Q and I dagged around Sikasso for a few days – going to the market etc. On the last day, we waited for about 2 hours for a bache to go and see the local waterfall. Then another 1½ hour trek through beautiful, isolated country and villages full of baobab and mango trees and medieval granaries on stilts. On the way Q befriended a troupe of small boys who showed us the way to the waterfall. Puzzled, they sat and watched me splash around while Q made lunch. To Malians, water is something to drink or wash with, but not something to get excited about! The falls were a big shelf of uneven rock with trees growing along the top and roots growing down to the pools below. A very peaceful walk and uncrowded bache back into town, while Q peppered me with weird questions like ‘do you like sunrise or sunset?’ and ‘do you prefer girls or boys????!’
The next day we parted ways on the bus back to Bamako, and I felt a bit teary and upset. I tried to get a room at the Catholic mission, and was surrounded by the usual guides etc. The head nun is very rude, tells me all the rooms are full and kicks me back into the night – at the group of dodgy guys! Nice religion! Fortunately the blokes were OK and led me to the scabby ‘Chez Fanta’ – where I turned up my nose at the room, but headed down for dinner.
There I met TWO Aussies, and American and a Dutch couple, and the Senegalese family running the hotel. The Aussie woman had been traveling in West Africa for two years, mostly living with local families, and was actually working for the family in their restaurant. She spoke fluent French, Bambara and Wolof. The other man was v. British and had traveled 32 days to Taoudenni to the salt mines in the north, eating nothing but goat, rice and dates. A self-confessed ‘birdie’, he was a conservative, daggy bloke – quite unlike the usual nutbag to do such a journey. So I decided to stay! I shared a very cramped room with the Aussie guy and one crazy Dutch man who couldn’t stop laughing.
The next day I struck out for Segou with some of these people, and when we arrived, attempted a very tragic pirogue trip on the river, with a guide who tried to scam us, but failed miserably. Went for a walk around a very sad looking village and pirogue trip home. Not a fun day!
Then I found Kathy’s house in Segou and lazed around her concession all day, where I am now. To find her place, I got into a taxi with the ever-present Tuareg trader in the front, trying to sell me stuff, and a woman next to me. We drove all the way back to the hotel to drop off the Tuareg, around the block a few times and practically next door for the woman, then finally out to Kathy’s house! Efficiency is not a word in this country – as Kathy explained – you just have to be very Zen. Sit back, relax and hope that what you want will come to you.
Excerpts from a letter to my sister
I thought I’d better write a letter to describe some of the tres amusante folks I have met and been travelling with, as I know your interest is piqued!
Let’s start with the wonderful Q. His accent is a bizarre mix of mostly Vietnamese, English and a good smattering of Americanisms such as ‘Mac Daddy’ – coupled with his personality, this makes for some interesting conversations! When walking around his village he would pause by the lily pond to compose a haiku:
“Autumn pond, makes me sad
Leaves falling down
Or some such, while the word autumn would set up all sorts of word associations in his head which would lead him to tell me all about his family history, which was great. So he’s an eclectic mix of frenetic energy and affection for all living things, but has a weird downside, is scared of baobab trees and refuses to take me to a marabout (to have my fortune told), as they are ‘wrong’!! In the Peace Corps he is everyone’s favourite – all they have to do to make him blush is screech ‘Q!! Will yew be my boyfriend tonight???’
He’s lived in the US for 10 years, but not really acquired any American habits or mannerisms such as gossip, love of trash or meaningless chat (these abound in the stage house). He listens only to classical music and trad jazz, reads only poetry, and his house is Spartan, to say the least. I could rattle on – he’s a complex character. Needless to say, it is a peculiar experience travelling with someone you barely know, then having to get to know them.
Other people I have encountered in various stage houses have been hilarious, and a lot of them have a habit of divulging their innermost fears and desires to me, which I find somewhat unnerving. Only a handful are armed with any knowledge of Australia at all, and they ask the kookiest questions. Here are a few:
“Do you still say BLOCKS and sheilas over there?”
“Do you people like…product over there?” (by this I assumed little things in bottles, soaps etc)
“Do Australians pledge allegiance to the Queen?”
However, I did meet one bloke who was totally up to date on the Republican issue and peppered me with issues about current political issues, most of which I was woefully unaware.
I may have mentioned in my emails that the Mali Peace Corps is almost entirely female, so as a result there is this highly-charged hormonal air of desperation, either girls who’ve had nothing for the past two years, have had nothing but meaningless flings, or know that the above lies ahead! As Kathy said about the PCV men in her droll deadpan, “it is not worth…the money….for the alcohol…. to get drunk enough….to sleep with these people!!” While I was staying with her I got the lowdown – most of the guys were younger, insecure 22-23 year olds who had the incredible phenomenon of women “throwing themselves bodily” at them!
During my four days in her home, we established a routine: I would loll on the couch during the day, while her tiny Dogon guardian would putter about cleaning stuff. In the evenings I would fix dinner (in an attempt to extend my gratitude) and Kathy would flop down after work, and earbash me for hours on topics that could have been arranged under subheadings:
1. What I did before Peace Corps
2. What I will do after the Peace Corps
3. The personal histories of Vivica, Whitney, Jamina and other Americans with peculiar names
4. Why the Segou womens’ artisinal have no business sense
5. Why Mali will never have a space program
And so on…
Like many of the people I have met, she could talk the leg off a chair, and was happy to have someone to speak English with. And I was happy to listen, considering I had reached the 3-month mark of my journey and was pretty tired. I would stick my head out of the front gate “Ack! Africans!” – then scurry inside.
But now I am fully equipped to deal with the kids who pester me for money and gifts, guides who swarm over me the minute I leave my hotel and market women who are shocked I don’t speak Bambara. I make it sound awful, but actually it’s great! X
Journal observations13th December 1999
Good Peace Corps stories:
One volunteer on a bache had a guy next to him die, but the driver insisted upon leaving him there, as he hadn’t reached the place on his ticket yet.
A volunteer used to cross-dress in his village – and have two Malian names – a male one for day, and a female one for night.
In Bamako there is a midget pimp called Tito, a local movie star, who hangs out at their local nightclub. A group of six-foot minders in salmon coloured functionnaire suits carry him around the club.
One volunteer hooked up with a French-Canadian man, moved out of her village into his mansion and drives his car around her town. They have servants, a lawn on their roof and satellite TV, and she still is a volunteer!
One guy wrote a song called something like ‘rabbit farming is easy’ in Bambara, sang it on national TV and is now a local hero.