‘Don’t do that’, Ibrahim snaps. Not aware of doing anything offensive I start laughing, annoying him even more. With a puzzled face I look at him and Amadou. It turns out that my posture – I’m leaning backward in a chair and have my arm resting on top of my head – brings bad luck. Not only to me, but to all around. I can explain a thousand times that having my hand or arm rest on my head is no more than a posture, for them it’s something really bad. Bit by bit I’m getting aware of it and I start adapting new postures that are accepted in Malian culture.
Most Malians are quite superstitious and attach great value to symbolism. It’s not only the hand on the head that brings bad luck. Killing a goat and eating it with your friends will most certainly lead to arguments amongst the friends and putting a chilly pepper on the ground will bring you war.
One evening I found Amadou watching the stones in the garden in despair. Little pieces of glass, a previous tea glass, were scattered around. Do we state in The Netherlands that broken glass brings luck, it’s the opposite in Mali. It didn’t really impress Amadou that we think differently about it, he was convinced something bad was going to happen to him.
Luckily there are also a lot of things symbolizing good luck. A garden or house full of ants is supposed to be a blessing of good luck. Also termite houses or hills are a very good sign.
Running into a goat – entirely opposite to eating one with your friends – will bring you good luck, as Amadou told me one morning when I made a little side step to avoid one. ‘Monique, some people do speed up on purpose whenever a goat is crossing, just to hit it and find good luck.’ I’m looking at him in surprise. ‘Do they eat the goat afterwards?’, I ask him. ‘No, they don’t, it’s just for the good luck.’ ‘Why would anyone like to bless or even kill a goat on purpose?, I ask him, being quite puzzled. ‘Monique, it’s not at all easy to hit a goat’, he explains laughing ‘they are fast, really fast!’
Getting to know and living up to all of this is challenging from time to time!
I still avoid the goats and I do allow the termites their houses on the walls, that is, as long as it’s not in the guest rooms. But I have to admit that I do take action against the ants eating my house, if they get too active. When the guys are out of sight of course and asking for forgiveness with the universe. Having found an all natural alternative for the ants poison makes me feel less guilty about it…