08.31.09 - If you could hear the children sing, you would love Mali like no other country on Earth. And it was for just 20 minutes on a Monday evening that had begun with a morning straight out of "The War of the Roses" minus the attractive stars, that I ventured out into Mali itself, all alone, on a two lane road into Bamako central with nothing but a few Euro and great desire to not be involved in the family feud that was brewing up back at the old Castro casa.
A Nescafe on the street teaches you that the mixing of beverages, tea also, is done by pouring the liquid and mix from one Solo cup into another at a distance that stretches both arms to their widest span and not a drop is missed. Ever. High extended righthand cup pours into lower extended lefthand cup and then a quick reverse to lift the lefthand cup to the high position and pour into the lower righthand cup - a process, that if you can imaging the arms of a very tall man behaving like the action of a taffy pulling machine at Coney Island, is as acrobatic and efficient as you ever have seen. A Malian coffee, served with style.
Whatever was going on back at the house had all the markings of a family squabble that would drag my partner into it in a way that I could not stop - and certainly had nothing to do with me, so rather than being an unwitting spectator for the mental maternal mudwrestling that seemed about to ensue, I just escaped out the front door for a brief morning's walk - that well, turned out to be not so brief at all. And just as I wanted it.
After a long day of walking, a trip to the American Embassy, a lunch and the meeting of David, the ebony to my ivory, the sound of the children's voices could all but make me forget what a godforsaken shithole we were in, because on the ground, the only people who think this place is a godforsaken shithole are the foreigners who didn't do ther homework upfront. But I had done mine. I knew that any charm the country might have would come at tourist rates so I had decided to stear clear of anything remotely begging for tourist's eyes and see what bit of Mali I could see for myself - sans map or guide with my past experience in Mongolia firmly embeded in my conciousness as a reality check. Jet black Hummers with jet black windows whiz by the constant stream of used whatevers on their way to the offices of the mining companies the driver's work for - mining being one of the few profitable enterprises in the country - rich enough to attract foreign investment yet poor enough to not even coming close to relieving the country of its dependence on foreign aid. This is a world where nothing is fair and the average citizen will get little more than screwed for the greater part of his/her life. It's just built that way, the world is - and we can all hold up places like Mali as examples of the idea that when push comes to shove, that most of us just don't give a shit. Except when the children sing.
David had helped me to find the embassy in the afternoon. I bought him two cokes and lunch. I was invited to go to a small village with him and hear him play his viola. We drank a sort of homemade wine that reminded me most of the ricewine that farmers make in Korea. I paid for the wine as well. It was good.
And then he started to sing. First a Malian song that the children immediately recognized and then adding English rap verses that I could echo - and then echo the Malain syllables as best I could. And it made the kids laugh - this funny foreigner trying to get all the hymaballayas and jumbawallas right and the verse from David, "and all the while the children smile - at two Davids, black and white in style"... Heeeeeeeeeyaaaaaaaaaaay oh! Heeeeeeeeeeeeyaaaaaaaay oh!
Later it was described to me that people like David were bums, just preying on the white tourists to get a guide job or some free food and wine. I told the person who told me this to look around. The place was full of bums. It was just a matter of what kind of bum you wanted to be. He showed me a day of friendship and joy, asked for nothing, and all I did was buy him some Coke, some lunch and some wine. Did I spend 15€? Barely. Nothing's cheap in Mali.
But I heard the children sing. Maybe 20 at one time. And it was music. The music of a world that will not do much to take care of these kids. And I wondered about every Armani suit I had ever purchased and a couple of houses and another wonder about the sole amount I might have spent on taxis in one year and I wondered, with all the resources at my disposal, if I could ever make enough of my life to take care of just one of these little kids - would it make a difference? Would I change the world? Or even a little bit of it? All I knew that whatever was being argued about at the house that morning was centered on money, or culture, or pride in something that was inherently worthless in the eyes of the children of this country - and it made me wonder again if the supposedly smart societies on this planet would ever get their heads screwed on straight. And then I walked home - to wash my feet - something not a one of those kids would have a need or desire to do that night. And I heard the silence of the rest of the world as the songs of the children of Mali rang in my ears...
For more in the "Into Afrika" series, check here:
I) The Antipodes of Mali & Paree
II) Good Morning Mali and the Red Toilet Paper
III) Family Feuds, Singing Children & The Sounds of Silence
IV) How to Get From Mali to Munich
V) The Trouble With Mali