32-Mopti Sick Day-1 - Hotel Room_510x768SYNOPSIS:  A sick-day in Mopti with loving people to take care of me.  Timbuktu has to wait.

Bhaiṣajyaguru has grounded me and there is no arguing with him:   I got sick overnight.  But I only had to crawl out of my mosquito net and make it the five feet into a clean, tiled bathroom with a flushing Western-style toilet.  What a breeze!  Thanks, Bhaiṣajyaguru, a location, well chosen.  If I have to be sick, I will happily be sick here!

I am running a fever, have a huge headache and most likely am on the way to dehydration, and for sure I am exhausted, from what, I am not sure as I hardly did anything.   I decided that it was time to feel sorry for myself.   It’s that fetal position syndrome when you whimper a bit just because and don’t want to move anymore.   Around noon Degedege came to pick me up to take me to the boat to Timbuktu.  I don’t think so!

He stopped by two more times in the day to order rice for me and to bring me mint, which he had discovered, I liked to use for tea.  That was very kind.  And there was another knock on the door:  The owner of the Doux Reves Hotel, a French woman named Dominique.  She too, came concerned to see if a doctor should be called and I immediately had a very good feeling about her.   I was in good hands here!

I would have loved to just sleep and sleep and sleep, but I had to drink.  So I kept myself in a semi-conscious state of wake and made sure, sip by sip, to drink 1.5 liters by mid-day and 1.5 liters by night.  Most of it went right through, still – sip by sip – serious dehydration is the worst and has landed me in two hospitals before, Egypt and Peru respectively; it has to be avoided!

Am I bringing this on by eating the wrong things?  If it were up to me, I would only eat mangoes and fruits and drink hibiscus and peppermint tea.  But no, the diet here is heavy in carbohydrates, very fatty, salty, meat and fish oriented and tea is drunk in small, very concentrated quantities with loads of sugar.  I brought on the laughter of the staff at two Auberges when I insisted on boiling hibiscus and mint leaves and to drink a whole kettle full of watered-down flavored liquid.  That was not tea Malian style.   But I could hardly bear to drink the warm or hot tasteless water anymore.   I hated every sip of it.  The tea on the other hand, I could put down easily.  And mangoes I could eat three a day!

It is possible, that my mangoes contributed to the sickness today.   But it is much more likely that the week in Dogon country – even though I really did nothing; everything was done for me – did me in.   I just had to stop for a day and rest and Bhaiṣajyaguru got his message across loud and clear.   By evening I still felt sluggish and not much better, but at that point I had a Coke and that did wonders in perking me up.

Dominique and I sat down at night chatting for an hour.   For 20 years she has lived in Mali and for 13 years run this wonderful hotel.  I am the only guest and have been for many weeks.  It’s the same story everywhere!  I love my room here – it’s big!  Not only do I have my large bed, a desk and a sitting corner next to a window, I have another window on the other side of the room and that means cross ventilation!   That is something wonderful.  Again, Bhaiṣajyaguru could not have picked a better place for me.  It’s that manifesting thing.   J

I am optimistic now that I will be as good as new tomorrow and ready for that boat ride to Timbuktu.  Needless to say, I will be without electricity or internet, but who needs it except me?  I hope that the infrastructure in Timbuktu is up to the point of charging at least the computer for blogging.  Images are a different matter and you probably noticed that the images of Dogon country lagged behind the posts.  There was no way around it with the limited electricity and charging times I have.

More from Timbuktu!



The mysteriously missing DAY 30 is no longer missing.  It should be in sequence.


31-Dogon Country Oddities-6 Animist Fox Drawings_840x768SYNOPSIS:  Return to travel hub Mopti.  A few reflections on Dogon culture.  Changing money and the first real “cheat”.

 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:  Some Oddities of Dogon Country.

Just as we had crossed the mountains and came trekking into Sangha around 10 AM, our bush taxi – which we had ordered for 11 AM, also pulled in.   That was timing!  So, I asked:  If I had not gotten a bush taxi, where would I go for public transport?  Degedege pointed to a tree in the middle of a plaza and said:  Right there.  And you can stand there for about 2-3 days before anyone comes.

