26-Dogon Country Granaries-8_871x768SYNOPSIS:  About high points and lows, about luck and coincidences.  About mothers and sons.  About another day in the amazingly remote Dogon Country.

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 Granaries of Dogon Country.

My mango grove was made up of five mature trees.  They must have been harvested recently since I did not detect a single fruit, but their thick foliage overlapped in ways that gave me shelter from the sun at least as good as any concrete building or any thatched roof.   I began to wonder when Degedege told me that there would be a mango tree for me to spend the 6 mid-day hours under and we began to walk and walk and walk away from the village, climbing down the cliff.  It was amazing!  When we arrived it turned out that the porter already had taken my backpack to the spot, a bucket with some water, a mat and a mattress!  A home away from the camp which is located on top of the cliff and now sun-bathed in ways that I would not survive very well.

I sat down in disbelief after Degedege had left, listened to the wind, felt the breeze, followed the birds which talked to each other from tree to tree and was in wonderment how a day that had started so badly could turn into paradise just a few hours later.   Last night had indeed started as expected under the stars and the still waxing moon which shone a bright light.  But later the wind blew clouds, the moon disappeared and as if in harmony with the grumbling weather, my stomach began to grumble, too.

Before I knew it, I was dealing with  full-blown diarrhea!  When you live under a mosquito net on a rooftop, have to climb mud-brick stairs and find your way on monochrome mud-brick territory under a gray sky to the edge of the village, even if it’s just 150 feet away to find a tree to squat under, this becomes a “situation”!  The toilet of our encampment is actually just outside the gate, but like the architectural dilettantes in Mopti had put a layer of concrete on their mud-brick structure and so jeopardized its survival, this practice had followers here, too.  In this case, the once small hole of the squatter toilet had started to break away and gotten so big that I would have – at least could have – fallen in!  I had joked over dinner about the newspaper headlines from Dogon country:  “Tourist lost in Toilet!”  But now, this was no joke anymore.

By morning hour I was so drained, dehydrated, and weak that I thought I could not even get up. But I could.  I dragged out some electrolytes which I must have purchased somewhere in Egypt – all writing was in Arabic – and I tried to swallow fluids.  No food.  I negotiated another donkey ride.   The next village is only 3 km away and it was only  6:30 AM,  and I really should have walked this, but if I wanted to make any headway today, every little bit of energy conserved helped.   And somewhere along the way it hit me again…  I will spare you the details, but I have to say that there is only one other incident, 1988 in India when I had contracted dysentery when I had to humiliate myself to this degree whenever, wherever and in front of whomever.   I have had quite a few Western standards to let go.  This was another one.  It can’t get much worse from here.

Today, the donkey could only take us so far.  Our destination was a village on top of the cliffs which required 1.5 km of hiking up a steep cliff.   Can you believe it, I made it!  Step by step and sip by sip took on a new dimension today, but Degedege was hugely supportive.  He carried everything I had taken on – and that was only camera, water bottle and toilet paper on top of his backpack.  He stopped whenever I needed it and even took a couple of pictures for me.  The porters, as light-footed as you can imagine, each carried two big boxes with all of our water and food supplies and my backpack on their heads and like gazelles, they were up the cliff in no time.

Degedege is about my son’s age, and reference to one’s mother has no boundaries in this country.  I wonder if that is related to the fact that children here become part of the mother’s bodies practically from day one.  They are strapped to the mother’s back and rock with their mother at every minute of pounding millet, bend down with her, squat with her, walk with her and are breastfed as long as they want.  No strollers, no cribs, not much pampering.  Children just live their mother’s lives in the most intimate ways and mothers here work harder than I have seen anywhere in the world.  Remarkably enough, you see very little fussing among the babies.  Degedege could have made it no clearer today when he said to me that he would look after me as if I were his mother.   He did.

We arrived at Begnimato, the most remarkable village yet, and it wasn’t even 9 AM.  I pulled myself together and asked to stick to the program: visit the village, climb up another small cliff for a great overview and then start the midday rest by 10 AM.  I am so glad I did, or I would have missed a great show of animist culture!  Even Degedege could not believe that I caught this:  we were sitting at the cliff looking down at the village when to our right, two fully masked and raffia-clothed bush men jumped out from behind a rock, danced a brief dance and then ran on.   This is a ritual done to protect a certain important grape which children like to snack on and steal – at least this is what I gathered from Degedege’s broken English and somewhat limited vocabulary.   Indeed we heard children’s cries and saw large groups of children running from these two bush men.   That was the point:  scare them, so they stay away from this valuable crop.   This was quite something!

