We met early on Thursday to leave for the Grand Voyage. Of course, we had a last round of classes first. All of us were together all morning for our last rounds of Bamana and French. We were all especially sad to to see the last of our Bamana instructors and snapped a group photo with them before we said goodbye.
After a quick lunch, we piled into the cars, counted and recounted to make sure everyone was there, checked and rechecked to make sure the air conditioning worked, and finally set out. The ride to Segou was uneventful, all of us spent it chatting with our car mates and the drivers or listening to music. Arriving in Segou was like a homecoming. Our first visit there had been in the early stages of the program, and we were all so happy when our cars pulled up in front of Oumar’s hotel. We grabbed our bags, and hurried in, settling ourselves in our old rooms. Most of us were pretty tired, so we spent the first night at the hotel, relaxing. Several different musicians entertained us that night – the chasseur from last time, and another group run by Oumou Sangaré’s former drummer. Most of us milled about outside, listening to the music and occasionally dancing. As for me, I was wiped out, and ended up passing out early.
Our next day was crazy full. After a quick breakfast, we headed out to visit a weaving guild. As my mom (in the States) is a weaver, this visit was super cool. Women in Segou were taught to weave by colonial missionaries as “something the women could do,” and the practice got a strong foothold in Segou (though there are apparently similar places in other villages in Mali). This particular place had some trouble, however, as they broke and ran out of the materials to card the wool. Thus, one of Cherif’s earlier groups had a student study with them and later published an article with an anecdote asking people to send materials to Cherif. Moreover, another group fundraised enough money to buy the foundation a computer and one of the students returned to install it. Both were really successful endeavors, so Carleton now has a really special relationship with this place. These women were incredible – they begin learning to weave at age 18 and work till they’re close to 60. They receive the raw wool, and card it, spin it, dye it (using similart techniques to the bogolon place), and then weave it into elaborate rugs. They use vertical looms – tying the wool onto strings and then trimming it for that velvety texture. One meter takes a single weaver one month to make. The rugs are beautiful, and ridiculously cheap compared to what it would be in the states. The whole place inspired me – the baskets of yarn, big looms with kind women working diligently on them…I hope to go back someday. Here are some pictures so you get an idea of how awesome it was: