Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Last stop in the Dogon. Begnemato.

The village of Begnemato.

It was about 3pm when we decided to hit the path from Yabatalou to Begnemato. It would be about a 6 km walk to the village of Djinjerou where we would spend just enough time to walk through the market. From there, it would be about a 2 km hike up the escarpment to Begnemato. Basically, we would be ascending from the valley floor to the top of the escarpment.


First it was back to the millet fields. I was feeling slightly more refreshed than earlier in the day. Tall and I chatted to bide the time. Water, cigarette and nature calls helped to break up the time as well.

By now, I had also become a veteran of the *stream across the road* crossing and we encounterd our share of those on this walk. Luckily, most were shallow enough that we could easily traverse them on our own.....no need for villagers to ferry us over.

Today is market day in Djinjerou so all along the way, we either passed or were passed by people headed to or from the market. Girls and women of all ages, perfectly balancing huge baskets or pots on top their heads.....every container brimming over with goods. Some even balanced giant hollowed out calabash gourds filled with either milk or millet beer. Not a drop would fall out.

Groups of young girls would often scamper around us and then briskly walk off into the distance. And as girls will be girls, there was often a lot of giggling.

The young boys seem to be tasked with selling charcoal. At least that's my impression. Individuals and groups would pass us by. Boys, barely teenagers, balancing huge plastic bags worth of charcoal on their heads. They too, would scamper by us. Gotta get the goods to market before the buyers head home.
With each person that passed, Tall would spew out the entire litany of words that is the Dogon greeting. Everyone is very polite and respectful here.

I'm not kidding when I say that we heard the sounds of the market in Djinjerou long before we came upon it. I don't think it's an estimate to say that there were hundreds of people igathered in market which occupied a small wooded opening nestled among the trees in the foothills of the escarpment. The place was absolutely p-a-c-k-e-d!!

Tall suggested we do a once around the market but it was so crowded, I was more focused on moving forward than I was looking around. When we were walking through the market in Samadougou, Tall had instructed me to not take pictures of specific individuals but rather, to just focus on market scenes in general so that's what I did.....just a few quick snapshots.

Though he is Muslim by birth and in his upbringing, Tall is not a practicing Muslim. In fact, he eats pork and he loves the stuff. A few nights ago, we somehow got onto a conversation about eating pork and I guess he got a hankering for it today. Apparently, there is a guy in the Djinjerou market who sells pork and Tall was hoping to buy some for our dinner tonight. But today was not our lucky day. The pork vendor's stall was there but he was not. Oh well.

We continued past the market and out path, which was nothing more than a loose collection of stones laid out in a set direction, started leading up hill. This was the start of our 2km hike up the escarpment. *groan*.

As usual, the natives including Tall as well as every person balancing something atop their head, moved up the stone path with ease.....even in their plastic flip flops. I, the useless one, in her hiking sandals took my time.

Up the path and through the woods we went. At times, I had to step aside to let someone by and in some cases, someone plus a goat or two by. At times, there was the Dogon equivalent of a *traffic jam* when the only way up or down was via a specific rock.....everyone had to wait take their turn stepping up to and down from the rock.














Even though we were in the woods, it was hot and humid. I took every opportunity I could to swig down some water. Poor Tall was worried that I would run out before I got to Begnemato so he started sharing his bottle with me as well. We were about halfway up the escarpment when, In the distance, I could hear the sound of falling water. I asked Tall if we would be passing by the stream and he replied that we would. The thought of cooling down by dousing myself with some cool mountain stream water was just enough incentive to get me to push on.

Before I knew it, we had arrived at the stream. The water was sparkling clean. I put my foot in to guage the temperature. It was perfect. I splashed water all over me. It felt so good!


By now, we were already three quarters of the way to Begnemato and it was just late afternoon so there was no need to hurry on. Tall and I each found rocks to perch ourselves on and dip our feet into the refreshing water. We must have been quite a sight to see for all the villagers passing by on the path :-)

It was the perfect spot to take a breather but soon it was time to hit the *road* again.  As we continued our walk up the escarpment, I was constantly astonished by how the women managed to balance everything but the kitchen sink on top of their heads while maintaining perfect balance.  I could barely walk on flat ground.  So pathetic. :-(


Back up on our feet, we gathered up our stuff and headed back on the path. Passing by a large millet field, we made our way through a mountain pass of sorts. Up the side of the moutain we went. Just as I was about to ask Tall how much further we had to go, he pointed up to a spot on the escarpment plateau and I could see the tops of the mud brick buildings. Begnemato was in eye sight!

Then, the last fifty feet of *path* before reaching the village - about 8 feet of sheer rock face. Everyone in front of me scaled it with ease. I stood there, frozen for a moment as I tried to figure out how to get myself up and over the boulder. With a helping hand from Tall, I managed to tackle the boulder.

The quiet, sleepy Dogon village of Begnemato sits on a remote plateau of the Bandiagara Escarpment so the vistas are awesome here. About 1000 inhabitants live here so it's not a small village by Dogon definition but the houses are spread out enough that if you are staying in one section of the village, like we were, it feels like a small village.

As with every other village we had been to, Tall knew the residents of this one.....at least the key resident....the village chief :-)

We were warmly greeted by the chief and before I knew it, I had an ice cold Coke in my hand which I proceeded to gulp down.

Nothing to do in Dogon villages but to walk around and soak in the atmosphere and so that's what I did. It's a typical village in terms of architecture....same style mud brick buildings and graineries as the others. There's a small school here but I don't think the kids have much opportunity to go to class as they're needed to help out with the family chores. According to Tall, most kids only get about 4 years of schooling - helping the family to survive takes precedence over education. It's sad but a reality of life for the majority of Malian children.

Surprisingly, on my walk, the one thing I didn't see was a mosque *small cheer* which means I'll be able to sleep tonight as long as the goats and donkeys don't shout out in the middle of the night :-)

From the village, there are spectacular views of the Bandiagara escarpement. The rocky outcroppoings of this section that we were in reminded me of Sedona, AZ. I kept thinking that if this landscape were in the US, some person would have built a luxury resort on it and be charging guests big bucks to spend the night. It would have all the modern conveniences that give us spoiled creatures comfort but it would have none of the, for lack of a better description, unadulterated atmosphere that I was experiencing at the moment.

By the time I got back to the village campement, Tall was deeply engrossed in a game of cards with his friends. I watched over his shoulders but I couldn't figure out the game.....looked something like hearts.
There is neither electricity nor running water in Begnemato so no hopes of a hot shower. In fact, skipped the shower all together and just washed my face, hands and feet. Whatever mud and dirt is still on my body after that will have to wait until I can get to running water.

Just before it got dark, Tall had the guys rig up my mosquito net/bed combo for me on the roof top of one of the mud houses. It was fine except that the only way to get to roof was to climb up a notched pole ladder which is challenging for me to do in the day when there is plenty of light and I can see my footing. I had a flashing image of having to suddenly scale down the ladder in the dark of night and injuring myself. So, the wise one in me asked for the bed to be relocated to ground level. Tall had the guys set my bed on the ground right next to his. A thatched roof overhead would provide some bit of shelter should it rain. I felt better about this set up.

Dinner was the same old, same old stew something over rice. I think this time it was chicken. We dined by some sort of fuel lamp until that burned out and then I pulled my flashlight into commission. As we ate dinner, we watched the night sky fill with clouds. Oh no. Rain.

As the dishes were cleared off the table, the post dinner conversation began. Tall joined in. I retreated to a comfortable chair, listened to the chatter in the background and just enjoyed a quiet moment to myself. Soon, tea was being made and the dinner table set up for another game of cards. I watched the events unfold before me.....soaking it all in.

When I next glanced up at the sky, the clouds had all disappeared. The clear night sky was filled with clouds....some sparkling. It was a cool night with a touch of humidity in the air. What a wonderful night to be outside.
Before I knew it, I was starting to fade. I quietly slipped under the mosquito net and inside my silk cocoon. I didn't fall asleep right away but I eventually dozed off only to be rudely awoken in the middle of the night by men shouting angrily at each other. I had no idea what they were saying but the tone and volume of their voices gave me the impression that a fight was going to break out any minute. Tall later told me that the guys were just playing cards and that's the normal way they talk. Yikes!

I was awoken a couple more times by the same shouting but soon the entire village fell quiet. Finally, I get to sleep. It's been an amazing day!