Saturday, November 14, 2009

Les route D'Guinea


There is a road south of Bamako that continues on to Guinea. It's characters and personality are rich, rich red, and full of texture. The road is not exactly one you'd see where I'm from in America withbut miniature lakes huge dips and ridges and a snaking safe passage around them forming a curving undulating narrow path around the wild terrain that is the road. I jokingly and in bad Bambara said the road itself was the wilderness supposedly boardering it. The bumps and shaking of the groaning vans crawling slowly along the road sound are wild and crazy. You feel a bit like your ridding some obstacle course in an old beat up van the driver smashes into parts of the terrain driving slowly and the road forces him to, but way to fast for human comfort. It's humorous in retrospect I suppose, though a disturbing prospect. This road is one of the main roads that ties Mali South of Bamako to Guinea and links all the villages in between. In all fairness the bad sections of the road described above are truly small sections of the road, but the can consume hours of your trip as memories of pavement and speeds above 30 miles an hour coast into the distant memory.

For all its wild, strong and exciting character the road is beautiful in a very deep way. I love roads. I think it comes from the family trips we took traveling across country by car from Seattle, Washington to Kalamazoo Michigan. We would travel over five days across the country by car and later by train and the trips left an impact in, well I guess my soul. There are a few things my memories that have left indellible marks in my heart and mind like tatoos. Traveling the long roads and rails, photographing the beauty of nature and people may shortly find itself to be my highest passion and lifelong occupation. My Mother's Mother, once she was older maintained her good health by walking long distances across the town my mother grew up in. Then Grannie kept walking in poor shoes until she developed health concerns, eventually falling, complications ensued and I don't remember exactly of what but she passed a bit later. As a family we would go on walks when I and my little sister Karis were young, picking up all manner of seeds, leaves, observing nature through her seasons and taking in the beautiful world all along the roads of my hometown. So you see the Southern Bamako red road with its seemingly endless and unchecked green fields and wildernesses speak to someone inside of me.

The fields and trees as far as the eye can see lining the road, or rather the roads veining them are something like fiction. I imagine driving in the rural areas around Tallahassee that the forest stretches without end. I imagine that were I to walk out into the nature around my town that I could walk forever and not hit the other side. Its an important thing to imagine because it ensures that somewhere, even if only in fiction, the unregimented, unrestrained pure and beautiful world is wide beyond ones ability to master it. In my imagination the world is still big like when I was a child, every part of it hasn't been crossed and colonized and there are still places where you can wander in openness and freedom. So the story this African road shares with me is that there actually is an endless wilderness still left and that somewhere humanity can exist without constriction. Obviously the story is fiction. Yet it's good to know such fiction can still be written.

Anyways, the bus ride is great and wack at the same time. We hit Degela and one of the coolest guys ever, John Wu, Mali code name Soloman Coulibaly leads me to his home there. Over the next few days John interprets for me an unraveling story of magic and legend that exists at the edges and in the history and childhood experiences of the people of several of the villages South of Mali.

The houses in the villages here are earthen, there is no electricity, the people are warm and quite busy going about the work that sustains them. Most people are farmers, but many people also hunt and do other tasks like repairing the many bicycles, and motorbikes people use for transportation. Degela is filled with green and while the earthen floor in the center of the village in worn earth without small green growing things, just outside of that area green is everywhere.

One of the first people we interview is the Degela Donsoba (chief hunter). Donsoba tells a story of the origins of Donsoya (hunting tradition) which take leave of normal reality a bit and I didn't get much of what he said. I'll have to translate it later. We do make out that there are special plants taken before a hunter goes to sleep through which they may attain visions of future events. Quite cool I thought. they call such plant knowledge here Jiridon. I was not able to discover which plant and the specifics of the method as it is reserved for donso, but Donsoba told me to return when I am a Donso and he'll tell me. Another cool.

