We left on Monday morning for Siby accompanied by new friends, two of whom were professors. Dragos, is originally from Burkina Fasso and teaches film studies at the Bordeaux in Paris. He’ll be teaching us this term, and is very kind, tends to wear newsboy-esque hats, and has a lovely rich voice and good laugh, which we often hear. The other is former Carleton grad and Lehigh prof named Bruce and his students, who are visiting Mali for 3 weeks.
Most of our luggage was stowed at Cherif’s house, but our packs for the next two days were loaded onto the top of one of the cars we took. All the cars were SUVs, few had air conditioning or seatbelts, and some had added benches in the trunk for extra seating. Apparently Cherif rented them (and their drivers) from somewhere in Bamako. The drive to Siby was short, however, and our other excursions would quickly teach us how luxurious the semi-paved road had been.
After a quick lunch, we headed out to visit several historical sights pertaining to the story of Soundjata. Soundjata, by the way, was the first of the Keita’s and is the reason why the Keita family is descended from kings. So, yes, you may kiss my hand when I next grace you with my presence. Just kidding… Anyways, the sights were both spectacular, one turned out to be a giant rock/arch and the other a series of caves where diviners resided. Really cool/interesting. And beautiful terrain. On the drive there and back it started to sink in that I am actually in Africa. Which, I have to say, is pretty awesome. The trip to both monuments was kinda weird though, as we ran into a lot of tourists who were staying at the same hotel. Some were German and then another group was Italian, so I spoke briefly with them before we headed back. It was a bit of a shock for us though, as we had gotten used to being the only white people for miles. Everyone was whispering “What are they doing here?” and totally unnerved. But they seemed nice enough. Also, as I said, the car ride was – well…interesting, to say the least. I was in a seat without a belt and learned quickly how to lower my center of gravity to avoid banging my head on the ceiling when I was thrown from the seat. (That didn’t happen too much…but we were bounced around a lot by the time we got home.). Apparently one of the cars also broke down on the way down the slope from the sights. But these drivers are the most cool-headed people I’ve ever met, and I guess he just calmly steered it down without mishap.
When we got back to Siby, we ate dinner at the hotel and there was SO MUCH FOOD. People told me before I left that I would eat a lot, but I didn’t quite understand what they meant. I think everyone is starting to fear that we’re each going to put on about 15 lbs before the end…they give you so much. And you always feel guilty for not eating more. But oh well. They did give us cold water and sodas, though. Which was WONDERFUL.
After dinner we all gathered in the courtyard and some musicians started playing djembe. I sat with Mimi, Cherif’s daughter, who is 8 and has tons of attitude/sass. She’s also adorable and tons of fun too. It quickly became apparent to us that we were expected to dance at this event. Soumaila (Cherif’s nephew) would beckon to us and pull us into the circle. Half of it was line dance, where we’d form a big circle and step to the music. The other half was when we were just supposed to go at it. Most of the group was pretty self-conscious, but after a while, many of us started to loosen up and enjoy it. After we finished Mimi told me and Haley that she’d give us a dancing lesson so we’d do/feel better. Which, while silly, was really fun.
Haley and I ended up sharing a room at the hotel too, which was great for bonding, since I hadn’t met her before the trip. The rooms ended up being these little huts which had a large bed with a mosquito net, a shelf, a coat rack, and a light. There were two rooms per hut, with a wall separating them, but the wall didn’t reach the ceiling so you could hear everything that went on on the other side. Emilia and Canaan ended up staying in the other side of our hut, so we would talk over the wall as we got ready for bed. I can’t imagine what it must be like for 2 guests that don’t know each other…
The next morning we drove to a waterfall, near Siby. Apparently this had some significance and connection with our studies (I can’t tell you what, I’m still adjusting to French and it was hard to hear over the waterfall), but I think we went more because it was pretty and cool. We all explored and found some great spots to sit and enjoy our morning.