Ah, I get it now:  That’s why the bush taxi can charge a whopping $1 per kilometer to pick me up.  I had been outraged by this price and still think it’s unreasonable.  When I heard that Bernard, the taxi driver, used to do this trip once or twice per day in the good old days and now he is getting a call perhaps every 6 months for one ride, I softened a bit, still…  I softened even more when I realized the conditions of the road between Sangha and Bandiagara.  We would not even call this a road.   It’s sort of an outline in the terrain.  It’s worse than what I have seen in other parts of the world and I have seen some roads…  I am surprised we still had axles when we arrived in Mopti.  And when I heard that in Mali, a developing, and one of the poorest countries in the world, a liter of gasoline costs $1.50 (that makes a gallon cost $6), I resigned myself to accepting the nearly $100 I had to spend on just about 50 km/35 miles.  But boy, this country adds up!

I also realized when I saw the taxi, that it was the first car I had seen in a whole week!  Indeed, between Djigui bombo where Bernard had dropped us off and Sangha, the road is traveled by donkey or ox, or walked.  A village of 3000-5000 people likely has no car owner and may show a total of 30-40 mopeds mainly driven by important people such as the doctor, hotel owners, businessmen, or show-off teenagers.  But you hardly see any.  Hundreds of donkey carts can be found everywhere, but not even owning an animal is commonplace and it already indicates a certain wealth if you do.  Poor people may rent an animal for certain tasks such as plowing or transport, but most likely will resort to manual labor.  I have seen people work entire fields with nothing but a pickax!   So much is carried on people’s heads, it’s unbelievable.   Already, small children will carry huge loads on their heads and tiny children will be given small bowls or packages not to lag behind and they seem to learn fast.  And I have seen 5 year-old-girls carrying their siblings on their backs just like their mothers would.

Quite a bit of research has been done on this fascinating culture that you can find online or in books.   Some aspects of it are very controversial to us, such as female circumcision.  I was not able to talk to any woman in English to find out more about it.  I doubt that they would have opened up to me, a stranger passing through, in any case.   I met men with three and more  wives and was told that among the animist community as many wives are possible as you can afford. Christians and some Muslims, especially in cities, tend to go with one wife.  By sharia law Muslims by law are restricted to four.  The gender gap is perhaps one of the most notable issue but not just among the Dogons but among all Malian ethnic groups.

I certainly have a new respect for the way of life of people so far away from civilization.   But so little could go so far:   Just a few generators, even better, solar panels could make such a difference.   Schools and wells have improved thanks to international aid but more could be done.  If I look at the medical situation, it is dismal.   I realized a gross oversight:  I have no first-aid kit with me.   If I had had a foot injury like Degedege, I would not have any means of sterilization for miles around!  Once again, I got lucky.

One thing I also fully understood now even though I had heard it many times before:  productivity in Africa can never be what it is in a temperate zone such as Europe or America.  Life is so different here.  Degedege called it “African Time”.   It does not matter what the clock says, the conditions matter:  You get up with the sun and go to bed when it’s dark.   You work during the “reasonable” hours, even though that is obviously subjective and you rest during the hot hours.  You stop what you are doing and seek shelter when it rains or storms and you come out and pick up where you left off when it’s clear.  You plant when certain birds arrive and you work on domestic tasks when the rainy season is over, and so forth.   Fascinating.

In Mopti I had my hands full to get the next load of money and so I went back to the trusted Bank of Africa which is able to exchange even older bills for me, thanks to a blue-ray money checking machine which identifies forged bills – thank goodness!  I am still rather confused about the CFA currency.  It is based on the Euro, so prices, compared to a dollar based country, are steep here.   And as used as I am to adding loads of zeros to my money when I travel, there is something about the CFA conversion that is counter-intuitive.  Long story short, bundles of money are still a real problem and at the bank I was handed just such a bundle.  At first I was inclined to just take the money and assume that it was all correct.  After all, I have not been cheated in Mali yet (at least as far as I know) and this was a bank.   But some inkling made me count.  And wouldn’t you know it:  The teller had omitted a whole big package of 10×10,000; the equivalence of $200, 1/3 of the amount I was exchanging for the next 10 days!  When I pointed that out to him he basically shrugged his shoulders and handed me the rest.  This was no coincidence!  But I let it go.

I found a new hotel, recommended by Degedege – in this economy I certainly like to spread my dollars around in as many places as possible – and I intend to rest the remainder of the day.  It is as hot in Mopti as in Dogon country and Mopti has no electricity until night, if then.  I had not looked into a mirror in 7 days and that was a good thing.  My hair was a bunch of lackluster straw like dusty straggles, my dress a stained piece of rag…  You definitely have to let a few Western standards go.  Life here reduces you to the core.  All else is just meaningless cover.

Tomorrow I will be off to Timbuktu in another boat; this time, two-three days down the Niger River!  I am looking forward to it.

Good night.