Bandiagara - 1 Nov 94
It's taken a month, but I've finally decided to be more selective in my entries, not insisting on each day.
Sunday, 30 Oct. I went to church. It was too hot to concentrate on the message, but my sight-reading of phonetic Dogon is improving. I helped Nohma begin renovations to Madani's and Tidjani's entry-way. Timothé Dolo came by and helped sling banko (mud). As with landscaping with Fralic, music eases the labour.
Monday, 31 Oct. Marketing took a long time. We were buying onions for an aunt and there were none fresh. I'm a weekly spectacle and comedian with the bowl on my head and muddled Peulh in my mouth. As Mama says, though, it's good for people to laugh. I noticed some other "normal" things that are different, especially my increased exposure to kids and babies. I like it. I'm thinking of seeking out more babies back home. (Andy and Sarah had Sam). I saw Téné briefly, and she said the film Saturday night was cancelled. Too bad. She looked great in a dressed-to-kill way: extra hair braided in, make-up, a nice form-fitting dress.
Last night Tij left to guard the road work materials. Someone's been stealing; Tij gave me the impression that it is one of the crew. I offered Madani's stout walking-stick, and he said he has a rifle. That's harsh. But then not from a bush viewpoint. I had a thought I should have gone with him, then I had a SENSIBLE idea: that I'm better use at home, even asleep.
This morning. I was up early to mail yesterday's Gleaner composition, plus five letters. I wanted to link Remembrance Day with the Touareg rebellion; another boat-load of passengers were attacked, a grenade injured 200; but a sense (if odd) of prudence left the section in draft only. Even to write Prof. Malcolmson about it would risk worrying too many people back home. It can wait. Some reporter I turned out to be. But I don't have a good understanding or clear view of the events, history or politics of the whole affair.
I saw Vania Garcia, who said Kalifa is due back on Thursday. Her colleague's parents saw the country and are on their way home. It's strange to imagine seeing all this through a two-to-three week keyhole (as opposed to my six-month porthole). I talked with Paul: Bandiagara and the Dogon plateau was once the grain-house of West Africa. Millet was supplied for many regions. But today the only wealth is in the culture; desperate times force lifestyles on the people. If the young want to leave, how do you convince them to stay? With what promise? Bandiagara is a drought compared to its former self. There is some of what I've seen in the suspicious eyes as I walk down the street: failed or absence promise. Through the Second Republic, 1968-1991, everything has been ruined.
MEFLOQUINE DREAM. Trish's aunt (like Pauline, but not) lives in a five-storey apartment building in Bamako, Trish is there visiting, so I'm there too. It seemed so real; enough for me to wonder (awake) why Pauline would live in Bamako. There was a kitten too, and it was with me, stranded in the elevator on my way to see my sweetie. Mama's interpretation of this was that the dreaming of being in a high place signifies a good position, a high ranked official. The koloni also said I would be a "patron."
I visited a sick aunt on the family's behalf. She's had a shot for malaria and an application for an ear infection. She's in pretty rough shape, but feeling better than yesterday.
I saw Tij at the AFVP (Agence Français volontier de progrè) road site out towards Sangha. It's gorgeous out there; the distant fog shrouding the savanna, bushes, Peulh kids herding great bull cattle, small outcrops of rock and boulders. I took photos, walked a bit. Ate lots, drank lots today. Mama was pleased. I chatted with two Americans from San Francisco, back from a really great escarpment experience. Good toubab chatting. I finished Swift's Gulliver's Travels for the first time. There is important ethnography and philosophy within, start again. The thought of making love with Trish seemed strange today, but not the idea of discussing our children's names. (!!!)
I was up early after a half-night's sleep. Another baptism, "Assiatou". There was a great crowd, a video camera, two griots. They're a bit like overbearing troubadours; loud, animated, almost aggressive. They made a great dramatic spectacle, while exhorting generosity from us in attendance.
President Alpha Oumar Konaré was on the radio, speaking in memory of the dead in Gao: a total of fifty, twelve on the boat and the rest in fighting on land. The Touareg have safe houses in the city and thus thwart the army's efforts with a civilian shield and mass hostage situation.
