Skip to Content
Children with an Alive & Kicking ball

Tag: Mali

DHL cargo flight: Dakar to Bamako via Mauritania

We have been in the DHL office all afternoon copying footage onto hard drives, writing for the blog, taking pictures with the DHL staff and The Ball. Our time in Senegal is coming to an end: an overnight DHL cargo flight awaits us. We are properly hungry by now so Bashir has a idea. “We have time to visit my mother, boys. She wants to meet The Ball. Then we are having some traditional Senegalese food for dinner. Rice and fish.” Okay, that sounds like a plan.

At home with BashirWith Bashir and his mother in their lovely home.

The flight is scheduled to leave just after 10pm. Bashir reassures us. “We have time. We don’t have to be there until 10pm at the very latest.” Great, we have time to eat. Or do we? There has been a power cut at Bashir’s; we find his house is candle-lit. All very romantic. The good news is that the food is prepared.

Just then, Bashir’s phone rings. It is Basile at the airport. “Where the hell are you?” he screams down the phone. Oh dear, there’s been some miscommunication — it turns out we had to be at the airport 20 minutes earlier. We might even miss the flight. No time for food now. As soon as we can, we head for the DHL depot at the airport. Frantic faces greet us.

Andrew hugs Basile, who is looking nervousBasile and Andrew… Basile looking very anxious.

We are escorted through the airport by Basile. “DHL (pronounced Day Hasch El in French) cargo flight,” says Basile as we jump the immigration queue. He repeats this as we go to the front of the security check-in line. In five minutes we have cleared security and customs and are on the tarmac. Basile has one more trick up his sleeves. He waves down a large airport shuttle bus, commandeers it and once more tells the driver “DHL cargo flight.”

Plane-side in Dakar airportBy now it is a quarter past ten and we are plane-side.

We reach the plane and Phil takes The Ball and chips it Remi Gaillard-style first time on board and celebrates first by wheeling away, then coming over to celebrate with me. We celebrate not just the goal, but the fact that, thanks to Bashir and Basile, we’ve made the flight on time. We will be leaving for Mali today.

Phil celebrates his goalPhil celebrates his goal — and catching the plane

Time for take-off, up and away to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania with Phil in the jump seat and Andrew back cargo-side in one of two other seats, sitting next to a distinctly non-talkative US government official. Our 15 minutes in Mauritania allow The Ball to be kicked on the tarmac and a single solitary Mauritanian signs The Ball.

The only person to sign The Ball in MauritaniaThe only person to sign The Ball in Mauritania

Back on board and off to Mali, this time Andrew taking his turn in the jump seat. His first thought — to give The Ball to one of the pilots for an onboard portrait photo.

One of the pilots with The BallOne of the pilots with The Ball

We arrive at 4am in Bamako and a friendly DHL employee is the first to head and sign The Ball in Mali. It is dry and it hasn’t rained here for months. It’s a reasonable 25 degrees right now, but the expected high later in the day is 45 degrees. We’re a little bit daunted by that figure. But there’s no time to dwell on weather reports as it’s off to our hotel where a surprise awaits us. More than 10 Special Olympics Mali administrators and athletes are there to greet us.

Special Olympics greet The Ball in MaliSpecial Olympics greet The Ball in Mali

Fantastic! What a welcome. We’re overwhelmed by the reception. But for us it is time to get our heads down and sleep — at least for a few hours please?

At the consulate

Two visas in one day

This morning it’s back to “Visa Training”. We go to pick up the Malian Visa. The Chef de Protocol takes us upstairs into the Ambassador’s office. Her Excellency kicks, heads, signs and officially stamps The Ball for entry into Mali. Accomplished sporting — as well as diplomatic — skills are on display.

The Ball meets the Malian ambassadorThe Ball meets the Malian ambassador

As we leave the Embassy, the Chef de Protocol comes running out.
“Stop! You forgot The Ball” he says, handing it over. “Bon voyage!”

Mali visa grantedMali visa granted

“Plan at least 3 days for the Ivory Coast visa,” the Lonely Planet guidebook tells us. “Requirements: Letter of invitation from the Mayor of city you are visiting. Letter of invitation from business partner. Official address whilst in Ivory Coast. 2 passport-sized photos.”

We have neither a letter from the Mayor of Abidjan, nor do we know where we will be staying. We do have a letter of support from DHL and from Special Olympics who are organising several events for The Ball in Abidjan. We also have The Ball.

Richard and The Ball at the Ivory Coast embassy“Please let us come in?” Can The Ball get us another quick visa?

Buoyed by the Malian experience we decide to dive straight in. This time, Richard, Phil and Andrew are joined by Guy from DHL. Once again, careful preparation allows The Ball to be a sensation. We are ushered upstairs to meet the Ambasador. With a picture of the President looking down on proceedings, The Ball is decorated with an official visa stamp and signed by Her Excellency.

The Ivory Coast ambassador gives The Ball the stamp of approvalThe Ivory Coast ambassador gives The Ball the stamp of approval

3 hours later, Phil returns to pick up our visas.

Phil proudly shows off our Ivory Coast visasPhil proudly shows off our Ivory Coast visas

Visa training advice: Be prepared. And take a ball, but not just any ball!

Visa training Africa-style

We are preparing ourselves for a rough visa ride. We’ve heard many stories about African bureaucracy done with a good helping of “Africa time” at exorbitant prices. We are on our way to the Malian Embassy in Dakar.

The Ball is carried through the streets of DakarThe Ball is carried through the streets of Dakar

At this stage we haven’t a single African Visa. “Have we got all the necessary paper work?” we ask ourselves. DHL have prepared a letter of invitation, signed and stamped by the head of DHL in Mali. That should help. Bashir from DHL is with us — he speaks French fluently, is a persuasive talker and has done a lot of work to prepare the ground for us.

“I called the British Embassy, they said that a letter of support from them is necessary,” Richard says. “Bypass that lads: they’re only drumming up their own importance,” he advises.
Thanks Richard, advice taken.

We walk in with The Ball, not knowing what to expect. Phil and Bashir explain the situation in French. The woman in charge of visa applications wants to know more about The Ball.

The Chef de Protocol at the Mali embassy, DakarThe Chef de Protocol at the Mali embassy, Dakar

A few minutes later, the Chef de Protocol invites us into his office. His phone rings. He’s talking about important things — like bed linen. Bashir, looking nervously at his watch, whispers “we have a meeting with the Minister of Sport in 10 minutes, 20 minutes across town”.
Bashir’s phone rings 3 times in the next 5 minutes, but not once does he answer it, respecting the Chef de Protocol who casuallly signs The Ball whilst continuing his phone call.

Suddenly, as he reads our letter of introduction, the Chef is all ears and frantically scribbling notes.
“So, you are meeting the President and the Prime Minister, the Mayor, the Governor?” The situation sinking in. “Moment. Moment please.”
He’s on the phone to the Ambassador, eyes shining now. She wants to see us right away.
“Sorry,” we say, “we must leave this minute. But we’ll gladly meet her tomorrow when we pick up the visas.”

Its all smiles as we exit, running out through the official front door.

The Ball 2018 left England on 25th March 2018 and travelled to the World Cup in Russia.

The Ball 2014 kicked off from England on 9th Jan 2014 and headed to the World Cup in Brazil.

The Ball 2010 left England on 24th Jan 2010 headed to the Opening Ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Ball 2006 travelled from London to the Opening Ceremony in Munich, Germany.

The Ball 2002 was carried 7000 miles across Europe and Asia to the World Cup finals in Korea & Japan.