Week One: Jan 8-15

the family, reunions with old friends and colleagues at the Mairie, site visits, new clothes and household routines...

Saturday 8 January
Kida and I left Bamako just before 7am, making a couple of stops before arriving at about 9:30 am in Segou! He moved me and my stuff quickly into my second floor room with a terrace overlooking the household courtyard on the north and west sides, and the street to the east. Fati his wife, Mami eldest at 13, Bouba eldest son 11, Lalou 3 year old and new baby, Sidi, about 5 months. The curtains went up while I unpacked, to fill the two doorways and one window of the room. I have a fan, a sidetable, coffee table and chair inside, a desk and four chairs outside. Oh and a tent for the terrace in case I wanted to work or sleep out there. We go to the Mairie (city hall) for internet access. Fati m'as amene au tailleur pour faire des vetements avec le tissue que j'ai achete au Bamako avec Ami. I ordered two outfits – tunic and pants, tunic and pagne (wrap skirt). Although I'm not actually sure what they will look like. But it's so inexpensive, about $23 for both. Visited Ousmane on a spot facing the river and the statue of Archinard around the corner from his home. We discussed the AUPAP itinerary, which is spread out over several days, consisting of site visits for doucmentaiton and meetings with the committee to review les appels dorfs. Called Phil in the afternoon (his birthday today!! Walker taking him to breakfast tomorrow at Karen's)

Sunday 9 January

I am well situated with The Family Sissoko Madani IS making me work for it! I give English lessons in French, drawing, and now in website construction. Kida and Phil seem to have similar objectives for this sojourn of mine: Kida is committed to acculturating me to the ways of Malian life and its household routines. Phil is determined to acculturate my boys while I'm out of the way to a structured and disciplined lifestyle. Both have started and I think both are making progress!

We went to the Mairie to use the internet but the electricity was out. So to kill time I was asked to assist with a marriage. Marriages are performed on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sunday morning. I sat at a head table with the registrar, Mayor's adjoint and one other man facing the bride and groom and their parents while they were asked if they wanted to marry, if the parents gave consent, if the bride selected polygamy or not (yep. Most do, apparently). They signed the proper forms, said yes to the big question and exchanged rings and a nice kiss. Great cheers and singing from the griot and the men and the whole thing was done in 20 minutes. I was a witness I suppose. It was lovely. 3 more marriages took place but I didn't “help” with those. The electricity came back on, but my computer wouldn't work. 

Evenings are best, in front of the house facing the street, with Fati Sissoko, the neighbors and passers-by, sitting around a fire, drinking tea or a yogurt drink with sugar, talking politics, family stuff and anything else that comes up. It's beautiful. This Thursday, I will have the first meeting regarding the artists workshop for the Festival expo. I get to participate in this and I have a nice room with a terrace to myself (when the lovely Lalu allows it) in which to work, rest and just watch the stars while hunting mosquitoes. Bete (Mme. Diao) popped in for a visit. Lunch and dinner chez Kida et Fati.

Monday 10 January
We visited Les Poupons on our way to the Mairie for a city council public meeting. I photo'd the existing latrines and the site where the additional ones are to be constructed. Mme. Traore is still the director of this municipal school. 9am nous sortons la maison pour le mairie et le lundi matin reunion des conseillers. Announcements, reports, a public comment period followed by four people being recognized with certificates and photos shaking the mayor's hand. A couple hours of internet work – sending e-mails to Nouhoum, the consulat, Aminata and the VFOM working group, downloading photos and setting Kida up with a blogspot. Back to the house for lunch.

Tuesday 11 Jan 2011
A visit to a village in Koutiala, or as I like to call it a "KIDAnapping" - A friend met us at the house and we jumped in the car and drove off. 120 km later we were in a small village started by 2 brothers, friends of Kida's. We spent the entire day there. It was absolute leisure time to me and another of those early days of the trip where I have to get used to sitting around doing nothing, just visiting, taking in the air, the breeze, chatting, ENJOYING JUST BEING ALIVE. Exhausting that is, but I think that aside from the blood pooling in my rear end it was because there was still so much to absorb. The short version is that I saw my first goat skinned, butchered and prepared for lunch (a stew of the meat with boiled dumplings made from rice or millet flour. There's no denying the fresh meat is tastier and more tender. Drank milk freshly milked (I know, not advisable but so delicious) and had papaya slices for dessert. Afterwards, we sat under a large mango tree and talked or napped while being served the traditional Malian tea; a basic tea steeped very strong and then poured from high above into a small glass and then back into pot - back and forth until the tea is frothy. It is served one or two glasses at a time to each person in the vicinity who wants it. In the formal ritual you drink it in three audible sips - the first is strong, the second is bitter and the third is sweet. I liked it best very hot and found it to be a lovely close to the meal - and all meals village or urban are finished with this tea.

As an artist the best part happened in the afternoon and I forgot to photograph any of it. During the morning, I noticed a couple of young men doing their Islamic studies by copying scriptures from the Koran onto a wooden tablet. Once the writings are completed and studied, having thus been made sacred the ink is rinsed from the tablet and collected. Often mixed with other medicinal plant products it is then used for treating various ailments and problems. I asked if they made the ink and they said yes, from the charcoal of burned millet. I said I'd love to learn to make it and they immediately described the recipe and the process. After lunch I was told they were going to show me how it was made: the whole millet grains are stir fried dry until completely burned, water is added and the mixture simmers for a time before the liquid is poured off. A rich brown ink is achieved and if you want it blacker finely ground charcoal is added. They taste it to see if the quality is acceptable and bottle it, re-using old medicine bottles and such. They gave me a bottle of the ink I saw prepared. I used it. I'll be acquiring my own small mortar and pestle to prepare both ink and charcoal for use in the drawings I'll make for the festival exhibition.

On the way back to Segou, as we were racing down the road without street lights to beat sunset into the city with street lights, Kida stopped the car so I could photograph a beautiful baobab tree. There are many. I had to pick just one.