Sleepless last night, I thought a lot about my placement, studying longer in Mali, the Crossroads meeting in Kita, what Trish will think if I stay, if I really love her as much as it seems. As Holly said, the separation has an intensifying effect on some relationships to an unreal degree. But even if, that's an intensifying to enjoy, even if it falls hard. Learning from the young (immature?) Mike Fralic school of love: intense joy, intense pain, peace, regroup, ... etc.
Yesterday I walked a lot up and down, around and finished at the Dojo and Peace Corps house. I had a good "issues" discussion with Yakéné, Vania and Kalifa. Today I fixed a bike with Kalifa, dined and chatted more about the future, ours and our choices with it; being in Africa and being in a relationship. We stay for tea and "causeries". I like him. He's a bit of a NATURAL, I think. I can spread out my thoughts for him without pretence or fear.
Kalifa Sagara is preparing onions to go with our Dogon tô, right on the edge of the Bandiagara Escarpment; great jutting rock cliffs, fine sand valley paths, terrace gardens for onions, millet fields. We went walkabout in the bush to Kal's favourite caves, saw human skulls, leg bones nestled among the weaver-bird-like huts long abandoned by the pre-Dogon Tellem people. The remain are probably Dogon, as shown by the leaf stretcher-shroud in the cave as well. We also visited Yawa and told the chief about the impending arrival of another Peace Corps guy in Yawa. It's really simply gorgeous out here and Kalifa is a good man. We got back, ate dates, nuts, and smoked Dogon tobacco in stone pipes, played folk and rock tunes, and had Dogon tô and ginseng tea.
It is possible to see farther into the desert today. "Desert", after the rains we had this year, means scrub brush; for as far as the Earth goes, I imagine. The sun came up over the West African savannah through cloud and haze, but now it's clearing up a bit. I'm on the roof of Kal's mainly stone house (where we spent the night; cooler than inside house, higher than mosquitoes like to fly) looking out, recalling the morning. We hiked down the escarpment to near Gimeni and swam, sunbathed and talked in PARADISE. A trickling waterfall fell from half-way up the two-hundred metre cliff into an "olympic" sized round pool. There was a breeze, the water was perfect, cool and clear (sand bottom). We looked out onto the dunes above Gimini at the foot of the escarpment and the desert beyond. Too much, really. I said "thanks" very much, and asked to take a picture. It was a real gift. I hope I can one day reciprocate. We returned home (Dourou) to the market bean cakes, grape juice, millet beer ("chongon" in Dourou's Dogon dialect). Then water and mangoes. If he'll have me, I'll WALK back to Dourou to see Kalifa. We could become friends I think. I'd like that.
Going down to the falls we stopped at a high cliff-side "guru" cave, where Kal will hold his Audiences of Wisdom one day. We talked frankly about drugs (he told of a Nigerian or Malian who runs heroin to Europe). We always speak openly. I talked about Mum and psychiatry and we made connections. He talked about making love with Gina under a waterfall down south. I said that maybe at this waterfall Trish might be inspired to learn to swim. I want to show her here. I hope I will be able to.
Dourou to Gimini is a half-morning hike. There's a waterfall there, you can swim if you like; look out at the dunes that turn into the plain, and wonder if Canada could be home again.
Dourou - 7 Nov 94
Sun comes up, it's Monday morning, hits me straight in the eyes 'cause I slept on the roof of a stone house on the edge of the Bandiagara escarpment, overlooking the extending desert. Last night, a bush fire ranged over by the sun path rising; this morning the first-light was scarlet red before orange and yellow; the blood of the Earth burned into the sky.
Yesterday: another dreamlike day walking to and from Nombori. On the way down along the flatland Sahel sand looking at the escarpment on one side, the dunes and desert on the other. We visited Daniel Guido the village chief, and he insisted on pork and beer. Hanging out here with Kal will play havoc with my vegginess. Nombori is nestled under the escarpment, with extensive cliff-village remnants above. Kalifa talked in Dogon with most people, and Bambara with some, but French is not generally spoken, except by teachers and bureaucrats in little, remote villages such as Nombori. I was mainly silent, watching, taking the calabash at my turn, only touching the thin beer to my lips. I learned from the market day's indulgence: a lot of walking in the sun, not enough water, and then beer. Bad move, dehydration is no fun.
