Continental Drift

September 14, 2010

A list of things I notice, and then I think about them sometimes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unaleona @ 3:02 pm

But never enough to write a whole post about them.  So here are some post-ettes.


There is an old man who watches many documentaries, follows American foreign policy more voraciously than I ever have, and adores American TV dubbed into French.  I can’t remember his name, but he is a friend’s neighbor, and I like him. Despite being convinced that Bush and Osama were in a conspiracy together to create the 9/11 plot, he loves America.  Particularly Jerry Springer. It is a good thing, he says, that we have this show on the air to shatter taboos and bring things out in the open.  In Mali, these things stay under wraps, and no one hears about the terrible things happening.  It is brilliant that we have invented such a forum for public shaming, so that people learn not to do these things. When he told me that, I tried to imagine for a minute what it would be like if that were really true.


Sometimes I think my family only likes me because I buy them things.  Every once in a while I distribute luxurious largesse like powdered milk, a thermos, cakes, sugar, salad ingredients, meat on the bone, or even old clothes.  When I tell her I won’t buy something that she requests, Mama gives me the saddest puppy face.  Who knew pleading was so cross-culturally communicable?


There is now a man selling “fripperie” (the clothes you sent to goodwill that make it all the way across the ocean to be sold here for anywhere from 20 cents to 2 dollars) on the road to work, and he wears a cowboy hat and a really bling necklace.  Since it is only a high of 85 or 90 degrees here these days, people are cold, so he set up a headless mannequin with the ugliest, shiniest Reindeer sweater I’ve ever seen.  I bought cute shoes from him because they were only 400 CFA and they said they were from a designer in Paris.  They gave me blisters because they are too small, and since they are old I can’t convince myself that I just have to keep wearing them to break them in.


I sat down to drink tea one night with one of the three “grains” (groups of guys who sit drinking tea, like a gang without the gang part) on my street who always ask me to drink with them when I arrive back from The City tired and disgruntled.  “When I am president of Mali,” said one guy, “it will be great for the other Diallos.  I will make sure that my son is the Prime Minister.  And my son-in-law, he’ll be head of the army.” “What if he isn’t good at leading the army?” I ask, playing devils advocate.  “He’ll be head of the army even if he can’t even read!” “This guy here, he’s trying to destroy this country. That’s not the way to run a democracy,” chimes in someone.  “Mali,” says nepotism-dude, “is not a democracy.  It might be a democratic country but it is not a democracy” (or maybe he said the other way around.  I’m not sure which would make more sense, because I didn’t know what he meant exactly.  Do you?).  “Shut up,” says the same someone as before, “Who does he think he is, he isn’t even from here.  He’s Guinean.”


When you get married in a civil ceremony (usual several years after your religious one, because it costs so much money to get the white Western dress and throw the huge party) here in Mali, you have to sign whether you want a polygamous or monogomous marriage. My friend Djibi studies law, and he says the husband and wife discuss this before they are officially engaged, and decide which kind of marriage they will sign.  His sister, Diba, says, thats not how it works.  The husband just tells you the day of the ceremony, I’m signing polygamy, and that’s that.  Djibi told her that in article iv of the XXX Act of Marriage, etc, it says something or other.  Diba said, “Have you been married? I have!” Diba’s husband used to work for NGOs on development projects, then he got fed up and became an entrepreneur of sorts.  He is one of the best educated men I’ve met in Sikoro.  I wonder if he signed polygamy because he really wants a second wife.  If not, then why exactly? Djibi says you have to sign polygamy to keep the wife on her toes trying to keep you interested. If you sign monogamy, then “It’s Over.” Sounds like an American bachelor party attitude.

When I asked Djibi why Mali had bothered to introduce this legal distinction in its marriages, he tried to explain that it was because Mali believes in “Laicite”.  (For those of you who have not spent a large amount of time pondering the differences between French and American state secularism, or whether the French-veil and mosque banning laws are total nonsense, basically the differences can be described as this: while America believes the state must step back to allow you to practice whatever religion you choose without interference from the government, the French believe the government must insure that you have the right to go about your life without interference from other people’s religions.  The syntactic nuances are subtle, but in practice important.  Regardless, the idea is very French. Oh the things that are preserved through to the post-colonial era).  So basically, Djibi is saying that because Mali has a French-Laic government, this very Muslim country has to offer the option of monogomy in its marriage contracts.  What would it take to make France use the same logic to allow you to sign “Poloygamy”?


            Last night there was a neighborhood dance party organized just for the kids.  Everyone from Sikoro, Sourakabougou, and Banconi were invited.  When I walked over, a group of boys wearing shiny polyester shirts, hats low over their eyes, baggy jeans, and basketball jerseys were taking turns in the center of the circle, spinning and flipping and contorting and basically being excellent break dancers.  They could have been from anywhere (anywhere where there are pirated movies and Akon, that is.  But really, that’s everywhere, isn’t it?).  Finally, when the MC cut them off, my friend Bai told me “Now they are going to do a “Battle Danse.”  Battle dancing sounded like they were going to pit two lines of mini-break dancers against each other to compete.  I was ready for things to get crazy if someone’s back flip landed on someone else’s head. But then, before I realized that the music had changed, backwards-cap kid launched into an arms-flailing traditional dance.  It looked like something I saw during the masked dance in Dogon, or West African dance performances at Brown, or really most dancing I see in Mali.  Not a dance battle, a battle dance! And these kids were good. These break dancers had morphed instantly across periodand distance to appear as if they belonged in a small village some other time entirely.  They continued to take turns showing off in the center, these same kids with their baggy pants, but the dancing style was completely different.  Of course, then the song ended, the MC called out to some more kids to join the circle, and behold, the dance battle began.


            This morning on the way to work I passed two 10 year old boys carrying aluminum bowls filled with individual, unwrapped disposable diapers on their heads.  They were going door to door to sell them.   I couldn’t decide if I even think that this is strange anymore.

            (I’ve also never seen a baby wearing disposable diapers in Sikoro)


            1 Comment »

            1. Hi Leona,
              wonderful to read your post-ettes and other experiences. Thank you! I always love to read about your life in Mali, though usually, I don’t write, sorry.

              Comment by Elisabeth Kaestner — September 25, 2010 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

            RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

            Leave a Reply

            Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:


            You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

            Google+ photo

            You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

            Twitter picture

            You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

            Facebook photo

            You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


            Connecting to %s

            Blog at

            %d bloggers like this: