Me and Mom looking fresh on Day 2 1/2 of our Dogon hike
Joelle and I wait anxiously at the airport for both of our moms, arriving on the same flight, to finally emerge from the terminal. After 2 hours they finally appear with beaming smiles and gear bags and heavy suitcases hanging from their little frames. We spend a few minutes hugging and then load into a 4x4 from the hotel and zip back to unload goodies and unwind from the long journey. After a day of exploring Bamako, including the National Museum, we head to San on an afternoon bus with the Wollersheims , fingers crossed for no sickness and a lot of adventure.
After packing and unpacking our bags in San, Mom and I are ready for village. We strap baskets to the backs of our bikes and stop at Kadia's road side rice cake stand before heading out to village. All the Malians around us, once we say we are biking the entire 15 miles, tell me I am crazy for making my bamuso (mother) bike the whole way. This is a recurring exclamation throughout the duration of the trip from both Malians and Americans alike as Mom experiences my life here and how I navigate Mali from transportation to food to sleeping accommodations. Mom brushes off their concern and assures me she will be fine, reminding me that she was a Girl Scout after all. We spend 4 nights and 5 days 'en brusse' greeting those with whom I have grown closest in village and even those I do not know at all. In between greetings and cat naps we gorge ourselves on Malian dishes Annie prepares including tigadega na (peanut butter sauce and rice), zame, koo (sort of like sweet potatoes that are not sweet), bean cakes and the numerous papayas various visitors offer as gifts. As we say goodbye to Annie, baby Christine runs to Mom with her arms outstretched asking for a hug which you can only imagine helped to turn on the water works that much faster.
It's amazing what a (cool/tepid) shower can do for you! Here at Le Cheval Blanc in Bandiagara for a calzone and pizza with the Wollersheims
Safe in San once again with Mom's tears sufficiently dried away by the wind we celebrate Holly (another volunteer)'s birthday with a homemade carrot cake (including icing!) by Cassie and chicken and green beans. Mom sits on the couch with her black-legging clad legs tucked under her, glasses perched on the bridge of her nose, reading trashy magazines as I dart between rooms collecting clothes and toiletries for the next leg of our journey. We talk with Cassie, Holly and Bradley about our various Peace Corps services and their own visitors and vacation plans and it all feels so seamless - like Mom just belongs here.
After a quick, but quality, day in Djenne to visit the largest mud structure in the world Mom and I head to Mopti and then to Bandiagara for a hike. Once in Dogon country we let our conversations follow our footsteps as we navigate the tortuous trails through the cliffs of Bandiagara and the sandy paths in between the numerous Dogon villages. We talk about Michael (my brother) and Courtney (his fiance)'s most recent engagement (we are beyond excited!!!), graduate school and extending my Peace Corps service to do a third year in Bamako. While talking about all things American we also take the time to marvel at the carefully constructed stone huts at eye level and preserved Tellum villages nestled into the escarpments above us. Mom's amount of communication is inversely proportional to our altitude and as we ascend into the cliffs to reach Indeli, where we will sleep for the night, we begin to silently (Mom) and aloud (me) question the shrewdness of this venture.
Enjoying one of our last days in Mali together at Teriyabugu - a nature reserve on the Bani river
After a good night's sleep and a sunrise that lights up the rocks around us a terra cotta red we are reassured of our sanity and glad to be where we are. With a breakfast of bread and jam in our bellies and our guide Samba leading the way we trek between Indeli and our final destination, Dourou, and Mom finally remembers the Girl Scout songs she has been trying to recall the entire trip. While she sings 'With a knapsack on my back', and 'Valderee, Valderah!' humming the verses she can't remember, I keep a close but comfortable distance between us and find myself in awe of this woman in front of me with her little white Keds and striped sun-hat. Throughout our trip Mom sleeps on roof tops, squats to use the bathroom, squeezes into cars well beyond their expiration date with 8-20 other people - all without complaint. Girl Scout training may have prepared her to pitch our mosquito tent and neatly roll our sleeping bag each night but it is my Mom's genuine heart and openness to others that made our time together here so special and truly a trip to remember.