Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Milling slowly with the crowd through the grey dusty avenues, we pass shadowy shacks and low benches covered in all sorts of strange roots and spices. There were dried leaves, dried dough like things, crystal soap, perfumed things, tobacco leaves and dried catfish.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
A sketch of fairy tale topped grain stores tumbling
the escarpment face to the desert below
How do I describe this wonder world, the isolated and unique Dogon country in southern Mali? To start there is no division here between man and nature; here they are one and the same. The Dogon villages are unobtrusive in the landscape.
In contrast to modern cities where man is at war with his environment , obliterating all traces of the world of animal and vegetable for one of concrete and steel, the villages of the Dogon are at peace with the land and are still very much at home in it as they have been for nine hundred years. The environment looks to me beautiful but a tad hostile.
The nearest travel hub for the more remote parts of Dogon country is the Town of Bandiagara. The journey from Timbuktu to Bandiagara was a long one waking and leaving at the cold dark crack of dawn and arriving at night. Luckily for me I met a friendly young French couple during this epic and tiring journey. They were heading for the famous Dogon village of Sangha High on the Bandiagara plateau. Emanuel was taking his girlfriend their back to the village he had visited nearly ten years ago.
Emanuel had visited Dogon country to help build a school. During this time he met an interesting French man by the name of Alan who had decided on a decidedly different and difficult course for his life than most.
Alan was a self made chemist and by all accounts rich man, living a comfortable life in Paris. However in achieving a little prosperity he found himself restless and dissatisfied. So one day he told bemused friends and family that he had to leave, that he didn’t know why but it had to be Africa and he wasn’t coming back.
He now lives with his wife and child as a prominent member of the community. He has helped to set up a medical centre in the village of Sangha and has very much made himself at home. He also made Emanuel, his girlfriend and I feel at home for a few too short days.
Whilst in Dogon country we embarked on a 4 day walk, but here in the hot rocky wilds of Mali a walk can feel more like a punishing odyssey into the unknown. I enjoyed walking over the rocky sides of the escarpment through organic architecture, despite the increadable heat. The paths of lose stone winding up and down steep slopes through pointy straw roofed store houses and the amorphous shaped homes. All the while I trailed behind my new found French friends and our Dogon guide as I struggled to film and photograph whilst not being left behind.
This resulted in me practically sprinting the course of an already arduous hike across rough terrain and in stifling dry heat. At one point losing them as we walked through a village, I hastened forward (I was worried that without a guide I would walk into a sacred area and accidentally commit some heinous sacrilegious crime) and unwittingly stumbled into a field of shit. Dodging my way through this mine field I almost walked into a woman busy making a contribution of her own. Politley ducking past I pressed on just catching a sight of my disapearing friends. unscathed I duly noted to myself the dangers of falling behind.Other worldly sunset in Dogon land The rounded roof tops of a Dogon village
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Cant get money out its hot and the deep sand of the streets pulls at you, slowing you down and sapping your energy. Dust blows in your face and gives the world a blurred otherworldly light making you think of far of outposts on inhospitable Mars. Battered signs loom rusty and pockmarked warning of the dangers of aids or proudly advertising joint developments between Mali and Algeria under the banner of pan Africanism.
The transition from blue green tranquil dreamworld to bleached mud brick and dust is sharp. From deep calm and a feeling of boundless Patience I become suddenly irritable and short tempered. My mind is unprepared for the dusty town and I don't enjoy arriving in such a legendary place as I feel I should. There is not the travelers euphoria I experienced in Old Segou. I guess Ive been flying high as a kite since then and now is a dusty hot come down. Just as new years eve is supposed to be the best night of the year but often isn't, arriving in Timbuktu should be a great experience accompanied by a feeling of satisfaction for reaching an auspicious landmark. It just doesn't feel that way.
I'm worried by a lack of money, the AT M's being temperamental entities in these parts, working only when the mood takes them. Its amazing that being denied access to little coloured bits of paper is what gives me a sense of desolation thousands of miles from home rather than the immense sand sea , the mighty Sahara that separates me from distant and familiar Europe.
More than anything I think that the traffic free streets of Djenne, the timeless grace of old Segou and otherworldly charm of the Niger have spoilt me. You can only oohh, aahh and breathlessly wow! so much. Eventually you just get wowed out and all the niggling doubts and daily discomforts come rushing in. To be wowed out in sub saharan Africa can be a tiring experience indeed.
There's been a problem with the camcorder shutter opening. Dust and sand ( I'm staying in a big Arabian style tent which is the cheapest option, looks very cool and is also sandy) has been working its inevitable way into every crack and crevice and not just in the camcorder. This all amounts to stress. Ive worked so hared on this project yet so many things could go wrong and I could lose everything. At times this trip has been magical but its no holiday.
After a day or two of simmering anger and frustration mixed with doubt an a little fear I start to relax. I'm enjoying the novelty of being in an ancient and infamous town where Tuareg traders arrive in caravans of camels from afar to bring salt cut from the baked ground in the inferno that is the center of the Sahara. A pattern of trade that is thousands of years old.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
The river is a kind of khaki green while an angle of the waves catches the bright blue and light of the sky resulting in a pleasing mix of colours and light.
The view as I lie on sacks of grain and gaze out is bizarre , all water and sky with a thin strip of land floating dramatically in space. This water level perspective, a ducks eye view if you will is not one I'm used to.
Small details take on significance, a tree or a goat become singled out against the enormity of sky and water. In this space the humble goat is dramatised, given dignity his life made epic. Cows swishing their tails and rocking there heads back and forth languidly look striking against a big blue sky. The smiling faces and waving hands of friendly villagers and excited kids shouting Toubab! Toubaboo! ( Toubab being the local phrase for foreigner ) Are like actors on a big blue stage, the bank, trees and huts like props to their lives which shine from this the strangest of perspectives.
The landscape is shining, ethereal and full of the exotic and timeless. Everything slides by like watching memories, as if time itself has been covered in treacle so as to slow things down and take the edge of reality. The movement so slow, the sights so unfamiliar I am convinced I am dreaming. If I saw a unicorn standing proud on the bank I wouldn't be surprised.
This cant possibly be real, floating past hippos and nomad villages is surely the stuff of dreams. I'll wake soon to a dreary wet day and go to dreary wet work to pay for a dreary wet life. But the dream goes on and on, time stretching out like the river, long winding and endless. I shake my head in disbelief at how lucky I am, how big the world is and how beautiful.
Monday, March 16, 2009
The dirty and frenetic docks at the riverside port of Mopti
Goats are everywhere in Africa
This was taken from the rooftop of my hostel in Djenne where I would gaze out over the rooftops every evening and reflect on how lucky I am to be in such a place
For a few days I enjoyed the company of friendly locals who would always invite you to drink tea with them, I drew and painted and relished the slow pace of life. But as ever I was on a mission, I had to see the legendary Timbuktu the holy grail of traveling. Just the expression to have "been to Timbuktu and back" is embedded in our Psyche as a symbol of adventure, a place that is beyond the back of beyond.
To get on my way to Timbuktu I had to get to the river port of Mopti from which it takes three days by boat to get to Timbuktu. The Niger being one of the largest rivers in Africa with hippos living in its waters and ancient nomadic communities on its banks the journey was going to be an adventure in itself. In fact the journey to a distant exotic place like Timbuktu is the whole point of going, for the ride, to see what its like to get to the back of beyond.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
I guess it kind of apt that as Ive become progressively sick and worn down bu Africa so has my blog. In that sense its a true mirror to my experience's. I realise a sick blog is a boring one all it does is sleep all day. Thankfully as I am recovering so is my blog. I'm in new surroundings now and feel refreshed so.. witness my blog reawaken!