tagged w/ Travel
Sana is going to let us scout his house. Good to have Abdul back — we drive. Bea and Karamo hop out to follow Sana, I am slower and when I get out they’re gone. I ask Lamont where they went. He points across the street. I saunter into the compound, and when I see a woman with two children staring at me in surprise and fear I call out for Sana. Suddenly, a tough-looking guy steps out of the main house with a pistol. I say Je cherche Sana, je vous empris, and with a flick of his gun I get myself out of there. Next thing, he’s out on the street, sans pistol, and Abdul is trying to calm him. Sana comes out, tensions ease. I tell Lamont he almost got me shot. Sana says not to worry, “he is military man.” Seems like that’s good cause for worry to me.
This morning (December 8) is Tobaski, a major Muslim holiday. Lamont sees the military man cruise by the hotel in a truck marked Commissar Police. Bea calls her Mom in Sao Paulo to tell her about the nightmare she had last night, of a military takeover in Brazil. She helped an old woman over a bridge, basically carrying her. Everyone was calling the military “Crocodiles!” Her mother says not to worry – there will never be another military coup in Brazil. Because of the internet.
I am reading Paul Auster’s Man in the Dark, which posits an alternate universe where 9/11 didn’t happen and where the US is not in Iraq. Instead, there’s another civil war in the States. As always, ever-expanding writing enmeshed in great story. Please don’t kill the characters, kill the author! Etc. My headlight goes out, change batteries in light without light, man in the dark.
Over Tobaski breakfast, the same old instant Nescafe, powdered milk, round loaf of bread with butter and red fruit jam, I know something is different.
The grit is gone. How can there be a loaf of bread in Timbuktu sans sand? Must be time to head out. We’ll try for Dogon country tonight, but will probably end up at the crossroads in Douentza. Road conditions are impossible to learn in advance.
But then until last night we thought Tobaski would be two days from now, which is the date Papa Susso had told us, and we were looking forward to a Dogon el Eid (Arabic), Fete el Khabir (French). That turned our schedule around. Let me sleep in this morning. Anything could be going on in America. Last dreams in Timbuktu.
Bob Holman is the host of a new travel series focused on endangered languages called ON THE ROAD WITH BOB HOLMAN on LINK TV. He traveled to West Africa, Middle East and Asia and these are his blog stories from his travels. More information at http://www.rattapallax.com/blog/on_the_road/Sana is going to let us scout his house. Good to have Abdul back — we drive.... more
It’s expensive here – dinner costs around $10, double the price of Dakar and Bamako. The jewelry hustlers are all over you all the time. And you understand it – a tourist arriving here is like Mali making a pact to export to Montenegro. It’s hard to get here: the pharmacist yesterday apologized for his lack of lip balm, and promised it would be on the next plane into town. Right. The only way to export your work is to get a tourist to carry it home. And the exchange rate is lower, too.
Big Day Shooting
Bea and I settle in for a Production Meeting and lay out a morning in town and afternoon with the Tuaregs. Sana introduces me to his brother, Sandi, who turns out to be his cousin, who turns out to be… etc. When Sana sees me looking at Bradt’s, he casually drops the news that it’s Sandi on a camel on the cover. Indeed.
Losing a Negotiation with the Tuaregs
We go to the Tourist Office and shoot my passport getting the official Timbuktu stamp. Only took me thirty-five years. Shoot the outside of the 15th Century Mosque that looks as much like Arizona as Timbuktu. Have a great conversation with Sana at the sacred Tim (well) of Madame Buktu, who lived alone but her well became the way station that became the stopover that grew into today’s Timbuktu. Karamo buys a homemade, tin-can mbira, and we have an impromptu jam ‘round the well. I fall in. It’s dry.
A Kilo of Salt
Buy a kilo of salt, one chunk, dug straight from the earth, two bucks. [NB - this purchase is destined to appear on the poster for LinkTV’s broadcasting of “On the Road.”] Stage the meeting of Sana and Bob at the Hotel Bouctou, another of the seemingly infinite number of places where Ted Joans lived. The owner, another friend of Ted’s, tells us he always stayed in Room 2. But we’d already shot in front of Room 1 – Ted’s number one room, according to Sana. Lunch, like all meals in Timbuktu, takes forever unless you’ve ordered in advance. Omelet clocks in at an hour and fifteen minutes. Last night we ordered chicken. We heard a squawk about half an hour later.
In the afternoon it’s Tuareg time – I ride a camel into town, Karamo and Lamont ride into desert. Bea and I scout the village – located in the midst of scrub and sand, a particularly unhappy piece of desert. Bea immediately asks for a dune, which Sandi conjures up and which totally makes the shoot. Camels, hypnotic music, the sword dance. Karamo sits in on kora. It’s decided professor Bob should ride his camel sans handler, which turns into a rich comedy of camel stubbornness and poet exhilaexasperation. The sun slides down. The women are wearing incredibly ornate silver headresses which mingle gorgeously with their deep indigo clothing. Bea requests a woman to dance. She moves away from her drum, settles on the earth, and subtly moves her hands. Waves of sand. An hourglass without the glass.