On the way back, Kal and I talked abortion and creation. He donated sperm, and so is sure he has kids somewhere. As for his own, maybe adoption. The scenery is spectacular. We walked right up through the escarpment, climbed wooded step-ladders carved into tree trunks. We "shared" the carrying of forty pounds of peanuts up the cliff-side to Dourou. On the way up, we could stop (rest) and look out from the heights to see the Gondo Plain savanna stretch out to the "disappearing trick of infinite". I am welcome back, and also "NEEDED" in Nombori. Six elementary classrooms, two teachers. Dolo, the principal, feels only Francophone capabilities would be needed for the grade fives and sixes, not Dogon too. Kal is sewing the seeds of my own destruction, and those of love for the world out here. Bandiagara sees cold, calculating and greedy by comparison. I WILL BE BACK. Even if January has to wait.
Two days to recap: a Mopti day and night, and the next day. We arrived in Mopti from Dourou at the Peace Corps stage house, and I gradually met the gang; friendly enough, but also reticent, taking time for themselves, back at "base-camp" from their projects. I heard news of the West/North "outside". Quebec referendum was negative, and the Canadian government has restricted immigration numbers. With the Peace Corps gang I got to know a couple of "spots" in Mopti; from the "Bar Bozo" I saw the sun set right on the bay. Gorgeous nice. Chatted lots with Yakéné (Kris "Nebraska" Hoffer) and enjoyed that plenty. I picked up some books in English from the wall library at the Corps house and just chilled out. Kal says a few PCV's abuse the "sanctuary" of the US within the stage house, but a few days can be really rejuvenating (PCV - Peace Corps Volunteer is a kind of misnomer. They earn US$200 - 100,000 CFA - per month. Madani, if he ever gets get paid, will earn about 30,000 CFA per month). Compared with the escarpment, and the villagers on the plateau, I can see why Kal is seldom in Mopti. I think Mopti is a nice place to visit: the Niger and Bani confluence, the bozo fisher-boats, the cityscape, large mosque. But relatively it's the "big" city; pushy, dirty, smelly and crowded.
The trip from Mopti to Bandiagara was in a bush taxi with four Americans (three tourists and a PCV finished his project). It was an interesting experience, but once is plenty. Travelling with tourists here is difficult for me for some reason. Their guide was informative, though. "Bandiagara", "big platter" (of meat) an old hunter installed himself and became known for his bountiful game meat. Two old guys in the taxi were not pleased with the guide's eagerness to share their secrets. Ali (the guide), on the other hand, defended himself with the "support of the ministry of tourism". A weak argument, but he's a kid. I sided gently with the old guys to egg the debate on a bit. It's a problem I'd like to explore further.
I'm now reading "Songlines", by Bruce Chatwin; "Watership Down", by Richard Adams (again); "Chronicle of a Death Foretold", by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; and "Leaves of Grass", by Walt Whitman. From no books to too many, oops.
On the school front, I'm scared to hope, but I've counselled a bit, and could be doing a "fact finding" tour of the schools out by Kalifa until my authorization arrives. Thinking a lot more; Trish coming here, me staying until Spring or Summer, leaving Safiatou (Mama), Madani, Madina, and my Bandiagara friends.
It's too dark to see well, I'm writing in block letters.
Stop if you've heard this one before. I'm watching one of the precocious kids across the street open his brother's kneecap with a fist-sized rock, and all I can do as he sets the rock beside me and tries to blame a passing water-carrier all I am able to do is rehash my own rejection of corporeal punishment with children. The lesson is as obscure as that I may have hope to glean by observing a half-dozen three-inch dung-eating roaches fighting amongst themselves over a patch of my brown-yellow (malaria induced?) diarrhea. At once together I think on the lust for wealth, domestic politics, a lust for life and the ingenious contrivances of renewal mother earth has at her disposal.
Bandiagara - 14 Nov 94
No real events to tell. There was a big fight in our co-concession family, again the young Aissa stomps out. Paul says that both she and her husband are recovering mental cases, he's a treated one. Saturday I felt lousy, diarrhea, etc.. I hung out mainly, got another letter from Nana, and one from Paul R. J. Lenarczyk, B.A.. I don't really know him well, I know half of him a bit, so one-quarter; but he's interesting and complex.
