28-Dogon Country Work-4_754x768SYNOPSIS:  About “the moment” every trip has, about a perfect night at Noumeri, a shitty morning and an unexpected turn of events at Tirelli.

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 various Jobs done in Dogon Country.

The difference between a donkey cart and an ox-drawn cart is that the donkey does not have a tail long and strong enough to splatter shit all over the place but the ox does.  Today, we exchanged Hassim and his donkey for Ali and his ox.  It was nice to be carted along for about 5km through the sandy fields, but it had its price…

Ali and I arrived at Tirelli before Degedege, who had chosen to walk.  That was unusual.   Neither donkey nor ox are faster than the average walker.  Ali tied the ox to a tree, got some kids – no older than 7 or 8 – to carry our two heavy supply boxes up to the Auberge where we settled in to wait for Degedege.   When he came in limping we knew that things were not as they should be.  Degedege had chosen once again to walk around in his tiny plastic slippers as everyone around here does – he managed the cliff walk yesterday in these shoes; but he does have walking shoes!  And today it happened.  A sharp object, perhaps from a tree, cut through his slippers and punched a sizable hole into the middle of his foot.  Now what?  There is a doctor in the next village and at the moment I am writing this, one of the locals took Degedege on his motorbike to be seen there.  I hope all will work out.

Yesterday evening turned out to be one of those unbelievable times of which I carry usually one single most outstanding memory from almost all of my trips.  Things come together in ways that create a situation which in its simplicity or in its unexpected nature just couldn’t have been predicted.   I know when it’s there, and when it happens, I know exactly why I travel.

5 young boys had picked me up from under the mango tree.  One took the mat, one the blanket, one the water bucket, one my backpack and one was in charge of the crew, leading.  I just had to follow them and I was reminded of some of the adventurous 19th century ladies who had traveled with an entourage of donkeys, carts, servants, and trunks full of clothes exploring exotic and distant lands.  There was something bizarre about it.

This village was one of the “in-between” types.   There are the valley villages and the plateau villages and then there are the ones that settled on the shoulders of the cliff, on all the fallen rocks before the cliff gets steep.  We climbed up to the Auberge which overlooked the valley and the red sand dunes in the distance, and had the cliff with the abandoned early Dogon village and the ancient Tellem cliff structures in the back.   A full moon was rising in an almost clear sky and the night promised to be perfect.   It was simply breathtaking.  After a stroll through the village we had a tasty dinner of goat meat, rice and spicy tomato sauce, cucumbers and hibiscus tea and the world was simply perfect.  But things got even better.

This was the night in which a bride, to be married off the next day, was picked up by her husband’s family.   That night the family of the bride makes loads of food, the villagers are invited to come to eat and then, to the singing and drumming of the people, the bride is walked to the edge of the village and then taken away by her husband’s family members who came along to carry the dowry.  We were invited!

The courtyards of Dogon families are usually quite large, providing space for animals and people, millet pounding, storage granaries, laundry and more.   But when dozens and dozens of people crowd in on very rocky and uneven space and the goats and the chickens are pushed to the edge, things get skin-to-skin tight and a bit crazy.   And of course, there is no electricity.  People came with torches and we all were thankfully aided by the light of the full moon.

Greeting ceremonies are elaborate and dominated the first part of the evening as people poured in to eat.  I just sat and observed the twirling around me, smiled, greeted in  my usual way stringing every French, English and German greeting phrase together something like this:   Bon soir, ça va, how are you, wie geht’s, wie steht’s, mit der Familie, mit der Arbeit, und mit dem Dorf?  That makes for 8 phrases, just enough to match the Dogon sequence.   It also made for a good laugh as we each went through this in our own languages.


And then the three drummers arrived and with a few single drum beats indicated the beginning of the second part: singing.  There was not enough room for dancing.    I recorded the first song even though it was too dark for my camera to make out anything visual.   And when I heard words like “Jesus” and “Halleluja”, I realized that this was a Christian family.   Everyone seemed to know the words and bellowed out the song at full capacity, men and women, children and all.   There was clapping and swaying and singing.  And there was my outside Muslim, inside Animist guide, who with his family joined in the chorus of “Halleluja” in full voice!  And all that unfolded under the full moon of this most spectacular Dogon village!

