14 - Business Man and ETSYNOPSIS:  The “manifesting” phenomenon at its best today.   A quick stop at the 2nd Bogolan Textile Center and an excursion to the old town of Segou:  Segoukoro, the former capital of the Bambara kingdom.  Searching for a bus to leave turns out harder than expected.

Every morning when I cross the little dirt road between my hotel and the restaurant which is operated by the same Lebanese owner as the hotel, where breakfast is served, I have to get past a few street vendors who have been waiting for just that moment.  A young boy has been trying to sell me cards for the last 4 days, a Tuareg vendor with a necklace.  Each time we are negotiating over the price a little bit and today I had promised to buy something from each.  I know that I am still overpaying, but I am going through the motions in a jovial way and usually just spend a few moments chatting.   Today, there was a new young face:  Aso or Alex (his tourist name) from Timbuktu.  Many people have fled the troubled North and are now among thousands if not tens of thousands of internally displaced persons.  Many have gone to Bamako, but many have come to Segou, one of the safe provincial capitals.

At least one of the teams of people staying in my hotel is here to work for agencies trying to get a handle on this and other war-related problems.  Others are here with UNICEF which I am sure is represented here war or peace.  Aso spoke reasonable English and desperately tried to sell me some not very attractive necklaces. I had to decline.  But I chatted with him for a while.  On foot, he told me, he has made the over 500 km from Timbuktu.   He arrived in Segou three days ago and sleeps outside next to the port area.  He is looking for work.  He had not eaten much in three days.  I do not believe in handing out money on the street.  I left a chunk of money at the Catholic Mission the other day instead.  But I invited him to have breakfast with me.   He lit up.

As we walked through the restaurant onto the hotel terrace overlooking the Niger, a group of three Mali men were sitting at a table with a huge bowl of fried potatoes and meat (if I get this right it was cow stomach… ) and they invited us to join them!   We did.  I canceled my order for the two breakfasts I had just placed and instead both of us ate at the invitation of an obviously rather important and wealthy CEO of a big distribution company from Bamako who had come here for a wedding.  Can you just believe it?  Without my new friend Aso, I would not have been able to communicate with them, but Aso – in between eating as much as he could – translated.   As I had manifested for Aso, he turned out to be essential for me, and both of us benefited from the generosity of yet another human being.  Wow!  That is manifesting for you of the highest order. 

I strolled through a large cemetery in town this morning and was struck by the fact that hardly any grave is marked.  Quite contrary to the cemetery in Paris I just visited, which is an open history book, there is hardly any clue who is buried where.  I wonder if that is deliberate and represents a certain philosophy of death.   I don’t remember this from cemeteries in other Muslim countries.  They always seemed to have been well marked.  But then, Mali is indeed different from a lot of Muslim countries I have visited despite their shared religion.   This morning, for example I heard church bells ringing!  Christians are tolerated in various Muslim countries to varying degrees.  Tolerance in general is decreasing these days, leading to flights of thousands of Christians from Egypt and Syria, for example.   But in general, Christians have to be quiet, so to speak.  The bells this morning were a first!  Christians from Northern Mali also had to flee, according to international news sources, when the Islamists moved in.  I hope that I will find out more about that in Timbuktu.    But down South, they are not only tolerated but accepted, perhaps, even appreciated.

After unsuccessfully looking for an open bank, walking the cemetery, visiting the second Bogolan workshop, doing some laundry and some computing, I ventured out with my camera with two goals:  A few photo opportunities and perhaps some street food.  After an hour of moderately interesting photos and no street food in sight, I began to wonder if I should just return.   I had turned this corner and that and decided that it was time to give up and go home. But the last corner I turned brought me into an unusually busy street with unusually nicely dressed people.  A group of men had gathered and let me take their picture.  And a few yards down from them a group of women hung out.  They allowed me to take pictures, too!  That was exciting.  They did not speak English, but we gestured back and forth and it turned out the whole group was the spillover from a wedding which happened inside one of the houses – I am sure the indoor space was just too limited for all invited guests, and so this group entertained themselves outside.  After a few beautiful photos I thanked them and wanted to leave.  One of the women in charge of this group – she was physically and socially the most dominant one – conjured up some English:   You like rice?  You sit!

