My first impression of Mali, is the road from the airport. It is lined with Neem trees, so I busy myself explaining to my hosts that they are called Mwarubanne at home because they are said to cure 40 diseases. My French is stiff and very broken, but I have found that most of the people I meet have a great inclination to understand what I’m saying. Together, we bandage and package the misconjugated verbs and put splints between nouns to communicate, not just effectively, but aminatedly. By the end of the first day, I am convinced, half the time, that I can speak French. By the end of the first day, I am head over heals in love with Bamako. Neem trees are not the only sights there are in common with Mombasa. Coconut trees are everywhere, shrubs which have enormous faded green leaves spot the sides of the roads. Flat roofed buildings dominate the architecture, the weather is hot, not as humid as Mombasa but more humid than Nairobi.
Swarms of motorbikes (les moto) habitually swerving, like the cars, through the traffic, like a flash flood, creating upredictable paths. Men and women ride motorbikes here, wave after wave of colour swim around you. The low back lines the local dress design is mesmerizing, bright red, yellow and green, bright orange is also a popular coulor. Flared sleeves flapping in the breeze of sacheing speed. The men wear white and gold, Kanzu-like attire. Traffic here, has it’s own rhythm, in order to understand how to dance to it, it would be wise to forget everything you’ve been taught about staying within the lines, or else assume, that no one else was taught it. Here, it seems like you need only follow a straight line when overtaking, moving in waves, slightly left, slightly right seems to be the default procedure.
The people are stunning, everywhere I look I see defined cheek bones, faces that light up with beautiful smiles and toned bodies are in plenty. Wearing traditional attire seems as normal as wearing uniforms and western style clothing. The shapes of sleeves and the waist line are individual, each with their own curvatures and folds, the designs are flamboyant and expressive.
When I passed through Nigeria, there were many comments on my hair. With the levels of heat here, the length of my braids is not practical I will cut them, sooner, rather than later. Dread locks here come in shapes that stand and curve with defenition that would make a person identifiable by their siloet. They appear naturally nurtured, unlike Nairobi where the slightest amount of growth is swiftly silenced by a trip to the salon. Although it does seem like people who have professions which are not artistic have the same array of ‘normal’ hair styles that there are at home.
When I was much younger, my mum and dad would read books to me. They both used different voices for the different characters. The stories would come alive in my mind, those were the days. I remember the murmuring of the trees in the costal Diani winds. In Bamako, for the first time in my life, I found trees that stood absolutely still. There is no wind.
The airline I sent my suitcase with decided to leave my suitcase in Nairobi. So I had to make do with what was in my hand luggage to freshen up at the hotel, before setting off to meet the Malian artists.
They were waiting at CCGM, The Goethe Institutes headquarters in Bamako.
They were introduced to the project, the same way we were, except, in French. Just like in Nairobi, the contestants are stunning. Perhaps I am preprogrammed to find poets beautiful. 🙂 Half of them are students at the Performance Arts School, most of the rest have graduated from that same school. After the summary of what is expected, we all sit to watch the three videos of the top three performances from Nairobi, so they can choose a theme. Wanjiku Mwaura makes me cry again, but I manage to hide it well enough, because everyone is fixated on her performance on screen. By the end of the viewing session, the contestants are happily repeating; “Do not say goodbye to the Mau Mau”. I feel proud to be the one to say, ” ils sont les combattants de liberté ” , they are the freedom fighters. A piece of Kenyan history will remain here when I leave. 🙂
Now, poetry is an interesting thing. It is based in a language, but takes liberties with it. It acknowledges grammatical rules, and ignores them. It picks up sayings, turns them inside out and presents them to represent more, in less words. I successfully manage to translate the topics and storylines of all three poems. Translating the line by line content is much much more difficult. Here, the language barrier raised it’s head at me and stared me straight in the eye. Being poets themselves, they want to understand content, so they can base their theme on ours as was required. The meeting is concluded with a decision to meet the following day, with an English teacher.
After a series of “bonne soirée”s I head back to my hotel.