Bob Holman is the host of a new travel series focused on endangered languages called ON THE ROAD WITH BOB HOLMAN on LINK TV. He traveled to West Africa, Middle East and Asia and these are his blog stories from his travels. More information at http://www.rattapallax.com/blog/on_the_road/Timbuktu Bucks It’s expensive here – dinner costs around $10, double... more
Many years ago, during my time as a child and through young adulthood, I was immersed in the (sometimes solitary) lavish joys of nature in rural South Carolina. The memories of the steaming, dusty red clay roads and the smells of downstate piney-woods are now fading away, replaced by years of gritty urban life in Chicago’s inner-city. However, that doesn’t mean that now I’ve become completely blind to the beauty of rural landscapes. I just have to enjoy it from the comfort of a chair, in more climate-controlled conditions. So this video is pretty perfect for me.
“Yosemite HD” is an amazing four-minute time-lapse short art film, a collaboration between Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty. They made numerous trips to Yosemite National Park, where they captured the beautiful landscape it offers for visitors every year. Set to “Outro,” from M83′s lovely and stratospheric “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming,” this might be the best music video you could ask for. So stop whatever you’re doing right now, put this video in full-screen mode and breath very deeply during the film’s duration!
This piece includes colorful high-resolution photographs, as well as the exhilarating short film.
http://disembedded.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/look-homeward-angel-park-pretty/Many years ago, during my time as a child and through young adulthood, I was immersed... more
Two teenagers from Toronto have posted a video of a Lego man they sent into the outer reaches of the Earth's atmosphere using a equipment they found on Craigslist.
Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad, both 17, used a weather balloon ordered online and a makeshift Styrofoam spacecraft to send the plastic astronaut 15 miles into the stratosphere,
The pair managed to capture the entire journey into the blackness of space, including the descent, which lasted 97 minutes, using four cameras, at an entire cost of just £254.
Congratulations Canada!Two teenagers from Toronto have posted a video of a Lego man they sent into the outer... more
It couldn’t be. But it looked like a rainstorm ahead. The river got choppy. Whitecaps appeared. The temperature dropped. The air turned to milk. I had Beatriz and Lamont start shooting and they shot for an entire tape, an hour. We were moving through memory. Inside a cloud. The trees along the river were shaking. It was the last night before Timbuktu.
The sun came down like an iron cover on a pot. Suddenly darker than dark. We huddled around the table for warmth – no food till new land. The Captain’s flashlight revealed nothing but swirling wisps of fog. The moon ghosted up, and the familiar two stars that have been her accompaniment on this trip, but otherwise the sky and river merged into a black tunnel. It was very late, we were very hungry, very cold, freezing, a few miles from the Sahara.
But the Muse calls. I turn on my headlight to jot some words. “Fermez la lumiere!” bellows the Captain. “Turn off your light! It’s dangerous!” “What’s the danger?” I reply, trying to get some perspective. Silence. Crocodiles? Hippos? Are we lost? I see a flashlight on the left shore. “A gauche!” I shout, half a joke, half hoping the Captain will heed my advice and pull us in to safe haven.
This is supposed to be the time to travel by water to Timbuktu – the river at its highest. Much of the year the trip is impossible – the Niger dries up as it bends (“le boucle,” the Buckle) south at the Sahara. Thirty years ago the Niger flowed through Timbuktu. Now it’s almost twenty kilometers away. Desertification for real.
But tonight the river’s height has changed the shoreline. The fog cloud has turned things around. The high water has caused some of the riverfront villages to be abandoned. Where can we put in for the night? Where is the shore? We cross the broad river, searching. Our jokes have subsided. For almost two hours the Captain stands at the prow, making small hand gestures to the man at the wheel. This way, that.
Suddenly we are ashore, a lonely sand spit, wind blowing mercilessly. The lone tree explodes in a cacophony of scolding and we name the place “Monkey Island.” As the crew sets up the tents, Karamo goes ashore to record the madness. It’s not monkeys but egrets, huddling themselves, reproaching us for invading their sorry dune.
We take dinner on the boat. Last night had been full of stories and imitations of each other. Tonight, our last night on the Niger, is full of tent-shaking monsters – grit teeth to stay on ground. Sand blowing everywhere, somehow getting inside the tents. Frantic dreams. By morning, my sandals, left outside, must be dug out.
We break camp. Two tents blow into the Niger and are fished out with poles. We cast off at daybreak. We’re too cold and tired to shoot.
The blankets we’d bought in Niafunke became our outerwear. All we can do is make time downstream. We are promised a Tuareg village; the one we find is deserted. Filled with loneliness. Finally, late afternoon, we enter Timbuktu like most: tired, dusty, bumping along in an open bache (small truck), wrapped in rags.
