His name was Felix, he said, but later told us he'd recently converted and preferred the Islamic name he'd taken; Issa. In the confusion of the "gare routière" in Kaolack he had gotten on the wrong bus. He was shy and soft-spoken; and he was scared.
He'd been robbed on the train from Bamako, he told us. The infamous train that serves as the only viable land link between the capital cities of Bamako (Mali) and Dakar. Everyone talks about how bad this train is.
An American woman we'd met in Dakar was robbed of $1000 and her camera while she slept. And we'd heard about how one traveller, standing on the platform, watched as the approaching train derailed. (Hours later it had been driven back on the tracks across stones that had been lined up to serve as rails.)
In Issa's case, they'd taken his passport and his money. The police in Mali had helped him get across the border into Senegal. But now he had the Senegal-Gambia border to contend with. Coming from Nigeria, I thought, he must be scared to death of anyone in a uniform.
The bus took us only as far as the border. We disembarked and stood together in the darkness. From here we would go by taxi through two border posts (one for each country) and on to Farafenni. But first we needed to discuss Issa's predicament and figure out how best to help him. He stood quietly with us—clasping his remaining posessions in a small plastic bag with a hole in it. He had a few clothes, some biscuits and mangos Evelyn had given him and an address book. He opened the address book and pointed to an entry—the only thing of value he had left—his brother's address in Serekunda, Gambia. This was his destination.
Over the previous ten days Issa had travelled from his village in southeastern Nigeria through seven countries. Work at home was hard to come by so he'd decided to search elsewhere for greater opportunity. Perhaps he could find work in the relatively prosperous resort area on Gambia's coast. He hadn't seen his brother for years and his brother didn't know to expect him.