When I got home from Segou, I had several more interesting and surprising introductions than usual. The first, was that I found two white American women in my house. They turned out to be members of Medicine for Mali (one founded it with her husband) and were staying chez nous for the night before heading out to Nana Kenieba. Neither spoke French very well, so we chatted in English, and they were very nice. They were very interested in my program and inquired after Cherif. Funny coincidence, one of their husbands went to DePauw University (which, if you didn’t know, is in the town where I grew up and where my dad teaches classical studies)! They were both very sweet and super interesting to talk to. We got on the subject of textiles and I showed them some Bogolon and one showed me the Malian outfits that Fanta helped her make. I was sorry to see them leave the next morning.
The next day brought another surprise. I got home late, as we had lots of activities at Cherif’s, and found some men I didn’t know in the living room. That wasn’t that strange as we have guests all the time. Nor was it odd that one of them greeted me enthusiastically and asked about three times if I was well – that’s totally normal. What was funny, was that the man said, “Bienvenue! Welcome to my house!” What?! Who are you? It turns out, it was my host dad! He works in Dakar for an international bank, but he decided to visit home. He was very kind and inquisitive and looked basically like a taller version of Cherif. It was, to say the least, really strange to have him in the house. I confess that I was slightly disappointed to see him at first. I’d finally started to get into the swing of things with Fanta, Ada, and Bibi and I didn’t want this to change the dynamic. But of course it totally did. Welcome to patriarchal society. Fanta, Ada, and Bibi were all way more on edge, and had to fetch and tote way more. And although I saw a lot of Bibi, I rarely saw Fanta and Ada anymore. The house was flooded with visitors and it was their responsibility to take care of them. When we ate dinner, he had a large plate and bowl to himself (presumably the best portion) while Bibi and I shared from the common platter. And Ada, who often eats with us, ate her dinner after we finished on the kitchen floor. It was strange…this new life. I liked Salif a lot. He told me about his job, asked me tons of questions about school, insisted on ensuring that I was safe, happy and comfortable, etc. but I missed the easiness of the house before he arrived. There was one big advantage to his presence, however. Up till now, my family has NEVER had fruit with dinner. Upon Salif’s arrival, however, 3 pineapples and tons of bananas and papayas were purchased and we reaped the benefits. The pineapple was the best I’ve ever had – juicy and sweet and heavenly. I miss fruit and vegetables more than anything while I’m here, so I really enjoyed this. I’ve vowed that I will bring fruit home regularly now, to ensure more nights of bliss.
Salif’s visit, it turns out, was very short lived. He left last night, 2 days after arriving and made sure to say goodbye to me and wish me well. I was kind of sorry to see him go, particularly for Bibi, but at the same time I will be happy to resume our old lifestyle. I’ve been privileged in my home, and I value every second I have with these women.
And now we move on to the final, and certainly most mind-blowing chance encounter. Last term, as we were wrapping up preparations for Mali, Cherif took us to a concert of Malian music and I had the privilege to hear Bassekou Kouyaté for the first time. It was a great show, and I loved the music. The bus almost left without me when I was purchasing their CD. At any rate, last night Cherif organized a private meeting with “his friend” Bassekou Kouyaté and his son. Their music was (as always) incredible, and after a few songs, he opened the floor for our numerous questions. Now, let me be clear, this guy is one of the best Malian musicians in the business and has played with almost every famous Malian musician and tons of Western artists too – Bono and Bela Fleck, to name a couple. And we were allowed not only to ask him questions, but also toy around with his handmade instruments. It was incredible, and totally reminded me of why I am so lucky not only to be here, but also to be here with Cherif, who apparently DOES know everyone. At any rate, I later got to speak to Monsieur Kouyaté on his own and he was the humblest, coolest guy. (In case you’re interested, although he mainly plays ngoni, he DOES in fact have a banjo in his house and is full of respect for Bela Fleck.) He was very excited to hear that I liked his music and that I enjoyed our visit to Segou (his hometown). He also noted very quickly that I was very pretty and very well dressed in my new Malian clothes. So that was kinda cool. No, scratch that, super cool. Moreover, I’ll be seeing him again in a month at the Festival of the Niger in Segou, which will be very exciting. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get to meet his wife who indubitably has one of the best and most powerful voices I’ve ever heard. As we’re traveling with Cherif, I wouldn’t discount the possibility.
So my last note to you all is a plug for this group. If you have any interest in world renowned international albums, you should check out Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba. It’s really good, and you’ll be promoting a great artists work. Also the group tours a lot, so be sure to keep your eyes open for them…their show is a must see!