|Le Première Place|
Public transport in Mali has a very fair system of calling passengers to board the bus in the order that they purchased their tickets.
On my first day in Gao I locate the bus yard for SNTV, the Niger bus company. It appears to be deserted but being keen to talk to someone about times and fares, I push the gate open enough to slip into the yard. Shutters are down and the office door is locked. I walk further into the yard and on the other side of another building I find a few people. A mature woman is cuddling a baby. A younger man, perhaps a grown-up son, is sitting in a deck chair beside her. Various youngsters are busying themselves with fetching water from a garden tap (yes really).
The young man does all the talking; he has more English than I have French. I soon learn that the woman is the Director of SNTV for Gao, and that their next bus to Niamey is scheduled for Wednesday. I assume three days will give me time to check out the other bus companies before I have to make up my mind. I can compare the buses to decide which looks the most comfortable, I can find out their prices, which leaves at the best time and where they stop overnight. Usually I have found if I go along the day before it's enough to ensure I get a good seat.
However, all these thoughts are abandoned the moment he tells me that their Wednesday bus already has 25 people booked. Yikes! there is no way I can afford (time-wise) to miss Wednesday’s bus. I ask as naïvely as I can if it's possible to get a good seat? The best seat? I am a tourist, I am a visitor in your country, I want to take pictures, I want to give a good report to the people in my country.
The woman, who I've been referring to as "Madam Director", agrees I can have "le première place". "Leave it to me" she says with a smile. The young man takes my money for the ticket and suggests that I ought to give the change as a cadeau for the special arrangement. I am not sure who is getting it but things have all gone too smoothly in my favour to argue.
|Le Première Place|