Bandiagara - 1 Oct 94
Today is next month. September has disappeared without me taking much in hand. I should establish some goals for this month, so that I will not lose the sense of urgency and brevity of my sojourn. Yesterday (30 Sep) "much" happened. I was sick, visited Peace Corpses and received mail. For the first time I felt nauseous at the sight or thought of eating Malian (or any) food. Yesterday morning I could still taste Thursday's couscous in my burps and wanted to vomit. I fasted all day, and was able to eat some cucumbers at suppertime. This morning I ate frufru (mini millet pancakes) and drank moni (millet breakfast cream). Tô for lunch sounds OK.
Vania Garcia (from Virginia) and Tom Gage (North Dakota) are Peace Corps around Bandiagara. Tom's been here almost 3 years, while Vania got here 7 months ago. It was nice to speak my mind and lighten my load a bit. They were understanding and let me do most of the talking since all is new and exciting and strange. They were helpful in answering questions I couldn't ask Mama or Madani about. E.g. We are a middle-class family in a country with no middle class to speak of. I figured that as third+ generation nobility we had probably slipped from the upper crust, but the house and concession is pretty big, and fairly nice. It was also good to get some toubabing out of my system, so I don't end up with them a lot.
Mum and Dad's letter almost made my cry in spots, and I laughed hard at others. I never knew what getting mail meant until now. Trish's letter made me glow. She said "I love you", (I'm counting again, although I've read the letter three times) five times in four pages! YIIPPPEEE, she's in love with ME. I've been thinking about my thoughts on family, population, birth control, marriage. Experiencing the primary importa, joy and even necessity of children has sent my mind wandering, even into making a baby with Trish. That's crazy, or it would've seemed so two weeks ago, but now it seems perfectly reasonable. I wonder what's different from here that changes that, and what changes it again on returning to the reality of her, and my own continuing life. I had a waking dream of her dying in labour with our baby, and me naming him after her with "Trish" as his middle name. I wonder why I imagined a boy? Was it part Mefloquine dream? Today I think about moving out of home into a place in Fredericton, working until I figure what comes next, but I want to leave there, but I want to be with Trish and go to school in Chicago, and come back to Mali, West Africa... All these plans and wants, new, MAD wants, and no idea why or how to fulfill them. It's probably just thoughts brought on by the dislocation from familiarities. Crossroaders and Crossroads' pamphlets say to hold off major life changes immediately after returning from overseas. But what sort of neo-conservative crap is that? What if the only time you'll ever have the courage of inclination to do something with your life is on first arrival back home, what if that's the chance you're given at some minor destiny?
My stomach was better enough to look forward to frufru and moni for breakfast, get through some tô (sans sauce gumbo) at noon, and demolish all the evening cucumber. The acid test will be couscous next time. Friday (30 Sep) I forgot to write about seeing the Inspector (briefly), who put our meeting off until Monday. I'm confused as to when students ACTUALLY SHOW UP TO SIT IN THE SEATS, but I guess I'll bet let in on that as soon as I need to be. As Tom said, he still hasn't figured out the uniquely Malian bureau/fraterocracy.
Yesterday I helped the people across the street load in some mud-bricks for house repairs. They seemed more amused than pleased to have help (not true, the people WATCHING were amused, the guy LIFTING was grateful). I'm excluded from assisting at home, so maybe I can pitch in outside the concession, and thus not feel so useless.
Some football players came from Mopti and beat our guys soundly 3 to 1. A couple of the Mopti goals were very nice shots, though. I talked (was obliged to) to the young, stuttering Dogon guide. He wasn't as bad as I had projected. He was willing to chant and learn from me; even if it's all part of his pitch to get me to go with him on a tourism tour, he is at least getting to know me, allowing me to feel him out. Even at an amateur game, the crowd danced for each goal, the players jumped around, did flips; the kind of antics most North American footballers are too damn dignified or macho to do. Joine de vivre, it's a French expression for a more Malian phenomenon.
I started last night sleeping outdoors, but was awaken by a mounting wind, lightning and the overcast sky obscuring the stars. I moved inside as everyone else did too: our silent retreat into our rooms. Then came the rain, hard but short-lived. It lulled me to sleep.
I walked to see Mariam (after dark for the first time), and there was a wind building. They were watching a video "Not Without My Daughter", starring Sally Field and dubbed into French. Their house up on the hill was near enough to government buildings with power for them to tap in once in a while. Mah was making salad (cucumber and tomatoes), and explained the plot to me, as she had watched the previous evening. The main impact she interpreted from it was a cautionary tale about marrying foreigners. She found it very sympathetic and said it made her think about simply marrying a Malian and staying in Mali, rather than risk the changeable nature of a man to leave her stranded in a foreign land. This reading never would have occurred to me. But with Mah's reading, I'd venture a "mistrust Iranians" angle as well. Are our films really that narrow? Good possibility I bet.
My first thoughts of poetry came last evening. I was telling Tidj why and how I like the fall of night. In French my explanation sounded almost poetic. I talked about the sun setting, the stars slowly coming out, the noise of day is done and the market subsided, the bustle of the night, the music the cinema has not yet begun. In a profound sense it is a twilight: between the life of day and that of night. The birds and flies are gone, and the mosquitoes, crickets and frogs are not yet out. It is a small peace.
I'm writing for yesterday, Sunday. It was a very good day overall. I really enjoyed myself and got, I think, to a new level of feeling at ease here. I went again to church (Protestant) and questioned what drove me there. I know it's partly an independent-from-Tall endeavour, but also I think something in the seemingly basic honesty of the worship. It could be I'm at least one language removed, and thus cannot deconstruct with facility, but also the straight-forward character of each person standing to ask us to pray for their health, safe journey sick relative of impending mission. The three main celebrants came up to me after service, thanked me for attending with many "welcomes" and "glad to have yous". They wanted to know what day was best to visit me at my house. I'll know better next week, I said, because of classes starting. I think "Ama" might be "God" in Dogon, but that's a blind guess.
At home for lunch and a siesta. I should start noting conversation. I keep trying to recall too much of their substance later. Many discussions I have are important. I talked with Sooliman Koulibaly about travel, education, people back home, nature. He felt it was very good and important that I should experience much in Mali, and thus be able to explain the scene I witnessed in a developing nation, "on the way to development". For him it is nature, the sphere of flora and fauna, and the nature of things in which lies some solution, some vision of what humans should strive for. He sees a "reason" in the natural world that is peaceful and effective. Even the hyena's "instinct" leaves the lion in peace and vice versa.
Mama and I have so many good discussions, it would be hard to note them all. She says we all wait only for death (upon hearing of her sister's death). A family, a wife are expensive, it is important to economize, even moreso when there is no money, less so when there is. Even the church message: make your body a living sacrifice to god, for with your life you can choose and serve his will; makes sense out here. Back home it sounds self-forgetting and self-effacing, like suppressing drivel. Here it's directness and apparent simple truth "to god's work within your life, wholly", is unnerving. The missionaries zeal sounds perverse in the city, but in the bush it's "will to life" is more apparent. It is a way to crystalize a mission, a faith, a goal around which to hang a sheltering vision of work. GETTING READY FOR SCHOOL?? Brain in gear again I think.
