The Ugly Traveller


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Africa » Mali
November 12th 2009
Published: June 23rd 2017
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Geo: 16.6602, -3.02399

Just before we left Canada we had read through a poll that had ranked the worst travellers and the top of the list was dominated by Continental Europeans with the Ugly American dropping well down. We had seen some evidence to support this, but a French tour group waiting in the Timbuktu ferry queue with us was about to put on a show like none we had seen before. All road vehicles have to cross the Niger by ferry as they head south and the ferry dock area was surrounded by a small village with its own population of curious kids who were gathering around us. One of the ambassadors of this French group was sporting a T-Shirt emblazoned with a phrase that would have been inappropriate at Daytona Beach on Spring Break (and Mali is a relatively strict Muslim country). A woman in the group started handing out pens to the kids but she didn‘t have enough to go around- not only did this create easily anticipated problems but in exchange for the pens she began physically manipulating the children for photographs- two placed on her knees, her patting the head of one, two faces squeezed around hers….Just when the stunned onlookers thought this couldn‘t get any worse a second woman shows up on scene with a bag of candy held aloft and she began scolding the kids to line up in single file so she could dispense her ‘generous‘ gift of one candy per child. Yeah right! A mob scene erupted, fights between kids broke out, the panicked French woman tossed the remains of her bag into the group and a small girl was trampled and left crying. Unbelievably the group ‘fixed‘ the problem by taking candy from one of the older kids and giving it to the crying girl and then went right back to forcing poses with kids seemly oblivious to the chaos they had created (to say nothing of the problems they contributed to for future travellers). DH has always been somewhat sceptical of my unbending approach to not contributing to a begging culture. After returning from trips we will typically contribute to a charity that we believe will truly help the area we were just in (as a result we've adopted a child in Uganda, we own a piece of the rainforest in Brazil, we've contributed to the cleanup of the Ganges, adopted an Orangutan, Panda, Tiger, etc). After seeing the ‘generosity‘ of this French group (which probably amounted to a couple of dollars of Bic pens, and a $2 bag of candy- in a country with no obvious dental care) I think she‘s a solid convert..

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