Thursday, August 03, 2006

While I am waiting for the water pipes to be installed on my hotel site I am staying with Keita, whose courtyard is always full of people.
I wake up every morning to the sound of the pounding of millet in the large wooden pestle and mortar which is THE universal cooking utensil of Africa. Soon the 'mendiants' arrive to sweep the courtyard and do whatever other menial tasks may be at hand before they receive their reward: the left-overs from last night's dinner. Keita's household has three such little boys who 'belong' to the courtyard and they will defend their territory from the encroachment of other little 'mendiants', who swarm the streets of Djenné.
There is a well defined pecking order here. Although there is only officially two people eating -Keita and I- food is prepared for about twelve because there are so many mouths to feed! When the food first arrive to our table there is an enormous amount on display. We eat what we want and thereafter the food goes to Beigna (see above) and his friends, who always leave some for the 'mendiants'.
Like all people with some standing in Mali, Keita has a 'Petit'.That means that a young man has attached himself to him, and has become his manservant. Beigna is Keita's 'Petit'. He makes the tea, washes his clothes, serves the food and runs errands. Baigna is not paid, but he is looked after and does this service for Keita by choice.
'How did Beigna come to work for you like this?' I asked Keita. 'Oh, one day he just saw me and loved me' said Keita.'Just like that. He just followed me and attached himself to me'.
I find this rather mind-boggling. There is absolutely nothing sexual in their relationship. Beigna serves Keita for the pleasure of being with him. He has no other work, and being here is the most fun option available.
In fact Keita's courtyard is where the fun of this town mainly happens, for about 5pm every day 'le tout Djenné' arrives for the daily 'pelotte' session: a noisy and apparently totally engrossing card game. Beigna makes everyone endless sweet tea, served in little glasses, and in the background the music of Ali Farka Touré or Salif Keita or recently the blues I brought along. As I believe I mentioned some time ago, the Maire of Djenné is often found amongst the card players. Last night he entrusted me to communicate an important message. Watch this space tomorrow... Posted by Picasa


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