I also swam in the Yamé yesterday and came out feeling absolutely GREAT. Man, it was fun. It is fast-moving rapids under the bridge and smooth stone and sand bottom. I played with the kids and attracted a crowd of youth to watch the toubab who could hardly swim. Later on I met up with Mariam and some slick types (they like her, those sharp-dressed men). They left and we visited her cousin, listened to tunes, drank Lipton and talked. It was a good end to a good day. I told Mah I was glad she brought me along, she said she would remember Tracy Chapman with that moment at her cousin's. In November she leaves for nine months of school in Bamako, but I will visit before my placement is done, before I leave Mali. She has my address to write me since her family moves often with her father's work as a civil servant.
Yesterday. The Inspector is insisting on an official notification from Bamako about my presence in the school. I'm displeased with both Sambaly and myself for overlooking this detail while I was in the capital. Once the notice is sent, however, the Inspector is eager to receive me. They're short-staffed this year, and I think a native anglophone is usually a welcome addition to an English department.
I slept and hung out mainly. Paul and I discussed the "shrinking world", and new sources of strife between people. His Dogon ancestors are agriculturalists, and the Peulh, herdspeople. Paul draws their discord form vocational friction rather than ethnic or racial. I am reminded of what he said a few days ago about the challenge of placing someone's ethnie; by physiognomy or by linguistic ability, name or face.
Another salamander just ran up the wall outside my room and recalls a thought I had yesterday. It's one of the many minor things that are different, that I've not actively noticed. Donkeys braying, goats bleating, running everywhere. "Cattle in the marketplace", as Paul Simon says, even "angels in the architecture" of the church, or our concession. The huge crickets, bugs, flies, tiny frogs and mice. Some kind of small dog-like animal was outside my door last night. Judging from the tracks, four toes with claws, a print as big as three of my fingers. I'll ask. Yes, a wandering dog, and the other, that I guessed was like a raccoon is a small-cat-sized mouse-rat thing. Perfect. Science stumbles forward.
Today. Although the call from Bamako (Sambaly) didn't come yet, I've had a great day. I got up, ate, thought, snoozed, studied my languages a bit, snoozed, went out to the radio station, took some pictures (Yame, radio), visited Mariam, planned Saturday night in more detail. I think the 1,000 FCFA ticket is an excusable expense, for the rentre/e party and dance. Saw Tom Gage, he's well, his village too. Only some minor wounds to dress. His bike is fixed: a nice rig too, a big dirt bike. Today was a getting to belong day. I feel more at home today. I "helped" fix the roof in our concession with Nohma and Amadou. It felt REALLY GOOD to get covered in mud ("banko"), sling it, scrape it, pack it, step in it. I was not much help (another person in a chain), but I wasn't in the way, and I got to see the work being done: wood and metal axe-tools, mud-mixing, packing. I thought to include this in today's letter to Fralic, but it's written already.
I'm talking already (to Tom, etc.) about the possibility of staying longer than January at the school, especially if I get my own class. It seems unfair to leave in mid-year. Unfair to the students, and I could certainly use that angle to get another four+ months out of Crossroads. Today it seems possible not to see Trish and the parentals for that time and not LOSE MY MIND. I love days like this; days when really anything seems possible.
A man walks down the street, it's a street in a strange world, maybe it's the third world, or maybe it's just his first time around. Doesn't speak the language, he holds no currency, he is a foreign man, he is surrounded by the sound of cattle in the marketplace, scatterings of orphanages. He looks around and around, he sees angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity. He says, "Amen. Alleluia". (Paul Simon)This went through my head this afternoon. I recognized the man. He lives in me sometimes. Of those times I am proud. I wanted to save part of Fralic's letter, that's a good conclusion:
Man, I'm up on the roof of our concession and the sunset is beautiful. Not spectacular, but calm bright orange and enveloping everything with a warm reddish hue. All the red mud-brick buildings slowly melt together with the streets, the earth, the sky, and then evening comes; and there are more stars than I ever imagined. Off in the distance there is a flash: a storm landing on an adjacent village. With the sky so huge, a storm is breath-taking. I can't really see, but I have to write that the storm is now even more and gathering around Bandiagara. This is fantastic, so much lightning but no sound; it's too far off. The silence is almost eerie.
Bandiagara - 5 Oct 94
A storm just rolled in at early evening. The front moved in fast and the rain is falling hard. I have my door open so that it doesn't get too hot in here, but this also allows the rain to blow in. No call from Bamako. Sambaly still hasn't returned our call. That was Monday, forget next week, I figure. School might go in by 18-20 October, I might be official by then. There's my passport too; illegal as of 13 October. I fear getting stuck in Bandiagara, unable to pass the control to Mopti to get money. It's a small fear since I have faith in the system that has evolved here.
Met with Kalifa Sagara (Tom Gage's name in Dourou) and Vania Garcia at the Peace Corps house in town, had a good toubab talk and papaya. Two Malian co-workers of theirs came by and we held a conference on snakes and animist magic. I made notes running home from there before the storm, so I'll try to recreate the main lines of what was told. First some moni, while I try to recall the snaketalk. Leftover moni when you're hungry is great stuff. Always keep some on hand. There are many snakes, vipers, cobras, etc. but also a black and multi-coloured very thin small one that is VERY nasty. If you get bit in the bush and cannot see the tallest thatch-rooved grainary, forget it, you're not going to make it. Even a Catholic Father had to get to France for medical attention to just barely survive.
Edouard Tembely, who talked of snakes, also talked of Dogon masks. He said there are two types at least three times, subdividing types I figured; so mine is a generalized representation. First there are artist's, ceremonial and celebratory masks; kids' masks to be distinguished from the masks for working magic and attacking people (While I'm recording this, fresh, I'm missing a meeting in the salon). One type of mask, not too serious, is worn to protect trees (fruit, grapes), and is worn by animists who chase away children or people of a prescribed clan or ethnicity. Islam and Christianity coexist with animism, since even "devout" believers employ animists to protect their crops. Then there are the attacking masks, with which animists shapeshift into monsters to scare bush travellers. With the use of pyrotechnics and the masks, magicians work psychological harm on the wayfarer until he or she is so disoriented, far from the road and afraid, that they can be attacked more easily. After capture, the animist takes some body-part or portion (hair, tongue, sex organ) for harmful magic against a close relative (different part, different proximity of relation). These magicians are people who in old times killed whites in the hills believing they were djinni, spirits.
Muslim, Christian and Africans alike partake in the animist magic, either in person, or by employing an agent. Even the Muslim teachers, the marabouds, use fetish and magic to frighten the parents of their students, or work towards desired marriages or agreements under the pretext of Islam, while working through animist magic. Tembely says no African can truly be a Muslim since the animist beliefs are at the core of the African being. Even a Christian like himself, he says, fears such things because you never know. You never know.
Last night Madani took me along to visit one of his girlfriends (with whom he has a child, I think), for a reconciliation. Her brother and mother are against the union because of the difference in social rank: hers lower than his sort of nobility, I guess. Madani doesn't care what people say, nor about social ranks made by people. If humans made them, they can also unmake them. It was odd to be there, even though I couldn't understand the Bambara. What in Canada would have been a private conversation indoors, or behind something, took place with me (a stranger or brother), right there, in the middle of the street.