We visited a man in charge of a magic wishing tree that fulfills peoples wishes traveling from all over the region to address their desires. Then John met a member of an old educational system at the core of the preIslamic cultural heritage who said he would show me a bit of it. In brief conversation John also mentioned a guy the next village up who spoke about a hill people by sometimes invisible little people with backwards feet. Okay... The people who had heard the story though it quite a bit odd, but I having spent quite a few years looking into West African culture was familiar with such tales though I hadn't expected to run into them in Mali. Wokolo in Mali, Kontomble in Burkina, Mmoetia in Ghana, and I believe Azili in some part of Benin or Togo, these little people are discussed by quite a few people who swear to their existence having met them, regularly meet with them etc. A Native American friend in America mentioned that Natives speak about the little people quite often when non-Natives aren't around and a judge in (I believe the Phillipines) was fired a while back when he said he received counsel from magic little people apparently part of the local beliefs. Similar creatures are spoken about in Haiti and I think a number of other place though I'd have to find some notes. As we began to talk about Mali's stories about Wokolo it seemed a whole magic world opened beneath a thin veneer of simple everyday village life.

These villages are in fact over a thousand years old. There are stories routed in the mind, developed so long ago, but continually experienced, and ways of life crafted around across all those years. I wondered how a thousand year old place still holding strongly to old traditions might differ from the cities I've live in. I began to get some of my answer in these villages south of Bamako.

It seems that one of the things that makes Blacksmithing and hunting different in these regions is this age. Rather than the old things being left behind for a space aged access to information, things, and exciting new possibilities, old things are worked into and reshaped creating an amazing dimension to life. You have spirits and magic little people, sometimes visible or not, you have sacred geography and immense secrets, quite mind blowing in their unraveling. You have knowledge also. Imagine one of several thousand years ago you figured out how to do something. Then imagine from then till now your family was educated into that knowledge base, expanded, developed and enriched it. Well that it the context in which people live out their lives and vocations. Farmers reportedly make it rain, Blacksmiths resist fire and the sharp edges of steel, hunters resist the dangers of wild animals historically lions, elephants, crocidile etc. And people find ways to live in an area unguarded by police, large cement buildings and fences. People find ways to stay safe when there is the constant threat of warfare on the horizon. I would later learn there is a warrior tradition here, martial arts and people skilled in the use of weaponry and hand to hand combat like one imagines certain periods of Asian history to have been. And like the warring period in Japan when samurai, war and danger raged across the land the region has seen war and warriors like Europes medieval knights, Japan's Samurai, and the worlds history of such things. So people found ways to survive, and though we in the west know little of the remarkable knowledge developed in this part of Africa to do such things I've heard a bit. Believe you me, it belongs on the world stage with all of the great triumphs of human accomplishment. I've heard and seen some remarkable things. I thing what benefits me greatly is that I have no desire to write them off as complete make believe having seen some of there demonstrated truths and real life usefulness.

Sabalibougou, Bamako

Here's my Flickr page, full of photos though none yet of the Tuareg Numuw and Sabalibougou

It's been a while since I was really able to sit down and write and I feel a bit like I'm telling the story backwards, or at least in a strange retrospection. Where my writing a voice on a radio telling a story sometime in the past I'd tell you settle down into your couch, close your eyes and listen to my tale. Bamako is a city much like any other major city. A ton of people all rushing about during the day trying to make their fortune. In so many ways it feels like if the cities and governments were abandoned by the current governmental and industrial leadership and the regular people took over and began to make their own nation. Everywhere things are placed togetherin an organized, disorganized fashion, shops are small so all the inventory is placed out on the sidewalk, so people walk in the street and the busses and motorbikes take turns trying to run them and each other over. There are a million bright colors on products and people, the houses earthen and sometimes made of dirt. Now when I heard of mud brick houses I though of an earthen sunbaked ceramic. I have learned that actually in Mali mud brick is dirt in the shape of a brick and rubbing it the wrong way, rain etc. makes it fall off, and come down just like you might imagine a dirt wall to. People live inside of these things, though I can't imagine how the fare the rain storms. But what is lovely is this means that everyone has a domicile and people don't have to live outside. Incredibly Black in my opinion. Okay, no place to live? Well we're going to find you a place even if we stitch it out of trash bags, we'll make a way. Beautiful. Until you look around the concrete and dirt houses, colorfully stylish people and things and see the endless parade of trash and putrid festering things on the ground. God save us from the contagion one foot roared to the rest of my body today as I accidentally disgustingly placed it in some sort of putrid water substance. Trash is everywhere in the city. My friends the Tuareg smiths live on the other side of what looks to be a river basin, water fall, hilly settlement overlooked the Niger basin, with a beautiful view. This scenic breath taking wonderful place to live is offset by the fact that the most scenic part is also a sprawling trash dump. It actually looks like a landfill on top of a resort quality area turned foot traffic highway. The animals eat things out of the trash, the water is frightening colors and everywhere Black folk are living, smiling, I saw not an ounce of crime, stress, and everyone employed in some hustle making it happen. The city is fast paced but with an African familial and social rhythm that contrasts it. I love the market as I've said before and it loves me. It's style is bewitching. I love my people always, but hear where people aren't afriad to just be as they are (or are less afraid than I'm used to), you find a reason to smile and stare everywhere you look.