I dreamt again about leaving something unfinished in Mali. I was on a bus to somewhere with Julie McMullin, so probably in Mexico; she was playing an electric piano at the front (Michael Jones-like solo).
Sunday I went to church, hung out and met Paul's jeweller friend near the market and talked. Again confirmed he's a good friend and likes me in our similarity. I'm leaving for Bamako on the afternoon bus. I'm not too excited. Although it will be a good travelling moon, and good to see the other Crossroaders, I really want to be back in the bush. But I'll get errands done: Meet Maki Tall to find out about teaching authorization; find Mama Anna's sister (I have a letter and address); go to Air France to see about changing my ticket, and the ticket cost from Canada to Mali (information for Trish); visit Madou Bâ and Mah Dramé.
I'm now sitting in a generous leather couch, watching a gardener work in the courtyard. I'm fed, watered, clean, and rested in the lap of luxury and convenience at the family home of Hawa Sylla (local Crossroads committee, daughter of Bank of Africa president). Running wash water, cold drinking water, tile floor, television (!). This is another world. The ride from Bandiagara was a good adventure 4.30pm Friday to 11.30am Saturday: all night, all morning. We stopped for repairs throughout the night, and caught some sleep in the sand by the roadside under an almost full Malian moon. I had to pay a "fine" to keep out of jail, on a passport issue I was intending to correct in Bamako - a modest 1000 FCFA for the bus driver who negotiated the settlement and paid up front (he says). Madani did ask him to look out for me on the voyage south. The interrogation-like atmosphere in the outpost office unnerved me: a battery of green-uniformed military men, front lit by gas lamps and the flickering firelight from outside, casting great dancing shadows on the wall behind them. I count myself lucky to get off so lightly with my papers in a questionable state. I didn't get really nervous, though. Maybe I was too tired by then. Even the thought of a Mopti jail cell, though very sobering, seemed another possibility. There was a strange fraternity-sorority coupled with distance among the Bandiagara travellers. Eighteen hours in transit for 725 kilometers is a bit much.
Good chats with Natalie Pelletier and Kris Honey. Kris is even more as before, while Natalie I like more, she has worn off some of her edge that annoyed me. They're both having good placements, and I'm a bit jealous, though it's somewhat my own inertia to blame. But all is not lost. I can still redeem myself (and will, given time). I'm glad of the comfort here, and the ease of moving about. I hope things will run smoothly in our errands tomorrow. We talked a lot about our perceptions, and our perceptions of others' perceptions of us. To me we sound so green, with a few stories, but GREEN, GREEN, GREEN. I'm looking forward to hearing Suzanna's thoughts and seeing her again.
"We're cutting down my home town to publish books and blow ours noses. It's our choice, our luxury, but one question that it poses is how do seven African waste less than one of me, and dream a hundred uses for a toilet paper tree?"
Bamako - 18 Nov 94
16 Nov. A full Bamako day: Embassy, around town, eating here and there. I saw Sambaly and the hostel gang. The placement news is NO WAY. It will be a cold day in hell before I get authorization to teach.
17 Nov. Another day in the capital. The city days have actually been alright. I stayed at Hawa's in full luxury. Full-length mirrors show I've lost a bit of weight, and a huge bed gives comfort to my slightly sick body. The Embassy and Maki Tall (an uncle here in Bamako) confirm the placement deal. I still have to find Kadi and Néné Tall (aunts). I tried to extend my visa until August, but it's too early. It must be done fifteen days before the expiry date. More time to think on staying. Trish's letter in draft mode. I decided NOT to ask her to come (impossible dream) for my own focus and personal goals' sake. Bad runs last night, though I was hungry this morning. Rehydrate and board the Kita train around 3.30pm; five hours on the rails is expected. I've been thinking of the future, friends' place in it, being away more, again and often, wondering on the placement and staying. There's a full moon and full head over Bamako these days and nights. I think some "poetry" is about to start. Maybe after Kita and a visit to Kéniégué with Holly Brown.
The Bamako to Kita train was grand. Crowded, but not uncomfortable. A longish trip, but not exhausting. Riding in Canadian-made cars through hamlets nestled in the valley, on the hillside trees, and bush-fires in the night. The sun drops ruby into the sub-tropical forest amid the round thatched huts. And the fully round yellow moon lights up the whole countryside. Dad would love it. I took a couple of pictures, I'l get more on the way back. I talk about everything: dreams, hope, choices; coming back to make ART photographs for postcards of Malian scene, a vision of the real Mali (my Mali).