Dramatically, it was great. Two Malian silhouettes against the night sky, with the occasional sky-wide flash of lightning. The storm outside and the conflict between two people, two visions of society, two factions of a single culture, great pathetic fallacy. Her (brother's, mother's) traditional ideas about the propriety of rank, Madani's more Western/Northern learnings (leanings) centered on each autonomous person, equally created by God, united in marriage between individuals. POWERFUL STUFF. Her tongue clicking responded to his conversation, affirming she was listening, urging him to continue. His glowing cigarette brightened with each drag, and then dimmed again.
This morning I went with Edouard, Timothé and Vania G. to a Muslim baptism. I'm having moni and tea by myself for the first time. Madani is at the Radio and Tidjani is at work. Today he starts ten months road work with a French agency AVP (Agence Volontaire du Progres) to make improvements on six or more roads from Bandiagara to satellite villages. The moni is too hot so... The baptism seemed more interesting for Vania. The women and men were separate, the men in the yard, the women indoors. We entered, greeted, received small biscuits and sat. After more people had arrived (about 200), one man, who remained animated all morning, stood, blessed and welcomed people. I don't know, I don't think he was a religious leader, he certainly was not subdued, but he said the child's name and lead the prayers. We opened our hands to the sky, the child's name was said and we "washed" our faces and congratulated everyone with the boy's name, "Allah ka BINDO" and God's wishes. Then we retired indoors for fried flour balls (tasty) and everyone else had instant coffee with sweetened condensed milk. While we were sitting, at first, I watched a goat being dragged out of the pen and thought, "A sacrifice for a good baptism?". Close. Afterwards I saw lunch's head and body being prepared for the noon meal. Apparently the celebration continues all day, and we are invited (expected) to return. I doubt I'll go. Nohma's wife is going to give birth soon, so I'll go to that full day event.
The women's deal was more involved, Vania said. They got to greet the mother and baby in arms; then some black object was circulated on a tray to touch and then "bless" oneself. Then they all did the same hands-to-sky, greeting and breakfast. Today's events more clearly pointed to the sex/gender segregation than anything else. I think, maybe unfortunately, it took a white woman's separation from me and my activities to drive the point home. At church the men and women sit on opposite sides of the hall, but that seemed "normal", or not strange. Vania's presence is what made the segregation seem odd. Generalize for hypothesis: the presence of home (not Malian) culture, values and people makes the Malian seem odd in comparison. On my own, however, with Malians, their doings don't seem at all strange. It's also Vania's character too. To her this is a very different place from Virginia, or Washington, D.C. where she has worked; and IT'S IMPORTANT TO HER THAT IT BE DIFFERENT. For me, I'd like it to become home, like for Kalifa Sagara, but she's committed to this being and remaining a strange place. By extension, she will seek my company (for the familiar) and I will avoid hers because she weirds Malians for me. MAYBE MAYBE MAYBE. FIRST THOUGHTS ON MY OWN APPROACH TO "HERE", "THERE", "OWN", and "OTHER".
My head hurts a bit (too much sleep today), but I'm writing anyway: important developments are afoot. Another sister of Nohma's arrived home from Bamako. She's very cute and smiles a lot. Look out. Another Peace Corps woman, Chris, returned from her father's funeral in the States. She reminds me of Greta back home. Also smiling and friendly; from Nebraska. Look out! Luckily (or not) she's placed in a village south of the escarpment, an hour and a half from Kalifa. If she were in Bandiagara, there could be trouble.
Vania's not as bad as today's earlier entry suggests. I've just got to and want to) be wary of too much TOUBAB TIME. After I woke up, the rain had stopped. Penna (sister smiling) had arrived, Tij was home from work (and very proud and happy). Four or more kids from next door were in the yard. There was a really festive mood. I went walkabout, heard "Redemption Song" playing in the street on the way. I saw the first really gorgeous sunset into the Yamé from the bridge up-river. I talk with a Parisian business man on a two week holiday in Mali. And we wonder where the image of "plenty = white" comes from. Pleasant, older guy, will serve his guide well. Then met Chris, ate at Vania's got lost in the dark with no shoes, which I lost in the mud which the streets had become. Got direction and made it home without cutting my feet open in the dark. I hope none of the crap I stepped in is currently burrowing into my skin. We'll see in the morning. I washed my feet, though, so things should be OK. It's hot, but too muddy to sleep outside. Today was a real up and down. Earlier I was down, pointlessly bummed out, then my walk and mood and I felt great. Crossing the main, middle bridge I felt ready to burst with glee. Bob Marley has that effect I guess. Or maybe the Malian sunset; or just being here. It is pretty nice, and pretty neat that I'm here, living and experiencing things. I can try to be cool and half-jaded, but it's too good. A letter to Sambaly goes to Bamako tomorrow. No more waiting for CONTACT at least. I'm looking forward to starting SOMETHING.
I remember a conversation with a merchant (very friendly) about African (he said "ferafine", Bambara for "black") women and white men. He "warned" me, just to let me know he knew about chasing Mah Dramé. She is an acquaintance of his, so he was justified with and interest. He also said there are three ways to win a woman: "parole, argent et chimie noir", talk, money and black magic. I said could we white guys help it if the women come after us. Mama Tall said that the women in Mali chase after the men, and for me to be careful. I already have a fiancée, as she called her, and should not be going after an African woman. I guess my own meditations on women here have made me turn over all the "advice" and speeches I've heard about what men and women should or shouldn't do. What society, people say; what each wants; what the point of union is (marriage, children, if there are means to support a companion, family, etc.) It strikes me that in Canada, we are very much "at play" in relationships, that these are serious endeavours is far from our thoughts. Maybe (generalize) we play SO MUCH, taking certain things seriously is difficult or impossible. Then, do we take some things overly gravely (not simply seriously). Either a thing (eg. relations) is a frivolity, or deadly grave; can there be a middle? Here it seems there is a gaiety in the serious affair of mates and marriage. More thoughts; this begins only.
Good day, all day. Felt as though I could stay for as long as it takes. What "IT" is, I don't know, but I'm confident today of lasting. Hung out in the street, listening to conversations about attack dogs, the politics of children-rearing, again the dissemination of language and culture versus isolation and reticence (especially Dogon). Generalized languages are more popular (in many senses of the word) than restricted dialects. The face of Malian child-raising is changing, especially the vision of numbers. HAVE LESS KIDS, not none, but less. Staying single is nice, but parental pressure often thwarts it. Madani and I got whipped at pairs 151 (302), but we'll come back. His reconciliation is taking hold and he seems happy. Again I found myself giving an interpretation of an English song that is played here: "Redemption Song", Madani asked me about tonight.
I spent a lot of money today. Mama talked me into buying a wool bobo from the north: a poncho-type worn blanket. She got me a good price, but still 10,000 FCFA is two weeks groceries for the whole family! I also spent a week's worth of rice (1,000 FCFA) on a ticket to a "Grand Bal" tomorrow night. Mam believes I should buy something to take home every once in a while, so that I get better prices and I'm not spending madly at the end. This improves on my thinking of waiting to see how my cash flows. I first thought it would be lame to run short having bought "stuff", but that's not living: in life things are planned for and bought slowly, piece by piece.
