Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Day in Dogon, Part Two

As Dramane had promised, there were other things to see in Ende. I'd read that this was one of the more touristy villages, but it really wasn't an issue since there was no hard-sell, this was the off-season, and I was the only tourist in sight.

Ende is a crafts-oriented village, at least as far as what us tourists see. There are carvings, weavings, and bogolan for sale. And me, I didn't have much cash in my pocket. Which is a shame. I'd have bought one of everything. Certainly, there's a commercial element to Dogon villagers offering indigo, bogolan, and carvings, but it's a two-way street, a commercial transaction at a reasonable price, buying locally. Fair trade. I'd buy every bogolan I saw if I didn't have to worry about getting it home.

An English-speaking village guide led me through town, showing me the mud mosque, the carvings, the men using the homemade looms (with their feet!), the women dying the indigo, the drying bogolan textiles. We looked at the cliff dwellings way up high on the cliffs, but did not climb this time. I bought some indigo and just as we left the indigo-dye hut, a troop of purposeful-looking young boys went by, single-file.

"They are going for the circumcision," the guide said, just above a whisper. I believe this is a multi-day male-bonding affair.

We walked past a pedal-operated Singer, sitting among a group outdoors where it looked like it got a lot of use, and approached a low shelter in the center of town. It was open-air, built from thick, forked logs and branches, adorned with carvings of humans, and had a foot-tall, reed roof.

"This is the meeting place," explained the guide.

"So short?"

"Yes, well, this is because it is for people who lose their tempers. When a man loses his temper, he jumps up. But then he hits his head. And this reminds him not to be angry."

A little girl, her head shaved as so many little girl's heads are across middle of Africa, flopped over one of the logs at the moment. She let out a tremendous wail. The guide and another random man went straight to her. She'd got a big lump on her forehead from falling. The guide rubbed it until she calmed down, then sent her off with the other man, presumably to one of her parents.

The guide abandoned child-first-aid and went back to guiding.

"These carvings are symbolic. Each of them means something. For example, if a woman is trying to get pregnant, she will come here and rub the breasts on this fertility sculpture."

So the ways of the past had not been abandoned. Mainstream religions did exist here alongside traditional beliefs.

He explained the other sculptures to me as well, but I'd reached my saturation point.

"Now it is time for your lunch," said the guide. I looked at my phone, though I could tell from the blazing hot sun high in the sky. Indeed it was noon. He took me up some steep stairs to a shaded rooftop terrace, where a Godzilla-sized pile of spaghetti and some chunks of anonymous meat sat waiting for me. I ate what I could of the spaghetti, though the unavoidable crunch of the dust sprinkling was off-putting. I asked Dramane to eat what he could and he did a pretty good job on the rest.

While we ate, one of the villagers rolled out a reed mat and a thin mattress and lay them both on the ground. Uh-oh. Time for my enforced rest.

All Dogon trips involve resting from noon to 3 or 4, when the day is the hottest. I'd been hoping to avoid this. After all, we had a car. We could see the third sight and be back in Sevare in a few hours. The resting was designed for hikers, who needed it after hiking all morning.

But I was left alone on the roof, resting. I did try. I closed my eyes for a bit, but I wasn't sleepy. I took photos and restlessly roamed the roof, looking for action in the corridors of the mud town. But midday is rest-time for all. Not much was happening. I wished I'd brought my Kindle, but it hadn't occurred to me that I might need it.

"This must be where the hikers sleep," I thought. Downstairs there were serviceable toilets and a roofless compartment that must become a shower when a bucket of water is involved. Though it might have had a tap. I didn't go in to check. I did go in to the loo at Teli. There had been a single, pristine, white porcelain toilet sitting alone in a roofless mud room.

"I'm a prisoner on a Dogon roof," I thought goofily. And then paced some more. And drank more water. And read more of my Kindle for iPhone, which I'd downloaded my Rough Guide to West Africa onto.

Eventually, I was able to drop off to sleep for a bit, but not long enough. I was up and restless again by two.

"Maybe we'll leave at two?" I thought.

No such luck.

At 2:30, I couldn't take it anymore. My phone battery was running low and I had thoroughly examined every nook of the rooftop. I went downstairs and woke up Dramane, who was sleeping on a similar mattress. He groggily got up, found and conferred with the guide, and told me we were doing something different.

And we did. The guide, Dramane, and I drove a few kilometers to some unnamed village or sub-village. Kids gathered around, excited. "Bonjour! Bonjour!" This wasn't the usual route, was it?

Dramane was carrying a green shoebox. He'd gotten it from Jutta at the hotel, and it had been in the car all day. We were delivering something. He motioned me to follow.

The three of us walked single-file into some narrow passages. The guide was asking people for directions as we went. We passed a blacksmith and stopped to watch as he hammered metal, his son—with a huge grin—proudly pumping bellows for the fire.

Under a lean-to, where two mean were working with tools, we found the chief. There were some formal introductions. The guide and Dramane were both stiff and polite. I kept my mouth shut. Common sense dictated this—we were obviously addressing the chief before addressing anyone else.

Dramane conferred with the guide, who then spoke in the local language to the chief. He opened the box and removed its contents—some photos, some Stanley tools, files, a chisel, and a knife sharpener, all wrapped in old French newspaper.

The chief and the other man glanced at the Stanley tools, nodded slightly, then put them aside. They flipped through the photos, then issued instructions. We thanked the chief, then took the box and the photos, and returned back the way we'd come.

"Some French tourists sent these," whispered Dramane to me as we left.

We stopped each time we saw a woman working, and offered the photos to see if any were of her. The first time we struck out completely and I felt a little bad for the woman, who was shirtless and had the floppy breasts we're used to seeing in National Geographic.

One woman, who was casually winding wool into yarn, did find herself in the photos. She laughed at them, and the kids around her did too. (We were the Pied Piper in this village, the kids following us everywhere.)

But the kids were far more interested in something unexpected. The old newspapers. They smoothed out the pages and studied them.

We left the photos with the yarn-spinning woman and headed back to the car. This was unfamiliar territory to all of us and the guide and driver seemed relieved to have the mission over. I was too, but I appreciated the nice diversion from the cookie-cutter tour.

At Ende, Dramane went inside with the guide for a minute to settle our bill, and then we drove up, towards the setting sun and out of the escarpment. We passed another tourist just coming in—a professional photographer after the lovely light of the evening. We stopped for a quick hike around a nice set of rocks, and Dramane led me around this himself. He didn't need a guide to find the trail here. And finally, we stopped en route to Sevare. He bought wood for his home, for his wife to cook with. Bundles of firewood are much cheaper in the countryside than in town.

"Cooking this way is not good for the environment," muttered Dramane. "But what can I do?"

I don't know anything about getting natural gas refills in this part of the world, or about solar stoves or anything. So I just tried to make him feel better.

"Humans are bad for the environment."

He laughed, and we drove back to town, picking up my bus ticket on the way.

I hadn't thought I'd make it here yesterday morning in Segou. And I'd worried about the cost and about how the normal way to see Dogon is by trekking. But in the end, given the temperature and the pleasant day, my only regret was that I hadn't known sooner that the 4x4 route into Dogon Country was possible, and that without the naptime, we wouldn't even have needed an entire day.

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