The mouth of the chicken is too small to play the trumpet


Journal observations, 24th November, 1999

Just talked to the Peace Corps about their impact on developing countries. What the rumours say is true – those organisations where you send money to a child of $20-30 a month, only $6 a year gets through. And the money doesn’t necessarily get to the right kids, it goes towards a school or hospital that the child might not attend. A lot of Aid organisations just rock up, build a school or pump and then piss off again – no-one uses the school, or the pump breaks and it’s useless because no-one can use it!

A lot of money given to the government naturally gets embezzled. Emily said she was a bit disenchanted with the ‘development thing’ as she wasn’t sure how much of an impact they had, in that the Malians don’t have the same commitment to their future as more capitalist societies do. This is tough, as the Yanks don’t want to turn the Malians into little Americans, but they do want to get them to commit to something!

Other Peace Corps workers know little about agriculture, and don’t have much to offer to a local farmer. So Emily said that the Peace Corps makes good Americans, and it makes the government look good, but in reality it doesn’t make much of an impression.

It is a great shame that Q couldn’t make it, as I feel completely on the outside here. So although it is lovely, I feel a bit uncomfortable, like an outsider. It is as though I’ve been struck dumb. Is this what New Year is going to be like? And I still feel sick. I am very much in two minds about everything, and New Year is sounding like a very bad idea at the minute. Somehow I don’t feel as though I’m on my own holiday any more.

27th – 28th November 1999

The 26th improved a lot after I went bike riding. Was excellent to do some exercise again, but v. tiring. Dam was wonderful – warm and calm, very deep. When I came back, I felt more welcomed and at home for some reason. Next day, up at 5:00 to catch the bache in the freezing cold and very fast trip to Mahina. Then another 9 hour trip on the train back to Bamako, and I started to feel a lot better.

The next day, I went to the artisinal to pick up Molly’s sandals with Cheryl. We ate attieke (mashed cassava, or koo) and fish and chili with our hands. I tried logo (plantain), which is a kind of deep fried banana/potato with salt. I also tried the yoghurt with millet and sugar. We saw some riot police clearing vendors off the footpaths with tear gas and burning crates!

Next day I went with another girl Kathy to her work in one of Bamako’s outer suburbs, and spoke with the headmaster at one of the schools. Kathy said the problem was “insha’allah”, in that people in Mali were not wholly committed to something. If it happens it happens, if it don’t it don’t. Also if it doesn’t involve money then they’re not interested. Today I am writing again from Q’s living room in Ouelessebougou, listening to opera, with the occasional mooing of cows and bleating of goats. It is very peaceful and lovely here, and I’m about to go have my first bucket shower.

29th November – 2nd December, 1999
From Q’s book of Bambara proverbs:

YIRI KURUN MEN O MEN JI LA A TE KE BABA YE
No matter how long a tree trunk stays in the water, it will never become a crocodile.

BASA BE MIN SHE FE
The lizard drinks with the chicken (you can benefit from opportunity)

BORO LAKOLON TE JO
An empty sack cannot stand

DON O DON NA KELEN MAN DI
The same sauce every day isn’t good (need for variety)

GABUKU KA KORO NI MISIRI YE
The kitchen is older than the mosque

NI MIM AMI KO DUNUYA BE WULI SININ, A TE FO A N’A KA GOLO KO
If the priest says that tomorrow is the end of the world, he and his praying mat won’t escape

N’I JUINANA JUJON KO I LABANKO B’I KONONA FILI
A group of birds sounds ‘buuu’ when flying (be modest and remember where you come from)

NI DUGU DUNUNBA FABAGA KERA DUGOTIGI YE, O TE BALA MOGOW LA NI YE DUGU DENW NI TAMAN YE
If the Dugutigi is the head drum player, it is no surprise to see all in town playing tomtoms

SHE DA KA DOGON BURU FIYE LA
The mouth of the chicken is too small to play the trumpet (let those who can do something do it)

MAA TE SIGI NI A KE BAGA T’I YE
You can’t sit if you have no-one to do it for you

NI YE DAGAKURU MIN SE I KUN BEREKUN MA ALA B’I DEME K’A SE I KUNE MA
If you lift the water gourd to your knees, God will help your knees, God will help you lift it to your head

DON O DON TULO BE TAA KALANSO
Each day the ears go to school (you learn something new every day)

JI LA SA DE BE KOGO
It’s the water snake that grows

NI I TERI YE MGO YE I YERE KA BO WARAYA LA
If your friend is a good person, you yourself should stop being ferocious

NI JIRIBA BINNA BA DENW BE YELEN A KAN
When big trees fall down, little goats climb on them

BA KU MA A YORO BEE DATUGU SANKO BA WERE
A goat’s own tail can’t cover him let alone someone else (you can’t surpass your means)

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