Another parent and Trish letter today. Wow. If I decide to stay longer, Trish is going to have a fit. She's mentioned the six months in both letters. But also "I love you": so maybe she can try to understand. I have such a great time reading their letters; hearing how much they are supporting each other. I'm SO GLAD. I only hope they can keep it up until I get back, whenever. Reading their words had simultaneous and contrary effects: sustaining me to remain, and urging me to return. A nice balance if you can pull it off.
It's dark and I have to use the bathroom. A combination you try to avoid because you can't see what lurks on the ground around you while you squat. Also, I'll get eaten alive by skeeters. I don't think I got bit at all, there was a light breeze, the light went out, but all is well now. Tidjani's wife (I think) poured water into my plastic wash-kettle as I went into the bathroom, how nice. We sent a letter via a friend to Sambaly. I couldn't find the copy of my degree, I must have left it in my embassy stuff: that's a big mark against me after having the sense to take Bear's advice and bring it. But all is not lost, Sambaly is well connected in Bamako. I'm sure he'll work out something that will suit our intrepid Inspecteur.
Wandered through the market today (market days are Monday and Friday), and just gawked at all the strange (and familiar) items. Balls of brown, black, tan, who knows what. Miscellaneous fish parts and products. Watermelon, varieties of peanuts, "gumbo" vegetable, soap, condoms, trinkets, clothes, ripe tomatoes, milk. "mi yida kosam" - I don't want milk, a very useful phrase in Fulfulde (Peulh). I was only asked for handouts twice, pestered thrice and refused to buy things thrice. No hard sell, that's nice. I like it here.
I read the Crossroads forms and thought how far from the reality of being here the evaluations, etc. are. It's truly amazing how cold and out of touch forms made by other volunteers can be. They need the structured questionnaire for statistical purposes and filing ease, but may not get very useful information from me I fear. Perhaps I'll compose my own supplementary evaluation. I mean, do they realistically expect me to remember ANYTHING from self-assessment A YEAR AGO. I can hardly recall Ottawa and Toronto three weeks ago. Even Bamako events are murkified by life in Bandiagara that moves on each day, at it's pace. A pace unlike any other. Not like the effortless, eternal days of Southern Ontario '93; or the lazy, afternoons of '94; but a slowness all it own has the Bandiagara week. But a speed too. Maybe the days start to quicken now and each is a missed opportunity to see, learn, know. I've filled half this book in a quarter of my prescribed stay, a quarter of my two books; If i don't stay after 8 Jan - 8 Mar. Why do I want to stay? The chance to really DO something here: teach a year's English class. Stay in Mali more. Defy Bear's statement that I'll love it and come back in six months. YUP, THAT'S THE ONE. He didn't mean it (or did he?) as a challenge, but it landed in my heart as one I could pose myself. Courage, arrogance endurance to withstand a resurgence of loneliness.
Up early, awaken by the stings of duguméné, one of the drawbacks of sleeping outside. Saw an even more beautiful sunrise than the one I first photographed. It's tough to know when the real moments are. This morning Samba Dramé came to call and insisted on washing my sneakers for tonight; since I am older, out of respect. He spent the better part of an hour at that while we talked about things, particularly relative living cost in Canada and Mali, devaluation and the grace of a good crop to counteract the floundering FCFA. Mama had a warning afterwards about mistrusting kids. I said that he was from a good family, and she agreed, but each individual has his own character. She also javexed the well drinking water for me. She said it was because I was not used to the water here, and this would keep me from getting sick from it. I asked that we try not bleaching it next time the urn was filled, since the taste was awful and I'd like to get used to the well-water. And just this morning I was thinking how I hadn't had to purify any water since arriving in Bandiagara.
There is a storm thundering in, still the wind hasn't really come up, but all the laundry is moved indoors. Samba says rain will make for a poor turn-out at tonight's dance. That would be a drag. Especially with my sneakers looking better than when I bought them at a yard sale in Ottawa. Samba actually said he liked washing the shoes because of how chic they'd look. Pride in a good job, I guess. I'm still having trouble understanding how a people who live in a dusty, dirty place come to have such high standards (if they have means) of tidiness. Cleanliness, OK, I can see the important side, but keeping a dirt yard swept, and tidy if we're throwing garbage anywhere? It seems as if the answer is right there in what I just wrote. Re-read. In the logic of balancing opposites, it makes perfect sense: keep tidy since the environment is so untidy. But then they tolerate soiling; behaviour (defecating in the street, kids urinating in a store). Of course, it's often unavoidable. That's it. Tidiness when possible, tolerance for filth when unavoidable. Still a strange dichotomy I think. Eat or snooze? Moni, tiga; n'da?
I slept but the rains never came. It is still very overcast, cool and slightly breezy. I watch the old man, Aba, preparing the cotton to be woven into "pang" (rhymes with "buying", but one syllable) by Nohma's mother. A pang is a measurement of cloth (about a meter) that is used to sew clothes, or simply wrapped around the waist to make a woman's skirt. I was thinking of getting Trish one, maybe Mum too, while I was taking a photo. Then Mama, who had just finished sweeping out my room, comes in whipping Amadou, Jr. with a piece of rope; not really hard, but he was howling, trying to run away. She held him fast, though. I think he is still crying. It didn't seem physically painful, but with the added hurt of punishment, I can see why he'd howl. Maybe it's because he hasn't done his schoolwork. Next to Moussa, a student, it must be hard for a lacklustre academic to survive. I imagine Uncle Steve compared to Dad at school. Not a low intelligence, just not (or differently) applied to school. I'm writing more each day recently. Does that mean I'm in here too much? I'm going for a swim, I think.
Yesterday. The swim in the Yamé was very refreshing, and I made a good spectacle again; especially I think when I discovered (afterwards) tiny black round wormy things (12 or so) all over me. Inside I kind of panicked, I think, but a simply picked them off, towelled vigourously where I couldn't see, and did a thorough inspection back home. Today, though, there is some mark on the top of my right foot that's a bit tender. I don't recall banging it, so is it a worm-hole? I doubt it. It's very much bigger than yesterday's guys. The dance was fine, a combination of OK and great. Another good lesson in "here-like-there". People were really dressed up. It had a neat feeling about it, and the tunes were good too. The main difference I noticed was the honour dance (premier pas, "first step") by the host-brotherhood (of the first quarter); and the closeness of physical contact between men and women -- including me -- a physical friendliness that seemed (at first) too much for relative strangers. Since it wasn't a 'meet market', this was a very welcoming affection. I really miss holding someone. I guess that's to be expected since I'd been holding Trish for four months when I left, and it was a social night, and some women were gorgeous. This morning, however, I ache all over. A beginning of a cold/flu ache. It's better now, but at first light I really felt rotten. Maybe yesterday was too long to finish with dancing. Maybe I'm getting sick again. Maybe my dream wore me out. This is a good one, another intense super-real event. I'm a researcher in the tropical rainforest of South America, investigating the ecological repercussions of the fishing techniques for a tribe. I'm wondering and asking why they haven't diversified into cultivating, using a "salt-wood tree". At this point the dream is definitely in French. Later I try to translate "salt-wood", selbois, into English and have to go searching for the words. Anyhow, there is magic, and lightning surrounding the two progenitors of the tribe, one who is an almost white/Peulh woman, and the other who is in ceremonial paint and headgear. It turns out that I am there with someone, in the dream I know them well, and we ask to come back in four months. The chief woman says they'll be headed to their second site five kilometres away, but we could come here and stay, while they're gone; stay in the middle of the jungle, after finding this remote site again. The "Oronao" River was nearby, thanks Al Mason. Then my partner is engulfed in papers, rulers and calculations (time-lapsed) and he finishes by discovering a link between the ecological segmentation of sites around the region, the migration of this tribe and the genetic make-up of the two progenitors, and the whole tribe. Is that a Mefloquine or fever dream? Who knows. I just realized that the image in my head of me riding around Bamako with Sambaly in Harry the Honda was another of last night's dreams. We were doing my Inspecteur/Ministry of Education business, and he had a devil-may-care countenance and just laughed when I asked if my letters arrived (for him, Isabelle and Kristin). It was a bit spooky.
