Monday, August 29, 2011

Summer in the City: Some Bamako Delights

Aminata is three-weeks and some change old!
At the end of my street I pass a group of women sitting on colorful mats with frayed edges braiding hair in a line like matryoshka dolls. Little girls dance around them, plastic charms clinking at the ends of freshly plaited hair, and I ask "I be se ka n kundigi kofe?"  Will you braid my hair later?  They laugh and invite me to come back once they are done with the head they are braiding now. Tiny, tight rows of hair in neat, swirling patterns. I feign disappointment I will not have a turn today and continue on.

It is late afternoon and I greet my neighbors sitting in plastic lawn chairs around empty pots of tea. “Comment se passe le jeune?” I ask.  How's the fasting going?   “Ça commence à etre serieux-deh!” one man says.  It is getting serious.  Shopkeepers and fruit sellers I see later share his tired face.   I ask Maiga, the proprietor of a nearby grocery store, how he's doing. “I'm just so thirsty!” he says, “All I want is to drink some water – forget the food!”

On the main road I pass tailor shops where the whir of automatic sewing-machine foot pedals does not stop as they complete last-minute and long-standing orders for the upcoming holiday. Shiny bazin outfits hang in storefront windows and mannequins model the newest trends in wax fabric. I make silent guesses as to how much these outfits cost. How much for the fabric? How much for the tailoring? How much for the intricate embroidery? Abdoulaye tugs my hand and I shake away the thoughts – I don't think I really want to know.
Fatumata seems to like baby Ami well enough - lots of pointing and saying 'bébé!' (here with Mom)
Abdoulaye and I stop by Bobo and Aissetou's house to visit. We talk about Ramadan and how Aminata is growing. I marvel at Aissetou's french fry cutter and she offers me some porridge even though it is not yet time to break the fast.   Esayi sends me a text message and reminds me that one year ago today I left village to come to Bamako. Has it really been a year?
Fatumata won't leave Worokia's side, aren't they beautiful?
As the sun sets and a haziness creeps over the city we hear the call-to-prayer. This time of day is my favorite any time of the year but especially during Ramadan. The streets are void of sputtering cars and Jakarta motorcycles driven by Malians not old enough to fast and I can cross the street safely. Women flip rice cakes in solid, cast-iron molds on the side of the road and sell steaming Kinkiliba, a local tea, in plastic to-go bags for those who did not make it home in time. The city is hushed save for competing calls to prayer and it is thrilling to think that in this country, where close to 95% of the population is Muslim, nearly all of the people eligible to fast are eating together around communal bowls at this very moment.

Next week life will resume it's normal pace. Colleagues will not look quite so...well, hungry and the banks will have less crowded masses in their lobbies and parking lots. Music shows and local parties will show up once again on the calendar and we will fall back into the groove of eating in public without fear of reproach and not planning our day around the setting of the sun. That is, until next year.

If this isn't ingenious I don't know what is.  Corrugated iron for making crinkle cut fries?!?!


Michelle said...

Beautifully written. Lovely photos. Inspiring message.

Anonymous said...

i'm in love with the first portrait of Fatumata and Ami. Your people photos are always so great.

Jennifer said...

thank you! i love these pictures, too - such beauty!

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