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Bintou and Andre do America

This post is going to be thin on words. I’m in the hole at least 3 blog posts, and I have a lot I want to say about scooter trips, including an upcoming February trip to Bissau. So “Bintou and Dre do America” is going to be very visual. And by visual I mean a boatload of pictures of Andre.

Flashback to October. Bintou had her visa, Andre had his passport and everyone had a plane ticket. Now we could focus on the 24-hour, multi-flight itinerary from Bamako to Cleveland via Paris and Atlanta. All things considered, Andre put on an award-winning performance on the plane.

Bintou and I were dreading the 9 hour flight from Paris to Atlanta, but Andre must have blown off enough just enough steam in Charles de Gaulle. While he occasionally yanked the weave of the woman sitting in front of us, he spent most of the flight sleeping or watching a singing beaver that Bintou has on her tablet. We never even had to consider the thought of dosing him with bourbon or children’s Benadryl (we would never do that).

At the end of all that flying, Andre was not impressed with this thing called a car seat that he had never before seen in his life. He cried all the way to grand-mere’s apartment, and then he cried a lot more inside the apartment, and suddenly this whole trip to America idea seemed quite foolish. But eventually he stopped crying and realized that things weren’t so bad. After that initial meltdown, he hardly shed a tear for the rest of our 3-week trip.

We had a great visit with family and friends in Ohio, and we even made it to South Bend to see some good friends from Mali. My mom was incredibly generous, letting us take over her apartment and use her car. On the tail end of the trip, we had two days in New York City to visit friends and blow Bintou’s mind.

Andre in his new bathrobe

Loving life on the shores of Lake Erie

We put the mattress on the floor and turned the whole living room into a bed

I promise it was empty

On the hay ride in rural Ohio with my sister

Andre had never before seen fresh broccoli

In Bamako, we get the frozen florets

Dancing at the Cleveland Zoo

Bintou and I probably deserve to get locked up for child abuse for everything we put Andre through around Halloween

He was a good sport, though

Andre and his “cousin” Lailah, the daughter of Ben and Amy, two good friends of mine who came to Cleveland to spend a weekend with us.

Amy took this great photo of Andre with Lailah and Judah. Andre hit the wall with his elephant costume around this time.

Visiting some real elephants

Getting ready for the cold

Helping grand-mere sweep hay

Had to do it

Reluctant kiss for mama

Andre’s first birthday party at grand-pere’s house

Visiting my uncle in New York City

Andre getting ready to prepare dinner

Just putting a skull together at the Natural History Museum

Those were my pajamas when I was Andre’s age. My mom is a serious pack rat, but it paid off 30 years later.

Star Wars pinball machine

I don’t know which costume Andre despised more, the elephant or the rasta.

Furtive phone call in the car

Yep, we did that in Times Square

In Brooklyn

He did not want to leave the ice skating rink at Bryant Park

Putting Andre in a bubble in Central Park

Andre and Bintou on the train

Andre in his toucan shirt that was also once mine

On the drive to Indiana

And that’s my hat!

Andre clapping and dancing on his birthday

I was seriously anxious before our trip. I was worried Bintou would be homesick and that Andre would struggle to adjust as well. I was worried about the divisive politics and the empowerment of racists and bigots since Trump’s election. I was worried about the weather being too cold. But other than one woman in a grocery store in Ohio who glared at us as if our family’s existence was a sin, the trip couldn’t have gone much better. We are incredibly grateful for all of our friends and family that spent time with us and spoiled Andre to no end. If all goes well, we will be back for a visit next year, when the weather’s a bit warmer.

Up next: our first scooter trip with clients and our next open group trip to Bissau for Carnival! If you want a heads up on the details for our upcoming trips, sign up to our email list with this form:


Off to Senegal

Stay tuned for Bintou and Andre do America posts. But for now, I am hitting the road for an 8-day jakarta safari.

I will be updating from instagram at @philinthe_ and @scootwestafrica. A bientot!


Where I will be for the rest of 2017

Andre became a US citizen earlier this year. A single parent – a US citizen – can confer citizenship even if the child is born abroad.

Bintou’s path to citizenship is a lot more complicated. In fact, it’s not even something we can do from Bamako. We would have to travel to Dakar. For now, we decided to go for something that was ostensibly easier to obtain, a tourist visa. It turns out that few things make consular officers more skeptical than a non-American citizen applying for a tourist visa while in a relationship with an American citizen.

It’s a visa application that is routinely rejected. The assumption is that once in the US, Bintou will try to change her status and, with her foot already in the door, she will be able to skirt around the exhaustive immigration process that should have happened in Dakar. In other words, the US government does not believe we will return to Bamako.

The online application and in-person interview were straightforward. The interview itself lasted about 5 minutes, during which time I was not allowed in the embassy and was held in the small building where bags are scanned. Along with the application, we brought a mountain of supporting documents, including those tying me to a business and Bintou to her school. Already presumed to be guilty of cheating the US immigration process, we needed to make the case that our lives were in Bamako and we really just wanted to visit my family and friends before returning back.

After a two day wait, we returned to the embassy to pick up Bintou’s passport. I was once again held in the bag check area. Bintou’s anxiety was through the roof, and mine wasn’t much better. Of course, it was not the end of the world if Bintou got denied. Life would go on in Bamako, where we are happy to live. But it would mean that my family, including grandparents who are physically unable to make the trip to Mali, would not get to meet my wife and son.

