Meet Kone and Ahmed

There’s a man in this story we’re calling Ahmed. He’s our driver. Ahmed is the name on his Niger passport. I am unable to transcribe the syllables that Kone uses to address him or refer to him. Sometimes it sounds like Mohammed, sometimes, Mehmet, sometimes mo-MED, never Ahmed, and when we asked Kone what his name was, he said all the forms of Mohammed are the same. Kone’s name is also Mohammed. Ambiguity arises when half the people in a culture have the same first name. Or last name. Amy has a friend in Santa Cruz with an unusual not-terribly-Swedish-sounding last name, whose male ancestor got that name when he was drafted into the army in Sweden back in the day and they told him the unit had way too many Jon Jonssons or Nils Nilssons and from now on he was this other person. “If you have a diagnostic category that fits 100 percent of people, it’s not a diagnostic category,” in the words of a former president of the American Psychiatric Association.

Kone, our guide, turned out to be nice. So did Ahmed.

Kone is a Samanou, which is what he says you call a Bambara person who has taken up the life of fishing under the tutelage of the Bozos; and Ahmed is a Tuareg. The Tuaregs I had heard of before. They live in vast reaches of the Sahara desert. They occasionally make war on whatever nation state thinks they can control them, and have been doing so since the time of the Umayyads and the Abassids. At the moment Mali and Niger have effective cease fires; I’ll be happy when driving across Niger to have a driver who was actually born in Tahoua or nearby.

They came and fetched us about 9 AM, as Dave was trying once again to communicate with our blog space on the computer at the Mandé Hotel. We drove a few hours to the town of Segou, which is the next major town down the Niger River. On the way we stopped to take pictures of termite mounds and so forth, and also a village where a way of life was explained and we gave the chief a bit of money to build a hospital in his Mercedes. I shouldn’t be so cynical. Yes, I should. You know, what the heck can you do to help? Maybe some of you who are reading this will think, you can spend a half a million dollars and twenty years sending your own kids to college and you still can’t be more than vainly hopeful for the outcome. They might end up an late middle age running around different continents snapping photos of stuff they have no clue what it is. So what could you possibly hope to accomplish in a half hour, other than a distraction?

In the afternoon in Segou we walked along the beach where guys tried to sell us stuff, and visited a carpet factory and dyers. Always the carpet factory. It seems to stand, in all tours and all countries, for the whole industrial life. Maybe it’s that important. Maybe carpets are just what the entire world does. It’s a little easier to get to, and to watch, than people stuffing millet seeds into the ground.