Cold Snap

You’ve all probably seen the news and are experiencing wacky weather of your own. Thus, I’m sure you know that people are dying of the cold in Russia and you probably even know that Algeria got snow the other day. But I’m going to take a wild guess and say you probably haven’t heard about the funky weather here.

I know what you’re thinking, “Really? A post about the weather? Of all the things?” But honestly guys, it’s been crazy here. Starting Monday it’s been COLD. By which I mean it’s been maybe 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s cold for here though and therefore cold for us now. (Minnesota may kill me…) It’s been cold, overcast and windy. All the wind kicks up all the dirt that lies around too, so everything is hazy and dusty. It even (briefly/lightly) RAINED on Monday night. So not normal. Yep folks, I think we’re really proving here that climate change is just a theory created to encourage strife and fill scientists’ bank accounts.

Anyways, it’s been strange, though I have guiltily enjoyed the break from Bamako’s oppressive heat. If this keeps up, we could have a comfortable drive to Djoliba! Also, it’s amusing to see everyone bundled up in jackets against the cold.

Apparently, the news has hit Bamako that white people don’t feel cold. Ever. On my sotrama the prontike was amazed that I was comfortable without a jacket. Emilia was also told by a little boy that she was a very “brave and strong woman” because she didn’t get cold. He continued that he thought he’d probably die in the cold, the snow would kill him. So, plus of being a toubabou, you will survive in lower temperatures. I think anyone from Bamako would too, so long as they have a good coat, but I’ll take credit where it’s given.

In other news, Mali just lost their match against “Les éléphants” de Côte d’Ivoire. Unfortunate, but predictable, the Ivoirians are total beasts on the field, and the Malians were all conserving their strength for later games with their European teams. Honestly, everyone was very pleasantly surprised that they made it this far, and all the supporters interviewed on the news said that they were proud of the players who “played well,” and did their best. They will play Ghana to determine 3rd and 4th place, as Côte d’Ivoire tries it’s luck with Zambia. Luckily both the games will be on Sunday, so I’ll get to see the final CAN matches. I’ll be kinda sad when it’s over. It’s been fun, a good conversation starter, and the source of a lot of dynamism in my house.

I think I’ll have to get a Seydou Keita sticker before things settle down…just for fun. I mean…we are from the same clan, and he’s definitely made of awesome.

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Midterm Evaluations

I would be lying if I didn’t say that the last week was hard. It really tried me and I was MORE than ready to talk to my mom when we finally got the chance. I was feeling really homesick, although that’s pretty common for this point in the term (as my wise mother pointed out). As I’ve already mentioned, I have trouble staying in the same place for long. If I were at Carleton, I’d be having the same problem. I never feel crummy enough to leave, I’m always happy to be where I am, but I do begin to think fondly of my next destination. This is both helped and hurt by talking to mom. Helped, in that she knows me well enough to talk me back into shape. Hurt, because usually she is my next destination, and I want to head home more than ever.

I think the other tricky thing, is that I have to start making plans for next year. I’ve never been good at the whole long-term planning thing, and looking at all these classes, housing, internships, summer job offers, major requirements, and future study abroad options is probably starting to freak me out. Scratch the probably. I can’t complain much, I have tons of help from faculty and friends at home, so things haven’t gotten too stressful. But it definitely doesn’t improve my mood. And, once you combine it with daily fears about getting lost, sick, or overwhelmed, it compounds into a lot of stress.

