It’s a good twenty minute walk into the brush before the symphonic whirr of village life fades into a memory. The constant crying, yelling, screaming of children, blehhhing of sheep, bleating of goats, pounding of millet that chase me into the brush are soon swallowed by the equally constant ruffling of leaves, chirping of crickets, fluttering of birds as they chase each other from tree to tree, their silhouetted bodies flashing glimpses of brilliant color with every turn.
And here I am.
Bushes slightly taller than me surround me in an occasional, nonchalant sort of way. Between shrubs the rocky landscape lays bare, pale. I struggle to name a color that precisely encompasses the hue of the reddish pebbles that litter the ground in dark splotches against the otherwise dull landscape. With each glance I decide with certainty red—no, brown—no, mahogany. Or burnt sienna? They are not the only thing in Mali too elusive for English words.
Trees twist their crooked branches towards the hazy sky, bare branches bending unnaturally after years of being chopped for firewood, for fences, for furniture. Evidence of my village is everywhere, yet my thoughts twist in circles as fluid as the crooked footpaths I trace through the brush.
And here is my solitude.
I value this time to myself—such an American concept—and the essence of Mali drifts in and out of my reality. My mind takes me so many places, keeping my sanity, or rather taking it away, and I wonder am I ever really here, or anywhere?
My Malian existence is surreal, at best. I live in a world of English thoughts, English books, English music. Adrift in memory or aspiration, I could be anywhere. My thoughts, my culture, my history isolate me from my Malian surroundings.
And yet, my normalcy has morphed into a balancing act of colliding worlds, colliding selves, colliding identities. I do not exist in a vacuum. I am my American self, with my American history, expectations, assumptions, and judgments. And I am my Malian self, a person known by a fake name, a village of people knowing only what I tell them in fumbled Bambara. But I do not lie; Bougourie is me, simplified. Mali shows me the parts of myself that are constant and the parts that are interchangeable.
And just as the consistency of village reality urges my wandering, I am guided back on wagon trodden paths of divots and curves, until I feel familiarity in the distance. I emerge refreshed and assured that regardless of my wanderings, my reflections, my escapes, the tangible existence of my village’s jumbled homes under a washed out sun always awaits.
And here I am.← Becoming Settled The Routine →