*Surprise for my readers! My Mama was in Mali for ten days so she has guest written my most recent blog! Please enjoy reading and viewing Mali through her eyes.*
Has your heart ever swelled with so much pride that it seeped from your tear ducts without warning? Well, I experienced that over the past 10 days in Mali, many times over, I might add.
From seeing Dani standing outside the airport in Bamako with our taxi driver in tow, to bargaining for the best market deal, to jumping off a hot bus to “chat” with our driver having tea and keeping us waiting, to speaking her peace with the school directors, to loving village children and old men, to eating village food and loving it; my heart swelled and seeped many times.
Miriam, aka, Dani, immersed me into the Malian culture as soon as I arrived in Bamako by securing a seat on a bus to Bougouni. The temperature was 114’ F inside the bus and we were off! We absorbed the sounds, sights, smells and laughter of the market day in Bougouni, then off to village and what a welcome! There is no phone or electricity in village, but within moments of our arrival, the house was surrounded by people young and old! They were so excited to meet Miriam’s Mama – I’m sure it just wasn’t just to see another Toubob in the village!
The day of greeting was heartwarming. We started off in our matching Malian outfits to present the school supplies to the school director, parent association representative, board members, Dougoutiki, and teachers. We were all sitting in a room and the director of the school chaired the meeting. When he spoke, he did so to one member who then shared the information with the next person and so on until the Dougoutiki had the information. His comments to Dani and I were so sincere and grateful. They praised her parents for giving her a good heart and mind so that she will be favored in God’s eyes for all she is doing. Even though she has worked hard and done a lot already, they want her for another year!
The rest of that day was spent roaming the village greeting people and giving gifts from America. There isn’t a person in the village that doesn’t know Dani and always smiles and greets her. You can tell in their comments that she is respected and loved there. So much that by the end of the second day of greeting, she was 8 chickens and 1 guinea richer! People brought her these as their way of showing their gratitude and respect. The village is so rich in that they have their faith, family and food. They have no idea what they don’t have that it simply doesn’t matter. They are rich beyond words.
Friday was my day to really become Malian as it was Toe making day and I had the honor of cooking and stirring much to everyone’s laughter! Then we had henna put on our feet to get ready for the big celebration on Saturday night. The goat was sacrificed in our honor and drummers and dancers were brought in to help us celebrate. The show was spectacular with the dancers in costumes – masks and noise makers! Dani and I were the guests of honor and I literally was “crowned” by one of the dancers! Of course, we were coerced into dancing but somehow our feet just couldn’t keep up the beat! We partied ourselves out shortly after midnight but the village gang still went on strong – kids and adults alike!
Sunday was our day to chill and rest which was a good thing because I awoke to what I thought was a thunderstorm only to find out it was my stomach – yeah, you know the drill! Three days in village consuming cultural cuisine was just a bit too much for my digestive system!
On the mend by Monday morning which was a good thing because we were off to the school to hand out the supplies to the students. Now US students, take heed…this was this last day of winter break and very early in the morning, the school bell rang and over 350 of the 370 students came to school! We visited every classroom and handed out the supplies. We were able to give each student a new pencil and either a crayon or colored pencil. Groups of students received sharpeners, markers, erasers and much more. The bags we made for them to carry their books and supplies were a huge hit. They clapped for us, sang for us and each thanked us.
Then it was off to prepare for our trip to Segou! We secured a bus in Bamako at 11 which was to leave at noon…….at 4:00 we were finally on the bus and moving! But wait, the first police post, just outside of town had a market and our driver stopped, had his shoes shined, shared tea and chatted with friends for over an hour. Dani finally had enough because we still had a four hour ride so off the bus she marches, right up to the driver and tells him her mother is waiting on the hot bus and we needed to get moving! He laughed, telling her to calm her mind, bring her mother out to have tea and chat with them! Finally we were on the road again and arrived in Segou about 7 hours after we left Bamako. But of course, our night was not over yet! We arrived at the Catholic Mission only to find out, after our taxi left that we had no reservation! So Dani once again argues her case, gets us a room and vows to tell Baba about the experience with the catholic nun!
Our day in Segou was incredibly awesome, but of course not without incident!! We took a stroll along the river, watching mothers wash their dishes, clothes or babies, and tend their gardens. We had an African version of a Primanti Brothers sandwich with meat, fries, and plantains all on a fresh roll.
We visited a Bogolon shop and learned the craft of mud dying, even trying it ourselves. Incredible and so pretty! We shopped the artisan shops and had an awesome fish lunch at “The Shack”.
We met some really nice Tuarug guys from Timbuktu and one was actually wearing a Steelers shirt! I grabbed my Terrible Towel and had my picture taken with him. We were invited back later to share tea after our sunset boat ride.
Our tour guide met us to start on the boat ride, taking us to two fishing villages across the river. All was going well, until he took us right back to dock long before sunset. Again, Dani’s negotiating skills kick in just as two other men jump into the boat telling us we were with the wrong guide! He lied to us, telling us he was our guide! After pleading our case, we were back on the river for the most beautiful sunset ever!
Tea with our new friends was so much fun! I never understood fully the idea of three cups of tea until this evening. We were sitting with three men dressed fully in head wraps and robes speaking broken English and having the best time. It truly was the traditional three cups of tea. We drank tea, laughed, listened to stories about living in the desert, raising camels all the while listening to authentic music. Now that I have experienced the entire three cup process….”Strong like dirt, Sweet like life, Sugar like love” it make total sense! There is so much in life that can be relevant to this thinking.
The bus ride back to Bamako wasn’t nearly as eventful or as long! We spent our last night together talking about the week, looking at pictures, laughing, and just enjoying our time together. On Friday, our last day, we went to the Artisan market to finish our gift buying. Sekouba met us and was our person with bargaining power! He was able to secure us some good deals, although I think Dani could have done as well! A perfect way to wind down the visit – market then a good dinner and just relaxing before heading to the airport.
Now as I sit in my 12th hour of flying, I can tell you my heart is proud….I wouldn’t have missed this trip for the world. I realize first hand that my baby girl is strong like dirt, sweet like life, and sugar like love and she is spreading that in a village that desperately needs her and knows it. Thanks for the wonderful time Dani – you make me proud! Strong – sweet – sugar!