Bob Holman is the host of a new travel series focused on endangered languages called ON THE ROAD WITH BOB HOLMAN on LINK TV. He traveled to West Africa, Middle East and Asia and these are his blog stories from his travels. More information at http://www.rattapallax.com/blog/on_the_road/It couldn’t be. But it looked like a rainstorm ahead. The river got choppy.... more
On the Road continues in Timbuktu where Bob Holman gets more insight into the dusty off-station in the middle of nowhere. Bob goes to the Timbuktu Library, with volumes from the 16th Century when the city was the center of African learning. We ourselves learn how to ride a camel and how Timbuktu got its name before we venture into the Sahara and spend an afternoon listening to the hypnotic music of the Tuaregs, the nomadic "blue people," named because their indigo-dyed clothing rubs off on their skin.
Then we head south to visit the Dogons, renowned for the interplay of their culture of masks with daily life and rituals. Bob tries to get a mask ceremony to happen: he buys millet beer for the town, and we see how it is brewed. He then has his fortune read via iconic marks in the sand that are left overnight for the pale fox to wander through and change their meanings, one of many Dogon traditions first written about by Marcel Griaule. When the village erupts into a mask ceremony, the Dogon dancing, music and masks evoke a complete cosmology of extraordinary beauty, utterly fascinating and unique.On the Road continues in Timbuktu where Bob Holman gets more insight into the dusty... more
A griot (gree-oh) is the keeper of the West African oral tradition and the tribe's genealogy through poetic songs. Bob Holman is invited to Gambia by his long-time friend and teacher, Papa Susso, to learn more about this musical art and see how the kora, the 21-string harp-lute is made. Bob travels up the Niger River with Papa's son, Karamo, also a griot, in search of the spirit of the African-American Beat poet, Ted Joans, who lived a buoyant life in Timbuktu in the 70s and was Bob's mentor. Along the way, Bob discovers the roots of hip-hop, rap, the blues -- all the great American musical traditions that originated in Africa. The episode concludes with a kora-guitar jam session between Karamo and Ali Farka Toure's son, Vieux.A griot (gree-oh) is the keeper of the West African oral tradition and the... more
Consider the following when debating the issue terrorism and why we need the Travel Suppression Agency (TSA)
Scientists note that fear of terrorism makes people stupid.
As I’ve repeatedly noted, FBI agents and CIA intelligence officials, constitutional law expert professor Jonathan Turley, Time Magazine, and the Washington Post have all said that U.S. government officials “were trying to create an atmosphere of fear in which the American people would give them more power”.
Indeed, the former Secretary of Homeland Security – Tom Ridge – admits that he was pressured to raise terror alerts to help Bush win reelection.
In the real world, as the National Safety Council notes:
– You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack
– You are 12,571 times more likely to die from cancer than from a terrorist attack
— You are 11,000 times more likely to die in an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane
— You are 1048 times more likely to die from a car accident than from a terrorist attack
–You are 404 times more likely to die in a fall than from a terrorist attack
— You are 87 times more likely to drown than die in a terrorist attack
– You are 13 times more likely to die in a railway accident than from a terrorist attack
–You are 12 times more likely to die from accidental suffocation in bed than from a terrorist attack
–You are 9 times more likely to choke to death on your own vomit than die in a terrorist attack
–You are 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist
–You are 8 times more likely to die from accidental electrocution than from a terrorist attack
– You are 6 times more likely to die from hot weather than from a terrorist attack
(Moreover, the chair of the 9/11 Commission said that the attack was preventable).Consider the following when debating the issue terrorism and why we need the Travel... more
The Campement Hotel has air-conditioned rooms with great showers, flush toilets: it’s all too much for any of us. We’ve been sleeping five on the floor in a single room with a rock-covered hole and warm water in a bucket for over a week. Over dinner, we’re treated to two wandering griots, one playing the jangly 6-string hunters’ kora, the simbi, and the other joining him in singing and dancing a hypnotic welcome song. It’s lovely. This is when Albert the Guide shows up so he’s put to work immediately — book the hunter griots! OK, tomorrow at the market at 10am. Yes, the two hunter-farmer griots are a father and son and now they have a manager, Johnny.
The Monday Djenne Market, one of the most famous in the world, was the touchstone date for the whole 6-week shoot. Had you asked me a week ago, I’d have said, maybe we’ll make it on next Monday or the Monday after. But we have caught enough recent breaks to get back on schedule, a sense of drive and passion is with us, so we are at the market by 6am to catch sunrise and the market set-up. That’s what all the guidebooks say to do, and I’d say most of the tourists in town were up and at ‘em by seven or eight. The market itself, however, is a might slower, and still had empty stalls when we pulled out at 2 – I told Albert that he should talk with the latecomers, that the tourists were getting up early expecting them He said he would.
Bob Holman is the host of a new travel series focused on endangered languages called ON THE ROAD WITH BOB HOLMAN on LINK TV. He traveled to West Africa, Middle East and Asia and these are his blog stories from his travels. More information at http://www.rattapallax.com/blog/on_the_road/The Campement Hotel has air-conditioned rooms with great showers, flush toilets:... more
He wouldn't allow some Travel Suppression Agent to pat him down to make sure he wasn't with Al Qaeda.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was detained Monday by the Transportation Security Administration in Nashville, Tenn., after refusing a full body pat-down, POLITICO has confirmed.
“I spoke with him five minutes ago and he was being detained indefinitely,” Paul spokesperson Moira Bagley said. “The image scan went off; he refused patdown.”
“My son @SenRandPaul being detained by TSA for refusing full body pat-down after anomaly in body scanner in Nashville. More details coming,” wrote the authenticated Twitter account of presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Like his father, Rand Paul has libertarian leanings and has been a fierce critic of TSA’s pat-downs of passengers at airports, which he views as government overreach. The senator grilled TSA Administrator John Pistole last year after a 6-year-old girl from Paul’s hometown, was patted down by airport security.
“I guess this little girl would be part of the random pat-downs, this little girl from Bowling Green, Kentucky, one of my constituents,” Paul said, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. “They’re still quite unhappy with you guys as well as myself and a lot of other Americans who think you’ve gone overboard, you’re missing the boat on terrorism because you’re doing these invasive searches on six-year-old girls.”He wouldn't allow some Travel Suppression Agent to pat him down to make sure he... more
Costa Concordia Italian cruise Captain Frencesco Shettino has been placed under house arrest at his home near Naples. He is currently facing charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his vessel in the the sinking of the Carnival cruise ship Costa Concordia.Costa Concordia Italian cruise Captain Frencesco Shettino has been placed under house... more
My first day in Mali not in jail. The in-jail story, suffice it to say, was some twenty years ago and is for later. Right now, just being here in Bamako, seat of high culture of the griot tradition, is dreamscape extraordinaire totale, bursting with life and heat. One of the big neighborhoods is Lafiabugu, or Rest, Please District.
And of course living at Ballike Sissoko’s house is also sleeping the life. Toumani Diabate lives next door. Yesterday Ballike tried out a new kora in the afternoon (he liked it): last night we visited Toumani’s music compound, and he played “Badjouru” with a wonderful jelimussow. Not since I sat on Lonnie Mack’s front porch…
First, go to market.
Go to calabash store, buy calabash (this giant dried gourd, cut in half, is primarily used as a kitchen bowl) (floating in a big bowl of water, it is used as a drum) (whole (small) calabash covered with beaded string you’ve got your shakeree).
Go to hardware/shoe store. Buy a roll of thin polyester fishing line, a medium size skein of medium size line, and a nice-sized line of the thickest. That’s just for the bass string. Buy a big nail that you’ll need to hammer into the ring you attach the strings to, below the bridge.
Go to the rosewood market, just outside of the general market. This wood is usually going for firewood. But you can pick out three nice sticks for the handles and cross piece, and then a big one for the neck. You’ll need some thin strips for the bridge, too.
It’s quite a walk to the cowhide makers’. And quite a smell once you get there. Lots of cowhides stretched in this pole barn, finished ones are strewn about on the dusty grass in front. To the left, fresh skins are scraped (all meat goes straight to the barbecuers next door), salted, rinsed and piled to drain. Lashed into vertical drying rack. When dried, stacked. Eventually exported all overt the world. Except for the occasional kora.
As for the carpet tacks, well, the best thing is to have Papa Susso bring them with him from the United States and present them in wonderful Presentation of the Carpet Tacks Ceremony.
Go home to compound. Trim and cut cowhide into two or three kora-sized pieces. Sketch circles with knife – use stone jutting up in courtyard to sharpen knife – cut circular kora skin, reserving leftovers for braiding dried skin and using as tuning rings, each with a string attached. Dunk and leave sit in lime water for two days. During this time you can make the handles and cross piece – use an adze to find them inside the rosewood. Use the same rosewood tree joint which has been handed down from your father as a brace to shape and carve. Use a file and sandpaper to get some aesthetics going. You can file down the kora so the rim is flat. You can notch the bridge – eleven notches on right, ten on left, the kora has 21 strings in a pentatonic scale (some use 25). A cross between a harp and a lute. Played with thumb and forefinger of both hands – three back fingers curl around and hold the handle.
Ain’t no books to teach you how to. Find a kora and you’ll find a teacher.
Remove skin from lime and stretch on board leaning against tree. Scrape hair from hide with the same (sharp) knife. Bury skin flat in ground for several days. Uncover. Skin now stretchable. Poke holes and thread a rope through. Center calabash on skin. Pull up ropes (some use a white powder here, a kind of glue, others don’t). And use foot to hold rope down. Pull tight, using a rope tightener (wood rod). Lots of crisscrossing here, lots of oomph in the tightening.
Cut holes in skin at top and bottom, having decided which is top and bottom. “Screw” handles in; crosswise for crosspiece. Let sit in sun Braid cowhide strips. Cut hole for neck insertion. Insert neck (tuning rings are all in place, check). Thumbtack design – make it real, pretty, bold, hard. Cut resonator hold. More thumbtacks. String, tune, play. Don’t tell anyone. Play for everyone.
