For a couple of days I put my computer and work on the Papillon Reizen website aside to delve into the Festival des Masques et Marionnettes in Markala, a village about 40 kilometers from Ségou.
A local taxi driver took me and Ellen, a Dutch tourist, from Ségou to Markala in his very old, many sounds producing Peugeot. Mohammed, who was kind of sent to accompany us to introduce us to his family in Markala, was sure the car would break down along the road. We made it all the way (and back), sound and safe, with our smiling driver happily handing over some coins to any policeman stopping him, to avoid any tickets.
Mohammed’s family turned out to have moved since the last time he visited them. Not so bad for us actually, since their new house is even closer to the festival site making it no more than a pleasant five minute stroll to get there.
We got introduced, were carefully observed by both dog, pigeons and children and warmly welcomed by their father, our host Yssouf, who over the days shared the story of his life with us; a touching story of lacking financial resources. He is one of the few Malian Muslim men who have chosen to marry only one woman. And, as he proudly added, he has only four children. Wanting a better life for his children than he has had himself he’s doing all possible to have them attend private school. The oldest two do (thanks to the financial help of a French family), the third one is in public school, where the teacher doesn’t show up most of the days…
No matter how hard Yssouf wants his children to break out of the circle, he’s facing that it’s almost impossible to do so. He worked for the Chinese as a gardener, bringing home the paltry amount of 15,000 FCFA per month (the equivalent of about 23 Euros), working 7 days a week. Not even enough to feed his family…
Hearing a story like this touches me time after time, making me feel sad not being able to change this family’s situation. And happy to have ended up there to at least lighten their load a bit by compensating them well for their hospitality.
I can only work hard to make a success of Papillon Reizen and gather the funds needed for small scale projects such as financial support for education and maybe some micro financing. I can’t change the world, but it’s quite clear that I did not end up in Mali just for myself…
So yes, I do hear these stories, and am also feeling grateful to cross paths with those people as a result of Papillon Reizen’s activities!
So, it was the annual Festival des Masques et Marionnettes that brought me to Markala and I have to admit it was fun to experience this typical Malian festival. Of course the starting times were not too fixed, as were the closing times and getting some nice daylight pictures for the website turned out to be not that easy. The opening day came with a lot of officials, who – except for the remarkably young mayor of Markala – took their time to speak out, most of them in Bambara, a language I still do not master. The one with a powerful convincing voice, another one with loads of humor.
But, when the dancers, singers and musicians finally entered the festival area, it turned out more than worth the long wait. As was watching the crowds, seeing the spectators react on the performers. Children screaming and recoiling in horror when a man size marionette comes too close, the crowds voices rising to unprecedented levels at moments I’m wondering what’s going on and of course everybody – except for me… – is all dressed up!
I felt like I was enjoying a little holiday, treating myself with the delicious homemade juices and snacks from the local saleswomen, allowing myself to be tired beyond words and to not even think about work for two entire days. It was heaven!
I’m back to work, back to my computer and the website updates. It’s lots of fun to create with renewed energy! Only a few more days and the updated website will be online with the 2011-2012 journeys, of course including a Mali the Malian way with the Festival des Masques et Marionnettes in Markala!