I work in the quarter of town with the landfill at it's center called Sabalibougou. I love the winding road in from my area of town. The read earth on the sides of the road, the careening sway of the overcrowded transportation system called the soutrama, the craziness of the soutrama experience... I love it. I ride to work and then hike through the market, then the frightening disgusting, brilliantly beautiful dump, up the hill, around some corners and up another hill to my friends shop in his yard. Mohammed has like six of the small anvils they work in this part of the world and a crew of six to three people given the day. He has to gorgeous wives, beautiful children and lovely shade situation hooked up over the work area, delicious food and what seems to be a good degree of peace. Working with the Tuareg smiths is great because their work is incredibly rich in design and style. They make many a knife and sword, which is of course right up my alley. They work completely by hand and so by the time you've finished a product it is truly a wonderful thing. There are all these techniques for embedding curved metal into blackened ebony, indenting shapes into the metal and applying one metal to the next, bronze and coppers on steel etc. They create incredible leather boxes which I may as well photograph because I sure can't afford.

the Tuareg smiths speak Tamasheq and a little Bambara, along with French. I speak more Bambara than French, no French and no Tamasheq. So we communicate with very few words and hand guestures. One of the Tuareg smiths is deaf though so Mohammed being his close friend is quite used to a kind of sign language I've grown accustomed to. So in this way we hand craft art. Being a bladesmith (novice, beginner, all that) I of course was interested in the Tuareg knives, handles and knife like designs etc. Mohammed asked me, so do you want to make a bottle opener, or a box first? Of course my response is the bottle opener handle with a knife blade. I go buy my hardened car spring steel I know from back home and go to work. I sure learned something over the next few days. There seem to be many things you can do in life. However, the reason some people do certain things and not others is because it just makes good common sense. The Tuareg smiths work with smaller hammers, and small handles, smaller anvils and sometimes no fire. The point is that the work is for sale to turists. My knive making education and learning experience comes from a group of smiths who live in hugely forested areas in rural Southeast America where hunting culture is the culture. My knife making education has been in outdoor knives, hunting, survival, etc. I still wanted to work like that in Africa but with a little fire, tiny anvils and hammers and a completely different work set up I learned a bit of common sense and a bit about going with the flow. At least I learn that it'd be a good idea after I finished my knife. It was beautiful to.

The Tuareg women work in leather, and make delicious food. Their designs are excellent drawings etched into leather which become bags and pillows and all sorts of leather things. When you see the tuareg leather work, metal and many decorative things you really have to marvel at the creative mind. It's not that they are doing the impossible, or working in gold, it's just that their work is beautiful, especially when light shines on it. It looks like something good is inside of it.

One day working at Mohammeds place just chilling out either dodging the rain, sun, breathing in the good life Mohammed mentions the fact that the hammers and tools are not just simple tools. They have have a sacrifice don't on them, blood poured out, and a cow feasted on by I can imagine a host of happy Tuareg folk. I'm not sure the celebration it was tied to, either the opening of the forge site, the blessing of the tools for the work ahead... dunno. Thing is, Mohammed told me he wasn't involved in the magic because God didn't want it. So you can picture me wide mouthed when he spoke about the ritual. Well sure, makes sense to me I'm familiar with sacrifice, and that a blacksmith should seek blessing for his tools and hold a feast in that honor is something I could see. I guess I just associate sacrifice with African ritual and Islam the beautiful religion of this region, these folks, and this household with... well not. Especially when a person says no don't do this or that because God says not to. Certain groups define Islam more closely to standards one might find in the east and the Tuareg are one I know. And yet here I was working with blessed hammers all the time and didn't know it. Cool.

