Photos: Soka le n di

As my friends in Kankan like to point out, "Soka li di," I'm a villager. Lansine and I are hanging, literally, in some vines up in a tree. As always, he strikes a karate pose. And it's not just him, you see the videos: all the kids here strike karate poses whenever I pull out a camera. Seeing as how it's all they see on TV I can't really blame them, but it is a bit odd.

My stitches. I was worried they were going to heal with a couple holes leading into my hand muscles, but my good old body kept spitting out new bursts of skin until all the holes filled in. This is about as bad a job as you could ever want done, though. Still, it's better than the clothes my village tailor turns out for me.

I've made toh before - though I've never done all the steps at the same time. Nantine (left) was so proud she wanted me to take a photo, but Bourdelaye and Wounmare decided they had to pretend to eat the toh. I just took the picture instead of waiting for the battle to stop.


The first few mango rains showed that yes, my roof still leaked; it didn't magically stop leaking since last rainy season. Well, Madi and I climbed up on the roof to fix it and now my bed is back in its old spot. No leaks! Also, my roof is now capped with an old bike tire; no more twisted vines for me; I'm moving up in the technology world.

As a friend pointed out to me, it's a sad world we live in when 50 Cent is quotable. I told Fanta what her shirt said and she thought it was hilarious. It sort of holds true here, too. Everyone is trying to get rich and eventually we all die.

Lansine, Madi, and I went out to get raffia. I was making a bee hive and they were selling it to the big city folks. This is right after Lansine jumped out of the vines (see above photo).

And after about five seconds, they start giving me karate poses. Naturally.

Lemunun Kouyate

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When Nyari went back to America with my family, I figured life would be much better because I was finally free of a cat on a leash and he would stop getting death threats for stealing chickens, fish, meat, and oil from my neighbors. Well, no. Instead I got a family of mice who started stealing my food and tree seeds. They dug holes all around the base of my hut (and my family since killed two snakes trying to get into one of those holes at night - two different nights) and would make a ruckus every night and keep me awake.
So the solution was to get another cat. My friend Toure got her from his neighbors. Her mom had killed some chickens and was killed in turn. Her siblings are also all dead and she was the last one around: covered in fleas, filthy, and all bones pushing through her emaciated skin when he brought her to me. I washed her in warm water and started forcing as much food on her as she would eat. In return, it's almost as if she's imprinted on me.
She is colored very similarly to Nyari, but she's got more orange, so her name is orange (as in the the fruit) and her last name is that of the griots because she was a constant crier at first and the best way to deal with it was to pretend she was singing.
She is always looking for me to jump on my lap and fall asleep. She wants to rub on my ankles and is far more affectionate than Nyari.
However, she's nowhere near as effective a killer as he. She's a bit faster with spiders, but a lot slower with roaches. And the mice... One night I woke up to the sound of a chase. I was sleeping in my tent because it had started to rain while I was sleeping outside, so I quickly dragged it in and just kept sleeping in it. A mouse was running back and forth across the top of the tent and Lemunun was running back and forth along the side. This went on for over a minute with no progress, so I launched the mouse across the hut with a slap from below. Lemunun took off after it, but it got away. Nonetheless, they have moved out of my hut; so even if she didn't kill them, they're gone.

The family visit

I didn't take too many photos while the family was visiting. Mainly because they were taking a lot of photos. This is one of two pictures, really. I took them up the mountain and we could hardly see anything because of the smoke from all the bush fires. That said, we did see a couple fires go raging over some hills, which was sort of cool.

The real surprise was the morning I saw Amy wearing this shirt. I actually saw the back first, which is a Bagga fertility godess, Nimba. The funny thing is I saw this, the front, when I asked where she'd gotten the shirt: it says "penis" in Maninka.

Apparently the shirt is from a restaurant in Pittsburgh by someone with a rich sense of humor. The fact that she would bring it to the country where I would know what the name means and recognize the godess, though... It was pretty cool.

Mali Part I

The main purpose of our trip was to go hiking in Dogon, so we headed there after Segou and got going right away in spite of worries about how things would fare in Guinea with the president's death and the speculation about where the power would fall.

The first village we stayed in was swimming in baobobs. Then I realized everywhere in Mali is swimming in baobobs - there aren't really that many trees that grow there. We travelled light and yet I still feel I was travelling heavy. Next time I'm only bringing one pair of pants.

Our guide Ibrahima was very entertaining - mainly because he was in a rush to get to his village for Xmas and we weren't the best hikers in the world. He ended up paying a couple other people to carry a bunch of our bags just to make sure we could keep a decent pace up. We even got to ditch the path a few times and light out through the bush to cut time from our trip and make it to the next town by dark.

A traditional meeting place.

Astrid looks back at Adam and Ciara, who were slowing her down.

We slept on the roofs of Malian huts that mostly have flat roofs. It's a good place to crash - it actually gets cold and you can get a good night's sleep.

If termites ever move up to the plateau, their bridges are toast.

I had to climb up higher than the rim to make a call to check on the situation in Guinea. Everyone else just hung out on the lip of the valley.

There were a couple of traditional ladders to go down. Luckily they put up branches in case you fall: you won't fall down to the next level, too. Their ladders are tree trunks with notches cut in them.

Jess goes down the ladder.

And this is the chasm those branches keep you out of.

Adam wasn't happy with our lunch schedule and got hungry early.

It's hot and dusty in Mali. We tried to avoid the midday sun at all costs, but it inevitably caught us out a few times.

I had to invent a sun shade to keep it off, but the fact is it hindered circulation, which more than made up for the added shade.

We were down at the end of most days, but the area was still beautiful. Dogon doors take a ton of work to make, but they're gorgeous.

We made sure our daily portion of millet beer was included in the terms of our travel contract.

Sunrise over the baobobs.

And the day after Xmas, we woke in Ibrahima's village.

The Dogon is full of these piles of something that people dry. I believe it's cow fodder, but I'm not sure.

Mali Part 2

The first stop on our Mali trip was Segou. About an hour's boat ride up the Niger from Segou is a pottery village. It was our first taste of just how touristy Mali is. It was a weird feeling after Guinea, where the most touristy spots are simply occupied by a couple rich Guineans, missionaries, and ex-pats.

The village is known for its pottery, or else its known for letting tourists in to see all levels of the manufacture of their pottery. Bambara is a Manding dialect as is Maninka, so we were able to talk with the people on a level similar to that of French speaking Africans communicating with the French. So we got to play around a bit, too. After I took this picture, the woman handed me the pot to put in line with a bunch of others. She didn't tell me not to grab the lip, because obviously you don't grab the lip - it's still wet. So I grabbed the lip and she had to redo it.

By luck we arrived on the weekend, which is when they burn/bake the pots. They pile up an enormous mound of dried grasses and bury the sun-dried pots in it. As the pots get fired, they are removed with hooks on very long poles and taken to be dipped in a glaze.

This woman is carrying a pot to a drying area after having taken it out of the glaze dip.

And the benefit of speaking butchered Maninka/Bambara is that they'll let you glaze a pot while your friend takes a photo. They got a kick out of it and got some free entertainment because I had a very hard time getting all the glaze out of the pot.

When the finished products have cooled, they are boated back down to Segou from whence they're shipped all over the place.

Mali Part 1

Last December I went to Mali with Adam, Astrid, Ciara, Jess, and Kim. We hiked around for a bit, got to be outside of Guinea when the president died, and had a good Xmas holiday celebration atop the roof of a Malian mud hut, overlooking the rim of Dogon Country's valley.

First stop on the way was to pick up Ciara. She painted the inside of her hut white, which makes it so bright. Nonetheless, I wasn't inspired to do the same.

Decked out to go swimming in the Niger.


Gathered around the communal dinner bowl. Not enough spoons to go around. Jess's new cat, Jufanin refused to eat; he was upset some kids had broken his leg. He's fine now.

Finally in Mali, we passed this bus that had had to stop to rearrange its luggage. Things had apparently been hanging over the edge of the roof and getting in people's view of the scenery.

Dawn and Dusk

The regional driver, Conde, packing the Kankan car for a trip across the country. If we don't leave around dawn, we can't make it home by dark. A very long trip.

Evening from my back yard. The end of the rainy season brought some beautiful clouds and wonderful storms. I lament the newly arrived dry season - now I can't just get my bath water by putting buckets under my family's roof. And I have to water my nursery every day, too. Life is so much easier when water just falls from the sky.