No Timbuktu

United States Peace Corps volunteers typically travel to see the world before their assignment in country, during their assignment, and/or afterward. But I was so intent on doing something for the pitiful people in the little village to which I had been assigned that I mostly stayed put and tried to work through my own health problems and Peace Corps assignment logistical difficulties to see if I might accomplish something. By the way, I put in an expensive, desperately needed, Peace Corps-funded latrine, I covered the village well for sanitation and safety, and I acted as a good-will representative of America connecting villagers to English language studies and other resources. I will always wish that I could have done more.


Early on before I had my village assignment, I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fly to the legendary city of Timbuktu, in the middle of Mali, West Africa. Timbuktu developed from trade in salt, gold, ivory, slaves, and Islamic scholarship. Of course I wanted to see that fabled city in the desert. A couple of drugged, drunk, middle-aged U.S. Agency for International Development agents invited me to travel along with them on their next flight to Timbuktu. They said that it would be a weekend trip, that they had room in their two-seater plane for one more on the rear jump seat, and I could go if I wanted. They warned me that if a sand storm picked up across the Sahara desert we might be grounded for a week or more under difficult conditions of limited water, bad food, and barely breathable air. As a woman I would have to wear coverings from head to foot in temperatures well above 100º F. I thought all that was doable for the chance to see Timbuktu, but I doubted their capabilities. In fact I knew that I would not go because their habitual drinking and drugging precluded safe flying, I also knew that they only asked me to go because they were bored and I was young and pretty enough to take the edge off their tedium, none of which were safe circumstances. They actually did not even know me beyond the fact that I was a US Peace Corps volunteer. Out of curiosity I asked about their plane. They laughed and said that it was an old bucket of loose bolts and rusty wire, but that it flew last time and with luck it would fly this time. (Not with me in it.) I was completely disgusted with the behavior that I observed on the part of so many USAID agents, especially considering how dire the circumstances of the people they were tasked to help.

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* "May 10, 2019 · What We Do. USAID is the world's premier international development agency and a catalytic actor driving development results. USAID's work advances U.S. national security and economic prosperity, demonstrates American generosity, and promotes a …" Source: https://www.usaid.gov/

Caption: République du Mal

(noncommercial fair use)

Caption: Map of Africa 1979

(noncommercial fair use)


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