And there it was: The Moment!  Forget the doctrines, forget the extremists.   As long as there are people who follow nothing but their basic instincts of humanity, this world will be OK!  This ceremony in this little village was a most powerful testimony to this.

I had been given a chair of honor on a high rock to look down on the spectacle.  I wish I had understood some of the words that followed:  The father of the bride gave a speech, then the priest.   And then the community finished with a prayer.  After that, there was a brief silence and then a huge package and a big trunk were handed out of the door of the hut in front of which we had gathered.   To the clapping of the group they were placed on two men’s heads – relatives of the groom, who would take the dowry with them.   And then the bride emerged to the cheers of all.   She and the men with the dowry now led the procession through the village down to the river where the party stopped.   Only those who would attend the wedding would cross the river and part.  Down there was more room and the drummers went into a crescendo which led people to dance and cheer.  Wow!

It was late now, but I would not have missed this for anything.   Aside from the coughing which really gets bad at night, I slept like a baby.   The moon shone all night, the wind never went beyond a breeze, the mosquito net held tight and things were simply perfect beyond imagination.

We had a leisure morning and then took off in the ox cart.  Unfortunately, I never was able to meet Degedege’s 109 year old grandfather.   That would have been special.   He now sleeps most of the time, I was told.   And here I am at my midday break.   It’s a bit early and Degedege’s foot injury is putting a question mark on the next couple of days.  But I hope that the afternoon will bring good enough news.  And if not, we will figure something out.   There is always a way.

Good bye.


6 comments so far

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  1. What a wonderful entry. This is why you travel. This is why anyone should travel: to experience, to see and to learn. And to communicate what they have learned. You are doing it in the best way possible. Would love to know what the dowery was.

  2. Music matters, here an interesting article in the New York Times about the currant situation in Mali:
    “The Day the Music Died in Mali”

  3. Back to Ann Arbor – tomorrow evening Amadou and Mariam, a blind couple from Mali, will present a concert at the Power Center that will be a fusion of Malian blues, rock, pop and traditional West African music. I’ll send the clipping to your home. I’m sure it will not come close to what you are experiencing at the wedding celebration.

    P.S. I love the poetry!

  4. Those are really good ones, DG, and inspired me to write one, too. Who can resist a limerick!!

    She was there when “the moment” arrived,
    She had come through so much and survived.
    All the heat and those oxen,
    The effects of foreign toxin.
    But now she is feeling revived!

    I am so glad that you had that beautiful moment. I imagine those drummers were just fantastic…the pounding of those rhythms must have been beyond earthly. Wow.
    I do hope Degedege’s foot is ok, and I was kind of surprised to hear there was a doctor out there, though indeed you did not say if it were a MD or another type of more local doctor.
    Sounds like your system is repairing itself and you are on the way to more and interesting experiences…just like those 19th century women with their porters etc. etc. LOL
    Take care, Elisabeth…

  5. “Things come together in ways that create a situation which in its simplicity or in its unexpected nature just couldn’t have been predicted. I know when it’s there, and when it happens, I know exactly why I travel.Things come together in ways that create a situation which in its simplicity or in its unexpected nature just couldn’t have been predicted. I know when it’s there, and when it happens, I know exactly why I travel.”

    Yes! And what a spectacular evening and event it must have been. As usual, I feel I’m there just from reading your description – I can see them all, hear the drums and singing, feel the warmth from the torches…

    Hope Degedege’s foot injury isn’t too bad.


  6. Regarding the vagaries of riding behind an ox — as coincidence would have it, I am prepared with a double limerick (contributed to the limerick dictionary online project, oedilf.com) to capture the moment and also to defend this humble, but hard-working and much maligned benefactor of mankind:
    Here’s a paean to glorious dung!
    A great servant of Man, but unsung.
    Feeding plants is its virtue —
    Smells bad but can’t hurt you,
    Unless you get hit when it’s flung.

    Sacred dung grows our crops, feeds the plow,
    And it comes to us — now you’ll know how:
    The back end of a horse
    Is a popular source
    Of this godsend, and sometimes a cow.

    And now we see, sometimes an ox.