Monday, September 6, 2010

Ende.

By early afternoon, we decided to leave Teli and make our way to the village of Ende where we would be spending the night.

As we headed out of the campement, we were accompanied out by a small group of villagers – mainly Tall’s friends. It’s the Malian equivalent of walking you to the front door except here, the front door is the edge of the village and that can be quite a distance away! We eventually got to an intersection of paths that I guess signaled the outer boundary of the village and there, we said goodbye to our Teli hosts.





I took a look around me. I was in the middle of a vast millet field, with the rocks of the Bandiagara Escarpment providing the backdrop. Ahead of me was a dirt path.



We trudged along the path and I should have guessed something was up when I saw a group of people gathered around what looked like a stream. Except it was no ordinary stream – it was flow of water that crossed our path – we would have to cross it in order to continue on our journey.

At first I couldn’t figure out what was going on. As I neared the water’s edge, it started to sink in and all I could do was shake my head in disbelief. The water was far too deep for anyone to walk across so some enterprising villagers had come up with a scheme where they *ferry* you across. You basically throw your arms over the necks and shoulders of two men and they swim across the water with you clinging on to them. The Belgians had left Teli before me so all but one had already crossed the stream by the time we arrived. Tall decided to strip down to his undies to go across while I opted, for obvious reasons, to remain fully clothed. Our backpacks were taken over first. Then, as Tall undressed, I went in. I pretty much giggled the entire time.....this is truly a moment I will not soon forget :-) 

First, it was my turn to cross.


Then, it was Tall’s turn and me giggling uncontrollably as I watched him wade his way across the water. So, so funny!


It didn’t dawn on me until much later that perhaps wading into an African stream, especially after all the fetid pools of water I had seen everywhere, was not such a good idea. Oh well, too late. If there were any parasites or other yucky things living in the water, I just hope they decided I was not a worthy host. On the other hand, it was a refreshing dip – I was ready to battle the heat!

We took a few minutes to gather ourselves and belongings. My water soaked hiking sandals were now too heavy and uncomfortable to walk in so I switched over to my rubber slippers.

We continued on the path which continued to wind its way through fields of millet. Every now and again, Tall and I would take a breather. He to catch a smoke (Yes, he’s a smoker) and me to catch a swig or two of water.

We trudged on and before we knew it, I could see the tops of mudbrick buildings. We had arrived into the village of Ende, our stopping point for the day. According to Tall, Ende is divided into 4 sections – we would be spending the night somewhere between sections 2 and 3....whatever that means.

We entered into the campement and Tall was immediately greeted by another set of friends. My treat? Another iced bottle of Coke.



Tall decided that my *room* for the night would be covered terrace on top of the main building. We made our way up the stairs and made ourselves at home....well as much of a home as one can make in a Dogon village. I laid my wet socks and shoes out to dry.

 

I plopped myself down into a chair, put up my feet and soaked in the atmosphere. I’m still finding it hard to believe that I’m in a remote place like this....in of all places, Mali. Who would have thought that a city girl from Washington DC would end up here? But, here is where I am at the moment and I have to tell you that I am truly enjoying the tranquility of it all. Clean air, beautiful scenery and sights, sounds and smells of rural village life.


























From the terrace, I could see the village streets and the rooftops of the nearby homes. I decided that I would chill out for a few minutes and then head on out for a quick walk through the streets. In the villages, the streets are just basically walkways that separate small family compounds. There are no street signs so you actually have to be careful that you’re walking in a public area and not, inadvertently, into a family’s compound.

As usual, I attracted a gaggle of kids. They all seem so curious that it’s hard to turn away from them. I got a lot of gentle pats on my arms and hands:-)

I walked passed the mosque where men were washing their feet getting ready to go inside for prayer....it was nearing that time in the day for the early evening call to prayer. The mosque is maybe 100 feet (?) from the campement....I’m already dreading being woken up by the call of prayer being blasted over the mosque’s speakers. :-)

Outside one compound was a young man, sitting in a chair, getting his hair cut. A small group of boys sat nearby. I’m guessing that one of them was next and the man with the scissors in hand was the village barber.  They greeted me with shouts of “Ca va?” as I passed them by. I replied “Bien” and waved to them. Dogon villagers are very friendly.