Later on that day I heard drumming and singing. Thinking it was a recording I ignored it and upon heading home for the day only on a whim did I follow my nose-ears to the sound. And low an behold... a possession ritual. The music was a haunting beauty, stringed instruments sang and whinned along with the singer an instrument himself. Calabash rattles where being played, djembes which I thought interesting and while the music wove its song story a woman danced carrying the spirit. They were dressed in the ancient cloth of the region. Sort of like being drapped in heritage I guess. It's called bogolon and it's nothing to look at, but something about it is rich. It's hand woven so maybe that's the pull. The women, spirit person walked around, I'm not quite sure what she was doing other than dancing and being present, but it did feel refreshing. I certainly didn't expect to see people that involved in their ancestry here. I know Africans navigate Islam, defining it for themselves and creating their own way of relating to God and the world. And yet I also know the large religions have actively killed people for dancing with their ancestors, following the ancient traditions. Certainly comming out of Mohammed's blacksmith shop and them regularly making their prayers to the east I had not expected to run into this ceremony. I wonder who these people were, why were they still dancing and singing in this way and why Mohammed smiled when I asked where was the music coming from saying yeah go check it out. African complexities I must say.

I wonder at the meaning in the Tuareg designs and much of the design I see here in Bamako and Mali. layered on top of an endless succession of tradition and culture is todays religion Islam and todays culture interest, America. The long trail of the meanings of things is sometimes lost as cultures transition into a new period. I like the roots of things it seems. I like the full story, the deep whys, because something there seems to wish to speak. It's as if something wants to say hammer's are alive, the remember the fit of your hand, the history of your work, and the memories of yesterday are still on todays air. Can you taste them there when you breathe? It's as if beneath the surface the world is alive with stories waiting to be told, the trash to be cleaned from the lanscape, and an endlessly beautiful song revealed, resplident and brillant like the Sabalibougou view near Mohammed's shop.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Photos and Thanks

I've wanted to express my many thanks to all the people who have helped me in this undertaking for quite some time. Internet access has been spotty and electricity increasingly a fading memory. Once I get back I intend to post better thanks, improve my websites and post more of my videos, writings and eventually artwork in regards to this trip.

One group of people I would like to thanks both now and later is my Mt. Zion church family in Seattle, Washington. I have not lived in Seattle in 10 years, but I grew up there attending Mt. Zion and growing up there. In effort to make this trip possible I appealed to Mt. Zion to provide a bit of financial support and they absolutely did. The support I've received from Mt. Zion, including my upbringing there is obviously more than I could put into words. I remember choir rehearsals, My father's choir rehearsals, sitting on the deacon board on Sundays with my father and in the balcony when I got older. I remember the Brotherhood breakfasts, the songs, sermons, on and on. I've have endless new memories since my time in Florida, and now a new and equisite bunch from this trip, but good memories linger in the mind like the scent of good food and I am appreciative of them and the folks that people them. Thank you again to everyone at Mt. Zion who helped to make this trip possible for me. Thank you if you wanted to and couldn't at the time. Thank you if you couldn't but I knew you when I was a child because the wealth of memories is a real and tangible one as well.

Thank you if I've forgotten to thankyou and know that I will be posting a more extensive version of this at a later date on a better website once I get somewhere with an internet speed past 2... Here is a link to some photos I've been taking while visiting villages, meeting people and studying blacksmithing in Mali and the cultural foundations that undergird it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mali south of Bamako, near Kangaba

Here are some photos from the some of the villages!

Just south of Bamako about two hours or more there are several wonderful villages I just returned from visiting. Going to each place I was lured in and swallowed by the endless beauty of the countryside. Truly I can imagine just bicycling around Mali for months at a time. It's the same beautiful countryside as in the American South where I live, but unchecked by powerlines, roads, and cities just over the horizon. It's like if the South just stretched out. Past burning crosses, lynchings, urabanity and modern agriculture on into pure beauty where there's just really kind black folk, with lots of beautiful clothes, or just beautiful selves. Then inside the village the stories... did you know there are magic little people with backwards feet who live near and in villages in Southern Mali. Just like in Ghana! There are also tall people who are sometimes invisible, magic spirit snakes and roosters, sacred trees, woods, hills and caverns. My goodness... an enchanted world, full of real hardships, smiling children, snot with no tissue, and bathing in the clear blue open air.

I'll have to write a bit more about my trip when I get the chance because I'm on a boomerang trip right back and leaving town tomorrow. I've found some Blacksmiths who say they'll teach me about there culture. I'll be living with them for a few days, visiting Degela and it's sacred trees and woods, going back and smithing again, and then catching and annual warrior festival where people sit on hot coals, stick pokers through their tongues and show themselves to be unconquerable on every level. I can tell you in short that what separates Blacksmithing in this region from what I've learned in the States is the endless history, the rich folklore, and non-western ways of learning. People refer to folks who died a thousand years ago as if they were around yesterday, thousand tree old trees are part of daily life and animals and little people something like elves show up in dreams, nighttime, and while you are wide awake to give life altering knowledge, power, or possibly a fright! The richness is encrusted onto the things people do here and blacksmithing is no different. It is a thick layering of magic and wonder where fiction lives, and life is not stuck to the ground thus the imagination may fly and you may just find yourself witnessing the impossible. Everyday and everywhere I hear claims of superhuman possibilities, even witnessed an interesting thing myself. Maybe I'll tell you about it in a few.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What I've Been Up To

Hello folks. I don't even know where to begin. I've been in Bamako quite a while now and have had a welath of experiences. I've gone from unable to speak to anyone in full sentences to regularly understanding the gist of conversations when people are speaking. I still need a larger everyday vocabulary, but I can communicate now. I've grown an appreciation for sign language. Enamored as I've been of them/us throughout my years, I've long vauled the wisdom in the sign language developed between Native American nations for communication when people did not speak the same language. Here amidst people who work all day with their hands, people selling things who are quite motivated to communicate, street vendors, and a deaf Tuareg blacksmith the language of the hands clarifies anything lost in verbal communication. My Tuareg friend like myself doesn't speak Bambara, but his sign language is clear as day, full of humor, and indicates specific metallurgical knowledge quite plainly. I've found myself continually at the market amidst the sellers of magic supplies, the sculptors of wood, and workers of metal. There is jewelry of many different shapes and sizes, metal covered with intricate designs, twisted, polished, texturized, silver, bronze and created metals. Tiny crucibles for melting metal and making different shapes grab the eye. Bronze pipping is for sale under rows of umbrellas that form a ceiling shielding the colorful flurry of people and the constantly moving artisans from the brilliant sun who still manages the peek through splashing sloppily on the worn brick ground along with all manner of water one avoids touching. The pipping turns into amazing medalions once designed, cut, polished and applied to a bit of ebony and dye leather. There are artists and vendors here from all over Africa and the rich environment is a feast for the eyes, a standing death threat to the unwarry pedistrian via vehicular assault, and a wonderful sea of colorful creativity, and a Blackness engaged in the living and doing. I imagine what if our engagement in society where I live could exist like this? Life would be amazing.

Artisana, likely misspelled here, is like a thriving creative heart in the big market in the downtown area. I love it. I came to Mali intending the study smithing in rural villages where rich philosophy was lived out magically, blacksmiths making tools for farmers, occasionally holding red hot metal in their hands inspecting the work. Well the tradition here is a thousand years old and one night while sleeping I spent quite a while discussing with some person in the dreamworld the similarities between the Mande creation story and the Ausarian Resurection of ancient Egypt. Many people throughout Africa, in their histories, speak about living in and around the ancient Nile Valley civilization. My maternal (mitochondrial is the scientific term) DNA matches with the DNA of a people in the extreme North of Cameroon called the Masa 99.2%. Reading what little I could find on these people I read one article said they shared more in common with the people of the Upper and Middle Nile valley than the neighbors in northern Cameroon. Anyways we all know the ancient Egyptians did architectural and other things we simply cannot explain. Some of us know that throughout the non-modernized world people do things we know to be impossible with regularity. At any rate this remarkable Mande smithing tradition with it's long and trailing roots called me in Tallahassee, Flordia and said... well, holla at me. I was like, uhh... fsho. Now I'm here and certainly on the trail of the magic blacksmiths of Mande, but I've stumbled upon something else similarly mind blowing. Artisana Artisana is filled with African masks and sculpture, some ancient, some new. Ancient swords and flintlock pistols of African manufacture, yet looking for all the world like they were found on a pirate ship cover the walls of a friends shop. Muskets, spears, masks covered in dust, some covered in cowries and beautiful cloth and applied metal are old yet seem quite alive. The high walls, every table space not in use, floor space and shop windows are filled with art work. The smiths work endlessly carving more and I wonder where it possibly can all fit. Beautifully ornate Tuareg silver jewelry fill some shops, crafted by a people historically desert nomads, camel ridding, indigo wearing, rainbow colored intricately designed leather bag wearing people of the Sahara. They also make boxes swords, knives, and a whole list of objects I'll photograph rather than desribe. There are smiths from Morocco who do more delicate work like making gold teeth, Mauritanian smiths, Fulani jewelry makers and so on. Also Yoruba barbers, Ghanian vendors, and the list goes on. So the magic I've discovered before even the Malinke Numuya (blacksmithing) is the beautifully rich diversity of African art being endlessly created here in the heart of the city.

A remarkable writter named Amadou Hampate-Ba of Malian descent spoke about a relevant peice of Malian philosophy from one of her ancient schools. Here in Mali there is a quote: "The Blacksmith is the first child of the world." Hampate-Ba spoke about the Malian conception of the smiths and the artisans in several writtings a friend recently put me up on. Hampate-Ba says essentially that the Komo school and historic Mali in general said the world was not simply created in the past, but is still being created. Thus in Mande genesis theory God did not simply make a world and let it go, but God made and is at this moment making a world as in the begining of time. The world is made in many ways, but one of them is through humanity, and thus the artisans traditionally saw artwork, tool making, basketry, weaving, pottery, and the making of the various things needed by society as a sacred duty, and themselves vessels through which the divine created. In fact the forge where the smith worked, and the loom of the weavers was part by part said to mirror the divine process through which all life was created. At artisana sometimes I think, okay, given the prices on this artwork, some of it just can't be afforded by everyday Malians, and I don't see thaaat many turists. So... well in America at some point someone would say, okay guys stop working, I'm not paying you until I get some sales because we've got too much merchandise. But I think about that idea that these artisans are actually creating a world through their work. Whether the shop keepers are holding the idea in mind today I don't know, but for sure production goes on, the artists stay working and the heart of Bamako is rich in form, line, and shape in a wealth that it seems can only increase. Outside of Artisana and throughout Bamako countless shops sell the tools and more functional work of the Malian artisans. When considered with the endless doors, and windows, dressers, tables, beds, clothing, etc. The Artists of Bamako truly are part of the creative process by which their world is made. Kinda deep right...

I've also fallen in love with the fabrics here. Everybody is wearing the flyest outfits ever. It's so Black I just smile and laugh all the time. People poor, maybe dirty from the work and the wear of the day and the days, are decked out in the flyest laced fabric, embriodery and designs. The drape of the fabric falls over the lean shoulders and tall forms of the old and the young with a wonderful elegance. The actual fabric having patterns woven into it, colors printed, or batik dyed into it is full and baggy like my folk in America like, but not as heavy and it breathes. I've long though sagging and the baggy style of 90s young Black men clothing emerged logically from the hammer pants and African influences in the Black clothing of the 80s. In fact cothing here with the long shirts men wear sometimes reaching shins and ankles, the huge low crotched pants achieve African American style without the sloppy look of trying to make clothes do something they were barely designed for. Visually it's quite evident we are trying to do in America what I see here. The younger men wear tighter clothing, Western style, with some styling themselves more toward the East, possibly more conservative, longer cloth. The pious, the African fashion forward, the western and the African traditional from all over the West of the continent all splash together in a rich color and style explosion. Everything I see on old folk, young folk, whoever, I'm like man, I gotta get that. Course I can't find everything I see that's ill, but I sure try. Plus fabric, at least what I buy ranges from $6 to $8 for a fit, and about $8 to have the local clothing making brothas at the neighborhood shop put in together. A far cry from the $100 the cheaper African clothes can be in Tallahassee, FL. Glad I brought wack American clothes here I'm going to give or throw them away when I come back and stuff my bags with fly African goodness. There's this great fabric I want to get that's kinda more like the Nigerian lace material, but man... they man $50 for it. 50 bones? I had to keep walking. I was thinking, wow that's crazy expensive. When I thought about it though, $50 cloth, $8 construction... It's still killing the American prices made with muuuch cheaper fabric. I keep walking though, I have to buy metal and kola nuts, travel around the countryside and learn to discover magic secrets and mysitc languages from animals in my dreams like the hunters of Mande.

All in all, short of getting sick and a few other wack experiences, which get two thumbs down, I'm loving it all. I miss my Tallahassee family though. With my parents it actually kinda cool because in planning this trip and recent months I've spoken more with them than in years. But I also think about seeing them and Seattle my beloved city by the sea. My love for my country has deepend. I've always loved our countryside Carrabelle, Pacific Northwest forests, the California cost and all the little towns, rural areas and big cities. I truly have loved travel since my parents packed my little sister and myself into a car and took us on long trips driving across country back to their hometown in Michigan. I think about taking a year to photograph the country ridding trains, and back roads. I think about big city nights, and eating at great restaraunts, and my friends whom I miss like a part of my heart everytime they leave Tallahassee for some other place. I want to see... well maybe I shouldn't name names cause I'd be at it all day, but obviously little baby Tuka-Tuka, my ATL folk, my folk building a brave new world for our people in Tallahassee and the list goes on. I miss comic books and my car, Wafflehouse and my cooking, 7th week yoga class and art school, he endless beauty of Saint Marks, the sanctity of Gurudev's ashram in Salt Springs and road trips. I want to do everything when I get back, I'll probably gain a few pounds, but then chisel it to Ninja perfection with my weekend Ninja workouts at Tom Brown park I'll hopefully be back to (Laughter). Oh and then Akoms, and ceremonies in the ATL, I'm so there when I get back. I love everybody like when you just recieve your netcheck! One.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dakar, Senegal when I first arrived

This is video from the first morning I arrived in Senegal! One is from a bit later. They are rooftop scenes which I liked a lot. There's sadly no sound because I forgot my video editting software in the US. Anyways you can listen with your imagination. So think bird chirpping and calls to prayer and random phrases in Wolof, which since you don't speak it, sound exacly as they sounded to me!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Bitter Skin, of Sweet Fruit

I’ve spoken about the beauty of Senegal and Mali and how remarkable their cities are. They are lovely. Truly, I am taken aback, floored by the majesty of the places I’ve been. As I said I was caught unsuspecting by this aspect of Africa.

Often when I’ve thought of Africa it’s been in regards to the fact that she is my mother. African Americans are African purely and beyond the shadow of a doubt. Yet so often we are completely unaware that we are actually an island, small populations of our people living isolated from the titanic land, and sea of peoples and nations from which we’ve come. My perspective has been that I, and we, need to reconnect with this place that we’ve come from. I’d been given the rare opportunity to see the immesurable wealth and ageless knowledge of Africa by professors who had learned about these things and this exposure engendered my perspective. Africa and our cultures there proposed solutions to many of our problems as African Americans and I looked towards Africa as a teacher, toward her knowledge as an obligation, a lifeline, and potentially salvation for our people in the west who are loosing themselves.

Upon arriving in the place however I have been amazed at the fact that she is Spain, Hawaii, and the Carribean. She is an alluring, hypnotizing, amazing beauty, a get away, Mexico for spring break etc. I didn’t know, nor did I have a hint of this fact. I thought Mali was the desert. The whole section of Mali I’ve been in is lush, warm, and the flora is much like my home in the south, with a few more tropical trees and plants sprinkled in. The people are Black people without the stress, domination, and existence largely on the margins of another society. So swag is up, bright colors are in, children play in the streets and the law rather than the niggardly exception is cool, polyrhythm, and ease. A paradise, if not for everyone, certainly for Black people. All these things are true, but let me tell you, the beauty is not without her scars, and my struggles to do my work here have been daunting to say the least. Let me tell you now a little bit about the otherside of this lovely adventure.

