844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Dogon Country - Part I (Mali, West Africa)

March 20th, 2011 (December 2010)– As we returned to our Mopti hotel one evening after dinner a bat defecated on Leslie from the tree above. I chuckled and reflected upon the metaphor-like nature of the incident. Could it be our recently purchased juju at work? Had we meddled with forces we could never hope to understand? Should we have splurged on the deluxe juju package (as opposed to the $6 clueless whitey discount)? Was it too late? What next? An exorcism? Was the bat shit a sign of other shit to come?

I met a French Canadian gentleman from Montreal that appeared to be enjoying his Mali experience immensely. He is a computer tech guy working in Bamako and was taking a break to explore the country. Granted, he had a private vehicle with driver, a pinasse all to himself for his Niger trip, and a set itinerary to facilitate his progress. I am sure being fluent in French did not hurt. Still, I was a bit surprised about how enthusiastic he was. It just goes to show how you cannot take anyone's word for it. You have to see for yourself.

He had an interesting tale to share. Shortly after his arrival in Bamako an unknown gentleman phoned his parents in Canada to inform them that he had been kidnapped. Ransom was demanded. Gulp. It wasn't true but the damage had been done. Imagine if you were his parents. He theorized that someone from work may have gotten hold of their phone number and passed it along to undesirable elements. I guess if he is not jaded why the hell should we be?

Just like Mauritania, Mali has had issues with AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). In fact, the Festival in the Desert (the impetus behind our visit to Mali) was moved from Esskane (50 km or so north of Timbuktu in the desert) to the outskirts of Timbuktu in light of security concerns. Here again, my investigation into the security situation in Mali ran the gamut between 'You'd have to be out of your f***ing mind!' to 'Aint' no thang but a chicken wang!' Super. It did not seem to be deterring many so we decided to go for it…..or did we?

Dogon. By the time we finalized our Dogon excursion we'd spoken with no less than 5, 142, 333 different people about a guided trip into the heart of D land. Everyone told us exactly the same thing. Literally. The homogenous nature the information was a tad unsettling. Our only real requirement was that our guide be from the Dogon area, the rationale being a visit to his home village would enhance our experience. When it was all said and done we chose Gabriel, a guide from a village along our route (Nombori to be precise). His price? 20, 000 CFA ($40 US) per person, per day. The price for a Dogon excursion ranges somewhere between 15, 000 to 25, 000 CFA. 20,000 CFA seemed fair. Our original plan was to hike most of the way through the heart of Dogon in eight days. However, we were a bit hesitant to commit as we were not entirely sure we were up for a trip that long. It had nothing to do with physical fitness. We were actually more concerned with the potential for boredom.

The truth is by this time neither of us was particularly enthused about heading into Dogon. Everything we had read and heard pointed in the direction of tourist trap and we seriously considered bagging the whole thing. Problem was, we had no idea what to do in the meantime. We still had around two weeks until the festival and nary a clue as to how to occupy our time until then. Plus we figured we were there so we might as well check it out. Gabriel was fine with us paying him for four days in advance and then deciding whether or not to push on later.

So on the morning of departure Gabriel and his driver picked us up in the standard issue West African Mercedes and we were off. After a two hour drive we arrived in Kani-Kombole and began walking. On paper Dogon culture is absolutely fascinating. Their cosmology, religious ceremonies, ritual masks, art, and architecture are all extremely intriguing. Unfortunately, most of their culture seems to be hidden away or possibly even discarded. Although the majority of the Dogon people are animists there are significant minorities of Muslims and Christians (everyone appears to get along). I am sure the time of year may be a factor but basically if you want to see a reenactment of a traditional dance you must pay for the privilege and it ain't so cheap. There are many types of artwork for sale but everything seems to be created solely for tourist consumption. I am sure what we were looking for was there but you really need someone to help crack the code so to speak.

And this is where we thought our guide would be vital. But as it turns out Gabrial did not really have much to offer as far as bridging the cultural gap. He was extremely nice and attentive but there simply was not a whole lot of exchange occurring, which was a shame as I really wanted to find out more.

So we set off from Kani-Kombole. We walked for perhaps an hour and a half before stopping in Teli for lunch. Our lunch break lasted for over two hours. During that time we watched local women grind millet, witnessed some young boys assist one donkey hump another with a hearty shove or two (donkey foreplay and the ensuing sex is mesmerizing), and took a short tour through a traditional Dogon village. Once upon a time when the Dogon people needed protection from animals and intruders their villages were erected as close to the sandstone cliffs forming the Bandiagara Escarpment as they would go. When the danger subsided people moved farther down the valley. Even though the elevated villages are maintained for tourists they are still quite interesting to wander through and explore.

After lunch we pressed on for another hour or so before stopping in the village of Ende for the evening. Not exactly a strenuous undertaking but apparently arduous enough for the majority of Gabriel's clients. We ordered chicken for dinner. A victim was chosen and summarily executed. That's what I call fresh. During the dry season you have the option to sleep rooftop style which we both found rather pleasant. No bright lights to obscure your view of the night sky.

The following morning we arose, ate breakfast, and set off. About 10:30 we arrived at our lunch destination. Luckily, Gabriel was amenable to moving on as neither of us was tired or had any desire to indulge in a three hour lunch break. We arrived at the place where we were supposed to sleep around noon. The plan was to eat lunch and continue on. I would not call the normal Dogon walking schedule a death march. Again our break lasted in excess of two hours. Approximately 20 minutes of that was spent eating while the rest was spent sitting on our cabooses and staring blankly into oblivion. The rational for such a long hiatus concerns the midday sun. There is something to this but it was not exactly Death Valley and both us would have preferred moving slowly to not moving at all. Too much bitching? Probably.

Before leaving we did visit local hunter that had a myriad of monkey skulls adorning the outside of his home. I guess in this village he is the bomb. If he was not already married I'm sure he could pull crazy boy band ass. Gabriel also took a moment to describe the composition of the village (Bagrou I believe). It encompasses three sections (or neighborhoods if you will). One Muslim, one Christian, and one animist section. Apparently, the Dogon people have found the recipe for religious harmony.

If going to Dogon do not leave home without your kola nuts. They are prized by the local populace and a respectful token of gratitude for being allowed in the village. They are also pretty much required if you want to take pictures.

To be continued…..

Photo by Leslie

Photo by Leslie

Gabriel (Photo by Leslie)

No comments:

Post a Comment

'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim