Tuesday, April 22, 2008

While I was out.

Some of the things that have been happening around town in Nikki while I was traveling about:

Chaleur. The Chaleur or hot season arrived and went full speed ahead in my absence. Yesterday was 102 Degrees F. Basically this means that from about 11 am until about 4 pm you are in a semi-coma state. As one of the few dividends of being driven out of your house during chaleur, I and my neighbors have been sleeping outside. Dusty wind and screaming goats aside(do they ever sleep?!), sleeping under the stars is a beautiful thing.

Power Outages. Nikki’s electricity, normally powered by a number of gas-generators, was recently brought to its knees, presumably by the heat. Now Nikki’s 5 quarters are taking turns with 2 small generators, which works out to 8 or 9 hours of power every other day.

Mango Season. One of the other silver linings to the hot season. These start ripening and dropping in April or so. Because it hasn't rained much yet, the big ("vrais") Mangos haven't yet dropped in Nikki. So I eat lots of the small ones. Yesterday I ate 9.

Elections. I came back to local elections week in full swing. This meant campaign posters everywhere and other political fare. And that pack of men gassing their motorcycles through center town? To the untrained eye, frat boys just getting out of a football game, but local closer and that's someone's campaigning centerpiece. Sunday the town went to vote, at one place in a booth partly corridored by a turned over car. When all the dust settle on election day, I was told that all went smoothly. Long live democracy.

My dog. The saddest piece of news coming home was that my dog Cowboy had fallen sick and died. Ostensibly, in the course of his daily rummage through a rubbage heap just outside my concession, Cowboy had found and eaten some really bad meat that someone had thrown out. Since Cowboy was the only dog in Nikki to have a name, a collar, and regular walks, I'm pretty sure many folks will miss him.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Dogon est Doux

Returned recently from a 10-day trip through Burkina Faso and Mali with four other volunteers. Our main hits were Ougadougou (Burkina Faso), Pays Dogon (Mali), Mopti (Mali), and Djenne (Mali). In between was ALOT of miles of bush taxi discomfort and adventures.


The top highlight of the trip was a four day hike through Dogon country, a region of beautiful escarpments in middle-Mali that for centuries have been inhabited by the Dogon people, cultivators who have settled at the base of, at the top of, and--in some places--inside these escarpments. Alongside "beautiful," the other word needed to explain this area is "fragile," as the very traditional Dogon villages are vulnerable to encroaching desertification, tourism, and other outside forces, the effects of all of which you can vividly see. We had a fantastic time trekking the area, sleeping on roofs, meeting the locals, and hanging out with our fantastic guide, Oumar.

Visiting Africa's largest mud mosque in Djenne, Mali's "sister" city to Timbouktou was another highlight. A cleaner, more accessible, and quite possibly more beautiful version of Timbouktou, Djenne is a Muslim city of North African architecture, winding narrow streets, and lots of camera-friendly kids.

Though the miles and miles of "bush taxi" we covered could only be described as "fun" by the chronic masochist, I feel that something should be said about this element that consumed about half of our trip. What would voyaging in Africa be if not done in style: Sahelian heat, harmattan dust, broken axles, flat tires, wooden benches, sharing space with peeing goats and dying cows.

I've posted some photos from the trip online. Link here to see the whole album.

Two sisters in Djenne.
The world's largest mud mosque, seen through a house window in Djenne, Mali.

I and the other volunteers I traveled with, on a rooftop in Djenne.