Because of our seasonal work situation in Mali, we have never purchased a car or four wheel drive vehicle for ourselves or work projects. Vehicles are very expensive here, too much to justify the expense. We would rather focus our limited budgeting on projects that help desperate families, rather than to pad our asses. But really, since we are in Mali six months each year, and only during dry season, we get along fine without the colossal things. It would be different if we were here all year round. But for now, this works. Our philosophy is a simple, economical, and easily repeated, and we apply it not only to our work projects, but to our own lifestyle as well.
Therefore, we have opted to drive $1000 Indian or Chinese motorcycles. They are cheap, great on fuel, and parts a dime a dozen all over the region. As a result, every day you will see us on these motos some where in the Sikasso region. My wife rides on the back with me, just like so many other African women do.
However, when two westerners ride on a moto, they are so incredibly, even alarmingly, conspicuous.
When being introduced to people of great stature around the Sikasso region over the last few years, dozens of them respond with,
“Are you that NGO couple we see driving around on the moto together all the time?”
“Yes, that would be us,” I reply.
“Oh I\we know you then, I/we see you around all the time.”
We westerners simply cannot maintain a low profile on a motorcycle; everyone notices, because it’s unusual.
I was actually told one time that I have a brave wife. The person saying something like, “We have seen a few white women come and go here before. They do their job, drive their car, or have a chauffeur to drive them around. But your wife is the first women we have ever seen brave enough to drive on the back of a motorcycle every day to do her work in town or the bush.”
There are few female NGO’s willing to do what my wife does on a motorcycle for these village community development projects.
While stopped at some intersection in Sikasso, hundreds of times, some women would pull up beside us on their mopeds, look my wife over and say something like,
“Madame, “Tu es bien habiller”. “Lady, you are well dressed”. Or, “I like your outfit.”
Men would never say anything like this directly to Lynn, as it would be very forward. But the men would look us both over and then say to me, “Your wife is well dressed.” “Thank you”, I would respond. It is meant to be as much a compliment to me as it is for my wife. As if to say, you are looking after your wife well. They are happy at the fact that my wife wears this normal, yet nice, functional Malian clothing that all local women wear. Women often comment on her cloths at the market and then say to me, “Monsieur, merci!”. “Thank you mister”. Thanking me, as the patriarchal figure, for being so good to my wife by letting her buy nice dresses with the family money.
However the best comment we ever received sent us both into hysterical laughter. A couple pulled up beside us on a motto at an intersection in Sikasso. As we waited for the traffic to clear, the smiling women poked her husband and motioned to check us out like she had been doing. The man looked us both over too. He smiled and said to me in French,
“Ta femme, elle et une vrai vrai Mama Africa.” Your wife, she is a true true mama Africa.”
I thanked them, as they both pulled away, and we both started laughing hysterically. We actually got stuck in the middle of the intersection, almost fell over sideways with the motorcycle, because we were both convulsing with laughter.
A similar comment came from another elderly man driving an ancient, tired, and long since worn-out Peugeot moped. We pulled up beside him at an intersection and stopped. I greeted him, and he nodded in response, took a quick glance back at Lynn, then said to me,
“Your woman is a true African wife.”
A sincere compliment through and through. I thanked him too.
So, yes, I am married to a “true mama Africa”.
Just to let you know, I’m down with that. It’s kind of cool, ya know. Because not just anyone can make this claim.