She clearly had given an order and I promptly sat down, making all of them laugh.  For the next half hour we gestured a bit about who we were, how many kids we had, how old we were, and where we were from.  This was a Peul wedding!  The Peul are a national minority of Mali and look a bit more Caucasian than other groups around here, and often are also a bit more light-skinned.  Supposedly, they are also skinnier.  But the head matron – Oumou – certainly was not skinny and some of the other women were not light-skinned either.  So, to my untrained eye they did not look distinctly different from what I see around everywhere in Segou – which I know are Bambara, Bozo and Peul people.  It will take more time for me to recognize these differences. 

Big bowls of fried rice were eventually brought out and distributed between each group of 5-6 people.  I could not believe that just at the moment when I had given up on photos and food, both came along! 

In the afternoon, Mulai picked me up with his motorbike and we took off to see Segoukoro, the original capital of the Bambara Kingdom.  The original king, Biton Coulibarly, who ruled from 1712 to 1755 is buried here.  One can visit his tomb and after paying the tax to the chief who claims direct lineage to Biton, and visit the village.  There are three mosques in this village, which is probably twice as large as the other villages I have seen so far.  One mosque goes back to the original founder Biton.  He was an animist, but he built it for his Islamic mother.  To this day this mosque is reserved for women only and to this day this village (and his chief) are animists.   The other one is tiny and sits very picturesque on a raised platform alongside the Niger.   Nobody knows who built it.  The king is not credited with it since he was an animist.  I guess it is considered somewhat of a miracle.  The third one is new and was most likely built just because the other two were not enough for the growing number of Muslims.   It is not far from a Madrassa, a Koranic School which looked like an abandoned, dusty building to me.  But animal skins on the floor, and a niche in the wall with shiny wooden boards indicated ongoing school activities:  The skins are used to sit, the wooden boards will be erased every day and filled again with Koranic verses to practice.  I would have given a lot to have one of those as a souvenir!

The tomb is adjacent to an impressive neo-traditional building featuring Dogon architecture such as carved doors, figurative door latches, central pillars, and traditional Shea-butter lamps.  All is empty and neglected.  What was meant to become a showcase of indigenous history and handicrafts had to be abandoned in face of the unrest in the country and the lack of visitors.  But there is great potential!

Even though I had paid my tax, people were not happy with me walking around to take pictures.  Did I mention that I bought a kg of the “old currency”, the Kola Nut?  I now hand out the occasional couple of nuts to people if they are allowing me to capture their life.  A cake-baking woman, for example, demonstrated her very exotic oven to me.

Tomorrow, I will leave.  I like this place, but now I have seen what I can and want to move on to Djenné, a UNESCO town and surely one of the highlights of this trip.  But finding a bus that promises any likelihood of arriving and taking me was harder than anticipated.

Mulai had to drive me around to three different bus terminals run by three different companies spread out over town.   Most of them now (that is after the trouble broke out) only operate buses to Mopti which come from Bamako.  As I have seen with my own eyes, these buses arrive when they do – to schedule them is almost impossible.  And if they are full (and that means over-crowded), I won’t get on.  Only one bus company operates a bus leaving from Segou at 7 AM.  I guess I will be on it.  And you will be sure to hear about that trip, an expected 8 hour ride…

And if I did not have enough manifesting for one day, there was more!  As I got out my Visa card to pay for my hotel, the clerk told me that they do not take credit cards.  But he was the very one who had answered my question about credit cards positively five days ago!  It turned out that we had not been communicating at all.  I should have known better.  He did not want to take dollars either, but I definitely did not have enough CFAs to pay for the hotel – the bank at which I had tried to exchange money today was closed!  My bus tomorrow left before the bank opened.  Now what?!

There was Robin – life saver and one of the NGO people around here.   As a Canadian she spoke both English and French beautifully and on top of that exchanged over $400 dollars into local currency for me at the going bank rate.   Saved again!

Not only that; at night, Robin and Lies, another Canadian aid worker invited me to join them for dinner at the Nile terrace.   And that is one of the real treats for me:  If I can spend time at the dinner (or breakfast) table with some nice people!

I know I will remember Segou very fondly!

Good night.