Thursday, July 20, 2006


Thursday morning-
returning from Baba’s, hoping to do some work , but frustrated by technical difficulties and lack of tools- also I am constantly filled with so many new impressions and don’t want to let them disappear before I note them down. This place seems like a precious gift and nothing must be lost. Just an hour’s trip to Baba’s for breakfast is an event filled with incidents which are possibly just mundane but to me seem worthy of note. I am thirsty and soak things up like a blotting paper, in a sort of spring clean of the soul, a barely conscious attempt not to erase, but to modify and temper the contours of the interior landscape I have inhabited over the last few months. The hotter it gets the better-.

This morning a pretty Dogon guide boy of no more than twenty came and sat down at my table, although he saw I was clearly writing and not looking for company. I had seen him before and he is trying his luck with me. I didn’t want to talk and explained that I was working. After half an hour or so I softened and showed him some of Andrew’s pictures of the Dogon country on my computer, including the picture of the old diviner in Sanga and his jackal devination table in the sand. People come to him during the course of the day to ask him questions; he sets them out as figures and symbols in the sand . During the night a jackal arrives, walks across the pattern formed by the many questions and in his trail lies the answer to the questions, interpreted by the diviner.
‘Did you ever ask him any questions?’ I asked. ‘Yes of course’, replied the young Dogon. I wanted to know if they were about love. He looked at me as if I were silly beyond contempt: ‘Whatever for? That sort of thing is not important. Why should I ask a diviner about that? If I want to pull a girl and she is not interested, I’ll just try another. Work and money, life and death are important here’ he explained. It is not the first time I have a feeling that our idea of romantic love is an irrelevance here- a luxury for indulgent neurotic Westerners.
The young Dogon must have thought I was flirting with him, because he asked what I was doing tonight. I laughed and told him that I already had a petit ami and that in any case I could be his grand mother-(well, almost...)

Then I passed by Boubakar and looked at the progress of my magic indigo blanket, we talked of my country, of ice and snow. Boubakar has seen winter in Belgium, he was invited by the Belgian equivalent to the Arts Council to spend a month in Brussels teaching weaving at a Cultural centre. I love hearing him talk about his winter experiences. Like the 'Griot' -Fulani storyteller - that he is he has an unerring capacity for grasping the poetic and turning the mundane into the extraordinary. He tells me as his weaver’s shuttle passes swiftly from side to side how in Belgium his breath had formed white clouds when he exhaled, and how he had walked on the water which was hard as stone. Once he had looked through the stone water, which was like a window and he had seen a big red fish - no not quite red, it was a bit like the colour of my toe nails- here he stops weaving and rather ruins the moment by pointing to my disgusting toes where a scrap of orange nail varnish remains- a reminder of another world where feet can be clean. I assume he had seen an iced-over gold-fish pond.

Conversations here are almost always surprising. Either, as is the case with Boubakar, who cannot read, they can sometimes reveal the intelligence and sensitivity of an untutored mind, able to make observations perhaps no longer possible to us. On the other hand, those fortunate enough to go to school mostly soak up information in a way that would make British secondary school teachers weep with envy.
Conversations are often challenging, of the sort I experience too rarely in England- perhaps only on an enchanted evening in Lulie’s conservatory in Lincoln Street, or just very occasionally sometimes on one of my Tuesdays. The subjects that suit Africa are philosophical: on my way back from Baba’s -this was about 9 am- I ran into Moussa, aka Chris, the young American peace corps volunteer. He was in the middle of a heated conversation with three young men who were arguing about whether History was a Science - the Malians thought it was while the American disagreed. This developed into dissecting the difference between what they termed the Precise and the Social sciences. Statistics, for example, although a branch of Mathematics, the most precise of all sciences, relied entirely on interpretation- so what should be concluded? I left because I felt this had the potential to go on all day in the shade of the grass mat awning. Posted by Picasa


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