My mom has yet to return from her shopping expedition to Bamako, and the compound is quiet in her absence. Aby dutifully keeps me company, and as the evening slips into night her eyes grow with excitement at the sound of drumming drifting into our compound: the dance is starting.
Aby asks again if I will dance, and I tell her no, I don’t dance, a formulaic response I’m grown accustomed to over the years. I do agree to go with her and watch, despite my conflicting desire for sleep, and before long we’re on our way.
My cell phone flashlight guides our uneven path towards the circle of women haphazardly gathered across the soccer field, illuminated by one glaring light bulb hooked up to a generator. Aby and I walk in step while Koniba scurries beside us, his little three year old legs struggling to keep up with Aby’s fourteen year old gait. The night is dark, moonless, and I realize this is the first time I have left my compound past nightfall since arriving in S New.
As we approach, I see my teachers and the other toubabs, and let Aby slip into the crowd, as I stand on the outskirts in conversation. We laugh, we joke, we ask in vain, ‘If we speak only Bambara tonight, can we not have class in the morning?’
Only the women dance; the young men strut around the outskirts of the circle, observing, joking, sometimes finding company with whom to wander off into the shadows. This society, conservative on its merits, still flirts with temptation under cover of darkness. We witness cross gender hand holding, and other such forbidden displays of affection, yet us toubabs are the only ones who seem surprised.
Our laughs turn to yawns, and one by one, the toubabs slip away to bed. I try to find Aby in the crowd to tell her I’m going home, but before I do, we are informed that the next song is dedicated to us.
Despite my protests, I am pushed to the middle of the circle with the three remaining volunteers. Our teachers made it clear it would be extremely disrespectful if we declined the opportunity to dance in front of the entire village. The drums start again; our rigid bodies protest against the irregular beat, and all eyes are on us as our awkward movements draw cheers and applause from the crowd.
Other women from the village try to join us and our teachers shoo them away, declaring this dance is in our honor, it’s only for us, leaving us even more awkwardly alone and yet in the middle of everything. I resent the village, the dancing, the cultural differences that make this mandatory, I just want to go to bed and put this moment behind me. Suddenly, two hands grab my shoulders from behind; turning, I see my mom’s smiling face; she is back from Bamako! She takes my hand and dances next to me for the remainder of the song. My rigidity slips away, my body moves to the beat, and I am set at ease by her kindness, her friendship, and her support.
Soon, the drumming stops, the moment is over, and I know this is why I came to Mali, for the uncomfortable moments, and finding the reasons why they’re not as bad as I anticipate. I find Aby with Koniba asleep on her shoulder, and we walk home, content with our outing.← Odds and Ends The Process of Achieving Comfort →