25-Dogon Country Landscapes-2_832x768SYNOPSIS:  Step by step – a walk through Dogon Country Villages. About African life and traditions and adaptations of modern technology to the “bush”.

Note:  The images were processed after I left Dogon Country, therefore I have grouped them thematically now rather than following the day’s events.  Today’s theme:  The Landscape of Dogon Country.

Step by step.  It’s a sandy, shifty road traveled mainly on foot or by donkey cart.  But there are the few motorbikes and the very occasional car, too.   And even a horse or a camel once in a while, both status symbols and indication of the owner’s wealth.

Step by step.  Lucky for us, the wind is coming from the back.  It feels like a gentle push of encouragement, and it blows all the sand passed us.   Those who come the other way have to fight it and this fine sand in your eyes and mouth is nasty.

Step by step.  I am holding up my hands to keep down the swelling.   I can’t make fists any more.  It is only 7 AM, but the heat is already enough for rashes to flare up and my hands and feet to rebel.

Step by step.   It could be so much worse if I actually had to carry my backpack.  Packing “light” when you carry computer and camera gear, is not easy.  And I did pack light, but in this heat nothing is light.

Step by step.  This is actually a good day.  There was a small storm last night again, probably around 2 AM. I saw it. I don’t hear much since I plug my ears, but I saw the lightening and was up immediately.   Already, the wind had picked up and there were rain drops.  “Elisa?”  I heard my name called and two guys appeared out of nowhere with flashlights in their mouth, taking down my mosquito net and bed in no time and moving it under the roof.  I don’t even know who they were as their faces behind the torches were as dark as the night itself.  Within minutes everyone had moved from the open air and silence fell over us all again – it was a very small storm.  Really, a lot of wind, but only a few drops.  We could have probably weathered it and dried out quickly.  But you never know.  The storm brought the wind and that makes today a good day.   I think it’s going to be only 40/105 today.  That is promising.

Sip by sip.  Don’t forget to drink.   1.5 liters by noon.  1.5 liters by evening and more if I remember to drink.   Sip by sip.  Degedege is carrying my water bottle.  I have the camera, he has the bottle.  All else is on the donkey cart which is going to follow us.  I am lucky.

Step by step.   It’s only 8 AM, it’s still cool.  I can do it.  We won’t do any walking between 10:30 AM and 4:30 PM.  You would have to be a native to be able to do this.  I understand now, why the women practically sway when they walk. Nobody walks fast in this country.   Everyone sort of glides or sways along.  You have to lower your pace, at least in this season or you can’t make it through the day.  Step by step.  It’s only 3 km but the sand is slowing us down further.

And there is Teli our first stop.  Wow!

First a few minutes of sitting in the toguna, the meeting place for the elders – there was nobody there – and a few more sips of water.  Then a stroll through the village and then up, to see the famous Dogon cliff dwellings.    Dogons used to live up in cave dwellings with just a few projecting constructed structures.  The cliff overhang protected them from the rain and from the wild animals.   But as the animals receded (or were they hunted to extinction?) the Dogons moved down bit by bit into the valley where their new village is and where agriculture is easier.  These caves and cliff structures were abandoned and are now – along with the entire Dogon Valley under UNESCO protection.  Sometimes, they were also abandoned because people converted.

The whole setting reminded me very much of the cliff dwellings I had seen in the American South, was it in Arizona?  What was the name of that?  I think these were Anastasi cliff dwellings.  If I just had google, I could check…

Stone by stone.  You are climbing up.  There are no paths, there are no marks.  Everybody who comes here (or better came here) comes with a guide.  They know the way.

Stone by stone.   Up is even harder than along the sandy road but it is only a short distance.  You are not permitted to enter the caves, not in this village. Some fine mud plaster sculptural details were visible on some house:  Snakes, horse-men, the turtle, the crocodile.  Each of these creatures feature heavily in Dogon Mythology.

One house, the chief’s dwelling still had beautiful earth-tone abstract decoration painted on the entrance façade to set him apart from the mud-colored houses of the others.   Above the chief’s house, there were big birds nests.   Degedege explained to me that the arrival of these birds signals the coming of the rainy season.  You need no clocks in Africa.  You get up with the sun and you go down with it.   You know by the change of animals passing through (lots of migrating birds) what season is coming and you know the tasks that go with the season.

Pounding millet is one of the big, time-consuming, back-breaking tasks for the women.  During the rainy season they will be too busy to do this.  Two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon is typical for every woman leading a household.   They have their babies on their back, who get rocked back and forth to the thumping of the wooden posts into the wooden barrels.  Girls join the women in all of their tasks from fetching water to cutting wood to pounding millet at a very young age.

For pounding millet, often two women are bent over one barrel alternating in a coordinated rhythm.   I joined a couple of women yesterday and pounded with them for about 20 minutes – speaking of exercise!  They are getting this.  My arms hurt just from this much.   4 hours of it daily?   These women are strong!  Some of them make grunting sounds, others clap their hands together every so often.   Usually, you see whole groups of women gathering for this work in shady areas.   It can be a lonely monotonous job, otherwise.

Step by step on to the next village.  But there was the donkey cart!  I rode it for a while.  It’s not much faster than a human being as it also has to struggle through the sandy road.   But I could let my legs dangle and instead of focusing on my steps could drink:  Sip by sip.   It’s after 10 AM now and really hot.  You have to remember to drink or all is lost.

And so we reached our next stop:  Enne/Ende.  There is nothing new here to see – the cliff dwellings above this valley village are even more inaccessible and wider stretched than in the last one. It is truly impressive!   The village is known for it’s bogolan production and it’s indigo cloths.   But the bogolan was not well done.   It lacked the sophistication of the Segou workshops and the quaint folk nature of the Djenne bogolanfili.   But I got a typical Dogon hat – for when it’s “cold” here. It’s really just two square pieces of indigo stitched together and then worn in some funny triangular fashion, one in particular for the hunters.

Dogons hunt.  Not all the ethnic groups do.  Bozos are strictly fishermen, Bambaras work in agriculture.  We came across one of the great hunter’s houses of the village.   He had not seen a white person in such a long time that he insisted to put on all of his hunting trophies for various photographs and then demanded a hefty payment.   How could I refuse?  It’s been such a long time, such a long time – he repeated over and over to my guide, pointing at me.  He was quite the character and I know I would have had a lot of fun with him could I speak the local language.  He certainly made my guide laugh out loud.

And so went the day.

It was now almost noon and definitely time to retreat.   The former buzzing tourist encampment still has a lovely straw-covered roof top where I spent one hour sleeping, eating and then blogging.    This is the only stop on our 7 day tour which still had a vestige of tourism culture left:  It had a solar powered electric line hooked up to a battery box which had an outlet where I could actually charge both my computer and my camera battery.  I wish this had come on the third day of our trip, but better than nothing!  So the four hours were time to recharge for all of us.   It’s not like the locals don’t use this technology, they do, but they recharge their cell phones, not computers or cameras and that does not require an outlet.

Step by step and sip by sip, we will be walking to the next village around 5 PM where we will spend the night, so that in the early morning hours we will be right there, to explore, before we will be roasted again and move on.

In anticipation of a good night’s sleep under the stars and the still waxing moon of Dogon Valley,

Good night.