Yesterday was part meeting, part visit. While the meeting brought out the ugly politicking of Crossroads-Mali, the visit to Kita was beautiful. It's not touched by tourists, and is a valley-hill nestled community. We followed with pilgrims to the Holy Mother statue, candle in hand, full moon in the cool night air, and we watched a dysfunctional family play on the stage near the statue. Prigrim's Progress: the wandering of the wanderer. Important stuff. Today was Kita Kourou: the Kita hill. I saw monkeys flee at our approach to cliffs like the Bandiagara ones, but much greener, overlooking Kita-town and the outstretched sub-tropical forest. In the evening, a griot told stories of local history, from legendary times (a snake-wife sacrifice, the naming of Kita in military crisis with the Peulhs). The oral historian was amazing. There were more than a hundred names of individuals in his forty-minute account. Feeling lousy, I slept through some of the later tam-tam session, and now despite continued konoboli ("stomach-flow"), I feel considerably better. Kaba (Crossroads committee Bambara teacher) suggests that I see the Embassy physician in Bamako. I'm not sure all that is needed. I have been feeling this way for almost a week though. It would be nice to ditch this sickness.
Up at 3:30 am to catch the Kita to Bamako train. I slept on the train and felt a lot better. Did family finding and ended up here in Bako Djikoroni, a quarter of Bamako. And the sky boils off into the night, redder than the orange bush-fires on the distant hill-side. The kids are wrestling and a flock of birds flies a perfect "V" directly overhead. My brother's older sister Fatime Tall and her husband Kao have welcomed me to lodge here, and aunt Néné will feed me in the Mali quarter of the city for a couple of days. The "business" I have in Bamako seems to be far from my thoughts. Closer are the peace and stars in the outskirt sky. More neighbourhood kids have arrived, sharing lamplight to study grades three to five, and the youngest sings his kindergarten songs to learn French. Now it seems possible only to visit in Nombori, and not live to work. It may be due to the draining week I've had physionomy and health-wise. I should send word to the folks and Trish anyway that I'm considering staying around a bit. This is a very nice home in the Bandiagara style with trees. You pass through an "industrial park" and get off at the last stop of the bachée van. This too is part of it. I'm looking forward now, simply forgetting the lack that may have come before.
"Even in my dreams you are reluctant Kris Hoffer. I'll call you by a name more beautiful Yakéné Sagara, if I learn what name you finally choose from all the parcels and languages you gather in your meandering way. We shared some small intimacy of beginning and then you felt stupid or weak, or as though you thought you were settling for second best to an older, wiser Kalifa, compatriot from North Dakota, still madder about rabbits than Nebraska could ever hope for. And we shared the awkward greeting of your parents in a hillside ranch. They knew I was a second choice, and showed a shallow, polite civility and secret contempt for another one, a man who thought and DREAMED himself worthy of their exquisite daughter."Thinking of staying in again earnest. I feel A LOT better after almost a week of diarrhea and general feebleness. But still, as Air France Toronto delays information, March is looking established, set and EASY. Aye there's the rub, and the self-made trap. Don't be afraid to take the easy way out. Better yet, don't be afraid at all. I want to remember the man who "walks down the street, a street in a strange world. Maybe it's the third world, or maybe it's just his first time around."
Two full Bamako days. Here and there, Bambara and Peulh, eating, laughing, sleeping. Today I sent a fax regarding staying longer on my own, to Mum (and thus T). I hope they'll fax back to give their views. It struck me how frank a letter I sent. No frills, and to such a public destination. I hope whomever reading it will be moved to assent my plans. I met the buddhist American Jenna from Manhattan, NYC, and she seems nice enough, though sometimes detached in a Horvathian kind of way.