Begnimato is like many other Dogon villages, multi-religious.  This plateau village is located at the edge of the cliff and a bit like Old Jerusalem, divided into three quarters:   The Christian quarter, the Animist quarter and the Muslim quarter.   Our camp is in the Christian quarter – that is what we visited this morning.   There are pig stys (an animal forbidden to Muslims), there are small crosses at the entrance doors, there are women wearing clothes featuring Christ and the Madonna – that is Sunday’s best which one woman put on for me.

There is even a small church.  Unfortunately, it was locked and I am not sure I will get a glimpse inside.  People’s names here are Felicia, Bernard, Andrew, Martin, John, Jacob, David, Elisabeth and so on!   Other than that, these people are as Dogon as the rest of it and probably a bit like Degedege said of himself yesterday:  on the outside, they are Christians, but on the inside they are still animists.  At least you see vestiges of animist practices – decorating your doors with protective symbols, etc.   The chief of the village is an animist.

People here cooperate on all the tasks and feel like a community.   One thing is off limits though, and that is marriage between the groups.

What I heard over and over again in this short visit was the cry for the “white people” or tourists.  What has happened to you, one woman lamented.   Where are you?!  She explained that because of the tourists she used to buy oil in the neighboring village, rice in another, chicken in a third to prepare meals at her little restaurant.   No tourists, no purchases; the trickle-down effect is unfathomable.   Degedege brought it to a point:  right now in this broken economy, there is still one person working somewhere, somehow.   But now there are 20 people eating off of that person’s income.   He also pointed out that only the very young and the very old are left in Mali – many of the middle generation have disappeared in search of work in neighboring African countries, which creates a strain on the families left behind without fathers.

I wonder if Mali will be capable to substitute any sort of industry which gives them some income – mangoes, perhaps?  The mangoes I have eaten here except for the very first one in Bamako are beyond belief the best in the world.  They are huge and juicy and filling.   It is perhaps a good omen that I spend my 6 midday hours in a mango grove.   I so hope that this blog will encourage some people to come here!  Tourism was this country’s life blood.

I have to stop as my battery will only get me so far – it’s only mid-day.   I will snooze for a bit more and then visit the rest of the village and hopefully have a look at a good sunset.   It is windy – never a good condition for the sky around here as the dust gets kicked up so high.

A roof-top in the encampment will be my home tonight.  I hope to recover soon.  Tomorrow we have 15 km ahead of us and no more donkey cart.   I cannot quite picture this yet, but things have a way of working out, somehow, always.

Good night.


6 comments so far

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  1. Elaine – there is indeed something that feels like the universal divine spirit – very often, when I travel and connect with strangers. In so many ways, we are all part of it. ET

  2. When you said that Degedege looked after you as if you were his own mother made me think of my own Mahmoud. I cried when I read how he carried your things and that it gave you the strength to go on and keep to your schedule. It is astounding how when life gets down to the raw minimum, that people can rise up and make these connections. As you call it manifesting, but to me it is trusting to the divine spirit in all people to make a connection that is allowing you to do this trip and be with these people…

  3. Toilet paper? Where did you get that out in the bush?
    And where did you get clean water to drink? Or, wasn’t it?
    Lucy and I wish you lots of strength and good luck to make it through this adventure with only happy memories.

  4. Wow…the first thing that came to my mind was to be very, very happy you have electrolyes with you. The second thing that came to mind (and how often have I uttered these words in the last couple of weeks) is Sacré Bleu!!!!!…those nightly trips from roof top to “bathroom tree”…Oy vey…I don’t know whether to do French or Yiddish!!!
    I am so glad you told us about Degedege (I still haven’t figured out how to pronounce that name) and taking care of you as he would his mother. And those Mangos you’re eating contain a lot of nutrients…so you’re in good hands two ways.
    You have given your readers so many things to think about…the first agenda item, though, is for us to send our positive energy to ensure your health and safety for the remainder of your trip.
    Take care, Elisabeth…

  5. Elisabeth, you are doing amazing trekking and reporting. I so appreciate your attention to and description of the women and women’s work. Thank you for this!

  6. You have made sub-Saharan Africia has come alive for me. I am fascinated with each commentary you post about Mali’s culture and day-to-day practices, and the herculean effort it takes to get from point A to point B in this country right now. You have endeared these people to me. And I would not be surprised if your visit becomes a symbol to them that tourism is on the rebound. You are a good omen, a diamond in the desert. Step by step. Sip by sip. Sleep well.