Tuesday, January 4, 2011

You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool

After an uneventful two-day trip up the Niger river from Djenné to Mopti, we made final arrangements in Bandiagara for a trek to Dogon country.

Isolated from the world until the mid 20th century, the Dogon people are considered to be one of the best preserved African cultures.  They’ve built picturesque villages of mud houses alongside a cliff face and tours lead you down the escarpment, from village to village, along sandy footpaths and past irrigated onion paddies.  Over three days, we slept on auberge roofs that catered to Westerners (i.e. provided cold beer) and took tours through the various villages.  Each time we would approach a village, children would run out to greet us yelling, “Ça va!  Ça va!” and take hold of our hands.  At first it all seemed pretty innocent and only uncomfortable when one of them hanging on my arm happened not to be wearing any clothes, but then we realized that a few were asking us for a petit cadeau (small gift), a bonbon (candy), a bouteille (water bottle), or a chemise (shirt).  We eventually decided that the cuteness did not outweigh the kid germs plus harassment so we tried to keep our hands otherwise occupied after that (Tia was much better at it than me).

The hike wouldn’t have been hard if it weren’t for the parching heat.  People were spread out over a kilometer between the self-dubbed “hard core” hikers at the front and the others who were just happy to keep up with the donkey cart (or ride it).  I stuck with the impassive guide hoping that if I asked enough questions he might actually start describing some of the surroundings.  Every time he passed anyone in a village he’d say, Po, u say yo (“hi, how are you?” in Dogon), which kicked off a succession of similar greetings, all ending in say yo and often chanted in unison if more than two people were involved, which roughly asked after your father, your mother, your family, your village, and so on. Proud to say that after a few tries I managed to get people to go through two or three rounds with me, while smiling broadly at my ineptitude.

Best accomplishment was buying a cool Dogon shutter that this super nice guy sold to me at a bargain price of 8,500 CFA ($17). He was the only seller who didn’t badger or harass and nodded politely when I said I’d consider buying later (after the crowd of hawkers cleared). Once we closed the deal I said, Vous ette tres juste avec moi et vous ette tres joli, which aside from saying he was very fair with me I also apparently said he was very nice-looking…  Hope he didn’t get the wrong idea giving me that discount.

Sean, the young Brit, got yelled at (and almost chased) by these women for taking a picture of them grinding millet.  Kola nut to the rescue. 

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