Yesterday. Didn't go to church, ached all over. maybe over did dancing. It was fun, very Western and a good way to let loose and hang with my peers. Sory Ba says that's what life is about sometimes. Mama was very sick with malaria again, she didn't leave her bed yesterday. A bit better by nightfall. Hung out with Mamadou and Sory Ba, Asso, Alpha in the afternoon. Then visited Vania G. and Edouard Tembely, then went to church to pray for Mama Tall, my Malian friends and family and those in Canada. It felt good to do this, even if it was partly motivated by an image of me I am creating here. Returned after dinner to the Ba household, and took tea until almost midnight. Our discussion was centered chiefly (by Madou) on my prospects with Vania, who he says is interested in me. His proof was thin, and I explained that Chris "pleased" (me plaît") much more. It was so much fun, the elaborate advice, counter-advice, explanations, interpretations, theories on the wiles of women around the world, and a great speech about "If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with". I spoke openly of my interest in Chris, my fears about returning home after taking a girlfriend here. I explained the small likelihood of Trish taking a lover in attempted secret back home, because of my many acquaintances in my hometown. I have also accepted to learn to carve ebony from a friend of Sory Ba. Ill meet him today. Finally, an IN into something tangible I can learn, and use to make gifts for more folks back home. Should take Bear some ebony as well as the requested baobab. We also discussed the practical limitations on earning a living teaching English at a language institute. They exist in Bamako, I've said I'll get some information before I leave Mali. If I'd like to stay a while, I'd need to earn money here. Another thought this morning: one year earning, one year volunteering in an outlying town/village school and give sabbatical leave time for the English teacher I replace to improve his/her own skill in Bamako.
Yesterday. Up early. Papa showed me the garden: millet, cotton, da (for rope), gumbo. He explained the flower-fruit stages and the mass cultivation of the same varieties. Hung out with Sory, Madou and the gang for most of the day. Tea, music, learned a bit more about billote (uchre), still tough though. Met Ibou (Imbrahim) N'Diaye, the sculptor, saw some pieces of his work in ebony; VERY, VERY nice. He's been at it three years and it is obvious he has a lot to teach me. Mama was better last evening, but this morning, not so great. Ate tigadégéna at Madou's house, avoided the meat chunks, but ingested some bits anyway. There's not much I can do really. There has to be some allowance for the reduction of luxuries here, though it's odd to think of vegetarianism as a luxury; a restricted diet; but it is. A choice deluxe; the option, freedom is the luxury.
Later (sunset now) I watched a lime-green praying mantis on the roof at home. In Bambara it's called "Alakamurudjan", "the long knife of God". Perfect. Tij says their "bite" hurts more than a duguméné sting for most of a day. Moussa says not. Truth in between. Then, as the sun set, I watched an amazing spectacle. There was an electrical storm that was exhausting to watch. For 30-40 minutes I sat, gape-mouthed and wide-eyed as light tore open the sky clear across my whole field of vision. Flashes as long as my arm at arm's length, fork-bolts lasting four and five volley's worth on the same path. Clouded flashes. AND HARDLY A SOUND. An occasional rumble, but no loud thunder. With the mounting wind, I got chills watching this. A tropical electrical storm. That's something to see.
Yesterday morning I went to the grenier Hakim Baba, and worked ebony in the foyer with Ibou N'Diaye and some other guys. I made a pendant for Madani with his initials carved in. I felt good and bad throughout the day. Slight diarrhea at noon, still ate a bit of rice and felt better. Overall ache in the afternoon, slept and felt a lot better. I chatted with some friends of Vania's up the street (family Koulibaly) and had a good discussion about the relationship between environmental concerns and employment concerns; government control on environmental damage. And I answered A LOT of questions about Canada. Coming home I felt worse again, ache etc. I sang to relieve a bit. Singing "Bridge to freedom", I cried in the last verse, and felt a bit better.
how near can we two be together.
All we have is yesterday and every day until forever.
Take my hand as I my own we're children running
aimless running going home, finding home.
This morning. I might have mild malaria. Diarrhea with a bit of blood, rapid pulse, dark urine, are are indications to see a doctor, but I don't know WHAT condition they suggest. Right now, besides a bit anxious, I feel hungry and a little sore in my neck and shoulders. I had rice, frufru, kinkeliba, felt better. And NO BLOOD! YIPPEE! No problem. I must stay hydrated, though.
I don't know what that garbage was about cleanliness (8 Oct). I felt a little rotten, and I just swept my room and entryway. In a way, if things are clean, it "proves" I am (one is) not too sick. I recall Mama's apology when I first arrived. She was sick, and the house was in disorder. I'm feeling better. Snoozed, sang, thought of kissing Trish and was overwhelmed by nostalgia for her female form. I chatted with Paul and Edouard Tembely about government destruction of Mali. The French colonial legacy of leaving nothing but foreign administrative systems and their language. We talked about French versus English (British), American, Canadian non governmental organizations (NGOs, aid projects). The Canadians, says Paul "fait apprendre par faire faire", "teach by making people do". Often Malian workers on a project are included in its design, where as the French rule the mission from the mountain. Decidedly, men of quality surface in any regime, even a military one, but Mali has had her fill of military rulers. But such people can't always realize their potential within the system. As is the case more generally with Mali: potential un/misused. Since Independence (1960), French abandonment and the continued mismanagement to the present leaves Mali wanting in herding, tourism, agribusiness and infra-structure. I was milling over the tourism angle, packages with vaccinations included; possible? How to sell a Malian vacation to Canadians... an intriguing business exercise.
I slept most of the day, but this did not prevent my performing a gifted act of stupidity. Only by God's grace (and my glasses) did I avoid putting my right eye out. As it is, I have a few small cuts right under it, a broken glasses arm ("temple") and a real ego blow. Not to mention Mama a bit angry with me for not being more careful. NO KIDDING!!
