29-Dogon Country Cliff Dwellings-6_1024x680SYNOPSIS:   Treading water in Tirelli.  About the weather and the rainy season.   About politics and elections, economy and cell phones.  About climbing the cliff  above Tirelli, and about photographing a pottery fire.   About moving on to our final stop in 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 Cliff Dwellings of Dogon Country.

Last night a lot of clouds formed and some wind came up and everyone hoped for rain.   More and more did I hear that people when seeing me not only mentioned that the white people had gone missing, but they were also lamenting the failure of the rainy season to start.

I have to admit that I had not paid much attention to the fact that there was no rain.  When I had planned this trip I realized that this was the opposite of travel season.   It was the hottest time of the year in Mali and it was rainy season.   In my Western naiveté I had pictured rainy season a bit like my days in Paris: I would walk around with an umbrella doing my sightseeing as best as possible.   But that’s not like it is.   It is like I had experienced once in Djenne and then one more time in Mopti: huge winds and sandstorms precede the rain and you’d better seek shelter.  Then it pours and if you are a native and this happens during the day you will probably be dancing in the rain.   And when it’s over – perhaps ½ hour or 2 hours later, things clear up and you deal with the mud, which dries within a day,  and you can enjoy the clean, cool air, which likely heats up and dusts up within less than a day.   That umbrella was nothing but empty weight, but it surely came in handy in Paris.

The rainy season was supposed to be in full swing by now – the end of June.   2-3 rainfalls per weeks, that is.   The farmers would be planting and busy working the fields.   Life would change on many levels.   But except for the few rain showers I had seen, down here in Dogon country, there had not been even one!  People began to worry.   Water is life.  Planting too early or planting too late both ruin the crops.   There has not been a major drought here in many years but the older people remember them well.  Starvation and death follow.  And this country is in a period of strain even without it.   Economically, Mali collapsed with the sudden lack of tourists and internally, it was put on course for disaster with the invasion of the Islamists, who took over more than ½ of the country in 2012.  There will be elections later this year and everyone hopes that the elections will bring stability and the return of peace and tourism.   But from what I hear, there are more than 20 political candidates in a country with hardly any electricity – who even knows who they are or what they stand for?  Who out here even is politically aware or active?    Will these elections perhaps bring more internal strife than anyone can imagine at this point?

Degedege had a very bad night.   His stomach and his foot were bothering him, and Mousa, the owner of our Auberge took him to a doctor who took care of him this morning.   He was not in any shape yet to travel on but he was also not willing to hand me over to another guide quite yet.  We were stuck here in this village, which is famous for its markets.  And since it is market day today – that means in the afternoon and evening – I did not mind to hang around for another day.

One of the Mousa’s kids took me for a hike up the cliff to have a great view of the village.   We could not communicate much, but I truly enjoyed the almost 45 minutes we both spent up there, sitting under a shady overhang of the cliff listening to the sounds of the village: the sheep, the donkeys, the millet pounding and the various bird songs.   Many birds flew below our level and we observed their paths.  It was very peaceful and stunningly beautiful.

Back in the village, the women were gathering the cow dung which had been piled up and were constructing one last firing – an activity only done during dry season.  I went to photograph the event.   Contrary to the pottery village near Segou where the women welcomed my photos and enjoyed my participation in building the fire, here the women were hostile.   I could tell they wanted money for my photos and were yelling at me holding out their open hands.   I turned my dress inside out to show them that there was nothing I could give them and with a big smile in English and then German interspersed with a few French word explained to them that I was a teacher who would take these pictures to students who would learn about Dogon country.  I gestured the many people who would then come to their village to pay them back, much more than I could.  C’est bon!  This is good for you, I repeated.

I have no idea how much of this went over, but I could see the women divide now into those who would let me be, even offering me a seat and later a sip of the millet sauce which is shared in one big calebasse.  But others remained hostile and one even yelled at me pretty close to my face:  Larkash!  Something like that, which I found out later, meant “money”.   I kept smiling and wiggled out through non-communication.   The idea that every photo should be rewarded with money is simply wrong.  I can’t change the level of poverty and the poverty here is heartbreaking.   Just looking at the clothes people wear and the shoes, tells you that there is little to no money to buy anything. The bartering system has taken hold again.  People produce various foods and other products, and trade.   But clothing has to be bought outside the village and that’s where things get tight.

What is astonishing though, is that just about every teenager here has a cell phone.  Mind you, not to make phone calls.  They would not know who to call or why; but to listen to music!   These phones double up as radios.   I don’t fully understand how this works, but apparently you can pay for a card which then sends you the music you request.  Much of what I hear is American rap, but also lots of good Malian blues and popular Malian music of which the locals are very proud.

I spent my mid-day break on my rooftop, covered by a straw roof.  I felt as useless as could be as I was resting from doing nothing while I was surrounded by the sounds of pestles pounding millet.  I don’t think I would survive in this culture for a week doing what every woman here does day in and day out.   I will never again complain about grading, I swear!

We packed up around 4 to move on.   The market should be in full swing by now and I will hopefully get some pictures.   And then we will walk the 6 km to our next village, the last stop before returning to Mopti.  I need it!   My computer battery is running low.  My hair has not been washed in a week, my clothes are full of sand and stains.    I am just such a wimp!

See you tomorrow.


5 comments so far

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  1. LOL…You’re so right, DG, how dare they do that without her!!!!

  2. Elisabeth is going to be mighty put out that Egypt started another revolution without her. What were they thinking?

  3. Um…yeah, you’re the very definition of *not* a wimp. It needed to be stated.

    > ” We could not communicate much, but I truly enjoyed the almost 45 minutes we both spent up there, sitting under a shady overhang of the cliff listening to the sounds of the village: the sheep, the donkeys, the millet pounding and the various bird songs.”

    Another beautifully evocative description. So, so wonderful. Also, the grading comment. lol


  4. Well, I’ll tell you one thing I did in the last couple of days is buy some mangos. Your experience with them made me want one…and they are delicious though I would imagine not near as good as the ones you had.
    I wonder how much news of the outside world gets to you…or if you even have any interest utill you get back. Well just in case here are a couple of items big in the news: Egypt is going “crazy” again…anti and pro Morsi factions are at it in Tahrir Square. Reuters is reporting that the Egyptian army has said it will suspend the constitution, dissolve parliament and force new elections if politicians cannot meet a looming deadline to resolve the country’s political crisis.
    In this country, 19 firefighters, all young guys from the same unit, were killed in a forest fire in Arizona. They were all so young and brave!!!!
    And Snowden, the NSA guy who spilled American secrets and who has been hiding out in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, has asked for asylum from about 19 countries, but many are refusing. Even Putin doesn’t want him in Russia.
    So, the world goes on as you taste life there in Mali…who has had its share of newsmaking recently, and hopefully some kind of resolution is beginning to come.
    I find it so interesting about the women you were trying to take pictures of…how they kind of split…some warming to you and allowing pictures and others remaining hostile. People are people…no matter where they live.
    And when I hear that the young people in Mali have cell phones, it just reinforces my hunch that the device is going to become something we cannot even imagine at this point…maybe our primary connection to life and everything we do. At Krogers the other day, I saw the cashier swipe a woman’s cell phone to get her “Kroger number”…I want that too.
    And the next village is only 3.72823 miles…a piece of cake for you!!
    Take care, Elisa…

  5. U.N. takes over Mali peacekeeping mission, doubts over vote