Or, Beatriz Seigner-Martin Leite. A genius goddess with a camera. Seeing her whirl in the midst of yesterday’s wedding, all the bridesmaids in brilliant orange, the camera hoisted above to catch the whirl…
Three Shoots One Day
The wedding, the School of Fine Arts (Jelimady Sissoko, from the compound, is a great kora teacher), and Jelimady again later playing with his band at the amazingly upscale Hotel Libya L’Amitie…
Sad, On Schedule
Starting to get sad around Papa. I miss him already. Ram calls – he’s putting Lamont on the plane. Our tour connection Dagui of Tellem Travel knows how to get a 30-day visa extension at the airport. Which means that Sunday we’re back on schedule – off to Djenne for the renowned Monday Market.
A Bamako Thanksgiving
My daughter calls and reminds me, (thank you Daisy!). I call up Spencer, who I met through the blog, to invite him to meet us a Djelimady’s concert. “Bob!” He says, “I heard about the concert, it’s supposed to be great. But I’m at the Ambassador’s having an American Thanksgiving!” That’s the story here, On the Griot Trail.
Bob Holman is the host of a new travel series focused on endangered languages called ON THE ROAD WITH BOB HOLMAN on LINK TV. He traveled to West Africa, Middle East and Asia and these are his blog stories from his travels. More information at http://www.rattapallax.com/blog/on_the_road/My first day in Mali not in jail. The in-jail story, suffice it to say, was some... more
After all the hoopla and tears of yesterday, we settle in on the roof. The starry canopy, the rustle of breeze from the Dakar shore, it’s a respite refuge. Papa and Karamo trade kora, get Bea to sing. I read a few poems, we make up songs, poems, sayings, teasings, proddings, yuks. It’s the oral tradition in action, and as ephemeral as Eric Dolphy’s last date, real life art.
Tough sleep, Papa too. We’re up at dawn to pray. Hit the local internet as its opening at 9, and sign in, but before we can do anything I realize the guy gave us hour (not half-hour) passes and guess what – they don’t work. Nothing works, oy. Into town, Place de l’Independence, big email place signs us in, I am able to upload our first photo! A young boy cooling out under the Barack Obama Bookstore sign. But, get this – Bea’s mom forgot to attach the passport PDF! It’ll be hours before we can get the copy. Tragedy rearing, we decide to hit the Brazilian Embassy anyway (BTW, we were stuck in the elevator there yesterday for five hellish minutes).
And Lo and Behold! Bea, now a Goddess as well as a Genius, is able to walk out half an hour later with a new passport in hand. Tip o’ Hat to Carlos Leite and his staff!
We shoot some great interviews about Senghor, and the port billboard as well. Run into his wife’s sister-in-law. Our cab driver knows nothing, a great moment. Lots in Wolof, the Arabicky-rasp and lightning crashing amazingly against the rolly rotundity of Mandinka…
Let’s make some passport Xeroxes, put ‘em in the Black Book (production book), what say?
And then, let’s go Bamako!
Simply Put on the Roof
Want to hear a poem: call Bob
Want to hear a kora: call Papa
Want to watch a movie: call Bea
Want to put it all together and sing it at the same time: call Karamo
Bob Holman is the host of a new travel series focused on endangered languages called ON THE ROAD WITH BOB HOLMAN on LINK TV. He traveled to West Africa, Middle East and Asia and these are his blog stories from his travels. More information at http://www.rattapallax.com/blog/on_the_road/After all the hoopla and tears of yesterday, we settle in on the roof. The starry... more
I finally ask Karamo to look at my watch. We cannot figure out what day it is. Bea and I think it is the 15th, Karamo assures us it’s the 18t. I can’t make out the date on my watch because the hour hand is bisecting it. Pause.
We’ve been in Africa less than a week and we’ve lost three days.
The main reason it takes so long to drive Gambia are the police stops, about every 25 miles – every time you enter a new district they have to make sure you are not sneaking in from Senegal. Occasionally they’ll wave you through after you slow to a stop, but usually they scrutinize the driver’s ID and insurance and the white folks’ passports, and a couple times they tried to shake us down.
One policeman asserted that the fact the Gambian stamp entering from Senegal didn’t have an exit date meant I was illegal. Papa tried convincing him that it wasn’t my fault, and then I told the story of my triumphant entrance into the Gambia: instead of paying a tax on the blank tapes we brought with us, the Commander of the Border gave me his card, a smile, and a copy of the Koran, which stunned Papa – evidentially, there is no more auspicious act than being given a Koran. And all I had to do was promise to help get his son into Columbia, no problem. This particular cop wasn’t moved, and it wasn’t until I asked his name (Sanghay) that he backed off.
Between Sotuma Sere and Basse maybe a hundred cars a day pass, which gives the paramilitary police at the checkpoint plenty of time to think of a scam, and the one they came up with was pretty good. The stern policeman stuck his head in the car and told the driver to get out. The crime: Bea, who was shooting Papa’s childhood from the front seat, did not have her seatbelt on. AND, the policeman as policeman said as he carefully unfolded an ancient Xerox, THAT is against the law!
I went into my professor spiel: educational intent West African Culture to the world of poetry yes yes after which policeman as policeman says, Can you read? I take the paper.
