There is a mosque in our building, only twenty meters from my door. They have a loudspeaker for the multiple calls to prayer which points towards us, but it is only used for the day and evening hour prayers. The four am wake up call, and then the 4:30 am prayer time do not sound from the mosque next door, just from the six other mosques within earshot.
As a result, I am awake very early most mornings. It’s just part of life here, and I love early mornings anyway. A fisherman’s habit; my peak productivity occurs in the early morning, resulting in a day’s office work being completed before noon. I learned a long time ago that you need to get up to get things accomplished in the office in West Africa. By eight or nine o’clock people start dropping by, and the office work slows, or halts altogether. Frankly, time spent with your people is much more important (and productive) than any silly office paper work. But some paperwork still needs to get done.
It’s Sunday morning, the huge market day at the “Grande Marche” of Sikasso. People come to Sikasso from the surrounding villages. Villagers from a hundred kilometers away show up on “big market day” to make sales, barter, and negotiate for needed family products. The streets are jammed. In fact, the wide streets all around my home are closed to traffic, and the whole street is lined with hundreds of vendors, leaving only a few narrow walking paths. Every square inch of ground space is covered with something for sale. This makes it very difficult to get out of my house on Sunday. I have to push my moto down the crammed narrow paths until I reach the main road, to escape my home. Running moto’s and cars are not permitted on these surrounding streets on market Sunday.
It’s 6:45 am, and I am walking to the bakery around the corner to buy our morning bread, greeting dozens of early birds who are already setting up there items for sale on the road. By eight in the morning,the market will be in full swing.
I looked around as I sauntered to the bakery, and I was struck by the vibrancy of this place. The unusual shadows cast from the early light as it filters through the morning harmattan haze (Sahara dust). The flamboyant colors of the cloth and cloths being worn and sold. I’m struck by the riveting smell and diverse color of spices being set out in huge bowls and sacks. The various hand carved wooden handles laid out by the hundreds, to repair various farming and kitchen tools. The ancient woods of the vendors’ tables and benches, natural wood darkly stained from years of exposure to cooking grease, human sweat, and dust, that has penetrated the very wood grain, resulting a dark smooth glossy look. Breakfast tables, bubbling oils, fish to fruits and fancies, and piles of garbage. Ancient, rusted, dented, and sagging trucks loaded to way over capacity. Music vendors blasting balafon music. By tonight they will all vanish, leaving as quickly as they arrived, leaving the streets looking like a post war fallout, with the garbage and spills left behind. Early Monday morning women arrive to sweep it all up and carry it away.
I walk into the wood fired bakery to racks of “French baguettes”, freshly removed from the wood fired oven. The unpainted cement walls and ceiling are black from years of soot, but the smell of the fresh bread is amazing. I had to wake up the young man sleeping on some planks on the floor beside the bread racks, sleepy from making and baking bread since the wee hours of the morning.
I worked my way back home, to discover a dead bat on my bedroom floor. I hit it with my shoe just to assure it was indeed dead. Last night my wife and I went out to a cheap local watering hole with another lady, where we watched two small rats playing on the floor, and others screeching and squealing, as they fought and ran races three feet over our head in the grass mat ceiling. Our friend commented that it was, “Dinner with a show”.
My eyes never actually take it all in. There is too much vibrancy to process any given day. There is always something new to see tomorrow, day after day, month after month, year after year. It’s the gift we call “Mali La”.
Have to go scoop up a dead bat, and then enjoy some of this fresh bread for breakfast.