Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Segou, Mali

spinning cotton into string
Working the loom
After checking into our hotel in Segou the first thing we did was hire a guide to show us around.  Unfortunately he told us it was too hot to go anywhere and he would be back in a couple hours to show us around.  When he did come back at 4pm he took us to the Bogolan Workshop, where inside a classically decorated red mud building workers spun cotton string, wove it on looms, dyed, and stenciled fabric which they sold in the adjacent gallery.  In order to make a finer quality fabric they cheated and mixed industrial string with the locally spun string, but the rest seemed legit and you could try your hand at smearing mud on a stencil to make designs.
Stenciling the fabric
As the sun began to set we drove out to village north of Segou to meet the chief and tour his village.  The meeting began with our guide handing him 2500 CFA and then a kid walked in the door, saw me, yelled “toubab” and ran away screaming.  The guide apologized because he said my white skin scared the kids.  We next visited the chief’s palace with 7 meeting rooms made of red mud (one for each day of the week and Monday’s room was the largest of all).  On the outskirts of the village overlooking the Niger River was the oldest mosque in the region also made of mud with wooden beams protruding from the roof and tower.  Our guide said it was so old they weren’t sure who had built it or when it was built.  
The Chief's palace

Night fell as we drove back to the hotel and in the thick shadows hawkers tried to sell their trinkets or lure us over so they could pick our pockets.  During dinner on the veranda others would throw their blankets, masks, or necklaces over the rail, hissing at us to take a look.  If ignored they would hiss even louder or start to make comments like “whatsamatter with you, you don’t like black people?” or “hey, I’m talking to you- its rude to ignore me.”  Usually after a while they would go away, but in Segou they kept coming back, always interrupting a conversation to throw out a price “15,000 CFA (about $30) for the necklace” or some other obscene price.
Old mud Mosque with Ostrich eggs
The next morning the guide returned and we walked down to the river and took a motor-pirogue to a pottery village 7km upstream from Segou.  The ride took an hour and we branched off the main Niger River into a channel that ended in thick lillypads and locals digging up mud and forming it into bricks.  Some of the mud was carried back to the village where young girls mixed it with their feet and old ladies formed it into pottery.  The men hauled large bushels of grass to a clearing in the center of town where the women arranged their pottery on the ground and set bonfires alight in order to bake the earthen vessels.  Back in town ladies sold the overpriced vases and plates on the banks of the river.  I tried to negotiate, but the ladies insisted on fixed prices for tourists and I ended up leaving empty handed.  
Forming the pots
Large pots waiting to be fired

1 comment:

  1. Such an awesome experience you are having there! You can really appreciate all the things we have and how "easy" it is for us to get them!