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Dogon Country

Wednesday 8th to 13th February 2012Young girl, Somadogou, Mali

Segou, Somadogou, Bandiougou, Bandigara, Djiguibombo, Kani Kombole, Kane Bozo, Teli, Ende, Indelu, Begnimato,

The next morning we set off for Segou after giving Bluebelle’s innards a good wash. We had gathered so much bull-dust en route to Bamako and it seeped into her every nook and cranny. We wanted to get our Festival Sur Le Niger camping and tickets sorted, then make our way to Dogon Country before the festival. The drive took us about five hours along good roads. In Segou we could feel the excitement swelling as stalls and stands were being erected. Everyone we met was really friendly and happy to help. The festival bracelets hadn’t yet arrived so we were given little pieces of cardboard to exchange for bracelets when we’re back. They don’t look very official so here’s hoping they’re honoured and we can get in! We also bargained our way into camping at Motel Savane. They wanted to charge 7,500 CFAs for camping per person (about 10 euros) over the festival, but with a bit of banter and bargaining cut it to 3,000 CFAs. It was late afternoon by that point so we gathered a few fresh vegetables for dinner and decided to stay in Segou the night. We have about a six hour drive to get to Sevare` and meet our Dogon guide, so we’ll head out at sunrise.

Athina had organised our Dogon guide based on a recommendation from a peace corps volunteer she met in Tambacounda. We met Hussemi at his well equiped camp in Somadogou, near Sevare`, in the mid afternoon. He spoke good English and had big dimples and a booming laugh. We cooled off with a drink and discussed what we could see on our trek. When we spoke Children, Bandiougou, Maliabout money Hussemi was evasive and quick to get annoyed. We saw his true colours then and, in retrospect, should have trusted our instincts to find another guide. Still, we were already at the camp and tired from our drive so we agreed to trek for four nights with him for 15,000 CFAs per person per day. We ate a meal of dusty rice before settling in for a few games of cards with Athina and Kia in the cool of the evening.

The next morning we set off early to Sevare, where we left Bluebelle in Hussemi’s compound and continued in Hussemi’s car. First stop was Bandiougou village, 40km before Bandigara. Hussemi’s sister lives in the village, so it’s a fixed stop on his itinerary but off the usual tourist trail. We were really grateful to Hussemi for giving us the opportunity to visit this village, as it was a definite highlight of our time in Dogon Country.

The village of Bandiougou is a collection of mud and stone huts arranged atop a rocky hill. As we arrived the village children rushed to the car to greet us. There we no requests for Children, Bandiougou, Malicadeaux the entire time we were there, just pure curiosity on both their side and ours. They were eager for us to take their photos and delighted in seeing the digital pictures of themselves. Along with the huge crowd of children, we were led to Hussemi’s sister’s home. There we were served tasty dumplings in sauce, sweet tea, and given handfuls of peanuts. We tried to share some of the peanuts with the children, but they would not take any insisting we enjoy them ourselves. We then all went on a tour of the village with the children in tow.

We saw the men’s talking place, home to all the important discussions and decisions for the village. The roof was very low, so that it was only possible to sit or lay inside. Hussemi explained that this keeps the tone of the discussions calm. If anyone gets angry they tend to try stand up, but then they hit their heads on the roof and are reminded to calm down. Very clever! The village well had dried up, so the villagers now collect their water from a small spring Rockslide fun, Bandiougou, Malioutside the village. They climb down a steep rock path with empty buckets and bottles. From 4am each morning one of the village women sit near the spring, which is effectively a trickle forming a puddle, scooping water into the buckets with a cup. We don’t think we have ever seen someone so bored. Other women then carry the heavy five gallon buckets on their heads back up the path to the village. We tried to lift one on ours and each buckled at the enormous weight of the water. It is amazing how agile and fast these women are with the buckets balanced on their heads. Even the children help ferry the water up to the village. On the outskirts of the village we saw how the women pound the millet, to separate the grain from the chaff. This forms the staple food, year round, for the villagers. We had a turn of this too and found it was very hard work. We are constantly astounded at how hard the African women work. We saw the village’s lovely mud mosque and nearby their fabulous rock slide. The kids took great pleasure showing us the slide and urged us to have a go too. Whilst we were treated to an interesting snapshot of village life, Huts, Dogon Country, Maliit was the wonderful interaction with the villagers that really made our visit to Bandiougou so special.

Next Hussemi drove us on to Bandigara for lunch. We were pleased to sit in the shade as the temperature was really hotting up. Hussemi ate with us and made short work of the huge portion of rice and sauce we were served. This was a sign of things to come, as we realised he was more interested in food than guiding. After lunch we took a wander around the town in to the bustling market. It was vibrant, but a little too hot and crowded for us to fully appreciate it. Next we drove through some wonderfully lush farmland to Djiguibombo. This was an interesting animist village, though we immediately realised we had started the tourist route. The children who rushed to meet us when we arrived were more interested in cadeaux and what we could give them, than in us as people. It was also the first time people had asked us for money to take photos. It made us even more grateful to have visited Bandiougou. Djiguibombo itself was interesting and populated with square mud huts with thatched roofs tied in a peak, like witches hats. We learned a little about Starting our trek, Dogon Countrythe traditional way of life and saw the beautiful house of the griot, adorned with skulls and sculptures.