It’s hard, it’s been a hard few weeks, but none of us can say that they haven’t been without value or (arguably) the most awesome in our lives. Not necessarily always the best moments of our lives, but I think pretty much every moment has been awe inspiring. And, at the same time that I can go on about how hard the trip has been, that would be counterproductive, unfair, and (in reality), dishonest. I was talking to a friend the other day – a future international relations major – and as we were discussing Mali’s telecommunications I told her I wished she was here to see all these things and draw research/conclusions I would never think of. Anyways, she told me that she thought she would have trouble adjusting. This reminded me of my initial thoughts as I prepared for my grand voyage. The truth is, as I packed my suitcase, I had no idea what to expect, and so I expected the worst. I’m ashamed to say, that part of me really didn’t believe it when people told me that I’d be able to buy (almost) anything here, and I think I expected Bamako to be WAY less developed than it is, and my house to be far less accommodating. I could not have been more wrong. You can find almost anything here. Some things (like chocolate) are more expensive, but you can find it! Bamako is bustling and filled with plenty of high end venues, and my house is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen…ever. To get to the point, Mali surprised me in the best of ways, and while some things have (undeniably) been hard, the vast majority of my experience has been pleasant. So, while adjusting has been a challenge it was not half as bad as I thought it would be.

The fact is, I get into slumps. My family kinda has a thing for self-loathing and indecision, and I’m really good at both of them. I also, however know their cure. Movement and action. And believe me, this past weekend they’ve worked their magic. First, there’s just the fact that I got myself to and from Point Sud alone. That made me happy. Then there were all the people. The people (as you’ve probably already sensed from this blog) are really what make this country one of the best I’ve visited. They make every day an adventure.

I had my best sotrama experience on Saturday night, coming home from Point Sud. The prontike packed us in like sardines – we were WAY over capacity even for Bamako standards, and I was predicting people would be grumpy and cramped. Quite the contrary. Women laughed as they squeezed onto others’ laps or the floor, then everyone began clapping their hands and singing, and one of them told me to clap and dance as well. It was so fun, and we laughed our way to our destinations. As I got off, they all smiled and said goodbye and I felt so happy. Where else does a group of strangers squeezed so tight they can hardly breath decide to sing and dance and laugh together? Today’s experience was just as positive. After being high-fived by at least 5 little kids on the way to the highway, I climbed on a sotrama with a prontike who knew me. A football match was on, so the streets were especially quiet. Mali miraculously made it into the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations, so everyone was gathered around the televisions waiting to see what would happen. Anyway, after I exited the sotrama, I ran into a little old woman who took my hand, ran through the Bambara greetings with me, and invited me to dinner. Sweet no? The old women here are the BEST. My favorite lives on the same street as Point Sud. I had a similar experience with her, only she and I are both Keitas. When she found that out she was INCREDIBLY excited and made sure not to forget my name. Anyways, as I walked back there was a shout from one of the windows: “Mali a gagné!” The joy in the street was magnificent to behold and I wish you could have heard the roar that went up gradually as the city saw the last minutes of the the game. The match finished on our tv within seconds of my arrival. Ada caught me up in a hug, squealing and clapping, and Fanta was on her feet dancing from joy.

Such are the moments when I truly love Mali. Moments of independence, empowerment, and connection. Granted, these are the moments that make any experience worthwhile, but having them in country as overwhelming as Mali is a special treat. There are still things I miss (skim milk for one – whoever meets me at the airport, bring me ice cold skim milk and I’ll love you forever), and there are still things that are hard (like getting to know my family despite the fact that they work all week and I’m often gone on the weekend). But, I’m starting to truly understand what a good friend of mine meant when he said that “Africa gets under your skin, and you miss it all the time when you’re away.” Moreover, I’m beginning to comprehend what all the past Mali participants meant when they said this would change us, that it would take time to get adjusted, that there would be moments you’d hate, but that every moment counts towards one of the most influential and incredible experiences we can get at Carleton.

So, all in all, I’m still happy to be hear, and I can’t wait for our last five weeks. I can only hope that they are full of equally rich, challenging, fun, scary, interesting, intense, exhausting, difficult and poignant moments that I can relate in due course to you.

