Shady Operations in Dusty Trainstations : A Dairy Story, Part 1

I officially have a dealer. In goats milk. Two days ago I got a call from Sheick Diarra, our guide de voyage on the trip out to Kayes a few weeks ago, and worked with us throughout the training on gestational and neo-natal care for goats and sheep. He left to go back to Kayes after the training ended, but not before I not-so-subtly mentioned how great it would be to have a regular source of goats milk to satisfy the need of my burgeoning yogurt and cheese making venture. So when my phone rings and he tells me there are six litres of milk en route from almost-Senegal, I knew I had it made.

8:30am, yesterday. I leave from the office with one of our drivers, call the number Sheick gave me for a certain M. Bakari Coulibaly, who was supposed to have arrived the previous night by train, cooler of goats milk in tow. Handing my phone to the driver, Monsieur Coulibaly gives him directions to the train station, where we’re to go.

women selling dried and smoked fish

It’s not quite 9am and the markets are already packed with people: women selling avocados and potatoes, men offering any number of products or services, kids trying to hawk cell phone credit or boxes of kleenex. We get to la gare, and park in the dusty red courtyard of loading docks filled with wooden crates, tables scattered here and there, and hoards of people going about their early morning routine.

piles of shoes and other bric-a-brac

After poking around for a minute and getting some strange looks from the dockworkers – I am slightly out of place here – I call my contact person again. I pass the phone to the driver, having not a clue how exactly to negotiate my way to finding 6 litres of milk in the middle of a dusty dockyard, and something tells me the message will pass easier in Bambara. Mohammad takes the phone and starts walking towards one of the loading docks where a man is serving breakfast to a few of the other workers. He hands my phone to that man. A loud and jumbled conversation follows, and I am beginning to think that dealing in goats milk might just not be my calling. The dockworker-cum-chef hangs up, walks over to a stack of wooden crates, and pulls back a large tarp that has seen better days.

Lo and behold, there lies my glacier, a cooler full of goats milk. I quickly buy a small plastic bag from a woman across the yard, and fill it with a dozen sachets of white, creamy deliciousness. We scurry back to the pickup and bump our way out of the crowded lot, tumbling back into the chaos of early morning Bamako.

9:15am: goats milk safely in my refrigerator.

9:30am: back at my desk, ready to start the day.

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