Despite some of the hassles, I'm very glad I was able to take three weeks and go to Mali. However, my trip has left me with a new found appreciation for my life here in Senegal.
Mali, given its historical prominence in ancient West Africa, the presence of both Timbuktu and Djenne, and the popularity of Dogon Country, is a much bigger tourist destination than Senegal. As a part of this, it's transportation system is, at least along the major routes, in much better shape than Senegal's. But, it also means that the local people expect tourists- they've seen them before, dealt with them, are in no way fazed by them, a reality that leads to an overwhelming number of "guides". These "guides" are ready and willing to "help" any and all toubabs (foreigners) who come along (whether they like it or not). They are incessant. They follow you everywhere, offering everything from CDs and souvenirs to guiding services to the various tourist destinations around Mali. It can get pretty annoying.
In Senegal, where people are less used to large numbers of tourists, the hassling isn't nearly as bad. And, when people do get over-eager, I speak the language, so it's easier for me to get them to leave me alone. But, in Mali, none of us spoke Bambara (the dominant language in Mali). Our Wolof skills were useless. Only Kyla, who speaks Pulaar (a variation of which is spoken by some people in Mali), had any luck talking to people in a local language. Most of our interactions were relegated to French, which automatically put us in the same class as all the rest of the tourists. It did nothing to help us from getting hassled or overcharged- even when we knew what price we should be paying. The Malian's also had an especially astute ability to get us in situations where we had to choice but to pay more than everyone else (locals) in order to not be stranded in the middle of no where. Several times, we were forced into this type of "pay more or you're not going anywhere today" situations. It was incredibly frustrating.
Thus, when we finally arrived back in Senegal, I was really excited to be able to speak to people again. The first morning we were back, I spent time at the breakfast sandwich stand chatting and making friends with all the people there. It was a nice welcome back to Senegal. None of the people sitting around the little table were in anyway interested in selling me anything, taking me anywhere, or in any other way hassling me (well, actually, that's not entirely true- one of them wanted me to marry him. But, I'm used to deflecting that particular line of questioning, so it didn't even faze me). It was good to be back!