It was a short walk that I took. By the time I arrived back into the campement, Tall was already asking me what I wanted for dinner. I keep forgetting that it is Ramadan here which means that the moment the sun dips over the horizon, the food comes out. There’s not a whole lot of menu options so I told him stewed vegetables and rice would be just fine.

As we waited for dinner to arrive, Tall and I relaxed over drinks. It was a perfect way to unwind from the day.


 At some point, Tall went downstairs and when he came back up, he was followed by two guys carrying a straw mat, a mattress, a pillow and a mosquito net.... the makings of my bed for the night. The guys set everything up on a side terrace that opened up to the sky. I would be sleeping under the stars. Once they set everything up, I convinced Tall to have them put together the same set up for him and so they did.





Back to relaxing and soaking in the atmosphere. By now, I could see smoke wafting up into the air – dinner was under way.


Down in a neighboring courtyard, I could see a girl pounding away on something with the huge Malian mortar and pestle. The rhythmic thumping of the pestle against the mortar is the sound you often here in the villages. They use to do everything from making flour to mashing up veggies for the stews. Everyone takes their turn doing the pounding. No Cuisinarts or blenders here :-)























Our beds made, the next order on the agenda was to eat dinner and that we did. The sun had set over the mountains so we dined by a battery powered lamp which actually seemed to just attract the bugs so we kept it at a distance from us. No need to see the food, we knew what it was - another simple but tasty dinner of stewed veggies and chicken with rice.

As I looked around the village, I could see the intermittent light from flashlights. You only turn on the flashlight when you need to, to conserve battery life.

There is no electricity in this village so once night falls, the flashlights provide the only source of light as it’s too hot to illuminate by fire. Somewhere in the near distance, I could hear the sound of Malian music coming from a battery operated radio. There was no need to rush the meal so we took our time eating, chatting and just enjoying a quiet evening….a throwback to how family meals used to be before distractions like the TV, cellphones and the internet came into being.

Gradually, the sound of one piece of metal clanging against another filled the air. Time to clean up after the meal – pots, pans and dishes being gathered up for washing and putting away.

I asked Tall what people here do for entertainment at night. Seems like such a foreign concept to not be able to plop yourself in front of cable TV or the computer. He said that people chat, the play cards, they listen to radio or they play music.

As far as I can tell, the kids must have night vision lenses built into their eyes cause there were sounds of children at play, in the village streets, in the pitch black darkness of night.

There was definitely a lot of chatter going on but ironically, I rarely heard female voices. I think the women congregate inside the home whereas men hang out outside so all I heard were male voices.

But it wasn’t just humans that made the noise. As with everywhere else in the world, the bugs come out to sing at night. I recognized the sound of the crickets but not much else. I just hope that whatever is out there will penetrate through my mosquito net tonight.

And, above all the din…..was the bleating of a single goat matched by the braying of a single donkey. Ah…., the sounds of the back country at night :)

It was warm night and a moonless one at that. The night sky soon filled with stars. I tried to make out constellations that I know like Orion and the Big Dipper but I see stars so infrequently that my eyes are not well trained to look for the constellations. Someday, I will learn to identify the stars.

It was barely after dinner that Tall declared it a night for him. Two bottles of beer did him in. He had no sooner laid down in his bed and he was back up, declaring it would be impossible for him to sleep outdoors because the air was so humid that the mattress had dampened in just the short time period that it had been laid out. I didn’t believe so I went and laid down on his mattress. He was right. It was damp. But unfortunately, I didn’t relish the thought of sleeping in one of the small campement rooms – windowless mud boxes that are just not very inviting. So, I was determined to figure out a way to deal with the wet mattress.
While Tall hit the sack, I took out my MP3 player, plugged in my headphones, kicked back and enjoyed the night. Before long, I too was tired and ready for bed.

I clamored inside my mosquito net, tucking it in under the mattress as best I could to keep the bugs out. I laid out my silk cocoon and tucked myself inside. I kept my flashlight nearby and laid down to look at the stars through the mesh of the net. What an amazing view!

Goodnight from Ende, Mali!