It’s the paper that is central here, the magical power of writing. Like many 5 and 10 Dilasi notes (2 ½ cents a Dilasi), it had been so used that it had turned to vellum, the letters weakening, changing to other letters, the folds more like rivers than creases, the vellum feeling like earth, dust just barely formed into a solid.
The writing was that peculiar colonial Brit that you hear from bureaucrats here. Section 3, Subsection (d) Paragraph 2 says that unless you are an ambulance, security vehicle or fire truck ON DUTY (emphasis policeman as policeman’s) front seat driver and passenger MUST wear their seat belts, or they can be arrested.
Bob Holman is the host of a new travel series focused on endangered languages called ON THE ROAD WITH BOB HOLMAN on LINK TV. He traveled to West Africa, Middle East and Asia and these are his blog stories from his travels. More information at http://www.rattapallax.com/blog/on_the_road/I finally ask Karamo to look at my watch. We cannot figure out what day it is. Bea and... more
I get the bed under the mosquito net, Papa’s on the mattress on the floor. Sometimes that’s the way it be. The people of Sotama Sere want to give the honored guest the bed and Papa, here in his home town, is one of the people. On the other hand, Papa’s earned eternal shotgun in the car, with me in the middle in the back so that Karamo and Bea can have easy access to recording and shooting.
Travel Guide Updates
The guidebooks say 5-6 hours from Banjul-Basse, which is the district capital five miles away from S-S. It took us 10-1/2. We did stop for lunch in Ferrafini, and searched for a restaurant Karamo knew of. When we found Eddy’s, by the Youth Center, it looked great, sweet little courtyard, but it wasn’t until we sat down, relaxed and ordered that we learned that if we wanted chicken (we did) they’d start cooking now, we’d eat in an hour or so. So it was off to find Todie’s Fast Food (I have mentioned there are no addresses, period), which is closed so it’s a one table home cooking delicious cheb’n-jen with these little bitter squash that were superb. We also stopped to shoot a cow herd and the boys with it, one of whom played a lonely melody on a Fulani flute, probably not accounted for in the guidebook’s estimate. Might as well mention that the ten hour trip Dakar-Banjul took us nine, including the border officer’s giving me a Koran when I said I’d write him a letter of recommendation to get into Columbia.
There are three ferries – ferries more common than bridges here. Banjul to Barra is the worst. Even though all three ferries were working, even though we paid the baksheesh to get through the barrier and the additional to get past the gate into the loading area and the additional to jump the queue – which failed, by the way, and I got sent to the car for complaining, but Papa did get the money back – it still took us an hour and a half just to get on board. The second ferry, in Georgetown, was at the other side when we arrived, and took forty minutes to decide to return, even though it only holds four cars. And the last ferry, just a few miles past Georgetown was really scary – by now it was 7pm, dark, and the two-car ferry was at the other side and wouldn’t return until a car came to the other side. The only person on the riverbank was a woman sewing by flashlight, and Papa asked her if she had the phone number of anyone on the other side of the placid, deep and gorgeous Gambia River, thinking we could offer double (price of car and four passengers is 57 Dalasi, $2.20), but she just laughed. I was settling down to sleep in the car, but luck was with us, yes, and a car arrived on the other side in less than ten minutes. The final fifty miles was on the south road, which has fallen into total disrepair since the last time Papa was here. It took two hours to get to SS.
Papa and I are abed and talking about Ram and the budget, how much to leave these people at Sotuma. “It’s a good thing it could only be you and you’re here,” he says, referring to Binta and Grandma. I agree. And then it comes to me – we’ll dedicate the film to them. And to my wife Elizabeth who died last year, my inspiration for life’s ongoingness. “Hamddu’Allah,” Papa breathes contentedly. He sleeps. I hop across him to get to the hole in the ground covered by a metal dinner plate that suffices. Up above, the Milky Way is the creamiest I’ve ever seen.
Karamo and I are talking.
What’s more different, French and English or Mandinka and Wolof?
They are about the same difference. French and English are the same at the roots, so are Mandinka and Wolof.
How about Fulani?
Oh nooo! Fulani is completely different! I don ‘t speak it.
This for three languages that overlap greatly for hundreds of miles.
Bob Holman is the host of a new travel series focused on endangered languages called ON THE ROAD WITH BOB HOLMAN on LINK TV. He traveled to West Africa, Middle East and Asia and these are his blog stories from his travels. More information at http://www.rattapallax.com/blog/on_the_road/I get the bed under the mosquito net, Papa’s on the mattress on the floor.... more
It takes all day to get the camera. Meanwhile I make the mistake of handing over an Obama t-shirt to Kinda, Papa’s 14-year old son, too early and here they come: Moussa (14), and Moussa (13), who are always together and known collectively as Moussa Moussa; Saana, Papa’s 9-year-old granddaughter which means Isatou (12), Fatimata (8), Sarjo (7), Bunka (6) and of course Abdullah, who’s one, silent, carries a shoe everywhere, is the epicenter of the family. His t-shirt reaches the ground. And who could say no to the wonderful maid, Bourry, whose first English words to me are “Barack Obama”?
