Mali - Intro
Mali is not a place for a relaxing holiday. It is thousands of miles away from the nearest beach, there are no beautifully equipped safari camps and the distances are vast. You can, it is true sleep in an extremely comfortable hotel in the capital of Bamakoa, well cared for in Mopti but otherwise you feel fortunate to find yourself in a small, well run pension. Travel, even for the hardy, is neccessarily restricted to the dry season from October through to March.
So why go? Some go for the music, some go to see the celebrated medieval cities such as Djenne with its haunting mudbrick architecture, some wish to float down the Niger river in a pirogue, others wish to walk amongst the animist Dogon people with their vast mythology reflected in their heiratic masks and delicate wood carvings, others wish to enter one of the most forgotten corners of the Sahara, others come to shop amongst Mali's rich heritage of textile and jewelry, others are drawn by the quixotix mystery of the great cattle herding Peul people or the camel breeding Tuareg of the north while many come just to settle that itching desire to walk through the streets of Timbuctoo.
Whatever you come to Mali for, it is the memory of the people that actually catch your imagination. Most of them are poor beyond our conception, (it would take a months work for most Malians to be able to buy a novel) but they are proud, laughter-filled and disturbingly beautiful. At the edge of each village millet is still pounded in wooden mortars. The high staff-like pestles are wielded by women whose confident muscular elegance pours scorn on Western concepts of feminity. Bold colourful dresses, seemingly tailored to reveal a bare shoulder, are combined with knotted turbans. This is Africa, not America or the Carribean with its haunting memory of slavery and racial oppression. Mali is the land of Kings, proud ancient dynasties still survive in the villages that can look back to the swirling glory of one of the great West African Empires. At night as the outdoor ovens glow you pinch yourself to check that is for real.
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by Barnaby Rogerson