Dogon Day Afternoon

We crossed the border today into Burkina Faso, which went reasonably quickly, leaving us with a few hours this afternoon to use the Internet.  The computers and the connection as usual aren’t very good, so we’ll see how much is possible.  I haven’t been able to send e-mail, and I hope whatever’s causing that problem doesn’t cause problems with posting.  I guess I’ll start small and just keep editing this post until I’m done.

 

The weather and our spirits have both improved markedly since my last post upon arrival in Timbuktu.  The wind stopped the next day, but sand just hung in the air and visibility was about half a kilometer for about three more days.  Today, near Ouagadougou, it’s quite nice.  So the certainty of driving sand every day that we were dreading has yielded to a sense that being sanded out for the eclipse is merely a definite possibility.

The drive to Timbuktu and back again was very long on a very bad road — once there we didn’t stay long.  We had a nice little walk around town (there wasn’t much there), and at the end of the day we had a 30-minute camel ride.  During the afternoon I got some work done.  The camel ride was fun — we’ll have a couple of days in Niger to ride camels for several hours.

We returned across the Sahel to the Bandiagara escarpment, a 100 km-long cliff where the Dogon people live.  They live mostly atop the cliff and at the bottom, but there are a few villages which are built right onto the face.  They use the dwellings of a previous civilization, the Tellem, which are caves even higher on the cliff face, to bury their dead.  The highlight of the visit was the traditional ceremonial dance featuring some pretty outrageous masks.  There was the usual amount of being paraded past souvenir opportunities which we mostly resisted — we were close to buying a 30 pound mortar and pestle but fortunately we didn’t quite meet their price.

Ray adds: The little guys who hold your hand when you walk down the stairways on the cliffs, don’t let go even when you reach level ground. How could they? You might forget to give them 250 CFA when you get to your car. It is also their custom, to force upon you their names and addresses. Sometimes random village children come up to you and thrust pieces of paper with their addresses written on them, too. I don’t know how these fads get started. It clearly can’t be anything but cargo cult cultural exchange: I don’t suspect that the Mali post makes it out this far, even if the kids realize that this is what the use of their addresses would be. Kone told me that if I wanted to get any pictures to them, I should send them to the Sagatours office in Bamako and he will bring to the village these parcels, himself. He comes here on average every two weeks in the season, October-March.

Last night we went to have food with our guide at the local street place.  They served to, pounded millet, okra sauce, and a scrawny chicken leg.  For three it was $3 — we gave them a $1 tip.  He’s taking us somewhere else tonight in downtown Ouagadougou.

The next two nights we’ll be in capital cities (here and Niamey, Niger), and then it’s back into the desert.  Hopefully you’ll hear from us again before we vanish from civilization for two weeks.