❤ Farima

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My Blogspot

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More info…

Mom just sent me a link to this guy’s blog and he seems to have more info and a better grasp of the situation than I did. Note also, that his blog title is brilliant and that he too recommends Habib Koité! Anyways, he goes on at length in his latest post about the situation in the north and the protests here in Bamako. Enjoy!

http://philintheblank.net/2012/02/03/2012-festival-au-desert-in-words-and-photos-update-from-bamako/

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An Apology

So, usually I try to stay in touch and post every few days, but I know I kinda fell off the wagon there. In my defense, I’ve had several posts written and ready for posting for a few days now, but recent events have made wifi access impossible. I’m not sure how much of this has been on the news/reached the US, but there has been some unrest here regarding the rebels in the northern parts of Mali. Just the other day the president gave a long address regarding this, and some of the nuance was definitely lost on me, because where I saw nothing wrong, he pissed off a lot of Bamako citizens. Basically what I’ve since gathered, is that the situation is REALLY complicated. Tuaregs have been rebelling and threatening to secede in the north, but it’s hard to get any facts on what’s actually going on. For one, the Malian national news is totally ignoring it. I’ve heard that anywhere from 5 to 200 Malians have died fighting the rebels in the north. (Unfortunately it’s sounding like the bigger number is more accurate.). The families of the soldiers, therefore, are really frustrated by the situation, the lack of information, and the president’s apparent lack of initiative in dealing with the it. Some people also believe that the president is deliberately stirring up the scenario in the hope of deferring the upcoming election and keeping power longer. (According to Cherif, he’s never been considered an intellectual and his term has already been longer than it should.) The problem, however, is that there are still plenty of citizens up north who are peaceful compatriots and deserve the government’s protection. So, basically the situation is a total mess and really difficult to resolve. At any rate, frustrations with all of this led to demonstrations in Bamako, rendering it unwise and unsafe for us Westerners to venture out. I should say that Westerners are not in any way targets, but anyone would be in danger from the young opportunistic looters that took advantage of the marches. What with our skin tone and obvious disorientation, we would have been in danger of getting mugged. Plus it just got kinda ugly. Tires were burning on big street corners, shops were closed, sotromas were not running. Cherif ended up locked in a courtyard for a while to avoid the marchers and later met a woman from the American embassy who had to flee her car after people threw rocks at it. So, we’ve been on house arrest. Thursday and Friday classes/events were all cancelled and we were told to stay in until the situation calmed down. In some ways the break was nice, I read a ton, powering through both our French assignment and A Feast for Crows, which my father helpfully uploaded on my Kindle before I left. And I watched the new Star Trek film dubbed in French! That was fun! And had a long conversation about dating in the US vs Mali with some of the guys in my courtyard, which was really enjoyable.

At the same time, however, house arrest does not suit me. Granted, there are times when I go into hibernation mode and stay in my house for days, but that’s rare and usually comes on the heels of a really stressful finals week. No, I’m usually the girl who can’t stay in the same town/country for too long, so being stuck in the same house was kind of like torture. Especially now that we are finally getting to be self-sufficient enough to go on excursions and run errands in Bamako. Now that I finally feel like I can explore and do the things I want in this city I was stuck at home.

Thankfully, everything settled down rather quickly. Friday we were allowed to take taxis to the Hotel Colibris and go swimming (all of us welcomed the chance to see each other again), and by Saturday everything was back to normal. We went to Cherif’s for lunch and he explained a bit about the situation, as well as how it will affect our trip. We’re hoping that it won’t drastically change things, but the Grand Voyage is already suffering. We have officially kicked Timbuktu and Mopti off the program and will hear on Wednesday if we still get to visit Dogon country, Djenné, Burkina Faso and Segou. Segou shouldn’t be at risk though. And Cherif said we’ll probable spend a little more time there since we aren’t visiting some of these other cities. So that’s not too bad! More time in our favorite hotel during the Festival on the Niger. More time for me to get my art history on and chat with Dolo and meet weavers. So it will all work out.

At any rate, sorry again, for the delay in messages. Thankfully I’m finally caught up now and things should be pretty consistent…until the Grand Voyage, that is but we knew that would be challenging. Hope you all are enjoying your weekends and that it isn’t too cold! (Or too warm for that matter…climate change is wacky.)

