The bonneted gents of Mali


Letter from Q, left on the message board of the Bamako stage house, marked ‘Directrice ‘Boo’ Aussie’
24th November 1999

To Dear “Boo”!
Hope Manatali treats you well and had a great ‘mud-fight’ with all the others! Well, I hope someone has SOME GUILT for leaving someone lays on his “death bed”☺ Actually, yesterday was not good. After a night of Insomnia and tons of medication I began to vomit like crazy…
Well, no worry! I’m Okay now. I shall hit South tomorrow to Ouelessebougou and chill for a few weeks. I might come back to Bamako on the 16th or 17th of December…if you’re back any time before…do come and pay me a visit. I promise I shall not scare you like the first time ☺
Well, be safe and have a fantastic time in Dogon country. If you need me you have my number. I promise to ‘rock’ the boat to Timboctou with you and millions of others. Take care, ciao, Q

Journal entry 24th November 1999

Had a great day on my own in Bamako today. Found the Burkina Embassy and ate heaps all day – fruit vendors everywhere. Got a bache into town and found myself at the gare. Spied a rice and sauce shack and taking the plunge, sat down. Excellent woman serving – she was doling out enormous plates of rice with her hands, onto plastic bowls from a big plastic bag full of rice. She was bantering with the crowd around her, who all nodded and smiled at me. So I got a massive plate with a few bitter vegies on it, a big hunk of meat dished out from one of the many simmering buckets of food. Luckily she gave me a spoon, as everyone was eating with their hands. I got up to pay, thinking 500 CFA was enough, and she called me back for change, giving me 250 CFA (55c!). I said ‘oh, c’est moins cher, eh?’ and everyone packed up laughing.

I then wandered around the fetish stalls, looking at skins, tails, dead budgies, horns and something that looked an awful lot like a child’s skull. I declined the offer to buy. Four women then called me over to their wicker baskets to try some rubbery cake which they sold me a huge chunk of, then I visited my mate Friday, the Nigerian guy at the artisinal who made my sandals. I bought two Tuareg necklaces. I then had my peigne made for $1, which took 10 minutes right in front of me, and was quizzed by the tailor’s friends about why I was single.

I felt like going to the Surete to extend my visa, and instead found myself on the outskirts, over the river. Everyone in the bache stared at me, then cracked up when I wished them a ‘Salaam Aleikum’. Speaking of Tuaregs, I saw a group of children begging in the city, who I would have sworn were South American, and was wondering what could have befallen their family to wind up on the streets of Bamako. I was told they were in fact Tuareg – they look very different, light-skinned and different faces.

THE BAMBARA/DIOULA SYSTEM OF COUNTING:
Note: the 5CFA piece used to be the basic unit of currency, so everything is a multiple of five – also many people don’t count over 10. In the market, some women will bung on the word ‘dorome’ which means ‘coin’ or ‘money’. Of course they sometimes use the French words, and unlike what the guidebook says, they often don’t say ‘sayfah’ for CFA, just ‘franc’.

FLAH (2)= 10 CFA Will buy a bunch of spring onion or chives
DU-RU(5) = 25 CFA What you pay for a basic snack eg wee bag of peanuts, small handful of logo (plantain), an orange.
TANG (10) = 50 CFA Gets you a small heap (4 or 5) of tomatoes or other vegies, ginger, limes.
TANG NI DU-RU (75 CFA) = Basic price for a local bache (tro-tro) about Bamako
MU-GANG (100 CFA)

On the train carriage on the way to Manatali (Thanksgiving) I heard interesting stories from the girls about all the horrible bugs in Africa, including some hot pink spider they call ‘Barbie spiders’. The little kids here also eat anything they can get their hands on, including rats, lizards, dung beetles, baby birds, turtles you name it. After the train we piled onto another bache, which didn’t start for another hour. I was incredibly uncomfortable on a rice sack on the floor, holding onto the door that didn’t close properly, leaning against a woman on her bucket, who yelled at me in Malinke. One guy on the bench at the end jumped up, tapped me on the shoulder and climbed out the window and onto the roof, which was SO nice.

There was this guy wandering about in a cut-off hood of a ski jacket done up really tight and sunglasses, which got us talking about crazy African fashions. They all wear the Western clothing we’d donate through Aid organisations. Some clothes spotted on young tough guys trying to look cool:

-one wears a bonnet with lace fringing
-pink parka hood with white fur trim
-pink beret with ‘Janette’ written on it
-T-shirt slogans: BUTTON YOUR FLY, SYDNEY 2000, ‘PARKER’ AUTO SERVICE ASSISTANT MANAGER – BUBBA, PRINCESS DIANA, TITANIC, REAL COWBOYS DON’T PLAY WITH THEIR KNOBS, NOBODY KNOWS I’M A LESBIAN and, my personal favourite, I FUCK ON THE FIRST DATE

I think I’m wasting my life, festering away in Melbourne doing cartoons. My drawings are not so great anyway, so maybe it’s best not to keeping banging my head against a brick wall trying to be the best. There are other things out there!

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2 thoughts on “The bonneted gents of Mali

  1. I just read your Friday question on Ms Fits’ blog – do Ladies really keep coming up and trying to grab your bosoms? How strange!And did you see my Logies photos??

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