After about 20 minutes, Bintou strolled out with a blank expression on her face. She handed me her passport. I tore through the pages and landed on a 5 year multi-entry tourist visa for the US. Well done, cherie.

So off we go. Here is the plan:

10/10 – Cleveland
10/27 – South Bend
10/30 – Cleveland
11/1 – NYC
11/4 – Bamako

Not long after we return to Bamako, Matt and I will be heading to Senegal to begin our jakarta trips. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have a look here: Raise your hand if you want to drive a Chinese scooter down the coast of West Africa.

The website is also live at scootwestafrica.com. See you in Casamance? If all goes well, New Year’s on the beach in Abené. An ka taa! (“let’s go” in Bamanankan).


In Memory of Boukary Konate

I saw this picture while reading Boubacar Sangaré’s moving tribute to Boukary. I remember when I first saw the image on Boukary’s blog, Quand le Village se Reveille. It is the perfect picture of him, at peace in the village, learning and discovering things that some have forgotten and many have never known.

Boukary left us on Sunday. After he returned from Tunis, we knew there was no longer a medical solution. We hoped and prayed for a miracle that didn’t come. His passing is devastating for Boukary’s family and all of us that knew him personally. It is also an enormous loss for Mali and the rest of the world.

In this beautiful tribute, Renaud Gaudin speaks of the one-way movement from the village to the city. As Renaud notes, Boukary followed this path, but his migration was not permanent. He always remained in the orbit of the village.

Boukary was endlessly curious about the wisdom bound up in centuries of cultural practice in Mali’s rural areas, and he was generous enough to share what he discovered with us. Boukary taught us Bamanankan, a language whose depths are rarely explored. One ostensibly simple phrase in Bamanankan could delight him for hours. Of course, the phrase was never simple, and Boukary loved nothing more than to explain all the fascinating detail behind its meaning and origin.

Boukary labored to create open lines of communication between the village and the city. He knew that Bamakois could benefit from rural wisdom, and he knew that the villages could benefit from increased access to technology. He promoted the use of a Bamanankan keyboard and trained villageois so that they could tell their stories online. He embraced technology in order to preserve and share the things that technology was supposedly erasing.

Boukary was a teacher in the truest sense. He worked full time at the Education Ministry and traveled to the villages in his spare time. He was always balancing multiple projects. Any normal person would find this schedule exhausting, but it energized Boukary. It was the life he wanted, the life he would have continued. Always learning something new, and always sharing it with all of us.

Boukary, we mourn your passing and celebrate your life and all you accomplished. I know that you are in the village now, and you are truly at peace. Allah ka hinɛ i la.

Here are some memories and tributes shared by others :

In addition to posts written by Boubacar and Renaud, here is one by fellow blogger Fatouma Harbert.

Hommage à notre Observateur Boukary Konaté, grand défenseur de la culture malienne from France 24.

Here’s Boukary on his favorite day of the year, “Mother Language Day” in Bamako, 2012.

When the association of Malian bloggers was just beginning. That’s me, Faty Harbert, Boubacar Sangaré, Michel Thera and Boukary Konate (thanks to Claire Ulrich, who helped me to no end when we were trying to navigate Boukary’s medical condition and who sent me this photo of that special day at the sleeping camel).

Rest in peace, Boukary.

{ 1 comment }

First off, thank you to everyone that shared and contributed to the fundraiser to get Boukary to Tunis. Unfortunately, the tumor on his liver was more complex than what was revealed by the original scan in Bamako, and they were unable to operate. This was devastating news that we are all still trying to come to terms with. Boukary is back in Bamako now. He is not in pain, and he is being regularly visited by people that care about him. There is nothing we can do medically at this time, but he can still use all the positive thoughts and prayers you can muster.

Earlier this year, Matt and I rode jakartas 4,000 kilometers through West Africa. I wrote about it here:

Part 1: Bamako to Dakar
Part 2: Dakar to Casamance
Part 3: Casamance to Bissau
Part 4: Bissau to Guinea-Conakry
Part 5: Guinea-Conakry to Bamako

A few highlights: putting the bikes on a canoe and crossing a river into Casamance from the Gambia, drinking caipirinhas on the street in Bissau, roads winding through salt flats and villages, mammoth baobab and fromagier trees, monkfish brochettes at Chez Kathy in Kafountine, seeing every bird worth seeing, finding a new family in Abene, cruising on deserted beaches, sand track through the jungle, the dips and turns of the highlands of Guinea, roadside bars and maquis, riverside sunsets in Ziguinchor, etc. etc. etc.

It was the perfect adventure. The right balance of surprise and spontaneity, meeting interesting and friendly characters, and trying not to crash the bike while staring in wonder at the natural beauty of this shamefully undervisited part of the world.

We had such a good time that we are doing the trip again, hopefully many more times in fact. And anyone is welcome to join us. We have launched our website and are currently taking reservations for 8-day, 2-week and 3-week trips. We are also open to doing custom trips on different dates for both individuals and small groups.

If this kind of trip sounds like your thing, head over to ScootWestAfrica.com and have a look around. If traveling with us is something you would consider, but you can’t make any commitments yet, sign up to the email list on the site (or right below this paragraph) and get updates on new trips, dates, etc. We would love to ride jakartas with you in the Casamance this winter.