Yesterday. I went to Mopti for banking, a productive visit to the Regional Education Director, and a commission to Cheik Oumar from Madani. One-hundred and eighty kilometres in bachées. As Billy Crystal says in "City Slickers": "Rollin', rollin', rollin'; man, my [butt] is swollen. RAWHIDE!" It was foggy in Mopti and on the way back, it was really beautiful, the African Savanna disappearing into the mist. Although my diarrhea is not all that bad, such a bumpy ride makes the hemorrhoids I'm developing more sore and annoying. Today I'll drink some echniaeca root powder I brought in water to see if that helps. I had a good discussion with Cheik Oumar about the social services in Mali and Canada. The idea of the government supporting people without jobs was a kind of strange, incredible dream, i.e. NOT REALITY for Cheik. I really think he had a hard time actually believing it.
This morning, today, is Nohma's daughter's baptism (Fatima). In the yard (at his wife's parental home, I think) with the men, there was some black hair/wool and white wool under a woven cover and the gift money under another cover. Now we are all back home (Tall) in the foyer listening to Pink Floyd: "Don't you know, how I wish you were here now. We're just two lost souls swimmin' in a fish bowl year after year. Going over the same ground, haven't we found the same old tears". Yesterday evening I stay with Ibou and the gang at Hakim Baba's house. Ibou played guitar pretty well. He's obviously got a spirit that Bandiagara is too small to contain and keep inside. Carving, karate, music. I hope he and I can become good friends. Mama's legs are swollen and she asked for some meat to be bought. In Mopti, I visited Amara Sylla at his very nice place, met his wife and ate some rice. I drank water, almost too cold to drink, from the fridge. He told of a rumour the French were going to electrify Bandiagara. Here, at the baptism bash, the mood is very festive, now that the Malian music is on, people are dancing, bustling around the yard, playing cards. This afternoon I'll rendez-vous with the Mopti Inspecteur after his meeting with our Inspecteur. After that I'll mail some letters and visit Mah Dramé. I haven't been in almost a week. Just got a letter from Mum and Dad, Bear, and Wendy Hastletine. All is well at home, and Wendy met Chantal, who stayed with Madani for three weeks here. Is that a big coincidence, or one of those know someone who knows someone things?
Yesterday. I waited for a long time to spend forty-five seconds with the two Inspecteurs. Mopti is going to call Sambaly to understand the scenario, but we're still waiting for the authorization form Bamako. I went with the gang to well-wish Madou Ba off to school in Bamako. I ate a little supper while Mama and Madani had a pretty heated discussion about work, marriage, the prospects for employment in Bandiagara and other such economic issues. All this I gathered from the ebb and flow, and Madani's liberal infusions of French into his Bambara. I read all the parental letter to get questions to answer in this weekend's letter; same for Trish's messages. Another weird dream. I arrived home in Canada, met a big group of friends, said hi to all, but when I got to Trish I fell down flat on my face and slept. Then I was in an old, dilapidated building on the UNB campus, and, in an earthquake, the whole thing collapsed with people (including me) inside. We survived.
Yesterday. I slept a lot, wrote some. Today I did a lot of walking, writing. To church, to Vania's, to Madou Ba's, the plateau, radio station, around town. I received a Dogon hymnal today in church to practice pronouncing. I discussed Canada-Mali (and international) relations with Mr. Dramé. A round, jelly-roll man. "The biggest man in Bandiagara", says Tidjani. I read some fearful statistics on health in the Bandiagara district, and finally learned the population. Bandiagara town: 12,000. Bandiagara district: 200,000. That's more like it. My Dogon dream came true, but not the way I had hoped. The guide who wants me to interpret for some Americans is the little thief who's dogged me since the outset. Kalifa Sagara warned me, and doesn't even speak to the guy. I'll have to refuse, though it would be a good gig; not with the likes of that one. Stumbled through my language theory to Bear. It wasn't clearly set, so he may not get anything. Here it is. Because of the nature of Bamanan kan, Fulfulde, and maybe Dogon, the locals speak French in a commanding, declarative way. Or, because of the colonial institution of French, the locals learn French in an imperative mode, without a less aggressive (more polite) interrogative. I think the truth lies close to the second, with certain linguistic elements of the first. Yesterday I also chatted with a man involved with the Society for the Preservation and Protection of Dogon Culture. He would like me to get a project sponsored for a collaboration study/exchange with Canada in that area. I might be able to get a Phd fellowship to pursue something like that. I'll ask Al Mason in an upcoming letter, and start researching interested schools once I get home; i.e. who's publishing on the Dogon. Also establish good relations with Chris Hoffer and Tom Gage for future correspondence and assistance.
Yesterday. Night. Stories Mama told me. One about the lack of seriousness in young people in regards to marriage; there are two or three women and men in one hundred who are faithful, and Mama says Trish is one. She'll wait for me to finish my studies says Mama. That might be a while, though. The other was about the cannibalistic tendencies of the bush dwellers of the Ivory Coast. Mama's mother (or mother's sister) was in a vehicle in the Ivory Coast and two men were discussing something about her in their own language. A third man, who spoke their bush Ivorian dialect and Malian Peulh told grandmother to scratch her head as if she had lice. Although she did not understand why, she did this, and as she did, the two men moved down the bench in either direction away from her. After the two Ivorians left, the Peulh-speaking man told grandmother that they were discussing the value of her head, 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 FCFA, and that she had saved her life with the louse-miming. Then Mama told of the people who still do, and forever will, eat people in the Ivorian bush. When someone in a family dies, they are portioned off to the relatives all over West Africa. And when a married man dies, his 'sex' is sent to his wife, that's her portion. Mama seemed serious, but not shocked, only moderately disgusted and disturbed, as one is by a horror habituated. Today I have plans: Carving, Music, Post, visit Inspecteur; wow, a real man about town. Got to do something. "Dying all the time..."
This morning I recorded some music with Madani (Sékou) and some guys; and a goat was also part of the sound. Sékou had his guitar, and played a riff over and over, while someone else banged on a home-made drum, and I improvised a recorder part. We were playing on a pathway alongside the edge of town where few people walked by, but a goat did, and joined in bleating. I nearly fell over laughing listening to it later. Then lunch with Mr. Dramé, and discussion about the relative wealth of African and European/North American countries, the average income and cost of living. In the afternoon I went to the market with Moussa, Amadou and Mama. We bought some fruit I didn't recognize (later determined to be a pomegranate). Once ripe, we'll taste. Noted birthdays in calendar for wishes and remembering. Remembered my first days in Bamako and how green I was, even relative to now, at this short remove. My early letters would sound funny to me now.
Went for an early walk east of the plateau. Didn't see much except some old buildings and an abandoned water tower. Got burdocks and spines on my feet, OUCH! Hemorrhoids are better, and I had a really good movement in the bush. Nevertheless, "I'm feeling a bit nihilistic today, maybe I'll go down to the center". Really though I feel a bit out of sync. More carving might help. Last night I was invited to study at the Bandiagara karate dojo, the Ousmane Sango. It might be a good physical thing to do, and something to keep me up a bit at night.
