I am an avid bike commuter. I have been riding my bike to and from work, school, and running errands for almost a decade now. I love it – it’s freedom, it’s low impact, it’s self powered, and most days (minus the rainy or snowy days), I wouldn’t choose anything but jumping on my bike to go from place to place. That didn’t change when I moved to Bamako.
Everyday, rain or shine, I hop on my little red bicycle that I inherited from a dear colleague, and ride to and from work. I use it for errands of big and small purchases, and am equipped with rubber string, a bike rack, and a kickstand for all of the convenience and pack mule-ing I need to do.
I also live in a place where I have a night guard, in fact I have two guards – my regular guard and the relief guard who comes on my Koné’s day off. I met the relief guard on the street one day, and he told me a sob story that touched my bleeding heart despite the fact that my gut told me that I should be weary I decided to give him a chance. He told me that his dad had died a few months ago, and he was now the head of household but hasn’t been able to find work and it is harder and harder to feed his family. I told him we would trial his work and see how it went and re-evaluate in a couple of weeks.
He showed up on Sunday night, and he eventually set up his sleeping mat and mosquito net to settle in for the night. I have no problem with guards sleeping on the job. As long as they are by the door and at least some what aware of the coming and goings around my house.
Monday morning came, and I raced down the stairs, snapping my helmet on, ready to jump on my bike and take off. But when I got to the bottom of the stairs my bike wasn’t there. I instantly jumped to – the guard stole my bike! Forcing myself to remain calm and weigh out the possibility that I had left it at work, which I do sometimes, I decided to assess the situation once I had arrived at work. I found it strange that I had my helmet but not my bike, but still wanted to give the relief guard the benefit of the doubt.
When I got to work, I checked the office, I checked with the guards, I checked everywhere – no bike. I spent the latter half of the afternoon stewing and worrying about where my bike was and how I was going to replace it. When I got home, I checked with a couple of my neighbours and again all around the house, but to no avail. So it hit me – the new guard had stolen my bike.
Now, I do not stand alone in Mali. I have a family who has my back as if I was there own sister, and are there no matter what comes up. I went to explain the situation to my neighbour Sy. Sy called the new guard’s mom, the only phone number i had for this guy (Okay the guy is pretty young and doesn’t have his own phone so gave me his mom’s phone number *hello red flag). She explained that he had said that I had given the bike to him, and when she learned that it was not the case, she said she would send him with my bike.
We weighed the chances, and decided that the kid was probably not going to come to my house with the bike, so myself, Sy, and my other good Malian friend, jumped into the car to go pay a visit to this guy and his mom (She had explained where she lived to Sy when he called). While en route to his house, we saw him on the road. So we made sure to keep a distance and followed him until he stopped.
When he stopped all three of us jumped out of the car. I was beyond angry – I was ready to rip this guy a new one. As I jumped out of the car though, my friend looked at this skinny young guy, and said: “don’t get too angry at him – look at him, he’s so young and small. Just get the bike, and tell him not to come back to your house ever again.” We stopped beside him, and he knew exactly what was going on. He relinquished the bike to Sy, and I asked him why he took my bike. He told another elaborate story about how his mom had called him during the night and his father was sick. When I called him out for having told me his dad was dead and he had no cell phone he stumbled to tell me that it wasn’t his real dad who was sick but an important figure in his family. The story didn’t make any sense, and was filled with plot holes that just didn’t make sense.
Sy and my friend gave him a good lecture on how I am a foreigner here, and when people do stupid things like this, they tarnish the name of being Malian. How if he had said that he was having transport issues, I was the best person to help him solve them and would have done so willingly and he just took advantage. He should know better, how the only thing he has in the world is his integrity, and now he is on a path that is destroying even that. He needs to be a man of his word and if he can’t do that he doesn’t have anything. After about 10 minutes we took the bike and sent him on his way, with the strong advice to never show up at my house again.
What is really apparent is that while I was left feeling a bit violated, taken advantage of, and isolated in my experience, my perception and reality did not match up. The reality is that I am constantly backed by the people who are in my corner. All I had to do was reach out to one person and slow but surely I had a whole army of people in my corner all trying to help me and come to the rescue.
So now, I have my wheels, a sense of vindication that this time the bad guys did not win, and a delirious sense that I am not as alone as sometimes my inner voice let’s me believe. Thanks Bamako for always surprising me and thanks karma for sending my bike home.