It was 1996, just after my divorce, when I really didn't know what to do and where to go. I'd been in Africa twice and I fell in love with that beautiful lady, poor but gracious, proud but outgoing and curious when I was working for a Swiss company. I returned back home, but my heart stayed there.
So I went back, shipped all my belongings to Bamako, well, fuck it, make a new start (no matter if it lasts or not - clothes and furniture are available everywhere). Life is risk, and risk can be either a shithole or fun. I had both. I was staying in a hotel (waiting for a house to be ready for us, mind you, a very modest one), and I was simply bored. Remark: in 1998 we finally found a house we could really feel home for a year, on the compound of a Wahhabia family....isn't that ironical ? LOL
Anyway, I was sitting in that hotel in 1997, it was sticky and hot, and we had 200 bucks to live on, which means, 100 for her and her family she was still living with, and 100 for me to pay that cheap shabby hotel room (I didn't want to stay with her family obviously, because I'm white and that would have raised expectations I couldn't live up to then) and some traditional food to get by on.
I was bored. I had a walkman but couldn't afford batteries, and sitting in the hotel bar all day on one Castel beer a day was just...boring, because there were rarely any guests, because in Mali there aren't too many tourists anyway, and that part of town isn't recommended for whities.
So I just strolled along in the midday heat, around 45° Celsius was and is normal in April. I heard loud reggae music somewhere along the muddy, polluted and open canals which are the sewage system there....the source of all sorts of bugs that bring malaria and other sicknesses. I wondered, and followed the music.
The "café" was a shack built of plywood, and people there were singing along with Alpha Blondy, Tiken Jah Fakoly or Bob Marley. Ok, I sat down. I asked for a beer. "Bière té, a bana. No beer left. Mais tu veux vin rouge ?" Ok, I knew of course that "vin rouge" is red wine. So I said ok, problème té.
He brought me a 30cl of Heineken beer and I said, hey that's beer ! No, he said, we just fill the wine up in these bottles, we don't really have the...ah...infrastructure. Ok. I drank the stuff, and it tasted afwul. In the glass it appeared red, but that's about what's close to red wine. Anyway, it did cost about 25 cents a bottle, so, what the fuck, good music, nice people, so gimme another. And another. And another.
After a couple of hours I decided to walk back to the hotel, my to-be-wife awaited me since some time, and at this time there was no cellphones or Internet in Mali. Since I have a bad eyesight, I stumbled across the root of a tree, and bang ! there goes my face right into the dirt. Glasses broken, and big cut, but I didn't notice any of that. I found the way back somehow, and the barman said, when I staggered in, dirty and battered and stinking:
"Man, you make progress. When you arrived here, you drank a beer now and then. Look at yourself now."
My girlfriend awaited me and just said:
"I read the newspaper today. In India, several people have died because they drank Methyl alcohol. Cheap stuff for the poorest of the poor. Are you aware that you were drinking stuff like that the whole afternoon ? Look at you now ! Are you fucking stupid now ? You're 41 years old !!"
And I looked into the mirror...and was ashamed.