Travel notesIssue 06 | August 2009

North to Burkina

by Rachel Hoffman

We were doing no more than 30 miles an hour. All of us turned our heads to watch the tire wobble into the brush. The driver managed to pull to the side of the road but the van was top-heavy and we followed the tire, creaking and rolling over in slow-motion, like an orca performing a pirouette.

I was smothered in blue Tuareg yardage and lay on top of the mother and her baby who was shrieking. Men yelled instructions, each different from the other. No one was injured. So, top layer of human beings first, one at a time we climbed out, up through the driver’s door.

From the top of the van, which now faced the side, the Muslims in the group untied their rugs to pray. The rest of us were on our knees, too, but not in prayer. We combed the bushes for the lug nut that had held the tire to the wheel. Why not use a couple of lug nuts from another wheel? Because each tire was fastened by one single lousy lug nut.

The search might have gone faster had we moved together in some order, searched methodically, but no, not in west Africa. We all covered one another’s knee prints for close to an hour. I only wanted to avoid snakes, and to find the small nugget of metal before sundown.

The driver jumped up, Moi, je suis l’homme! He’d found the nut.

We righted the van and the men passed the nut, discussing which bolt had the best threads, then, blessed be Allah, they reattached the tire, the driver popped the clutch and charged up the shoulder back onto the road.

The driver’s assistant, riding shotgun, pulled from the glove compartment six votive candles, stuck the soft heat-melted wax to the dashboard, and used his Bic to light the wicks.

I leaned forward to ask, Why the candles?

For other cars to see us.

The van had no lights.

We stopped once for fuel in total darkness. No lantern by the road, no signs, but our driver knew where to turn off. He waved out his window, Bon soir, Joseph! He gunned the engine. Petrol!

Mon ami, ça va? Joseph came running.

The driver and Joseph slapped backs. They smoked cigarettes and poured bottle after bottle of gasoline into the tank until it overflowed. The Tuareg man slept on my lap. The baby’s diaper wafted rank in the heat. I hadn’t eaten in 24 hours. My legs were asleep and my butt was throbbing. I reminded myself that I’d chosen to be there and had options that those around me did not. I knew only a few people who could tell stories like these, firsthand, and now I was one of them.

I put my doubts in cold storage, and, that morning in Fada, baked in the warmth of the African sun.

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About the author

Rachel Hoffman is a semi-recluse who, during an earlier incarnation, published a dozen articles in academic journals and one short story in Left Bank. A few trips to Africa, China, Japan, Central America, Europe, an Oregon Literary Arts fellowship for a novel-in-progress, and a couple of residencies later, she still itches for literary notoriety. She dreams of more travel.

Read our current issue:


Two poems by Anne Babson
Vignette, Townhouse, 9 a.m. by Troy Cunio
Night Becomes Day Over the West by Megan Foley
Yukon River Aurora by D. B. Goman
Two Poems by David Havird
Cretan Love Letter by Emily Linstrom
Holland by Rick Mullin
Fear in Kenya by Kristina Pfleegor
The Lounge Lizard by Ed Shacklee
Two Poems by Sarah J. Sloat
Night Flight by Vicki Stannard
Koinonia Farms by Alina Stefanescu
Thessaloniki, Four a.m. by Anastasia Vassos
Imaginary Oceans by Jason Warren
Two Poems by F. J. Williams

Postcard prose

It’s Salty by Kelly Hill

Travel notes

Anchorage in the Great Land by Karen Benning
The Value of Small Money by Megan Hallinan
Screensaver by Sandra Larson
Thirty Cents by Tommy McAree
Gokarna by Kate McCahill
Going Places by Rachel Miller-Howard
Susanville CA: Notes From The Road by Susan Volchok