Friday, 6 August 2010

Moments in Mali

“Celebrate every gorgeous moment” – Sark

I was sitting in the courtyard of the place where I stayed, going through an article for my research. Tanti, the woman who runs the place, had two friends visiting – one was Jenaba, a woman I had interviewed earlier that day. They turned on the TV and exclaimed something about the Ghana match that was about to begin. Adama and I also brought our chairs closer to watch. Jenaba, who started off the interview claiming she knew nothing about the dam in Djenne knew a whole lot about the world cup. Her and Adama discussed what teams were still playing and they discussed the rules and proceedings of the world cup. Then an older man who had just come back from prayers realized the game was on, exclaimed something, brought a chair closer, put on his big glasses and was completely absorbed in the game. He would yell things in French or Fulani like “Penalté”, The best was when Ghana scored, he did a victory dance, his arms in the air circling around his chair as he was cheering. It was awesome. Too bad Ghana lost…

Day 2 in Djenne: I was interviewing Samba, who works at the residence where I am staying. The residence owner has white pigeons in the courtyard and there was a random bird among the pigeons. So, Samba was asked to take the bird outside. So he grabbed it by its wings and rejoined me for the interview. Meanwhile the bird was fluttering and spazzing. I think I was more concerned and scared with what was happening with the bird, than concerned with the interview.

Getting my hair braided was quite the affair. I’m not sure Nana, my “hairdresser”, had ever done toubab hair—aka non African hair. 10 hours, over 2 days, 3 power outages, and a baby peeing on my lap later, I came out with a head full of braids but it looked more like a colorful helmet. They don’t have black hair ties and Nana insisted on starting each braid with a brightly colored hair tie.
We started the process in what would be called the foyer. It was extremely hot, but sometimes the little kids would join us and occasionally fan us with the straw fans. I had some refreshing, but extremely sugary bisap (hibiscus) juice. After it started getting darker, we moved to the courtyard, the main part of the house. The air was still hot and sticky. I realized in the courtyard just how small the house was and just how big the family was. We ate some millet together and then Nana got back to braiding my thick and super long hair.
After the sun was setting, we moved into their one room of a house. Luckily, they had a fan because the sun setting didn’t cool anything down. Throughout all of this, I was talking to Hawa, Fatoumata, and Baba, three adorable kids that lived there – 2 were Nana’s siblings and one was her niece. The power went out a number of times and Nana used the little flashlight I had with me. I wondered how this would affect how my hair was going to look…
The next morning I went back to finish the braid helmet, where I met her older sister and her new born daughter who peed on me while Nana continued pulling at my hair. It was hot, sticky, painful, and at times chaotic.
But there was something about that family that I loved. Their smiles, their family-ness, hospitality, music…

In the late afternoon/early evenings, I usually took my book or my journal and would sit outside. The little boys and girls often gathered around to talk, ask me to take their pictures, or ask for a cadeau (gift). I brought out nail polish one day and that did the trick. The girls were so thrilled, squealing about the nail polish, blowing each other’s fingernails and equally excited each time someone got her nails painted.

I re-met 4 French tourists I met while leaving Bamako. They were on their way to Dogon Country and I to Djenne. They made their way to Djenne 6 days later with Shapé, their Malian guide. The 2 boys went searching for water and drinks to have with dinner. It had been a while since they left and when Shapé came back, he asked where they were. Véronique replied by saying maybe they’ve ended up in Timbuktu. It’s funny because it’s actually sort of a possibility…

8 kilometers from Djenne is the small village Soala, where the dam is set to be constructed. I went there on the back of Adama’s moto. As we approached the village, I was greeted with dozens of giddy children jumping up and down exclaiming “Toubabay! Toubabay!” wanting to shake my hand. The same but to a lesser extent happens in Djenne all the time.

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