We left Friday afternoon for Djoliba. The ride was not very long, although we had to wait at a few places in Bamako before we left. We took the bus, which is my favorite method of transportation. All of us cram in there and end up talking and laughing most of the way to our destination, so it’s a great way to travel. When we arrived, we were greeted by djembe players who escorted us to the center of town. Once there, we met the elders of the village, and after introductions we danced for them. I made a new friend almost instantly with one of the kids hanging around us. Her name was Nantene and we danced together a lot. She LOVED dancing. She dragged me out often and would wait for moments when we would be the sole dancers out there. When we weren’t dancing, I let her sit on my lap and we smiled at each other. As usual, neither my Bambara nor her French were good enough for us to really talk, but we still enjoyed each other’s company. After introductions we made our way to Cherif’s sister’s house…a proper paradise on the edge of the village. It was lovely and surrounded by a beautiful orchard. The food was spectacular – some of the best I had on this trip, and the fruit was out of this world. I love fruit, but never so much as when I’m in the heat. It can be difficult to get the really good stuff in Bamako, however, so this was a real treat. The oranges, were undeniably the best I’ve ever eaten. Florida doesn’t hold a candle to Djoliba, these oranges (or lenburuba in Bambara) were fantastic – so juicy that your hands were soaked and there was always a puddle on the ground after you finished one. It was heaven, and I overate a lot. The meals were always so good that I always ate too much, and then I’d stuff as much fruit as I could fit in my stomach. It wasn’t the healthiest option, but who knows if I’ll ever get stuff that good again.
An interesting aspect of this trip, was that we would be showing a film created in 1962 about Djoliba. Apparently, the Malian government teamed up with the Americans, to create a “Model Village” and chose Djoliba to be the guinea pig. So, they went to the town, built up a lot of western styled houses in a new location, and helped the villagers move there. Now, there are several problems with this project:
1). The new houses, because they were modeled after western homes, were completely unpractical for the Malian family. Malian families are a good deal larger than American ones so the houses were, naturally, too small (usually only three rooms to share between 10-30 people). Parents told us later that they send their kids out of the house and into the world earlier than usual, as they don’t have enough room. Then there’s the fact that the materials they used were completely impractical – in particular, the sheet metal roofs made the houses insufferably hot in the summer (vs the nice terra-cotta with a woodenly roof).
2). They didn’t actually finish the village. Unfortunately, after making a few houses, both governments decided to abandon the project and retreated back to Bamako with all their equipment. The villagers have since built up the village, but it was clearly hard, and they had to rebuild things as the houses by the river were abandoned/destroyed.
Anyways, the Americans made a film about this project, which Cherif translated into Bambara and brought back to the village. We got to see it before we left, and let me tell you, it was interesting. It was mainly propaganda for the American and Malian government, but the shots of them destroying a traditional house as concerned elders looked on broke my heart. The trip was mostly organized around this screening – we went to watch it with the villagers both nights, and the next day toured the village and interviewed elders about their experiences during the project. Both were really enlightening, and I was lucky enough to sit next to an elder during the screening who pointed out himself and his father to me. Overall, the people were really excited by this film, as it allowed them to see past villagers – people they knew – again. Everyone was murmuring excitedly and pointing out people they knew. So that was really cool.
Our trip had a slight sad aspect, however. Apparently the morning we arrived, the wife of the chief drummer died, and the village quickly buried her, so we wouldn’t be exposed to it. It was so sad to think of, and although they paid us every courtesy, I felt bad about intruding at such a bad time. We were told that the festivities were more restrained for our group than usual, but I was fine with that as most of the time I was too full and tired to dance. Nevertheless, dance we did to Nantene’s delight, and a bunch of us girls got farewell kisses from one of the djembé players at the end.
We also ended up meeting some students from an architecture school in Bamako. They had seen the film and came to interview the elders with us. It was really nice to meet some people my own age and these kids were all really cool and interesting. Most were still in University but some were grad students, and they came from all over the world. There were students from Mali, Benin, Niger, Spain, the US, etc. I really enjoyed talking to them and hanging out.