We first saw our apartment at 3am after having traveled for nearly a day from RI to Mali. The cab brought us through the dark streets of the city, past countless dusty stalls that during the day sold everything from charcoal braziers to roasted lamb to replacement motorbike tires.
The big highway from the airport was new and very fancy, with lit up LED lights embedded in the pavement, giving that part of the city the look of a giant landing strip.
But once we got out of the downtown and headed up the hills towards our neighborhood, the bright lights faded and the streets got dark. Clouds of red dust hung in the air. A stray dog darted across the road. Now and then we would notice someone sleeping next to their little storefront.
Our apartment had stark fluorescent lighting and pink walls. The only furniture in the bedrooms was a 2 inch foam mattress and mosquito netting. It was spare and quiet. For a little while we sat in lawn chairs around a low table and decompressed before heading off to bed.
Later that morning Sidy woke us up so we could go to a rehearsal of his group. We trekked back through the city and across one of the bridges that spans the Niger River. There was a big traffic jam on the bridge and we didn't understand what the hold up was until later, when we discovered that a hippo was lazing about in the water below. Such a sight is rare enough in the city that traffic came to a dead stop, right there on the bridge, so people could watch.