1. A formation was held by a traveling Malian dance troupe in my tiny little village. They were attempting to encourage people to heavily treat well water or get their butts together, throw in 100 cfa here and there (+/- $0.30) and purchase a second pump. It began long after nightfall, under a dark blue, white pin tipped sky, heat lightening in the northern distance and a dry, cool breeze coming from the south. The area that they set up was circular, large and well lighted by spotlights - a phenomenon that caught more attention than their elaborate props.
Suddenly, without provocation, a strong backed, jet black, big hair’d woman flung herself out from behind a hanging tarp, hand held drums came about next, her feet burning holes in the dirt, their hands slapping the taught animal hide drums, beat after beat and beat beat. Dust came up from her feet like a smoke signal, her back straight and horizontal to the ground, the hairs on my neck rising with every flail – purposeful and seemingly painful – of her long, strong arms, and then, the drums smacked and she froze.
2. While riding my bike to my market town to see my friend and teammate Liza Clark, I came upon quite a few locals on the road. It was about 9am on a weekday, so the red dirt road was heavily trafficked by kids, three to a fixed gear steal bike, headed to junior high school, by men with axes, shot guns and tobacco headed to the fields and shoddy motorcycles piled high with 80lb sacks of rice, peanuts or millet.
One of those I passed by, greeted and grinned at was my host father, in a fabulous bright pink, oversized boubou with matching pants and 3 cattle at the end of his handmade rope. Later down the road, passed innumerous peanut and millet fields, I came upon a bull-drawn cart, with three women sitting in the back, fully garbed in traditional Muslim conservative dress, a man with a cowboy hat and 1930’s blazer, worn from sun and age and Sahel, with his son sitting next to him, wearing a shirt that read “Arizona RazorBacks 2012 Presidental Nomination”.
Minus the misprinted shirt, you would assume they were on the set of some western film playing on the theme of settlers…
The US Embassy representative that spoke with us before swear in said that, for those of us who would be living in small villages especially, we would be trying to maintain our 21st century, American lifestyle amongst people who haven’t fully escaped the 7th. I now know what he meant.
3. After handful after glorious handful of rice/corn mush with gritty, gooey, goodie leaf sauce and topped off with meat-juice (my host family, you see, cannot afford to eat the meat, but they can afford to swipe the juice in which the meat was cooked… “witamini be” – it has vitamins), I find that, night after night, I recline and watch black faces, white teeth and darkness for eyes are magically lit up, for my personal enjoyment. Dabi, my 2 year old best friend and loved one and youngest host brother, climbs up, lays his back on my belly and together we gaze at the stars. I’ve recently been able to ascertain what it is that he sees – white and black, lifeless, nothing. He sits, coos, snuggles in and we talk about Ryan and Fisher, names he’s finally able to mouth, and he, before dozing off in my arms, our breath in sync and his giant belly gurgling, he says, in Bambara, “good night Sydney, good night Ryan and good night Fisher” and a tear falls and he is out.
We lay there, under what I see to be white, black, blue, red, life, everything and I think to myself, in English “good afternoon Ryan and Fisher and Mama and Daddy and Sky.”
Its times like these, truly traditional, truly foreign, where I realize that I live in a small, traditional West African village. Its times like these where the hairs on my neck stand up and my stomach turns and my smile grows and tears form and fall and are fantastic.
It is times like these, a view into the past, a vision for the future, a swell of complete comfort, home and love and I realize I live in a small, traditional West African village. How wonderful.