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"…but soil is a refuge for dispersed seeds."


Let Me Set the Scene

Posted on by chrissy

Let me set the scene.

There’s a place on the road to San where just the trace of a path crosses the hot asphalt. If you blink, or day dream, or glance at your phone, you would certainly miss it. It’s even possible to be scanning the flat, monotonous horizon and seemingly be staring right at the path and still not notice its well-worn twists into the dull beyond. Behind you were pockets of forest, and ahead of you lay spiky partially cleared millet fields, then a village, then fields, then forest: the same pattern you’d noticed for hours. So it’s understandable to miss the details. I certainly didn’t notice my first time by.

But if you were paying attention, you might notice not only a path, but also two mud brick buildings tucked off to the side, one with its back to the road, and the other back further, facing you, but unfinished. You would also notice a well, and a little closer to the road, a structure called a gwa, built with four tall logs and covered with thatch, designed to provide shade. If you were really paying attention, you would also notice a little bench by the road with woven baskets, and maybe. Maybe you’d even see Brahman.

You see it’s Brahman who lives in the little house with its back to the road, perfectly stationed at the crossroads of the little wispy path and the big black gadrone, or paved road. He’s a tiny man, but it would take you a while to notice that about him. You’d first notice his smile, and then maybe his laugh, or perhaps his enthusiasm for everything. A happier man might be hard to find in these parts. You’d probably see him sitting on a mat under the gwa, with his legs flat out in front of him as he weaves more baskets to place for sale on the little bench by the road. And you’d probably find him chatting with whoever is passing through. By the nature of his location, he tends to know everyone from everywhere.

From the window of a bus, it is easy to overlook such things. To glance at Brahman’s house and never think twice about who lives there and who passes by, or where the path leads after it disappears into the bushes. But if you’re lucky, and you can stop, and greet Brahman, and take that sandy path, you’ll twist and turn past the fields, and Korogeulabougou to your left, then through the brush, past two cross paths, around where the big baobab tree fell, though its remnants are probably long gone by now, and then one more curve, and you will come upon a short, squat, crescent of a village with four palm trees precariously standing watch off to the right. You’ll first see this village from across all the spiky partially cleared millet fields, and the smattering of rectangular one-story mud homes set back against the horizon will look something like a Cezanne painting, just without the rolling hills of the French countryside.

From here, the sounds of the village won’t quite reach you, though you’ll have long since stopped noticing the hums and whirs of the brush around you. You’ll stare at this village, cast orange and motionless in the late afternoon sun, and it will stare back at you, matter-of-factly and unwavering. Perhaps you’ll want to believe in the secrets it may hold, its whimsical spirit, the stories that must lie just below the surface, waiting for you. Maybe you’ll stay long enough to find them. But for now, you’ll just follow the sandy path to the western edge of this tight-lipped village, down and up at the washed out riverbed that puddles when it rains, straight between the tall mud walls of two neighboring compounds, and past the broken solar pump where the path widens. Here, you’ll find a village like any other, methodically preparing for sunset. To your right, a circle of women and girls will be pounding millet into flour, and the thuds of their pestles will echo off the walls of the nearby compounds. Boys will run barefoot in the sand in front of you, chasing a homemade soccer ball, or maybe just each other, and further down, in the long shadow of someone’s home, the old men will sit and gossip and simply pass their time.

Yes, if you are lucky, you will find yourself here on this path at the cusp of evening. And you’ll stay for a night or a week or a year. If you let them, these people will become family, and you’ll learn the nuances and intricacies of their lives. And this dust-swept village will become your home. At least it did mine, when I was in your shoes.


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  • About Me:

    I am a Peace Corps Volunteer working in Mali for two years promoting sustainable agriculture and environment development.

  • Address in Mali:

    Christina Scheller
    B.P. 02
    San, Mali

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  • What I’m Reading

    King Leopold's Ghost - Adam Hochschild
  • What I’ve Read

    High Tide in Tucsan - Barbara Kingsolver All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren Half the Sky - Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn Prodigal Summer - Barbara Kingsolver Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization - David R. Montgomery Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee The Education of Little Tree - Forrest Carter The Rodale Book of Composting Team of Rivals - Doris Kearns Goodwin The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver The History of the House of Representatives - Robert Remini East of Eden - John Steinbeck Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin The Imperial Cruise - James Bradley