Yesterday WAS a bit nihilistic, still I wondered, watched billote and dames (euchre, checkers). Both games, when played with energy by the young or old, include a fair bit of slamming cards or checkers down onto the playing surface. A kind of "take THAT" statement. I bought cucumbers, watched soccer and went to the dojo. I was called back home early to WELCOME Crossroader HOLLY BROWN (Fanta Traoré) her friend OUMAR TRAORE from her host village Kéniégoué and two French hangers on. We ate, talked and talked and walked. Her's in a real village placement, but she's not DOING much either. She's healthy and VERY happy. Today holds more talk and plans. It's strange; a month ago we were strangers and last night we greet each other as if we were old friends. I guess, relatively, one month IS old friends. But it's more than that too. The CROSSROADS BOND (dum dum dah!) whatever that is. Lots of rain last night, still a bit this morning. I'm a bit jealous of Holly's having travelled, seen a couple of areas already. My time will come. I guess.
Hung out and chatted with Holly in English a lot. Yesterday we talked about adjustment in a village (her) versus a town (me), culture "shock", neither of us really get it yet, but my "static electricity" theory made her laugh. Instead of a large, immediate jolt, cultural "shock" is cumulative, gradual. The misalignments of home and here build up into a reserve of juice ready to spring out unforseen at any moment. I haven't mentioned that I sliced my middle finger at the carving studio; it hurt a bit, bled a lot, and I felt faint (infection anxiety). Yesterday I took off the bandage: fingernail split to one-third down, but it looks worse than it hurts. Welcoming Holly and Oumar felt good. We ate well and talked, organized the French guys to be on their way this morning to Dogon country fun and adventures. Holly is right, this is a nice spot; the hills and bluffs in the distance, the river. Mama lost another sister yesterday. Holly and I shared our confusion about relatives, death and other Malian observances we don't understand much at all. But we're both here, happy to be here, and glad to have each other to visit. My chest cold is better this morning (I got caught in rain). I have some "poetry" in my head, something about wearing a Dogon mask to chase kids away from the tree in the Garden of Eden. Maybe it'll stew a while and come out later. Also thinking of how to link Ibou with Cultures, the Y-International shop back home (i.e. legal, further business, payment). Ask parentals to ask for details to be sent. Give Rick McDaniel's name, and use mine as a known contact with Y-International.
All day yesterday and today to update. Yesterday. Went to the Yaé and really enjoyed watching the people with Holly. It was a good sharing of a loved thing between us. We washed clothes together today and talked about boy and girl friends; and about her brother who's in love with a guy who's cool about him being HIV positive for seven years already. Holly was worried, but got news that relieved her a bit. Generally good days. Tomorrow she goes to the Escarpment with Madani's cousin Sooliman. Oumar has declined because of the lack of money. Some went "missing" on their travels north to here. I mistrust the French guys. Today I met a beautiful woman, Téné Traoré. She's Peulh-looking and very charming. She told my fortune with koloni shells, thrown like bones, or runes onto a woven mat. Besides a long life, a good wife and many friends, I risk getting someone pregnant and should mistrust a "teint clair", a white man. I invited her to the dance, and look forward to visiting often. And I thought I'd get out of this without a REAL test of "Canadian fidelity" that Mah Dramé holds in such high esteem. I want to learn the shell-reading more, and now have another real motivation for learning Bambara and Fulfulde (Peulh for "Peulh language"). Mah says Téné likes me, but is in a crisis to get married, but trusts no Malian men (like Mah herself). LOOK OUT, REALLY LOOK OUT LOOK; and "Hold on to your hat, we could end up miles from here". The lack of word about the school doesn't bother me now. I'm having a blast, so who cares? The guilt of "doing something useful" has all but drained away as I live day to day, and realize I may not be that useful once authorized anyway. Got mail from Nana, Madelene. Ly (STU), Mark Chandra, Kristin Honey (Crossroads to Bamako) and Janine Swales (Crossroads to Malaysia). Holly is super jealous of all the mail I got today, and the bag of post I've received so far. I'm jealous of her, going into the heart of DOGON COUNTRY!
This morning we sent Holly off to adventures many, and then mourned the loss of Mama's mother, I think in her husband's family, but maybe not. At any rate we sat in the foyer of "la grande famille", the main house of the original family, and received visitors. The old man was consoled and given many blessings to which we all answered "amiina". The men were in the foyer, the women were inside the inner yard and house itself. I felt actually sad. I think I projected my own anticipation of my (Mum's mum) grandmother's death onto this one. Still, walking to the mourning house with Madani, Tij and Oumar, we four could have been friends or brothers from the same family. It was another element shared that made me feel more at home, more at life, ALIVE, here. I "helped" an Argentinean tourist get cold bottled water, and put up with abuse from the little cheats and ankle-kickers telling me what I can or cannot say to tourists. Mama then taught me the appropriate Fulfulde for the next such incident. Ate tigadégé, b'ache (ginger tasting "beer" nuts), cantaloupe-like cucumber, and super-sour mingon fruit. Holly's visit has brought out lots of neat foods: Grilled bananas, pomegranate (a bit like a mango-pear cross in taste, with big seeds). Dance tonight, going with Téné.
Didn't dance, my cough got too bad (though I slept well). Today after a bath, I watched and played football (soccer). As Oumar says, it's a good "involvement", even though I can't play really, especially relative to any local over the age of nine. It's the national Malian sport, and young boys use everything from mango pits to small plastic bags in their pick-up games. Playing, as I did, with young men, we had the luxury of an actual ball. In pick-up form it's more a passing than shooting game, with no full-time goalie, and a much smaller "net" defined by two stones or chunks of brick. I tried to get out of playing by not having appropriate footwear (I had just flip-flops on). I wished to avoid playing partly because I knew I'd look pretty feeble next to the other players, but also I was afraid of the various bits of stone, broken glass, metal and miscellaneous mystery hazards on the "field", which was a vacant lot with a large hump in the middle. Since the field was right in town on the street that crosses the Yamé, my participation was an additional spectacle for the supporters. I was glad to have Oumar there "with" me, since he was easily one of the best players on the field. "I'm with him, that makes me famous too". I went to church today, and sang with my new hymn-book. I contacted Luc Poudiougo about the cultural mission's work, but the director is away, a week to wait. I talked with the French guys and it seemed (almost) like I was talking English. They're not so bad. Arrogant made worse by travel, extensive travel. Maybe spoiled rich kids too (thanks Bear). Went to see Téné and Mah was there with a whole gang. There were more sexual and love themes in the koloni this time, but the money prediction and the caveat on visiting men is holding. I missed the church elders who arranged to visit me at home. I wasn't quite punctual enough (although I was no more than a half-hour late). I was operating on my impression of Malian time, judging about four o'clock by the announcement of the late afternoon prayer from the mosque, the elders all arrived wearing watches showing four o'clock sharp. Looking in vain for Timothé Dolo at his house I happened upon a discussion of the make up of human being: convention and something else. I toed a relativist line (since I thought the other was doing so), but then he switched to "People are defined by time and space", when I expected him to say "convention". We finished by agreeing that (1) if convention defines us even as we define it, then the door is wide open for anything, and (2) there is something other than convention (behaviour and mannerisms) that constitutes the human beast. More to follow.