I made a deal with the Director of his program at the YMCA to rent the camera for a week, so we can shoot the Goody Samedhi show being aired tonight, Saturdays at 11pm – Papa and I will be on the national television network’s most popular show. And the kids in their Obama t-shirts. And maybe some (wo)man-in-the-street interviews on Segnhoir in Dakar. Not to mention getting started in Bamako, until we figure that one out. But Chinua ain’t answering the phone, he’s got the keys to the camera, and Karamo now is on the trail of another supervisor who may know Chinua’s address.
We have a general idea where the supervisor lives – there are no street numbers in Banjul. In fact there are no street signs of any kind (well, the occasional stop or yield sign – NB: there are seven traffic lights in the whole of the Gambia). We walk into a compound that has all then earmarks of being the right one, but they’ve never heard of our man Pons. A little more digging though and oh yes, maybe the compound next door. There’s Pons’ car! His wife Cecvilia comes to the door speaking New York English, WOAH. She calls Pons, who’s watching football at a TV hall – he’ll meet us at the Y in 45 minutes. He’s good to his word (an hour 15), and the deal is done. It’s 9pm, we go back to the compound, tune in Goody Samedi – Papa is great and I am a dancing fool, alas, but do get in one professorial comment as the headline band, Pa Mahn Jack, aka Fish ‘n’ Chips, rocks out. Their fan club makes up most of the audience, seriously beautiful Gambian women in their early 20s, who saunter, not dance, up to the lead singer, and hand over Dalasi bills, slowly and directly, one at a time. The fervor of a jeli’s concert tempered, even as the music gets louder and more raucous. Go figure.
6:30am we head back to the crocodile pool. Papa and I kneel down in the folds of a giant banyan (bangtano in Mandinka) tree and beg their forgiveness. I smell them, I feel them. The sound on the new camera isn’t working, but our faithful Sony Digital Audio Recorder with Karamo at the control, catches us as we catch the beautiful sunrise at Kachikally, which is where I believe we came in. We’ll head to Dakar, it will take us eleven hours to do it, and then fly to Bamako, where the poet Lamont Steptoe will fly in with his special alien abduction camera.
Bob Holman is the host of a new travel series focused on endangered languages called ON THE ROAD WITH BOB HOLMAN on LINK TV. He traveled to West Africa, Middle East and Asia and these are his blog stories from his travels. More information at http://www.rattapallax.com/blog/on_the_road/On Words! It takes all day to get the camera. Meanwhile I make the mistake of... more
Kachikally Pool 6:50 am, 11/23
Large antediluvian reptiles in cotillion
Crawl down rock bed into soft green vitreous liquid meld
And you are pregnant
Birds caroom music trill sheen
You are – the only one
Fecundity ripens and spits goo
The air is oily with hints of morning rubber tires
Crocodilian noses arouse the millefoil
Bamboo towers float far over pool edge
Pearly bead motion tops the dark water
You are – the only one
My only one
…that’s where I was when the camera broke so I guess that’s the end. At least I had thoughts of the end – I mean, if the camera. Just. Quits. Then what are you to do? It’s not like the epitome of lo-budge indie pop films is walking around with a spare camera. Oh no. We’re just a walking disaster zone, spell it Dumb Ass-ter.
Is this the end of the Griot Trail?
Well, of course not. Bea gets Ram on the phone (4am in New York). No, no liquids. No, no falls. Yes, one minute we’re looking for the White Crocodile of Kachikally (guaranteed to win you a seat in Parliament!), the next, nothing works.
By the end of the day we’ve discerned: there’s an email trail of a certain rare but fatal flaw in the Canon XL2 which held Bea in good stead while in India the last ten months. Something inside goes on occasion, you send it in to Canon, it’s covered by warranty, no problem. Unless you happen to be in West Africa. In which case, well – good luck!
Change the little lithium battery. Nope. Leave both batteries off and let the camera rest overnight. Pray. Do the Fonz Maneuver (appropriate shaking, rattling, and a good swift kick). Nada.
Meanwhile on the Find a New Camera Front (thanks to Banning Eyre and Janet Goldner who responded with alacrity and rich info) it turns out that the camera Karamo has been using to shoot music videos for his job at the Banjul YMCA is available and, while 30p rather than 60i, is still broadcast quality. Problem is the price to rent for the remainder of the trip is the same as a new camera. Which turns out to be the same cost as SENDING a camera via DHL. Which turns out to be the same as FLYING SOMEONE to Bamako with camera(s) in tow. Which brings up the name of the poet Lamont Steptoe, old friend and coworker with Ram and Rattapallax Films, and who just happens to be a great shooter with a great camera and deep roots in Africa….
We decide to stay another day in Old Jeshwang to regroup. We learn that instead of taking the 50 Dalasi taxi to Wesfield, we can do a share for 6 apiece. That’s where a faster internet is (I still prefer Yacouba’s cozy place, right off the main highway in Jeshwang, but his server’s down) – but even here at QNet we can’t upload photos. All this would be different (?) if we were staying at the Hilton, which is (Spelunker Advisory) located near the ocean and is completely underground. Literally. All you see are these bunkers, rolling towards the sea.