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Something to think about…

Yesterday we visited Mali Health Organizing Project, and NGO started by a Brown student that works within a peri-urban Bamako neighborhood to encourage health education and services. This is a really great organization and if any of you are looking for non-profits to donate to, I highly recommend it. Here’s the link to their website: http://www.malihealth.org/

(They make most of their money off of small doners – all donations go direct to them, so your money won’t be wasted.)

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Kita

Finally back on track! This feels good! HOPEFULLY I will remain vigilant and not fall drastically behind again, but no promises. As time goes on, our days seem to grow shorter and fuller, and exhaustion must be factored in. And homework…which we have now. Never a lot, but enough that between it and exploring Bamako, finding time to write is tricky.

This weekend, we visited Kita, hometown of griot and author Massa Makan Diabaté. Of course, Cherif met Diabaté, and has since written a book on his life and works. Pretty cool. Anyhow, we had just finished reading Monsieur Diabaté’s “Le lieutenant de Kouta”, all of which was set in his hometown and was (loosely) based/inspired by a lieutenant who lived there. So, we hopped in some cars, and set out to meet both the author and the lieutenant’s family.

The visit was pretty interesting – the people we met were incredible. Diabaté’s family were all delightful, and showed us a recording of him talking on the radio about the challenges of converting oral tradition into literature. Meeting the Lieutenant’s family was very interesting as well, and it really helped enlighten me on his character. It was an interesting house – right next to the market, and FILLED with animals. He was apparently particularly fond of birds, and kept guinea fowl, chickens, ducks, and pigeons. The pigeons were in a tree above us, and I mistrusted them from the start. Rightfully so, as they ended up gracing me with their droppings before we left. That was fun…but I was wearing black and had tissues, so it was ok. We also saw kittens! That was also exciting. They were tiny and adorable and I really wanted to scoop one up, but I didn’t. I didn’t get the rabies shot before leaving, so I judged it best to leave them be. But they were so dang cute!!

(This expresses my feelings at seeing those kittens…I may or may not have sung this…)

We also visited the imams at the Franco-Arab school. These men were incredible, and so very welcoming. They told us a bit about their role in the village, and told us how pleased they were by our visit and gave us their benediction. “Your race doesn’t matter anymore,” they told us, “You’re in our family now.” And sure enough, upon discovering that my last name was Keita, two of the imams took my hand excitedly and called me their daughter. The tolerance in this village is astounding. If the world could operate like Kita, I think there would be world peace. Kita has a prefect, a traditional chief, several prominent griot families (both Diabatés and Kouyatés), imams, and Catholic priests (Catholicism is also popular in the village) and SOMEHOW, all these powerful social figures exist together. They tolerate each other, and give each other space. Granted there are problems every now and then, but in general everyone coexists peacefully and tolerantly. Seeing that was the most astounding part of this visit for me.

The only problem with Kita, beyond the extreme heat (it broke 100 when we were there), was that EVERYONE got sick. Getting sick is never fun, getting sick abroad is less fun, getting sick abroad in a tiny village with no meds or way of cooling off is really un-fun. So I think some were pleased to see the back of Kita…it was unfortunate. Even Cherif felt kinda lousy and cancelled an afternoon’s worth of activities so we could all rest up. That said, the trip was rich and fascinating, and well worth the effort. If nothing else, this trip gave us the chance to watch Cherif play fuseball…yes, you read that right. While we waited to meet the traditional chief he played a game with Kayla. It was one of the funniest and best things I’ve seen on this trip. Love my professor. So cool.

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Segou: Part 3 (Finally!)

Our next day in Segou was full of encounters…really cool encounters. First we went next door (literally) to meet a world renowned sculptor. His name is Almaghire Dolo and though he studied painting, he’s better known for his sculptures. Originally from Dogon country, his work reflects some of the Dogon people’s cultural beliefs as well as the country itself. He has created several series of small sculptures, which are abstracted Dogon villages. Much of his work also reflects nature, and he stressed to us that while he often creates abstracted natural images, he always tries to respect their natural form. In short, he was totally fascinating and I adored his work. Here are some examples:A mother and child, showing their relationship and the enveloping protection motherhood offers. One of his paintings showing a natural landscape with camels and termites (he really loves/is fascinated by termites and has several works inspired by their mounds). One of his sculptures depicting an (abstracted) Dogon village. He described this work as showing the transition from the visible to invisible world (i.e. the spirit world – which is more connected with the bush) – I’ve been playing with photo editing, so this pics doctored a bit…but I think it’s cool.)

Next we visited the mayor and learned about Segou’s history (particularly during the colonial era) and current situation before exploring the government building and having our photo taken with him. He was very nice and accommodating, and payed us every attention. Almost too much attention for comfort. His phone kept ringing during our meeting and every time he ignored it I thought “But what if someone important needs you? What if there’s an emergency?” But it was kind of him, and clearly the world didn’t fall apart while he was with us.

Afterwards we visited the Niger and talked about how the French colonists headed the construction of a huge damn – the first of it’s kind – on the river. As one would expect, they really just forced the Malians to build it, and naturally people weren’t happy about it. And, again as one would think, the forced laborers were poorly fed and many died during construction. The damn is still working and people cross the bridge often and police officers guard both ends of it, warning tourists not to take pictures. As we were leaving, however, they were under the impression that some of us had, in fact, taken pictures. They stopped our bus and proceeded to flip through all the pictures on one of the girls’ camera. Luckily they didn’t find anything and let us go. As we were leaving, however, an incensed Cherif hurried by the bus calling “We’re going to teach them a little lesson.”. He was not especially pleased when we saw him next. Apparently he gave them a piece of his mind – told them they were abusing their power to intimidate and that he could find all the measurements (down to the smallest screw) online. It’s kind of hard to imagine Cherif – who is indubitably one of the most energetic and jovial people I know – teaching this sort of lesson, but I hope I never get it.

Our evening was full and enjoyable. We ate that fabulous fish and were serenaded by some chasseurs. Then we were invited by the mayor to a gathering where music, contemporary art and a tress competition were shown. The tress competition was especially cool – women wore all manner of outfits and paraded in front of the audience and judges, bowing down to reveal the artistry of their coiffures. Some were incredibly complex and all were specific to different types of women (nationality, race, stage in life were the three most important defining features). It was really interesting and very flattering to have been invited.

As I said before, no one really wanted to head home…all of us had found something to interest them, be it the music, the art, the history, or just the calmer and more temperate climate. Nonetheless, return we did and we hurried gratefully to our houses after the long drive.

Sorry this took so long to get out…hopefully no more falling behind!

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A quick note…

One quick thing…or things. First, I should say that we will be visiting Kita this week which probably means no Internet! So you all should totally leave me lots of comments so that I feel loved when I come back. Just kidding, but it does mean that I will likely be unable to post for a few days, which is unfortunate, since the Segou saga is already behind schedule. So, I promise hereby to write the following Segou posts if/when I have free time in Kita and will promptly post them so we can move on. Then I’ll post about Kita if anything exciting happens, and I’m sure it will. Something exciting always happens here. So, before I go, several quick things that I wanted to share.

Thing 1) First marriage proposal – Ah yes! I knew it was coming at some point, and dreaded it. He was relatively nice, but when a total stranger asks you to marry them it’s hard to think about them as more than just strange. It started with a normal conversation. Greetings in Bambara, compliments on French, questions of you’re name/where you’re from, etc. Then the first bad sign (though you get this from nice guys too): “You are pretty.” I never really know what the best way to handle this is, so I usually just laugh and say thanks, that’s nice of them to say so. Then bad sign number two: “How old are you?” And when you tell them your age: “Ah! You’re marrying age!” No, sorry, not in the States! Bad sign number three (though again, frequently asked by men and women) “Are you married?” Cue the mental prep, I came up with a quick lie – not married, have a guy in the States, need to finish studies first. Thus begins the dance. Why aren’t you married? What do you study? Why do you want to finish your studies? Is he nice? Are you going to marry him? These are questions all of us have been asked at one point, all lead up to: “You know what? We should be married!” Now, I have to give it to this guy, he was determined. I threw all sorts of things at him:

•I have to go back to the States soon soon. – Great! We’ll go together!
•We just met. – I’ve seen you before walking to class, I know you’re my ideal woman.
•I have a boyfriend. – You should dump him, he can find another girl in the States. •There are other women here. – No there aren’t, they are all married.