Two months since I left home, it seems like two weeks; but I had a bit of Canada nostalgia today. Sort of vague ideas about being at home there. The market was good today. I'm improving in Fulfulde, VERY slowly. We ate tigadégé in a big way and enjoyed watermelon from the Sikasso region (courtesy of an uncle). DELICIOUS! The French guys left, I'm glad of that. I've actually had to work while they were here. A good start to helping in the kitchen. Holly's back from Dogon country and despite no good word (quite the contrary) about Sooliman, her guide, she loved the sheer beauty of the spectacle. Now one toilet is off-limits because of its deteriorating top, and the other is cracking too. Oumar says that falling in is certain death within the day, even if you don't drown and get pulled out. Tonight something largish moved in the bathroom and I jumped and yelled and then laughed. Probably mice or lizards in the brush SOUNDING BIG AND SCARY! Visited Téné (really her sister, brother and cousin) for a good while. I look forward to her visits here.
The morning was spent waiting to see the Commandant du Cercle, talking with the Italian couple I met and finding out more precisely where they live. After the Commandant du Cercle called a Mopti cultural agency, I felt as if we'd accomplished something more towards my placement STARTING, but soon I laughed off the feeling of progress and had a good day.
I ate lots throughout the day with Oumar and Holly, especially watermelon. They left on a Bamako-direct bus around five o'clock. Madina (Madani's visiting sister) and Mama gave Holly earrings and bracelets after teaching her and giving her so much of their classic welcome. Holly was a bit overwhelmed, happy and nostalgic to leave. I learned a lot about her, myself, and living here while she visited. Discovered food, attitudes, a bad guide ("slimy Sooliman"), and some of the white woman in Mali: things she's been living. A great visit. She's neat. Like Jodi, but with her head on her shoulders and her feet on the earth.
I really want to ditch this cold I've had for over a week. Drugtime, oh well.
Generally tired, but my cough is less. Slept in the morning, played my flute a bit, Madina sang "Oh my darling Clementine", which she learned in grade seven. She wants me to learn to play it. I've been thinking recently about the use and consumption of animal products and feeling less than fully justified in my use and purchase. But it's done. I don't want to spend my months here rationalizing the behaviour though. Here is here, but I'm still me. On the appropriation of cultural artifacts: see Herodotus stories on Scyles and Ancharsis. Wearing the racial or ethnic garb is alright, but the use of religious items is not permissible. Mama and Madina both said exactly what I said about the Herodotus passage, and it's significance to "own" versus "other", cultural observances and their appropriation by people outside the race or ethnie.
Slept a lot today, but still made it to Ibou's and carved a "jackal" tooth for somebody. On returning home I find Mama face-down, complaining about her blood-pressure and wanting to go to the dispensary. Paul was there, ready to get the doctor. Then the girl who is to stay with us arrived and Mama took control of advising and welcoming her, and seemed one-hundred percent better. I ate then, galette and tigadégé with bread in my room before bed, since things look OK. I am to instruct and oversee the studies of the girl, Amadou Madani and Moussa, so they'll succeed more effectively. Madani told me of how he met Monique and came to be a to-Canada Crossroader. She had finished her placement in southern Mali and was in Bandiagara to visit the escarpment. Madani met her on her way to the hostel, and offered that she stay with his family instead. When she left a couple of weeks later, they exchanged addresses. Less than half a year later Madani got a letter from her telling him to contact Sambaly in Bamako to start things going for a to-Canada placement. In 1986, Madani went from Bandiagara to Ste-Foy, Quebec. Madani's family is so used to welcoming strangers here, having done so since 1978. I'm welcome to stay ten months or as long as I need to.
Half an hour ago I could hardly stand I was so tired, now I fear I'll be awake thinking for a while. Run to the hole. I see what people mean about the uber roaches at nightime toilet trips. If the moon is covered, I'm definately taking a lamp. Who needs to be attacked by big dung-eating roaches? Make sure the lamp is filled on a regular basis.
I'm wiped. Went to a Dogon village with Kalifa Sagara on his bike. Gorgeous bush-days all over again in the West African Savannah. Tégéré is nestled under an outcrop of escarpment. The panorama going and coming was beautiful. We bounced along through brush, water, mud; got stuck, lost, found our way again. It was exactly what I wish I'd been doing for a month. Kalifa found the village, had no real Guinée worm problem, but no vaccinations either. We ate hard, spicy (Dogon) tô and drank millet cream. On the way we asked directions from a Bell?? family. Their people have been practically everybody's slaves in West Africa at some point. Kalifa says I can tag along again next week if he goes out. Darn, I've done it. Ten-thousand miles to find another Bear. I can't seem to land on my OWN feet, there are always two pairs of shoes (or sandals filled with thorn-tree spines, ouch). I couldn't talk much with the villagers since they spoke Dogon or Bambara, but I had a blast. Especially seeing what no tourist ever sees in the backwaters of the Mopti region Dogon plateau. Kalifa bought a chicken for Mama, and I carried it back. Holding a chicken's legs in one hand and trying to stay on the bike any way I could with the other, bouncing back, fleeing sunset and trying not to lose the "way". There was no road or path, really, just a way suggested by cattle dung and clearings among the low thorn bushes. More tomorrow on Mama's health and lack thereof.
Thursday night Mam went to the dispensary and found her blood level very low, so she took serum yesterday and is better today. I did typical Bandiagara things today; slept, ate, saw Mariam off; all in an almost blazé manner. I spent some time thinking on the non-exchange of this placement and on my earlier entries: how great this was. Really, the extension is for me to stay longer since it's not that different. If I had a village placement, four to six months would probably be enough. I thought critically about Crossroads, NGO's (non-governmental organizations), ethnographers and the idea of being a "tourist with an excuse", or a tourist simply put. Kalifa talked about two-year Peace Corps missions that look like ex-pats 'R' US; an extended vacation in the guise of "aid". But maybe he's right, "If you leave Africa alone, it works". My thoughts are critical of what institution (the big picture) or what self need (the small picture) brings me here.
There's nothing for the second newspaper article, and I have three days for the final draft. If I talk about the non-placement, Crossroads is shown up for sloppiness, or I have to criticize the Inspecteur as does everyone, and that's not good. Or I could ironically understate it and describe my side pursuits in detail, emote about Bandiagara. The quote: "Petit à petit, l'oiseau fait son nid".
Today was spent with Bamako uncles and aunts eating "pastek", watermelon; sweeter and juicier than ever, and tons for all. The eldest spoke excellent English, after studies in France and diplomatic assignment in Saudi Arabia, Emirate Saudi States, Washington DC, USA and even some time in Germany.
The girl, Hawa, is sick, Amadou Madani too, even Téné's sister is not well. They chalk it up to the climate change, or recurring malaria. Moctar Madani is less hot today, but ornery and crying a lot tonight. Téné looked great, all spiffed up for the movie tonight. I chatted with Vania a good while and gave her requested deforestation: an ebony Africa-shaped pendant, with Mali carved into it.
Tomorrow I will write the Gleaner newspaper article. If I can do it, I think it will be an interesting one. I also received ten letters today. Trish, OK; Fralic, OK even great; Folks OK; grandfolks, Nana is suffering, but OK. All is well.