Matimbougou Village, November 2, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Friday, November 2, 2007

We continued east through western Mali a little south of the Mauritanian border and then turned south in the direction of Bamako on a road that was newly paved for most of the distance and graded for paving for most of the rest.  The generally good condition of the roads contrasts sharply with stories I had read about overland travel in the region five to ten years ago when the roads were still a rutted, cratered nightmare.  Mali, though, is now a major recipient of western aid, and this European Union supported project to link Mali to ports in Senegal via a decent road would appear to be a good use of such funds. 
I quickly learned that the best way of finding the ice I as truck barman needed to get on a daily basis for the drinks cooler in Mali was to let it come to me.  The occasional police checkpoints at the edges of towns were usually swamped with people selling anything travelers in stopped vehicles might want or need, everything from deep-fried plantains to cigarettes to packages of cookies to fresh fruit.  Most importantly there was ice - usually big hunks of it in plastic bags or plastic bottles.  These checkpoints were also the best places to get out, stretch you legs, and maybe supplement our protein-deficient diet with some of the beef brochettes or goat meat cooking out in the open over charcoal.  The idiot who say, "Don't eat street food in Africa," just don't have a clue. 
After a brutally hot lunch stop along an especially dusty stretch of road, Dave satisfied our requests to "see a village" with an impromptu stop along the road near a rather picturesque large village a short distance away in the fields, a place that happened to be named Matimbougou.  Dave went into the village to meet with the chief and arrange terms and payment for such a visit.  The terms of the agreement turned out to be 2,000 CFA (about $4.50) per person, a gift for the chief, and a small fixer fee for the French-speaker who served as an interpreter, for which we got an audience with the village chief, the French-speaker's interpreting services, and a free run of the village with unlimited photo taking for about two hours.  It seemed like quite a good deal for all, and quite pleased to have the opportunity to play anthropologist for a little while. 
Chief Sagaba, 78 years old, welcomed us to Matimbougou as we tourists and he sat on the ground while a crowd of villagers watched and listened.  Through the interpreter, Chief Sagaba told us his village was Bambara (the most populous tribe in Male, had about 1,500 people, and had never before had a tour group stop there, so they were very pleased to have us visit
I'm not quite sure where most of them were hiding, because I didn't see evidence of 1,500 people, and as in much of rural Africa it seemed as though about half the population was under about six years old.  There also seemed to be rather few men around, but in the difficulty of translation from English to French to Bambara and back again, my questions about whether the men were away working in the city or were out of the village herding cattle never got answered.  There was however a clear division of labor in the primary work that was being done in the village; whereas breaking millet stalks on the ground with long sticks to separate the grains and cobs is clearly men's work in Bambaraland, pounding the millet into a meal in stone mortars with big wooden pestles is women's work.  The people were some of the most hospitable anywhere, loved to look at their images in the camera screen, and tried to get us to sing with them.  And the little children didn't even beg for cadeaus!   
We continued on from Matimbougou for about an hour and camped that night in dry scrubby Sahel countryside among Fulani pastoralists and their cattle herds.  Although the cattle-herders mostly kept to themselves, there was a constant stream of visitors to our campsite from a nearby Bambara village, some of whom came and introduced themselves to us several times and even sat watching us as we sat around our evening campfire late into the evening.  We white people must be at least as interesting to rural Africans as they are to us. 
Overland tour groups must also be very education for young African children too.  They get to watch and learn how white people live, and how skewed a view it must be!  In the morning as we were eating breakfast and packing the truck, an older man with a large crowd of children, likely a teacher and his class, gathered around to watch the strange habits of the white people, we as much of a anthropological study for them as the village visit the day before was for us.  I watched the children ask the old man questions about us, and tried to imagine his answers. 

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