That’s the interesting thing actually. Yes, these guys are proposing because we’re stereotypically rich and living in the “ideal” country, but I know they don’t believe there are less women here. Quite the opposite actually. I was talking to Bruce a while ago (he’s doing research on polygamous marriage here) and he said that they believe that there is a surplus of women in Mali, and that is one of the pillars on which rests the argument for polygamy. There are too many women, so men need to marry a few to take care of all of them. This is, of course, slightly ridiculous. While there are more women than men, the percentage difference doesn’t exceed 10%, but nonetheless, Malians have insisted to me that this is true.  Unless of course they want to marry you, in which case there are fewer women – partly because “American men come and steal all the Malian women.”

At any rate, the guy persisted for quite a while. I ended up telling him”I’d think about it,”so he’d let me go, and since strategized ways I’m going to say no more firmly if I encounter him again. Suffice to say, however, it’s weird. Some part of me wanted to feel insulted, some part of me wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all, and a big part of me felt incredibly uncomfortable. The hardest part, is not being sure how sincere this actually is. If I said yes (not like I ever would), would this actually be a thing? Who knows. Unfortunately it’s just something all us girls will have to deal with. Part of being a minority and traveling in a more patriarchal and misogynistic society. Suffice to say, I increasingly respect and appreciate men who hang out with me and refrain from proposing. But at any rate, I survived, and I can laugh about it now.

Thing 2: We have a microwave in my house now. The maids adore it. When I saw it I was concerned it might end up like the second refrigerator and the stove, unused and taking up kitchen space (no one actually cooks in there though – it’s all done in the courtyard). It seems, however, it will be used to defrost things. My host mom called me into the kitchen to help on the first time. She wanted my advice on how long it should run. I don’t think I was especially helpful, but I love that she asked for me.

Thing 3: We met another musician, and it was equally awesome. Habib Koité is a guitarist and music prof. Really cool guy – very personable and absolutely hilarious. He told us tons of great stories about his first trip to the US. He is also buddies with Jackson Brown and Bonnie Raitt. Apparently, they put him up and treat him to good food and red wine when he visits California. Now, I know I already put in a plug for Bassékou Kouyaté already, but I am telling you, you should check this guy out. He was originally trained classically, and has made an intense study of Malian music, and makes an effort to showcase the different regional styles in his music. But, you can also tell why this guy’s friends with Jackson Brown and Bonnie Raitt, his music is really approachable, especially for the Western listener. And it’s fun! He invited a dancer and we spent half the time dancing with her. Such an enjoyable time. If you ever have the chance to see him live, GO. He’s a marvelous entertainer and as I said, he’s funny, charismatic, and if he ever sings to you – directly sings to you – you are lucky. Take it from one who knows. Also, if it’s informal enough, he may well come join you. He came over and played/danced with us – so very very cool. So please, if you ignored the earlier group, fine, but do check this guy out! I seriously doubt you’ll be disappointed. Those of you with taste won’t anyway.

Just kidding! To each his own! But seriously, check him out.

Off to Kita tomorrow! Hope you all have a great weekend!!

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Segou: Teints Naturelles

After exploring the hotel and a quick lunch, Cherif piled us back into the bus for a quick excursion. I won’t lie…I was irritated. I was tired and full and really just wanted to sit and talk under our little pagoda and enjoy the breeze. Little did I know this would be one of the coolest trips we’ve made thus far. Cherif took us to a series of older looking adobe buildings and ushered us inside. The architecture and light were enough to get me excited. It was absolutely stunning. A cloudless sky which emphasized the glorious orange color of the buildings. Breathtaking.

