Thursday, April 21, 2011

the long journey home

We decided to save a bit of money in returning to Bamako, and took a bus from Mopti instead of a plane.  The scheduled 8 hour bus ride turned into an 11 hour bus ride, due to stops taken and crowds of people swarming the vehicle selling lemons and meat as we drove through one village or another.

In its prime, the bus must have been extravagant with its nicely cushioned seats and working air conditioning.  But its prime ended long ago, leaving us sitting on well used seats next to sealed windows with dusty drapes.  The only source of air circulation came from the two emergency roof exits which were propped open a few inches.

When our names were called, allowing us on the bus, the front seats near the first emergency roof exit were all occupied - mostly by tourists.  So we moved to the back, namely due to the second emergency roof exit, but also because the back was completely empty.  We thought we were clever in our decision, when in fact, we couldn't be more wrong.

There was a reason the tourists piled in at the front, which stayed clean the entire trip and was never full of commotion. Unfortunately we didn't understand that reason until it was too late.  Instead, we reveled in the fact that we were receiving the true African bus riding experience.

Many empty seats were soon filled after we sat down;  the remaining ones were taken at a stop a few miles into our journey.  There was chaos all around as people piled on the bus with large bags of goods and babies hanging off shoulders.  The heat was stifling and the space was cramped, so emotions were high.  But once settled it was as though a magic switch was flipped- the entire bus, babies and small children included, were absolutely silent.

Maybe it was the heat, it left everyone in a comatose state with only enough energy to sleep, not even to talk.  Reading, if one is literate, was even done in spurts as the heat became overwhelming and made eyelids too heavy to bear.  The only noise during the long hot hours as the bus drove through the countryside was that of a women seated next to us, whom we presume has Tuberculosis, coughing and spitting into a small bucket.

At each stop everyone was rejuvenated, and our fellow back-of-the-bus neighbors would buy the lemons or meat that were sold.  The energy would stay alive for 10 to 15 minutes while the bus carried on and our neighbors ate, dropping lemon peels on the ground, or spitting undesired meat into the aisle-ways.

Absorbing everything as I sat, unable to do much else, I laughed to myself at the rawness of it all. That rawness could be a major contributor of my love of Africa.  I feel a bit of heartache when I leave and a longing to return back soon, even amid or perhaps because of the poverty, filth, humility, simplicity and extreme exertion spent on every day survival.

That said, I only felt relief when leaving the bus once we finally returned to Bamako. I hopped up at the first opportunity and made my way outside to breathe in the nice, cool, exhaust filled air. Five minutes later Bremen joined me.  When he explained his delay, all I could do was laugh and again comment on my love for Africa.  Apparently he didn't find navigating around vomit that a little girl in front of him spewed all over the aisle way as funny as I did though.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

une petite fille et sa chanson

I felt like queen of the land while in Dogon Country.  Bremen carried the backpack containing our things and Moumo insisted on carrying my large water bottle, leaving me free to snap photos at will or do whatever I pleased. It was fantastic and I quickly replaced moments of guilt for sheer exuberance, realizing that chivalry is not dead, despite what I was beginning to believe in Holland.

But I digress.  Because this isn't at all what I wanted to tell you about, even though it was nice to note.  Instead, what I wanted to tell you was a story.  A story about a girl and a song.  A French song to be more specific.

It all started as we stopped at camp for our lunch break during the second day's hike in Dogon Country.  The poor men, having been worn out from carrying all my belongings, found comfortable chairs to rest in and soon fell asleep. Whereas, not having had to carry a single thing besides my camera the entire journey, I was full of energy and set off exploring the area while lunch was being prepared.

After taking a few photos and making my way back towards the camp a little girl, of about 7 years old, came up to me and started singing Frere Jacques.  She assumed I'm French, and since the song is probably the only French she knows, she used it as a form of communication. I, in return, joined in and sang with her.  At that moment her little hand clasped onto mine and we walked towards camp together, singing a French nursery rhyme.

By the time the song ended, three other children gathered around me. We introduced ourselves.
Apta, my singing companion:

Mata, the baby:

Ata, the middle aged girl:

Segu, the boy:

... and me, Awa Sangare.  Our names were repeated over and over.  They were repeated as we walked down the path leading to the camp. They were repeated between games of "Duck, Duck, Goose!" and "Ring Around the Rosie", which I taught them.  And they were repeated between Dogon songs which they sang to me.

Thirty minutes after we parted, as I was finishing up my lunch, we heard a chorus of children chanting my name:  "Awa Sangare!  Awa Sangare!" they chimed.  Children, none of which I knew, were calling me from below, calling me from the neighboring hill, and calling me from a nearby field.  When I looked over the terrace ledge they added "Ca va?" to their serenade and waved their arms around.  It was such a sweet moment.

And it all began with a little girl and her song.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How's your mother, your brother, your...?

The only way to reach Dogon Country is through Mopti, a city nearly two hours away by car.  The road leading to Dogon is like most African roads, paved in some areas and dirt in others.  Besides the occasional pothole which can swallow a semi-truck whole, there are also animal road blocks to watch out for; (animals such as cows, donkeys, dogs -  and pigs, of course). With all the potential hazards, logically one is tempted to use a seat-belt.  However, doing such is not advised, as you're left with a brown stripe across your chest from the dirt covered belt.  So instead, there we sat, Bremen, our guide Moumo and I, without a seat-belt in an old make-shift taxi cab, as our driver drove us to Dogon Country... at a speed of 120mph (193kph).

The Dogon Tribesmen are kind hearted, hard working, and very sociable people.  It is customary to greet friends by asking them how they're doing, how their parents are doing, how their spouse is doing, how their children are doing, how their siblings are doing, how their grandparents are doing, how their goat is doing... oh and not to mention how their third cousin twice removed is doing as well.  The customary response to each question is: "fine".

Along our journey, hiking to and through villages, it was easy to tell that Moumo was quite the popular guy as the end of one greeting would interfere with the beginning of another.  There were also the group chants, which included three or more people seated a distance away and would offer the same greeting to Moumo at the same time.

With so many greetings being given at such rapid succession, it's easy to think I would have had plenty of opportunities to capture at least one of them on video.  Sadly my stealth-like video recording abilities haven't been honed quite yet.  Instead I had to request a staged greeting... because genuine or not, I wanted something to remember it by.

Monday, April 4, 2011

10 reasons why I love Africa

Reason #1:  landscape diversity

Reason #2:  cliff-side Pygmy dwellings

Reason #3:  bucket showers - best while taken under the light of the moon

Reason #4:  simple meals

Reason #5:  sleeping under the stars, in an ideal climate

Reason #6:  the children

Reason #7:  artisan skills

Reason #8:  textile colors

Reason #9:  the self reliance, resourcefulness, and ingenuity of the people

Reason #10: mud huts

... and that was just Dogon Country.