Yesterday, the REAL bachée ride to hell. The Mopti to Bandiagara trip was only to purgatory, but Bamako to Kéniégué takes all. Long into the night we struggled on down the rutted road. On the earlier break-downs, I played my recorder as we sat by the roadside, and passed it on to a real musician who was travelling through to Guine´e. By sundown, all Holly and I could do was sing folk songs to keep ourselves from losing it. Today is a sleep day in a little village, and an afternoon in Holly's secret place: birds, crickets, butterflies white and rust-coloured; her own baobab facing town. She's right, the wooded bush down south is not like Bandiagara. Warmer laughter, children staring with wondering not suspicious eyes. The sounds of day give way to the sostenuto of the crickets, as Mali-ravens, courtyard cows, sheep, and distant millet-pounding claps cease, and the kids run, play football, and laugh; always the shouting laughter of the little shadows in the setting sun, and the supper-fire smoke flows into the rising mist.
My up and about includes unnervingly precise koloni news, and the revelation that Trish wants to get married (?), and will be waiting. My money questions about staying will be answered and I will be in an accident and should sacrifice a chicken. I got a head-full and went walkabout "yala, yala": here and there. I learned some Peulh from an eager old guy and met a pile of people. My Bamanan kan power (Bambara) is increasing, and I'm eating more again. Here in Kéniégué things are peaceful, work in the fields is hard, and the people are laughing and friendly. The kids, as Holly said, don't mock, but are interested and very curious. Here, next to the football field, my thinning frame is embarrassed by the muscular tone of the young men. These guys are hard, built, and heroic in physique. Holly loves it here. It's difficult to imagine her leaving here if I'm trying to stay in my town. If I had time here and felt as she does, I'd spend three-quarters of the year she has booked for travel in Kéniégué. I think she shares some of her friend Ounar's wanderlust, though. She's always listening for his prodigal bachée, but I fear strongly that he's GONE WALKABOUT for real; into Côte d'Ivoire to seek some small dream or fortune.
Yesterday we worked on the dam ("digila"), carrying chunks of mud to fill in a hole. It was good hard work, village integration, and feel good times. I washed in the adjacent stream with all my Bamako-made clothes, and walked back cool and wet to the village kele ni taala (one and a half) kilometri. I slept the afternoon away. I was beat. Despite my asking for larger mud chunks than the men cutting them would give a child, I am not accustomed to such physical work. Woke, had dableni with a friend of Holly's (newly married to his second wife). I've planned to leave tomorrow, sadly though. Here is peace. Here is warm. Here is friendly. Here is good. I've been fuelled and revitalized here. I have so many hopes for a village stay in the Escarpment, fears of not being able to do it, fears of loosing momentum so much as to just "duck out" in March. All these things... new doubts, question, self-knowledge, needs, wants, HUNGERS.
Yesterday I just hung out lazy. The day before I chatted up a storm with the grand griot de Kéniégué (the name was given by nearby villagers for the "white sand"). I learned some things inside and out in the village. I WANT AND NEED MORE OF THAT KIND OF SELF-EXPOSURE. In a way, now begins, but I've the Crossroads gang to host when I get back. So what, as Holly says. It's my placement, my HOME. The irony of finishing this book with a beginning is very fitting. I like the poetry of life at times like these "days of roses, poetry and prose and Martha all I had was you and all you had was me," Tom Waits. The ride from Kéniégué to Bamako was, of course, not as bad as coming, and I force myself to acknowledge the level of discomfort that is daily routine here. Really we are soft (I am?). "Soft hands Canada," Dave called me. TRUE BE. Having again just missed Holly's good friend Oumar (on his way back to Kéniégué), I spent the afternoon hanging with Issa Camara and his pals; here in a sub-quarter of Djikoroni Para ("para" as in para-military commando training school). Issa's friend, Doumbia, is a very open-minded military man; with much thought in the military situation of Mali (regarding the "rebellion", world opinion, politics versus warfare and their respective limits). Jon starts here, chilling out, and focussing in, creating, laughing and living. MAD ABOUT RABBIT doesn't have to be grave. Serious is playful.
[Half of this last entry is written on the inside back cover of the first journal-book I filled in Mali. It had been given to me by my aunt and uncle before I left Canada. It is black, except for two white address labels on the front cover: one of my parents in Fredericton, and one of my host brother in Bandiagara. The inside front cover has this reading list: "The Western Canon" Harold Bloom; "Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype" Clarissa P. Estes; "Understanding Media, the Extensions of Man" Marshall McLuhan.]