Senegal. He was the only white man we saw that day.
Friday 30 January
A visit to Gao football stadium (all sand!), the town hall (no electricity as the bill had not been paid!) and the Post Office to collect Ibrahim’s mail.
We went to the hospital with Cuban doctors Aeugle and Raffael, but matron was too busy to show us round. These doctors do a two-year stint in Mali to boost their careers in Cuba; and are paid by South Africa. They often come to church. Common ailments in Mali are haemorrhoids, coughs, malaria and typhoid.
The Friday gospel service was 17.30-18.30, and Keith preached. Students of the Bible School and others had given out invitations in town during the morning. Many have come over the past few years.
After the service we went to Mohamed and Fatima’s for salad, chips, plantains, rice and mashed meat, then guava, mango and wheat porridge. They have a satellite dish and were proud to show us the BBC. There are two important things in Mali — water and television!
Sunday 1 February
This day was an important Moslem Festival (Tabaski) — remembering how Abraham was spared from sacrificing Isaac (except they say it was Ishmael!). Each head of house has to kill a lamb and they all dress up.
Moslems use this special day, 40 days after Ramadan, to visit neighbours and friends to ask forgiveness and hope the next year will bring good health.
The prayer meeting was at 08.30, and the service at 09.00. There were again about 60 present, with Sunday school during the sermon. About 300 attended last Christmas Day’s service.
Ibrahim had had yet another invite to speak on a new radio station. Keith preached an evangelistic sermon, with Ibrahim translating into French.
Monday 2 February
Up at 05.30 to leave for Gao airport with Ibrahim and Gosia. Said farewell to our friends; it was lovely being with them. The plane took off 08.10. We flew over desert for 2½ hours, then rocky terrain and over the Mediterranean. We arrived in Ashford at 22.35, via Marseille and Paris