Friday, July 04, 2008

My month of assiduous Bambara studies while tucked away in the forests of central Sweden with my mother and MNL has yielded some results, and although I still speak French to my staff when I am in a hurry or when I am angry- in other words most of the time- there are also moments when I make an effort and say things like: Boubakar, na, an be fileriw turu! (Boubakar, come here, we are going to plant some flowers!) This provokes inordinate delight in the staff, who clutch their stomachs and fall over, yelping with laughter.
But Bambara, like everything else in West Africa, is confusing and seemingly illogical. I was feeling very pleased with myself because I am now able to count in Bambara, which I assumed would be helpful if I wanted to go shopping in the market for instance. But no, of course not! It turns out that the numbers used for counting ordinary things do not apply to money. If I give 1500 francs CFA in order to buy a torch for example, I want to say: Ba kelen ani keme duuru, which means, literally translated, 1500. But while this phrase is correct if I am talking about 1500 cows, say, or 1500 bicycles, it doesn’t apply to 1500 francs, which instead is called keme saba, literally 300!

I am not the first to find this curious. Even when money was represented by cowrie shells the same thing applied and Mungo Park wrote in 1795:
‘it is curious that in counting the cowries, they call eighty a hundred. Sixty is called a Manding hundred'...


Blogger Gilliane said...

Dearest Sophie,
I am a huge fan of your diary of events in Mali. YOU ARE FUCKING BRILLIANT!!!! It's a masterpiece. I'm really inspired by your pioneering spirit and happy to be in touch with what you are doing. You are GREAT!
I've read everything it's enlightening, profound and hilarious SO YOU!
Love Gilliane x

6:54 PM  

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