#3, Senegal/Mali, Jan. 3, 1991

Dear Everybody,

On New Year’s Day, Mamadou turned up at 8:00 as promised but with a raging toothache. His cheek was swollen, and he looked just miserable. Obviously, I nixed going to Bandiagara and the Dogon. Instead, I inquired at my hotel about a dentist. It turned out that one was located at the hospital, which was just two doors down from the hotel.

Surprise! Even though it was New Year’s Day, and only 8:30 AM, a dentist was on site! Mamadou, who said that he had never been to a dentist before, got into the chair looking pretty apprehensive. The dentist had an odd affect, which was to nervously laugh every few minutes, as though laughing at the patient. The dentist said the tooth had to be pulled, so I went out to the waiting room. A few minutes later I could hear some commotion, went back into the room and saw Mamadou throwing up and looking totally ashen, in spite of his very dark skin color. He had apparently been given an injection in his arm, which probably made him sick, but I suspect other contributing factors were fear, lack of sleep from the toothache and the cigarettes that he regularly smoked.

He was helped to lie prone on the floor to recover. In a few minutes the dentist helped him up and back into the chair to continue the procedure. He injected novocaine into his mouth and pulled the tooth. After Mamadou rested a bit and I paid the dentist, he sent us on our way with two prescriptions, one for pain and one for antibiotics. We walked back to my hotel room, with me helping hold Mamadou up and keeping him on his feet.

I told him he could sleep in my hotel room to recover, while I took a taxi to go to a pharmacy, which was quite far as the hotel desk clerk doubted that any others would be open on the holiday. I got the prescriptions filled, although not before paying up front, and returned to the hotel to help Mamadou take the two pills. I had an R and R day, reading and lazing about in a swing on the hotel grounds under the beautiful trees.

Later I went downtown to the market and picked up my bou-bou that was being made for me, then bought some French bread, fish, and fruit for a meal in my hotel room. The gap between buying food to eat and eating in a modest restaurant here is remarkable. I bought these provisions for 350, but the simplest meal in a restaurant costs about five times that much. By afternoon, Mamadou felt better and was able to eat something.  Since Mamadou had bled on the bedding while sleeping, I went to find someone that would change the sheets and pillowcases.  I finally found a man to do this, although he had to remove clean sheets from another bed to put them on my bed.  As he was doing this, he said, “You have a young boy sleeping in your bed???” with a knowing lear!  I tried to explain about the extracted tooth, but to no avail.

The next morning Mamadou arrived as promised and we got a taxi to take us to Bandiagara, Sangha, and Songo. In Bandiagara we stopped to visit Mamadou’s mother and grandmother. He told me that his father had three wives, one of which (his biological mother) had died when he was only two years old, so he was raised by this mother. She was 60 years old, a robust, pleasant woman, who asked me (through Mamadou) if I had any medicine that I could give her for her painful knee. Her mother, (Mamadou’s grandmother) was a tiny woman and Mamadou said that she was 71 years old, which, of course if accurate, would have made her just 11 years old when she gave birth to her daughter.

When Mamadou first greeted his mother and other members of his family, they said many rapid exchanges of greeting, probably according to a prescribed series of comments. Clearly his mother was glad to see him, as were some other brothers. His half-brother, Ahmadou, accompanied us to Sangha, along with another friend, and we all hiked to and up the escarpment that constitutes the Dogon area.

The Dogon area consists of a miles-long escarpment, that in places is several hundred meters high, where the Dogon people have made their home since about 1300. They have a complicated religion based on a male divine being named Amma, and it incorporates fetishes and masks for special ceremonies.






The Dogon built rock and mud houses with flat roofs on the escarpment for protection, although now many of these have been abandoned and rebuilt on the flat ground near the escarpment. Many of the houses have elaborately carved doors. There are also granaries that are round huts with conical roofs. The temperature that day was perfect and we had a really pleasant walk around Sangha and on the escarpment. We had a beer at a small restaurant and rested a bit, then went back to Bandiagara at about 4:00.

The four of us had dinner in a restaurant. Mamadou told me that the two dishes available were an omelet and steak with onions. I thought the steak would be pretty tough so I chose the omelet—the other three ordered the steak. Well, my omelet turned out not-so-good; I tasted a little of Mamadou’s steak and it was delicious!

I had asked our taxi to wait for us for the return trip to Mopti, and we arrived about 7:00. When I was paying Mamadou, we had a disagreement about how much was owed. I thought we had agreed to $50, and he thought it was 50,000 (about $200). However, I pointed out that we had agreed that he would be guiding me for four days and because of the toothache, we only did two; also I had paid for the dentist and the prescriptions. But I gave him another 5000, so he received about $85, which I thought was fair. Well, these things happen—it’s a tough life for them. We parted fairly amiably.

The next morning while taxiing to the airport, the taxi died just before we got there! Another taxi picked me up with two Americans in it that I had met earlier. I flew back to Bamako and checked into the Hotel Tennesee, recommended by my friend, Sam. I called Sam, inviting him and his family to dinner—he said he’d get back to me. I told him that I was going to Air Afrique to pick up my ticket and he said that he would send a driver, which he did. After picking up my ticket, I asked the driver to drop me at the Grand Marche, where I ordered another grand bou-bou, made in a plain blue material, bought some other souvenirs, and ate at the Bar LeBarry, while watching a fascinating street scene—vendors selling, people talking, eating, doing business, everything busy!

I’ll have a couple more days in Bamako before flying back to Dakar.


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