Dogon Country 2

Currency = CFA
£1 = CFA 1000
US $1 = CFA 520
1 Euro = CFA 656
March 2004

From Bandiagara, we turned off the main road onto a mixture of dusty laterite tracks and smooth roads supported by stone walls with many dipped paved sections .. making secure areas to ford running water, when the surrounding land gets flooded in the rainy season. Heading towards the village of Tegourou, through bare fields with millet stalks from last year's harvest, we passed tiny picturesque villages* where the granaries (shaped like pepper pots) were more in evidence than the houses, and young children would shyly approach the car when we stopped.

Just before reaching Tegourou .. at Anakanda** there was a dammed stream .. surrounded by terraced green fields of onions and host to a herd of cattle. A picturesque oasis in the middle of the parched dryness of the surrounding area .. a photographer's dream !

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At the end of the laterite and paved section of the road was the village of Djiguibombo ..
which was both an annoyance and a delight in itself.
 The annoyance .. and this was probably more to do with our tiredness from the morning's exertions and the intense heat, than any really excessive attempts at coercion .. was that
to the local touts, we were yet more tourists to be fleeced. Arriving at the village car park,
we found a large shelter where we could have cool drinks from their generator-powered cooler. Sadly accompanied by the hassle of: "You pay for ....." from a gaggle of annoying guides .. instead of the naively hoped and asked-for quiet wander around the village with our driver.

Alaghi, usually a quiet, shy and retiring sort of guy .. with infinite patience and knowing full well the true local costs of everything .. was getting fed-up with being classed as a tourist amongst his brothers. Especially noting the inflated prices I was expected to pay everywhere on these tourist routes. Our experiences in other areas and other countries .. had shown us that most of what people along this route were trying to coerce us into paying for, would have been freely given by a genuine new friend who was proud to show us their  lifestyle. A voluntarily given present or a payment afterwards would quite often cause embarrassment and sometimes be refused .. with simply a request for a copy of the photos if possible, next time we passed.
The high payments that were being demanded up front all along our route .. in true
closed-shop - trade union style .. was annoying the hell out of both of us !!

At first I refused point-blank to be guided anywhere at any price !
A couple of cold Cokes later .. after cooling down from the temperature outside and my initial outburst .. I realised that, yes .. these people were poor in monetary terms, they could not be blamed for trying to get as much as possible from the constant tourist invasion of their home villages and after all, I was just another tourist. Perhaps I had been a bit harsh.
But, by then, a friendly and teasing banter had built up between us and we were invited for a much more modest amount, to join one of the lads for a look around.

 The delight was the photographic opportunity to wander around Djiguibombo*** taking excellent pictures of the buildings ( some with their famous wooden Dogon doors ) and the village's beautiful Togu-na * ( the bantaba of the Dogon people ) .. whilst mostly avoiding taking pictures of the people themselves. One picture I did sneak was of a lady sitting right on top of one of the houses, preparing some vegetables for the evening meal. I had looked up and seen the similar silhouettes of her hat and the tip of the roof, initially thinking, Wow .. she must be a sun worshipper or a little deranged, to sit up there in this heat ! At the same moment, she saw my camera aimed at her and a stream of Dogon invective came pouring forth. As I waved an apology, I realised that - far from being a little strange - she was indeed very wise. Protected by her cloth head dress and sitting high up, she was in the only bit of cooling breeze to be had !!
Pardon Madame, for my intrusion .. but your
photograph** is superb.

Whilst eager to record these scenes, I was tinged with feeling unusually awkward at being yet another tourist, invading these good folk's privacy, whilst sadly being unable to make real friends because of the language barrier. I wondered how I would feel, being constantly stared at by rich strangers, whilst going about my daily life. Probably like a fish in a fish tank.

With not enough time to complete a round trip, over what were evidently very much rougher roads, we returned to Sévaré the same way as we had come. Poor Banya .. he spent nearly as much time stopping for me to take photographs as he did driving. The picturesque
scenes*** of shapely trees, rocky outcrops, Fula huts, market sites and animals, were just too good to miss.

Factfile 29: If I had been using normal film, I would probably have been bereft at not having enough with me. As it was, with a large capacity digital card inserted .. I could be indulgent, happily snapping everything I saw in high quality format, initially giving 1600 x 1200 images which can be magnified on my computer up to 3000 x 2250, without losing clarity. But to avoid
1 megabyte+ download sizes, the pictures I show during this saga .. are reduced in physical size and set at the maximum 72% resolution quality which computer monitors can display.

To see these pictures in conjunction with reading their appropriate text ..
Read on until you come to a
Link * then click on the thumbnail with the same number of *s

Dogon Doors




Arriving home to Mac's Refuge .. we willingly settled our account with Banya , who had been pleasant, really informative and a good friend for the day .. despite not forewarning us of the mountaineering ! Banya Ettara is his full name .. if you are ever in Sévaré and need some reliable personal transport, I recommend him to you .. you can find him through Mac.

Out of his fee, he paid back the money he had surreptitiously borrowed from Alaghi at Songho. I say surreptitiously, although nothing underhand had taken  place. I had noticed money quietly changing hands before we left the car park .. but had been too puffed to bother to ask what was going on. Evidently, he had wanted to buy a locally-made bed from his friends .. but didn't have  enough cash with him. The ever-faithful Alaghi, in a peacekeeping role, had obviously warned him of the previous day's occurrences and my dislike of paying upfront for services yet to be delivered .. personally sorting out a potential trouble-spot before it could occur. Bless him !!

During dinner, Mac told us of a better bus service back to Bamako, with new buses and a timetable that they actually adhered to .. both of which facts are  most unusual in West Africa.
7.30 am sharp was the departure time and with Banya having volunteered to collect and take us to the bus station .. that night, we both slept the sleep of happy but exhausted mountaineers !