I don’t know I’ve experienced a situation this uncomfortable since diaper days. I can’t talk. I have been in Bamako a week and almost everyone around me speaks not a lick of English. I know greetings and can say hello, and I know a list of words. I am an eloquent person. If not then I love eloquence and he’s a good friend of mine. I was more a fan of his work with Barack Obama during the election than after the election, but still. We’ll he died on the plane ride over. I can only communicate with one word at a time almost all day. So lets think about what that means. Any thing that is conceptual? You can’t talk about it. Like for instance please can you tell me where to buy toilet paper. Or I’d like to leave the house now, but will be gone a few hours, and though I can’t communicate I have to get out of here or I’m going to crack. I cannot go anywhere I can’t walk because I can’t tell a taxi how to get me back home, nor do I understand the words for like $1, $2, $3.

Do you feel me yet? I’m functionally a baby. Okra is in all the food. Okra is an aquintance of mine, but not nessecarily my best friend. Ya dig? Okra is great for you though. It’s a laxative. So today trying to examine the rocks around here which seem amazingly to all be iron ore, the Okra attacked me and I barely made it home. Yikes. At times children laughingly talk to me knowing I can’t talk back and don’t understand, people watch me as a passing oddity and I feel very much at home, yet not quite able to get in the front door. There is a truth I am well familiar with that one must be reborn again and again to truly progress on the path of knowledge. I believe the bible says that one must become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of heaven is all around them yet they do not recognize it, the kingdom of heaven is within you and you must be born again to enter the kingdom. I’m not quoting here, but paraphrasing. I’ve experienced the truth of these things in my life, but this time I’ve truly become a baby, incapable of the most basic things. As humans growing in a linear progression from child to adult maybe only the old truly recognize how much we take for granted in the all powerful, all encompassing cycle and circle, or life.

Of course this means my work is stalled until I learn the language. The language is actually Malinke, Bambara and French, so I should say I must learn the languages. I haven’t the slightest problem with the idea, in fact learning languages is supposed to make you smarter, and I love expanding the mind. But how do you learn a language when you can’t be taught because no one around speaks enough English to teach you. Hmm interesting. This simple fact, so obvious as the be completely missed when I was planning my trip, transparent like air, has now become incredibly thick and humid as certain Tallahassee summers. My homeboy Ayinde encouraged me to learn as much as I can the other night. I appreciated it. So let me tell you, I’ve learned to differentiate the sound of words so that I here speaking sometimes now rather than Charlie Brown noises. I’ve learned that people are often saying words I know and can respond to, but because they speak them fast, mumble them, say them when they are not looking at you, say part of them, or some other thing I may only understand that communication has be elicited and given up on a moment after the fact. In fact, at times I thought people were just mumbling something, when they were actually mumbling something, barely looking at my while walking me, but to me. I’ve also learned that language teachers and translators get paid US money, not the Mali money I was led to believe. I’ve had a hard time finding anyone who can speak English enough to teach me because, well the dollar isn’t what it was and people need money to live their lives. After all the costs of getting here, I don’t have enough to pay for anyone who isn’t essentially volunteering their time, and everyone here is on the grind. Eventually I’ll make it to the university and ask some younger people, who would be more likely to volunteer, but that will be after I learn how to say turn here, and I live in Kalabancoro.

So can anyone say doldrums. Can anyone say floating adrift on a windless sea for a week, unable to leave the neighborhood, without a bit of breeze to fill the sails. So I learn my numbers and the names of rocks and trees, body parts, and the days of the week just like any good second grader, and nod in my head to my beautiful, wonderful lineage of masters and Gurudev, yes this posses a great opportunity to loose the ego.

You see the ego… is firmly rooted, in our sense of power with our ability to poop, choose the food we eat, leave the block, and have some sort of fashion sense. On the bus trip over we sweated hours on end, but didn’t get to bathe for two days and one night. The lovely drivers chose to stop near water and when inside somewhere and slept while we sat up waiting for 6 to 8 hours and mosquito hell, amidst stampedes of donkeys, and other night monsters. During that time my ego couldn’t even hold on to its ability to bathe itself. Imagine the fright and wonderful new flavors and smells on that baking bus without windows that opened yet open mosquito-highway doors.

So it seems I’m being reborn. I wonder what type of person I’ll be in this incarnation. This degree of being forced to de and reconstruct has to be an entrance to a remarkable wealth of new vision and opportunity right? How often do you get to be transformed at such a deep level that you experience being unable to bathe and speak again? I’m telling you, I’m coming back with superpowers! If I’m not flying and bulletproof, I’ll at least be able to hold hot metal in my hands without being burned. Lol!