Niger Continued

Mali 2008

Up a Lazy River, Day 2 continued... 9:05 A.M. It's quiet now, except for the sound of the wind and the outboard. We should make Niafunké today, Korioumé - the port near Tombouctou - tomorrow.

10:30 We stop in our first little village - Moona, I think. Maybe 200 people? Dominique requested a ten minute stop. Thank you, Dominique! Kids all over the place. So excited. "Toubab! Toubab!" (that's a white person.) Their parents are friendly and smiling. Everyone here is friendly so far. Fisherman and people on the riverbank all wave as we pass. The first of the toys I have brought goes to a little guy with deep pockets. As we walk through the town, I bounce a little rubber ball, and their eyes widen. I throw it to one of them and, to my surprise, he returns the toss. 3 or 4 times, then, game over. He pockets it. We stay here for half an hour or so, exploring, Orit filming.

Debarking at Mouna.

Here come the children.

The village has a maze of walls and corridors everywhere.

Maybe this little guy will make movies one day.

"Our Gang" poses for Orit.

Chris is the pied piper, followed by Orit.

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Click here to play.

Click play to hear the kids.

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Little guy doing his bit; carrying firewood.

The lad on the left wasn't looking too happy.

Time to shove off.

Back on the river, lunch is chunks of capitaine with rice and squash with a mild, tasty tomato based sauce.

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Click here to see another short movie.

The two pinasse are tied together because ours is having motor problems. We are passing one of the dozens of small villages along the Niger.

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Above: Dieter tending to his gear/Orit and Dominique discuss plans.

Scenes along the Niger

At 3:30 we stop at another village.

Women washing clothes on the beach offer to do our laundry.

Note the 'Barbarita' shirt on this young lady.

Issaka buys some (live) chickens for our dinner, and pays one of the old men of the village a 'tax' so that we can walk around. Kids wanting our empty plastic water bottles. "Toubab! Toubab! Bideau! Bideau!" they chant. I make the mistake of passing one bottle to two kids, and they start fighting for it. I have to chill them out.

Dozens of kids, yelling after us "Cadeau! Cadeau!" and "Bonbon! Bonbon!" They want to show off their French, too. "Comment tu t'appelle tu?" And the sharing of names goes around. There are schools, but they are not free. One group of 9-10 year old girls comes up to me, all with their school bags. One pulls out a pink notebook and shows me a chart of names and numbers. Afterward I put it together that this was probably a list of names and how much each one needed to go to school.

You can barely see Orit's hat and sunglasses as she is mobbed by little ones wanting to be in the shot.

Orit, with her giant cameras, is excellent with the kids, playing, chirping right back at them. Kindly, she lets them crowd around her to view the shots. They are so delighted to see themselves and their friends. Dominique talks to one man in a group of men who are stoically observing the whole scene. She asks if Orit can go up 4 or 5 steps of a building to get a better shot. He wants her to pay. Dominique smiles pretty, persists, and he finally says o.k. Orit has a wonderful, big boisterous laugh. At one point I mistakenly refer to her as Swedish, not Swiss. Her response, in a big voice: "No, no, Louis. We are Heidi, they are Pippi Looongshtocking!"

Sitting in the pinasse, waiting to leave (there have been motor problems), the kids are flocking around the boat. It isn't threatening, but it's quite a crowd, quite a big energy. I start scatting a tune using the word 'toubab' as the only lyric. The kids pick it up. Dominique wants to use it in her movie. I say she couldn't afford me.

The kids are so darling. They are begging, but don't seem to be unhappy. They are relentless, but not mean spirited. They will stop when you say no ... for a few minutes anyway. Eight year old girls with babies on their hips or slung on their backs. Some of the teenagers are, well, teenagers. More stand-offish, but again, not mean or ghetto. Goats, donkeys and chickens are everywhere.

Since we are behind schedule, (surprise surprise) we drive into the night. We pull off any old where for the night at around 9 P.M. We eat, and are asleep by 10:30.

Issaka & Aruna prepare a delicious dinner to end our second day on the Niger.

Tonight I sleep off the boat. Arawane has provided a thin foam mat and I have a little inflatable and my sleeping bag. Orion is directly overhead. For the first time, I can really see him. The broad shoulders, bejeweled belt, long legs, and the sword. I think the stars are brighter than I have ever seen because the background is blacker. There is no electricity ANYWHERE, therefore NO city glare at all. It is a little scary. A bird or a goat, I'm not sure which, keeps nattering away. I lay awake for an hour or so, watching more stars than I have ever seen, deciding if I am in any real danger. I feel the vulnerability that I often do when in remote nature, all alone. Eventually I decide it is safe enough and drop off.

The next thing I know, I'm hearing a thick French accent, "Eez anybody een zere?" It's Valerie, the bat specialist. My first inner reaction is "go awayyyy", but I look at my watch as she says "On est pret a partir." It is 6:20! This is my best sleep so far. I go off behind a bush and take my first dump since Paris, so I am back on track.

20 minutes later we're off. "Coffee" and toast. It's a long, long ride to Niafunké (pop. approx 10,000), birthplace of desert blues legend, Ali Farke Touré. I can't get Hoagy Carmichael's "Up A Lazy River" out of my head. I hear Louis Armstrong:

Up a lazy river by the old mill stream That lazy, hazy river where we both can dream Linger in the shade of an old oak tree Throw away your troubles, dream a dream with me

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