We were met by a man who quickly explained to us that we were at a school/guild (of sorts) for traditional textile artists who specialized in bogolan (or mudcloth), basilan, and gala. They weave the cloth themselves, then dye it using various natural resources (often leaves), and finally paint it.

Now, bogolan happens to be one of the few things I knew about prior to my trip to Mali. Mali is known (as I think I’ve said before) for its textiles, and my mom (being a textile artist) excitedly pulled three books off our shelves last summer when I indicated that I might be going to Mali. Mud cloth is one of Mali’s oldest and richest textile traditions – artisans begin a 3 week process of removing clay from the river, preserving it in a jar and kneading it from time to time with a mixture of wôlô and nyama leaves. (I haven’t figured out the French or English names for these two, but something tells me they aren’t easily accessible in the States.) They then decorate the cloth with this clay mixture. (There’s a lot more to it than that, but I figured I’d skim the details. Let me know if you want to know more.) Decorations put on the cloth vary, but all are important symbols that can carry numerous societal or spiritual meanings. Bogolan also (apparently) serves (served?) a huge societal role in Malian culture due to the symbolism it carries. Furthermore, in addition to making traditional pieces, this group of artisans also make contemporary bogolan. Contemporary bogolan started to emerge when the demand for “pagnes” (a sort of popular Malian skirt) shot through the roof. Created by the many women who became artisans in response to this demand, they began to employ different (faster) techniques in creating the bogolan, as well as used motifs and symbols that weren’t traditionally used.

Anyways, the man we met showed us around, explained how they died the cloth, what different symbols meant, what different buildings or structures were used for, etc. He also showed us a museum which had samples of the different textiles they make, as well as an exhibition of the materials and methods for reaching their final product. And this was so cool because it includes the LOOM. Ah how I wished my dear mother could have seen it. I think I payed more attention to that dear old thing than anyone, but it was just so cool. Like I said, I live with a textile artist – a weaver to be more specific and I have vivid memories of hearing the shuttle fly back and forth to Etta James and Vince Gueraldi as she prepped for her Christmas show. Compared to the looms I’ve seen, this looked like a bunch of sticks, but it totally works and they manage to create some really fine fabrics with it. Note, also, that the MEN do the weaving. I think in the Western world the textile arts are generally considered a stereotypically “feminine” medium just as sculpture has a rep for being masculine (not that I buy/support these stereotypes – I don’t). At any rate this is NOT the case in Mali. For one, I have yet to meet a female tailor, but furthermore, it is traditionally the men’s job to weave the fabric and women (at least when making basin – another great/interesting Malian textile tradition) do the dying and painting. Here, the vast majority of the students and craftsmen seemed to be men, however, so I think we can say they do pretty much all the work.

This, it turns out, is one of the best places to get ahold of basilan, bogolan and gala. All the pieces are handmade (using traditional methods and materials), unique, and better priced than anywhere else. They also use bogolan and textile traditions to create incredible contemporary art pieces – playing with different traditional and contemporary symbols as well as form and representation.

Suffice to say, I totally adored this place. It was totally up my alley, which was a nice change. I didn’t have the pleasure of studying Malian textile in my African Art class, so it was really fascinating and exciting for me (especially after learning about other textile traditions such as the Zulu and Xhosa beadwork, or Yoruba textiles). And I spent a TON of cash. Couldn’t resist. To many pretty things! Ended up with some gala and basilan, as well as a book on the group and “L’evolution des teintes naturelles”. We’ll be back to visit again in February during the Grand Voyage, and I’ve already extracted a promise from Cherif that we can go back so I can talk to the artisans and pick up some bogolan. Because I totally have an inexhaustible supply of cash…not really, but this is worth it!

More coming soon on Segou! Stay posted!

K’an ben! Farima

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