From Djiguibombo we drove to the edge of the rocky escarpment. Here Hussemi dropped us off to meet his colleague Osman, who led us down the cliff by foot. This made for a spectacular walk over the rocks down to Kani Kombole at the foot of the cliff. When we sat down for dinner Hussemi told us that he didn’t want us to speak to him during dinner so he could focus on eating. We didn’t get to speak with him afterwards either as one he finished eating he went off to chat to his friends. He sure had a voracious appetite. As well as eating his own huge portion of food, he took the chicken bones off each of our plates and sucked them dry! That night we decided to try sleeping out under the stars, so dragged our mattresses up to the terrace roof. At first it was beautiful laying out in the warm air in awe of the dense carpet of stars above. When the moon rose however the light was blinding and woke us all up. The wind also picked up during Kani Bozo, Dogon Country, Malithe night, splattering us with little pellets of dust and dirt. By the next morning we were all quite sleepy.

On day two we walked south to Kane Bozo, the first Dogon Village, and heard some stories about how the first few Dogon people fled here many years ago. As we walked we could see the wonderful mud houses and granaries clinging high on the edge of the escarpment, the Falaise de Bandigara. Giant baobabs of all shapes were our constant companions, as were grazing goats and the occasional villager balancing their loads precariously atop their heads. From here we trekked back to Kane Kombole and then on to Teli, the next village to the north. We caught up on some sleep with a delicious nap after lunch, perfect in the heat of the day.

That afternoon we climbed up into the cliff to explore the Dogon dwellings. It was fascinating seeing how they lived and learning a little about the Tellem people too, who inhabited the Cliff dwellings, Dogon Countryescarpment before the Dogon people. We spent the night in Ende, the next village to the north. Our campment was a gorgeous arrangement of mud buildings and carved sculptures within a walled compound. There I indulged in a traditional Dogon massage with locally produced shea butter, the perfect end to a day of walking. If you’re trekking through Ende, I would highly recommend calling masseur Alou Guindo (contact him via his son’s mobile: 78310082). Later Kia and Athina unwound with Alou too. Whilst we girls were busy with our massages, Luke was taken off to the only TV in the village to watch the Mali-Ghana football match in the African Nations Cup. About 50 people crowded around the tiny TV in someone’s backyard. Luke found he spent most of the time watching the spectators rather than the match. It was fascinating to see how happy the people were and also how the game brought the men and women together, from their typically separate lives. Mali won 2-0 too, so that made it an even happier experience in the village.

Booglan cloth, Dogon CountryThe next morning we stayed in Ende to explore the village and see some traditional crafts being created. We saw bogolan cloth in the making, with mud designs by the men and other pieces tie-dyed blue with locally grown indigo by the women. The village was bursting with gorgeous jewellery, wooden carvings and masks, which the locals were desperate to sell as there have been few tourists this year. We wished we could carry more of these wonderful crafts with us, but we have a long way still to travel. Further north we saw how generations of blacksmiths created tools for farming as well as blackened wooden sculptures and forged metal souvenirs. Again we slept off the heat of the day after lunch, before climbing up the escarpment through a giant crack in the rocks. The walk was spectacular and the views from above fantastic. We even noticed ancient pottery stowed in nooks high in the cliffs.

On the plateau we passed through some rich green onion fields, under the shade of shae bean trees, and climbed over rocky Dogon village, Malihills. There we visited Indelu, a strongly animist village rich with tradition and old as the hills. It was fascinating seeing the fetishes and learning about the ancient ways they still live by. Here we also walked to the edge of the escarpment and enjoyed the spectacular views. As the sun was setting we walked on to Begnimato; another village perched on a hill of rock. By that evening Athina had became very ill with a stomach bug. By the wee hours of the morning I had succumbed to it too. We all decided to try sleeping under the stars again. It was again beautiful on the terrace roof in the warm air at first, until cool splashes of rain plopped from the clouds and drove us under shelter.

Luke and I were up early to watch the sunrise over the escarpment on our final morning of the trek. We explored Begnimato a little, though Athina and I were not feeling much like walking. One of the most interesting things we saw was a hunter’s home. He had rows and rows of animal skull trophies from his kills. He even Black mumba, Dogon Country, Malishowed us a Black Mumba snake that he had killed the night before. His family had already eaten the meat from within, but he took great pleasure in showing us the decapitated head and long silky grey skin!

It took us about an hour to climb back down the escarpment. We were grateful for the cloud cover cooling off the day, especially since Athina and I were still feeling pretty weak. At the bottom of the cliff we were met by a cow cart and driver, who gave us ride back to Ende and Hussemi’s car. From there it was back to his campment to recuperate so that we could make the six hour drive to Segou tomorrow ready for the festival.

Overall we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the spectacular scenery of Dogon Country, getting an insight into village life, and having an opportunity to connect with the Dogon people. The only drawback was our guide. So, for anyone coming this way, we recommend carefully choosing who will introduce you to this amazing place.