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Monica Dispatch

Contact: A View from the Other Side

So often we see the world through one set of eyes...our own. During our visit to a Bobo village, I have chosen to describe the experience from the eyes of those who live and breathe the "world" we were entering and observing...the young Bobo villagers.

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Who is this strange woman called 'Monica'?
We were playing with spinning tops in the courtyard when you appeared. We heard that earlier you had stepped off the pirogue, almost unbalancing the narrow wooden boat, and came ashore to speak with our elders, who sit on the outskirts of the village mending the fishing nets. You, the woman visitor called Miranda with the white skin like an albino--you had tried to shake hands with our chief elder. He of course would not let you take his hand. As a true Muslim he would never do so. You, the other woman called Monica with the color of skin that is brown like the Bani River, you only smiled and nodded your head and said inichay (thank you).

We children live here in a Bobo village, about a two-hour pirogue ride from the mud city of Djenne. Some of our older brothers go to school in Djenne, and they've told us the most amazing things. They say the people in Djenne speak another language there, called Bambara, which is completely different from our language. They say things like inichay (thank you) and ah-nee-sogamay (good morning). Our older brothers also say that there are other albinos, like that woman and the other man called Alex, who come to Djenne just to visit! There have only been a few of you strangers, you differently colored people who have come to our village. Our older brothers learned some of the Bambara language and so could communicate with the man from Djenne called Camille, and his helper who led you around our village...You, the white man Alex, the white woman Miranda, and the brown woman Monica.

After you stopped to visit our elders, you came to the youth house. This is where all our brothers live if they are less than eighteen years old. There are about twenty young men there, and they all share in housing duties, such as cooking, cleaning, and washing. You stopped to look at the simple mud-earth house, and gawked as one of our brothers cycled up on his prized bicycle and went into the house. He is one of those who go to school in Djenne and he knows about things like cars and bicycles and electricity.

You also visited our ironsmith's workshop and looked inside at all the materials our artisans use to create tools for the village's use. We followed behind you, giggling at your funny expressions and the clothes you were wearing. The brown woman, Monica, was wearing a cloth that we use as a skirt, but she used it to cover her head! And the white woman, Miranda, had very long white legs that were starting to turn pink because of the sun. We laughed at all of you because you seemed so strange, even though you were smiling and trying to say "Comment ca va?" which our brothers tell us means "how are you" in another language called French, that people far away can speak.

You passed by the area where our young women weave large mats for the whole village to use. You walked through the narrow alleyways of our village, always drinking from the clear bottles you all held, filled with water that wasn't brown like the water in our Bani River.

You stayed for a small while outside the store where our mothers sit in the heat of the day, and waited as Camille, the man from Djenne, went inside. Our mothers gave him boiled sweet potato, and a bowl of pounded millet to eat, and you three stayed in the street waiting. In our language, one of our brothers said, "She is Chinese, look at her eyes." This was directed at you, the woman called Monica. We waited to see what you would do. You seemed to notice that we were talking about you, but you just smiled and didn't say anything. We continued to talk about you and the others until Camille emerged from the store with two bags of sweets.

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With the kids in the Bobo village
There have only been a few strangers who have come to the village. Whenever people like you come, you give us sweets. In return you only want to point a little box with a flash of light at us. No one has ever explained it to us but the boys who go to school in Djenne call it an appareil-photo and say that the little box has paper inside with miniature copies of whatever it points at. Some of the older boys say cadeau, cadeau if the box flashes at them. The white people in Djenne then give them money, or a pencil, but that only works sometimes. Some of our younger sisters said cadeau, cadeau to you, but you only pointed to Camille's helper who had the bags of sweets. Camille started to hand out the sweets and we all crowded around, pushing and putting our hands out while he said, "Il faut que vous donnez les bonbons aux enfants." We tried to make sure everybody got one of the sweets, and then followed you out into the pounding-millet area, where we waited for you to give us more sweets. You kept on pointing those appareil-photos at us, but we didn't really pay attention. You are all very strange, anyway.

After you looked at the place where we pound our millet every afternoon as a group, and after you looked at the place where we throw our garbage, you looked at our mosque and pointed your little boxes to flash at it. The whole time you were talking amongst yourselves. Sometimes you were pointing at our big, round bellies, and sometimes looking at the ones in our group who have sickness in their eyes or open sores. Otherwise you didn't have anything to say to us, even though we greeted you and smiled at you. The brown woman kept pointing to herself and saying, "Monica." That part we understood, but when we asked her if she was well this morning, if her family was well, and if she was going to buy fish or meat at the market, she just shrugged and smiled. We were trying to be polite, but she did not seem to understand.

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Good bye!
Finally, you all went back to the riverbank and handed out the second bag of candy to our village elders. You had done nothing else for us, you didn't bring anything to trade, and you didn't even know how to speak our language! But it was interesting to just follow you and look at your funny clothing and listen to you make other sounds in your own languages.

After you entered the pirogue and pushed off our shores, we watched you for a little bit, then we went back to the courtyard to play with our spinning tops.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at


Jasmine - City of Sand
Kevin - All the Way Out in Timbuktu!
Kevin - "Chez Tuareg" - House of Tuareg, A Desert Tea Party
Monica - Pirogue, a Traditional Boat Ride Up River
Making A Difference - Who Will Mop up Their Mess? Shell and Chevron Wreak Havoc in Nigeria

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