11-Segou -Tuareq Shepard_824x768SYNOPSIS:   A day in Segou, a small port town SW of Bamaku. 

Of course there was a guide yesterday, when I reached the hotel after that dreadful journey.  And of course, he knew my name.  He had been called by any of the three guys in Bamako – I am not even trying to figure this out anymore.   It looks like there will always be somebody somewhere, who knows where I am and where I am going…  We had a good short planning session and I will have to brace myself for a few more motorbike excursions in the next few days.

I immediately liked Segou.  It has a compact center with shops, restaurants and handicraft stalls; there was the river Niger and my hotel was smack there.  By 6 AM I was up and by 7 AM strolling along to the port area.  Life at those hours is just beginning.  I really would have thought that people would get up and busy with the sun and then put in a long siesta.   But it isn’t quite like that.  Shops were closed, people gathered on the streets around women who sat  outside  in the wide alleys which allow for animals, motorbikes, and life to happen.   Even the occasional car still gets through.   There are only a few paved arteries in town.  Everything else is rural and within walking distance.

I had a taste of a couple of the deep fried critters the women were making out of huge bowls of prepared dough.  Not bad.  Not distinct either, but filling.  It is a nice way for some women to make some money whereas many others don’t have to bother working for breakfast, but can just go out on the street and have their pick within 500 feet in each direction.

Women and children were washing themselves standing half-naked in the river, while some men were coming with pirogues loaded with sand.  Try that in Iran, or Syria, Lebanon, or Egypt!  There is a curiously lax and distinctly un-Islamic go-easy about bodies here.  Women don’t seem to wear bras – believe me I know, why and wish I could follow suit!   Huge openings on the side of garments allow for airflow but also expose occasionally what’s underneath all the way to the one piece of underwear.  Dresses often fall half-way down the shoulders and obviously nobody cares.   Or perhaps, that is what some Islamists cared about that is why there was and is trouble in Mali.   But just imagine if you would start to enforce the Iranian style chador, or the tight-fitting hijab here – you would kill people!

Two ferries carry people, cargo, animals and vehicles across the Niger which easily is wider than a kilometer here.   It is a mighty river!   A whole herd was pushed onto the big ferry as I was watching and one cow fell into the river.   It did not seem to mind and swam ashore boarding for a second time, this time successfully.

The sun was up but had not fully broken through the haze.  There seems to be a lot of haze here.  In Bamako I attributed it to pollution.  Is that the cause here, too? 

Again, I encountered reluctance to be photographed, but this time I had my fast camera with a big lens and could zoom people in before they were even aware of me.  That is a distinct advantage.   Note one of the shepherds with a green turban (distinctly Tuareg style) who makes a denying hand-gesture when he noticed my camera.   I had long taken the picture…  Routinely I am asked for payment in exchange for taking a picture.   It seems wrong, somehow, but then taking pictures might seem equally wrong to them.  I have to figure this out.

The town has a few signature spots, a mosque (in Mali, non-Muslims are not allowed into the mosques),  a couple of ramshackle independence memorials,  a district with colonial buildings, a small market, the port, the Corniche.   I explored them all in one long  morning.   No wonder that Segou is not on the main tourist track, at least not for those who are in a hurry.  

But Segou has two attractions which are right up my alley:   A famous pottery village which can be reached by an hour boat ride and two of the most important Bogolan workshops of Mali, one of which I visited in the afternoon.  This will get an extra blog entry.   It also has a few typical and unspoiled African villages nearby and a dam going back to colonial times.  And that’s why I have decided to spend at least 3 if not 4 days around here. 

Several young vendors have caught on to the fact that there is an English-speaking tourist in town and I am followed and pestered by them regularly.   I try to be friendly, interested and talkative and take the attention off their merchandise and on to their names, whereabouts, and lives.  I do understand that there has been no business for them in nearly two years.  But I can hardly buy a lot of things now which I have to carry half across Mali. 

An older man in a wheel chair was quite persistent trying to sell me his own poetry copied on paper for a steep price.  I hardly got away from him and as a nearby merchant attempted to come to my rescue, he heard a mouthful of swearing from that man…  If that guy had not been in a wheel chair, another fist fight would have been in the making. 

The perhaps most interesting stop I made today was to the Catholic Mission.   A completely rundown compound is comprised of several school buildings, dorms, offices, a small chapel, and a large mission church.   These guys most likely could have told me interesting stories if only one of them had spoken a lick of English or if I could speak any French.   That is definitely a handicap.  As good as English is half around the world – not in a former French Colony.   By the way, the Malians love the French. French-Mali flags are flown together in many places and when you mention the French their eyes light up.  I am glad to see that the bad colonial times seem to have been put behind both of them.

An ice cold beer on the terrace overlooking the Niger right in front of my hotel rounded up a very hot and exhausting day.  That felt good!

Good night.