Dimanche à Bamako

. . . began for me at 6.45am, as I passed three separate wedding parties hanging out on my street, milling around, getting their hair done, having breakfast and taking photos . . .

. . . and ended in the evening at Exodus bar, watching Amadou and Mariam, singing along to the chorus of their most famous song “Beaux Dimanches”: “Les dimanches à Bamako, c’est les jours du mariage” (“Sundays in Bamako are wedding days”). 



Amadou & Mariam


Festival sur le Niger

So much to blog about today as I had an amazing weekend at the Festival sur le Niger in Ségou.

We all set off on Friday afternoon from Bamako after a two-hour wait for a bus at a petrol station in the searing midday heat – not so fun.  (Current Mali weather update – 33 degrees and getting hotter!)  We ended up on a bus with two of the acts who were due to appear on stage the next day – Sousou and Maher Cissoko and Doussou Koulibaly – who treated us to a bit of kora music as we headed for Ségou to get us in the mood.

The festival itself was amazing – it was held on the banks of the river Niger, with the main stage floating on the river itself.  

Main stage


Sitting by the river watching the bands

As well as the bands we’d met on the bus – who were both brilliant – we saw Malian music legends Salif Keita and Rokia Traore.  However, my top tip for the next big thing from the festival is a band called Sauti Sol, a really fun band with very excellent dance moves who may or may not be the Kenyan equivalent of JLS . . .

After the live music finished we headed to the after-party in a “moto-taxi”, which is basically a little cart towed along by a scooter (top speed – not very fast).  Lots of dancing with very happy Malians and Peace Corps volunteers later, I fell into bed around 6am, as the call to prayer began to echo over Ségou.

It was really a perfect weekend, made even better by the fact that we got to sleep under the stars (well, under mosquito nets under the stars) in the courtyard of the lady putting us up for the weekend, the lovely Awa.


Sleeping under the stars





The icing on the cake was our very stylish journey home in a 1989 American ambulance which was being driven by two American guys, Mike and Steve aka the Last Responders, who had shipped it over to Liverpool and then driven it to Bamako as part of the Timbuktu Challenge.  The ambulance is due to be handed over to the Salif Keita Foundation this week, who will be using it as a mobile clinic for albinos in Mali. 


Steve, Mike and the ambulance


In other news, I have bought loads more gorgeous fabrics so will shortly be heading to the tailors for a Mali makeover.


Mali fabrics


Also, I got my first bit of post from home yesterday – thank you Tom, you made my day!  Seems like letters take about a month to get to Bamako, so if anyone does fancy putting pen to paper then please do it soon to make sure it gets here before I leave.

Waterfalls at Siby

The photos below are of the waterfall at Siby, a little town we visited last weekend on our first excursion out of Bamako.  I had a lovely swim under the waterfall – much needed after a very hot and bone-shaking Landrover trip from Siby itself.  Lots of bumps and jumps and lots of bruises sustained all round.  However, it was all worth the wait when we jumped in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall – cool water and tiny fishes nibbling at our feet!

Mali clothes and Mali wedding!

As promised, here are some photos of me and the girls looking rather glamorous in our Mali clothes:

 We all wore them to the wedding on Sunday, which was really amazing.  The wedding ceremony took place early in the morning, but we went to the wedding party at the bride’s family’s home around lunchtime:

My inadequate photography doesn’t really capture quite how many people there were at the wedding party – people everywhere, stuffed into every room of the house and then spilling outside onto chairs under a gazebo.  It was almost all women.  Apparently it’s a given in Mali that women know how to party better than men, so the men go off to chill out and drink tea until all the fuss has died down on such occasions.

So imagine hundreds of Malian women all dressed in beautiful, colourful dresses and skirts, hats and headdresses, crowding out of every corner of this house around a big central space listening to the musicians and the griots.  The griots are female singers who are called upon at weddings and other special occasions to entertain and to sing the praises of everyone involved.  To a soundtrack of some very energetic drumming courtesy of a group of grinning, chain-smoking guys, they sang, did some spectacular, intricate dancing and generally set the place alight with really joyful music.

It was an incredible atmosphere and felt like a wonderful celebration.  Hopefully we contributed to the fun by keeping lots of the other guests amused with our attempts to join in the dancing!

We didn’t, however, get to see the bride who had got married to a soldier.  Apparently if you marry a soldier in Mali, straight after the wedding ceremony you get “kidnapped” by the rest of the soldiers and taken to the army base to do military training for the day, which really doesn’t sound like much fun – although I guess it proves that it must be love . . .