Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Ramadan in Mali - 2001

Today turned out to be the end of Ramadan. During the last month, people have been fasting during the day, only eating and drinking after dark. Today that was done with, and people were out celebrating. People were out, dressed in their finest boubou, men in long flowing gowns (besoin cloth) and often a skullcap on their head and children either dressed in traditional clothing or in cute western-style outfits. Girls especially liked the outfits that included matching purses and hats.
I was invited to the home of a Malian, the assistant who helps me in the lab and with the middle school. He has one daughter (about 6 years old) and a wife with very fine features. Although he has an education and journalist degree, he regrets that he is yet unable to own his own home and instead is renting a small house that appeared to have only two rooms. Several other families share the dusty courtyard, including the landlord. Cooking and other household chores were done outside in the courtyard. It was also where many people chose to enjoy their day.
Gently brushing the lace curtain aside, I entered the living room. It was small (about 8'x10') and sparsely furnished. In one
corner of the room several locally woven chairs were stacked, with a small child's size one next to the 5 adult chairs. In the opposite corner was a simple desk piled with several dictionaries and other papers. A TV was also here, taking a prominent role in the one
windowed room. In a third corner next to the entryway was a clay water jar, whose contents were used mostly for drinking. A single metal cup was carefully placed on top of the lid, on top of which a piece of cloth was carefully laid. In the middle of the room was a low simple table, nearly every space occupied by a covered bowl. When it was time to eat, the covers were removed, revealing couscous, a
wheat-based product (I forgot the name), a sauce (onions were a prominent feature of the sauce), a veal dish, guinea fowl prepared several different ways, and some bottled drinks. Unlike traditional Malians, we ate with silverware and had our own separate plates. As the guest, I was urged to eat a lot. Even though I didn't want any more, the wife placed several pieces of meat on my plate and insisted that I eat more. Meat is a special item in many Malian homes, and it's an honor to share it with guests. After eating more than my fill, I then was urged to eat some papaya and bananas. A sweet porridge-like dish was presented later, but I could only eat a small amount - too full.
After eating, we watched television for a while. It was interesting to see what was on local television, since I don't have a
TV here. Shows included special Ramadan prayers/announcements, singing, a children's program (which included traditional instrument playing and a showcase of children in various ethnic costumes), an American movie dubbed in French, and a short show which (like many of the traditional songs) had a message imbedded in the story. During this time we looked at some photos. The young daughter and some slightly older girls who were relatives/friends were occupied with some art supplies I brought to the daughter as a gift: oil pastels, a
spiral notebook, a watercolor set, a pencil, pen, ruler, and scissors. Judging from the way they carefully handled the supplies
and were fascinated by some techniques I showed them, I assume that they probably don't have such supplies at school. I believe the simple supplies will be appreciated and put to good use.
Shortly after the meal was finished, we heard some live music coming towards us. Looking outside, we saw several hunter griot (musicians), dressed in their traditional superstitious garb. One was playing a percussive instrument and 3 were playing a hunter's harp, a
6 stringed instrument similar to the kora. On top of the neck of the instrument was a metal flap with rings, which made their own percussive additions to the rhythm. They had come to greet the landlord, who was a hunter. Delighted, he brought out his gun and an animal tail tied and attached to a leather cord and began dancing with the others. He then fired once into the air. After a few minutes of dancing and playing, they left to greet another fellow hunter.
Nearly suppertime, I was still full, but it was time for me to leave. My hosts were very gracious and generous, offering to share their special day and feast with me. It is for these moments that I will fondly remember Mali.

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