I’m sitting in the airport waiting to leave Kayes. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to see much of it, and what I have seen hasn’t made much of an impression. The town sprawls along a couple of main roads, and, since Kayes is halfway between Dakar and Bamako and is the last town before the Senegalese border, the roads are filled with trucks, with a weigh scale half way along the main road. Other than that, it’s like any other town – low, square buildings made of concrete, dust, and people walking slowly between them. There are a couple of restaurants selling rice with fish or vegetables or meat, and a nightclub we weren’t allowed to go to. And a fancy hotel.
I believe there’s more to it than that – the Lonely Planet describes colonial architecture and a bustling market, and we passed the market and crossed the Senegal River on the way to the airport, and both looked a lot more pleasant than the bits we’ve seen. But we were working from 8-6, and were then placed under curfew from 6 onwards, more for the convenience of the area manager, drivers and logistician than because there was any actual risk – we also got an email informing us that since we had a gaggle of white people here, we should avoid ‘exhibitionism’ in town.
We considered going out yesterday, Sunday, for a bit of tourism – maybe a pirogue trip or visiting a local colonial fort or going to the market – but it was hotter than I’ve ever experienced before, far too hot to do anything except lie inside with the a/c on, and any we all had a proposal to write to be submitted this evening. So we stayed home and worked instead.
So my experience of Kayes consisted of an office and a hotel. While the hotel was nice, and there was a pool, it gets old after the first couple of days, and anyway I only used the pool once because it was so hot it was like swimming in a bath, plus it was basically opaque which freaked me out a bit – I couldn’t help wondering what was living down there. I literally didn’t interact with anyone except colleagues in the entire time I was here, and was just shuttled between the two in a white land cruiser. It felt like everything that’s worst about the aid system (something I wrote about a while ago, about the Americans in Burundi, who even used to get loo roll shipped in from the US). It’s true that in Bamako I mainly hang out with other expats, and when I don’t then it’s with colleagues, but at least I also get to talk to people on the street, in shops, and taxi drivers, and I feel like the place I live is an actual community rather than sanitised expat land.