Interesting Point Raised by Celebrity Death
End of March 26 column

Mali Journal

My older daughter, M, is a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali. This week she went to Dogon country:

I tried to find a map that shows where we went, this one kind of does it:

The spellings they go with are Bandiagara, Djiguibambo, and Kani Kombole, and Telly doesn't look like it's on the map (look under Bandiagara for the smaller village names).

We timed our trip so that we could come up taking the Peace Corps shuttle. So we caught the shuttle at 8 am on Friday. There were six of us in the car and it was crowded, but still preferable to public transportation. We stopped for 10 minutes in Segou and 5 in San, but otherwise it was pretty much a straight shot. We didn't get into Sevare until around 5. We took showers, cooked some pasta, and I was pretty much done for the day. The others stayed up and watched a movie. So, basically I saw nothing of Sevare, but I hear there's nothing really to see. The next morning we took the shuttle again at 8 am to Bandiagara. Even though that trip was only a little over an hour, so we had the whole day here, we mainly just stayed at the Peace Corps unofficial stage house, with trips out for breakfast and lunch, and dinner we actually had delivered! And it was pizza! One of the host dad's of another volunteer runs a restaurant near the stage house. Not bad at all. I took several long naps. It is amazing how tiring a full day in a car can be. This got us good and rested for today.

Today our guide picked us up at 8 am, and shockingly, he actually showed up at 8 am, with the car, as promised. We found out the night before we were probably overpaying by approximately $10 a person for this tour, but I think the guy earned it. The first village we went to was Djiguibambo. There was menstruation hut, an animist temple, a couple of mosques, a couple of churches, a lot of low-slung meeting huts, and a lot of kids who followed us around. These kids were harmless though. The kids in Bandiagara are ruthless about asking for money, presents, or candy, and they get in your face. Also, in our one day of barely leaving the house in this city, I saw a pretty brazen show of public drunkenness at 9:30 am, which combined with the over-entitled kids makes me happy my service isn't up here doing tourism, which was my initial hope coming into Mali. Anyway, the village was cute, and the people were thrilled to have us. Our guide passed out kola nuts to the appropriate village chiefs and old people along the way so that no one could complain about us. The second village, Kene Komboli, actually has a Peace Corps volunteer, although we didn't see her during our visit. The highlight here was a camel, and we got our first glimpse of the houses built into the cliffs. The guide said the houses on the cliff used to be more practical when there were still wild animals roaming this area, but now that the animals are gone, the people are happy to live on the valley floor, as it is much easier. The third village was Telly, which was the overall highlight. That's the place where we got to go up into the abandoned cliffside village. We saw the place where they used to sacrifice humans, and some animist paintings and sculpture-esque wall design. It wasn't all that hot today, but it was certainly much nicer in the shade of the cliff, and the guide pointed out that when it rained, the cliff used to protect the village. There's also a layer of even older (1000 year old?) dwellings above the Dogon houses.

Oh, wow, New Mexico cliff villages really do look a lot like Dogon cliff villages. Crazy.

So, there were three spots on the cliff that we were told were sacred. One was forbidden for us to go take a close look at, and they still actively worship there, they change the wall paintings at a huge festival every six years at a festival that lasts a year and moves down the escarpment from village to village. Each village dances and paints for a couple weeks then it moves on down. The two spots we could see though were more miraculous feeling than spooky, because they were both places where water was coming out of the cliff. One was a place where women were supposed to bring their newborns to be baptized, and the other was the spot for sacrifices.

We went to Mopti. I bought a bunch of turban cloth. They had a bunch of different colors so I just went crazy. Some I'll wear, some I'll probably give as gifts when I get back. I also bought a little jewelry. I also got some Dogon hats. My friend J lives in Mopti, so he helped show us around. We also went on a boat ride. It was pretty, but an hour was more than enough. People are super aggressive up here. This is the off season and they didn't get that many tourists during the actual tourist season so they jumped at the sight of white people. Everything we did we were the only ones doing it. We were the only ones at the restaurant. We were the only ones doing a pleasure cruise. We were the only ones buying crafts. It is sad, and a little off putting.