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Published: April 22nd 2009
Popenguine, home of mussel man
... who, btw, ripped me off on a kilo of mussels and had the gall to berate Nora for mentioning it to him later (of course, in my absence)
Two and a half weeks removed from Senegal, I admit feeling rather disinclined to document our vacation there. Not that it was not a great time. The weather was terrific (about 20 degrees cooler than here), the nearly deserted beaches of Popenguine and Toubab Dialaw were fabulous, and even the pushy vendors of Dakar could not detract from its cosmopolitan flair. But something about returning to noisy, dirty, smoggy Bamako felt good, familiar. Of course, I’m ready for another vacation at this point.
There have been a couple of noteworthy developments since our return. For one, we have found ourselves as the unwitting employers of child laborers. It sounds bad, I know, but it is not what we intended. When we came back from Senegal, Nora’s laundry lady came to use immediately with two electricity bills in hand. She explained that the French people, whose clothes she had cleaned, had left, and with Nora’s absence she did not have the $10 to pay her bill. Nora agreed to give her the money but asked that she provide the additional service of cleaning our house (apparently she had offered this service to Nora on multiple occasions). The next day, however, we
find three girls at our door, all the daughters of the laundry lady, come to clean our house. Once was 13, another 9, and the other probably around 6. Only the older girls did any work, just sweeping and mopping, and their work was not particularly good, but we still felt kind of guilty about the whole arrangement. We console ourselves with the thought that they are only spending 10 minutes a day doing it, and they are probably just getting away from work that is probably no more pleasant. Besides, until I get the photo that I’ve been coveting (Nora standing over the kids with her fists on her hips as they scrub the floor at her feet), there’s no one to really witness our guilt.
The big news in Bamako is that election season is in full swing here. Upon our return from Senegal we found the streets lined with posters for the upcoming commune-level elections. It seems as if every fourth block has their favorite politician, and unfortunately ours is right across the street. It’s not that I do not appreciate all of the posters (I like the MFP posters with the tiger on it) and
t-shirts and paraphernalia-covered campaign vehicles. I’m actually angling to get my hands on one of the aforementioned tiger posters. It’s the ridiculous block parties that the season entails.
Incidentally, our first one occurred the second night we got back from Senegal. Around 4 pm I heard the loud pop and static that could only mean a giant amplifier was being tested out in the street. Sure enough, Nora reported a five-foot tall speaker was sitting directly in front of our house along with about 20 little metal chairs that materialize at every wedding (which is also held out in the road). The dance club hits of West Africa, which soon rattled the glass windowpanes, suggested something less sacred than a wedding though. When Nora went to inquire, she discovered a group of twelve-and-under kids from the neighborhood dancing in front of the speakers. Considering the degree to which parents in our relatively wealthy neighborhood spoil their kids with motorbikes and fancy clothes, she assumed it was a birthday party that occasioned all of the racket, and she had this confirmed by one of the guardians. Fortunately, after 2 hours the music stopped.
However, when the music cranked up
At the top of ____ slave island
... just after we inadvertently caused a boy to get flogged by his father and pissed off a woman for appearing to take her photo while doing no such thing (ugh! give me a Malian any day over a Senegalese person from Dakar!)
again after another hour, we knew that we were in for something else. By that time there were hundreds of people crowding our relatively traffic-free street. Instead of a birthday party, though, it resembled a middle school dance, with everyone gathered in a circle, members of the opposite sex dancing to alternate tunes but not at the same time. Much to our chagrin this went on past midnight. The next day, we learned from someone more conversant in French that that was a campaign party hosted by our dear neighbor.
Since that initial party, we’ve only had to endure one more, although it also was hosted right outside of the door to our compound. We decided to join the party for a brief spell rather than brood inside, but the DJ was playing a four-song rotation which quickly got old.
Just as obnoxious as the block parties, albeit thankfully briefer, are the motorcycle rallies. There’s one particularly noisy dirtbike on our street, which a neighbor gave his 13-year-old son as a present, that I’ve been dreaming of sabotaging over the past month. It’s pretty common to hear the son revving it up and driving it around for less-than-utilitarian
reasons. One evening last week, however, I heard a chorus of similarly loud bikes and wondered what could be going on. I emerged from our compound to find the street once again crowded with revelers, this time as kids rode up in down it on their motorbikes, performing wheelies and other seemingly hazardous maneuvers in the uneven sand that is our roadbed. Is it possible to experience road rage as a pedestrian?...
This has also repeated itself just once, although I fear that in the build-up to the election we’re likely to experience a few more. Every time I go out and about and see or hear other block parties or motorcycle rallies in action I thank the stars for a bullet dodged but know that there will be another.
In addition to that added discomfort, the relentless heat of the day now forces most people inside during the afternoon hours, allowing them only to emerge at sunset. But, boy, do they emerge. Last night I woke up in the middle of the night to what sounded like a bowling alley outside of our house. Given that we are still sleeping on the screened-in porch, we hear everything
our neighbors do. Even now, though, I can only fathom that our next-door neighbors set up a bunch of plastic bottles in their garage in order to roll soccer balls at them. Fortunately, I believe the French neighbors on the other side of us also heard the racket and told them to knock it off. Usually it’s Nora who has to tell people to quit talking loudly in the middle of the night. It’s become nearly a nightly routine. God only knows what they think of us.
As annoying as all of the endless noise can be, though, I can tell that it is something that I will miss about Mali. I need only to think about our old neighborhood in Durham to realize just how empty and quiet it was. I probably see more people in a residential block here in Bamako than I do in 10 blocks in downtown Durham. There’s definitely a certain charm and comfort to always seeing and/or hearing kids at play, griots wailing on the radio, men drinking tea and chatting, women hocking various items, and calls to prayer. It makes me wonder what other annoying aspects I’ll miss… the open sewers, perhaps?
All of this talk about what I will miss may seem premature, but today I just purchased my ticket to the UK (where I’m stopping to see a friend before heading back to the US). I leave on June 14th, which seems unbelievably soon. Truth be told, it will be probably be here before I can fully anticipate it. That said, and humor aside, I do want to make sure that I fully experience the next couple of months here. Given my plans to return to our friend Yaya’s village in a couple of weeks, I hope none of that time will be spent holding my guts and moaning, but one never knows, now do they?
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