This is the seventh day from the tandem deaths of Binta, Papa’s 20 year old daughter, and her grandmother, Aja, who raised her. It is a day of the extended family dropping by, and Bea and I decide that this is a time not to intrude, not to be the tubobs (white people) who need to be introduced. Take a day off and search for a camera. Go to the Canon store in downtown Banjul. When we ask for a digital camera, the manager unlocks a safe in his office and pulls out a low end still camera and, for some reason, a wireless printer. Oh, it works with the still camera.
A day of waiting, pondering, Ram checking in with web updates and ideas as we think our way through the crisis. The result is some mighty changes. Staying an extra day in the Gambia is just the beginning.
Papa’s grief has started coming out when he gets tired, like when we spent all day finagling an appearance on national TV, which led right into the shoot – how much Papa has given to this project! After Bamako, where we’ll be staying with Papa’s cousin, the world-renowned kora player Ballike Sissoko, we’ll be moving out of jeliya territory, and away from Islam, just as we approach Tobaski, the Muslim Christmas. Is this the time to acknowledge our situation thus far, two weeks into our six week trip, give Papa some much needed rest and downtime with his big family (Hassan and Sunkung have flown in from New York)? Long talk, the four of us, five including Ram’s input. Papa will do what I want, we have worked three years on this project, no turning back now. But things have changed. After Bamako, Papa will come back to Banjul, see to his house getting painted, celebrate Tobaski with his family, jeli style.
Bob Holman is the host of a new travel series focused on endangered languages called ON THE ROAD WITH BOB HOLMAN on LINK TV. He traveled to West Africa, Middle East and Asia and these are his blog stories from his travels. More information at http://www.rattapallax.com/blog/on_the_road/Kachikally Pool 6:50 am, 11/23 Large antediluvian reptiles in cotillion Crawl... more
I ask Kinda if he knows Ballake Sisoko, the great kora player. No. He knows that Sissoko is Susso in Mali, though. Balake is Papa’s cousin, and Karamo has worked with him. Ballake lives next door to his cousin, Toumani Diabate, on the Street of the Griots in Bamako. Toumani is generally considered the greatest kora player in the world. And Toumani’s and Ballake’s fathers (Are you following this? Yes, nods Kinda) were also both great kora players and put out an album of kora duets, Ancient Strings, a true classic that introduced the hypnotic sound of the 21-string harp-lyre, the iconic instrument of the griot, to Europe and US.
So of course the two cousins put out their own album, pushing the kora into new orbit, “New Ancient Strings.” Both have developed their own careers, solo, with bands, working with musicians around the world. Many (Roswell Rudd, Damon Albarn, etc.) come to Bamako to record. And we, I conclude, thanks to Papa Susso, will be living at BallakeSissoko’s compound! His sister was Papa’s wife, is Karamo’s mother and Karamo was raised there!
Bob Holman is the host of a new travel series focused on endangered languages called ON THE ROAD WITH BOB HOLMAN on LINK TV. He traveled to West Africa, Middle East and Asia and these are his blog stories from his travels. More information at http://www.rattapallax.com/blog/on_the_road/I ask Kinda if he knows Ballake Sisoko, the great kora player. No. He knows that... more
Papa Susso on Making an Appointment
Don’t call. If you call they will have an excuse. They will expect something. Just go to the door, dadadada. You are in, you are talking. You sent two emails, no reply, they are too busy. Unless you are there, they are too busy. How many emails from people who don’t come, who say they are coming at one time and come hours later or the next day. No, Bob, listen to me –
An appointment in the face takes place
An appointment in the book stays on the hook
The oral tradition trumps.
Papa Susso on the Word “Griot”
Papa says he’s a griot, his father called himself a griot, his father’s father was a griot, all the way back, that’s good enough for him. And good enough for 26-year old Karamo (Wolof: Karamoko), his son and our Sound Director (and an amazing musician who’s putting his wages towards building a recording studio in Papa’s compound). He’s a griot and his father, etc.
But many people, including some griots, really hate the word, thinking it a colonial holdover. And “griot” does seem French, eh? From “cri haut,” or loud cry, shout, and certainly griots are shouters, yes indeed. And the fact is that “griot” is the only word found in all West African languages. In addition every language has its own word for the oral historian/praise singer/poet/musician – in Mandinke, that’s jeli (male), jelimussow (female, or griotte), jeliya (the tradition or way of life of the jeli and jellimussow). Professor Thomas Hale, one of the advisors for “On the Griot Trail,” in his essential text, Griots and Griottes, traces the lineage of “griot” back through the Islamic conversion route to the kewalie singers of India, like the great Ali Akhbar Khan. I can hear it.
For the opposition I quote Amiri Baraka: “It must be jam, cause jeli don’t shake like that.”
Bob Holman is the host of a new travel series focused on endangered languages called ON THE ROAD WITH BOB HOLMAN on LINK TV. He traveled to West Africa, Middle East and Asia and these are his blog stories from his travels. More information at http://www.rattapallax.com/blog/on_the_road/Papa Susso on Making an Appointment Don’t call. If you call they will have an... more