The road trip from Bamako was uneventful, notwithstanding numerous potholes that our driver negotiated with a natural skill. The view of the savannah, if one cared to look, was one of a desolate landscape mostly obscured by dust clouds thrown up by the land rover’s wheels.
Not that it concerned me, I’d worn out the ‘oh look at that’ T-shirt; nevertheless the thought of visiting Gao, one of the most remote sites of a humanitarian Aid outpost promised to be a rare event – one that I would never forget.
Africa never lets me down. What I imagined to be a township with little amenities let alone a hostel that catered for Bed and Breakfast guests, had exactly that. A terraced stone block with pebbled paths leading up to three wooden doors – I was given the key of the left one, and my colleague took the right one. The middle one was empty. So they said. Outside her door sat a squadron of fat toads who seemed to do nothing but croak.
My pathway was bereft of any such life, and once inside a bed awaited me. Clean sheets and shuttered windows to keep out mosquitoes. Another wooden door opened to a bathroom with shower.
We didn’t linger there as afternoon work took precedence, followed by an evening meal and wine at a local restaurant.
Later, we returned to our quarters. Lamps lit up our paths. Toads were still chilling out, warbling at the moon. I said goodnight, opened the front door, and hit the light switch. Undressed, opened the bathroom door, switched on the light and walked over to the shower. Turned it on.
Waited a few moments before hearing a scrabbling noise at my feet. Looked down to see a trickle of cockroaches emerging from cracks and crevices and up the drain hole, turning to hordes seemingly chasing me as I backed out and slammed the door.
Undeterred, they emerged from underneath while I flung open the front door, and jumped on the mattress. Being shocked was an understatement, my whole body trembled.
They poured out the open doorway as if going to war, only to be met by an opposing army of growling toads.
Next morning, after debugging the shower, I could wash and joke about it. But, needless to say, we never opened the middle room door.