A Day in the Life

Someone said "Everyday must be an adventure here in Timbuktu." Well in some ways yes, but it becomes everyday. Dodging dust storms is just so exciting when they happen on a regular basis. Well I have to admit they still are a bit exciting, but more of a nuisance. They come and it’s a scramble to grab everything not fastened down and put it where it won’t blow away, or having it just windy enough so that you are coated by a layer of grit. If you sleep outside, you wake up and the cover is covered with enough sand that you have to be careful of how you lift it so you don’t get a face full and your head on the pillow is outlined in dust like a fatality on the pavement. But the photos are are pretty spectacular.

Thunder and dust storms are exciting but everyday life has its little events. Refereeing between a 2yr old girl who attacks her 4yr old cousin of some variety because she is not ready to give up her turn being pushed around on the back of some other cousin’s new bike in the sand so loose and deep you can’t ride anyway. Fixing that same bike because the boys thought it would be a good idea to take the chain apart with a pair of long nose pliers but couldn’t put it back together again. They were going to carry it down to the repair people and pay to fix it- mechanic me to the rescue. What is it that makes young boys so destructive? The constant fight to keep them from writing on the walls, ripping up things just for fun, chewing up the Legos or tearing the heads off each other’s pidgins is an adventure in itself and an exercise in futility.

Oh the plethora of nieces and nephews and neighbours makes for excitement everyday, much of which, frankly, I would rather do without.

There is also a continual fight with certain insects that want to share our abode most particularly crickets, very large (1.5 in long) black wasps that build little mud huts on the walls for their larvae, and scarab beetles. I have also found a baby scorpion behind a photo; don’t ever let anyone convince you they can’t climb up vertical surfaces. And larger ones on the floor under a mattress or such things. And the worst of all little hard black ants that pinch like the devil and leave you sore for a day or two.

Have you ever seen a bucking camel? Me either but a bucking dromedary, yes. Actually Dromedaries are a type of camel -- the one humped kind. There was a caravan getting loaded up and ready to head out a week or two ago. They were just behind our house and I mean just. I watched out my living room window. Boy did some of those things bellow, in protest I suppose, or discomfort, at having tightly wrapped bundles in plastic weave gunny sacs strapped on each side. One of the last positively refused and the rest headed out a ways while two men and a couple of passing boys struggled to subdue the beast. It reared and bucked and pranced on its hind legs and front knees (the forelegs were bound to the upper part by a rope around the folded knee joint). The men stood on the bent knees and tugged on the rope around the lower jaw just behind the teeth. finally after much effort they managed and moved out to catch up with the others.

Yesterday was Friday Shindouk had decided to butcher a ram in observance of the Muslim holy day which is not uncommon. For those who have the means, it is one more means of expressing faith. Slaughter a ram and share out the parts with certain needy family members and neighbours. But this day he was going to be having a crowd over. More than just the usual who come to take part in the mid-morning tahjeen (a sort of stew with chunks of meat including heart, liver, lungs and intestine in its own juices and some onions, salt, pepper and so forth. It is eaten sopped up with bread). He had invited many old men, including a religious scholar or two and they spent the morning chanting the Koran and praying together.

We got up early to prepare. The slaughter of the ram took place a little after five a.m. so that it could be skinned and cleaned and divided and ready for cooking in time to eat the tahjeen for breakfast. I went off immediately to do an important errand and on the way back was to stop by the market to get the ingredients for the lunch which I was supposed to cook. Maffe. I was to make the sauce no one else was to touch it someone could steam the rice though. I joked that it was so I couldn’t blame anyone else if it didn’t turn out. I was told it was so no one else would ruin it.

Anyway as the others in the household went scrambling to tidy or set up the appropriate mats and things in the salon, set out the large tea tray with the dozen matching glasses and generally prepare for the arrival of our guests. I bathed and dressed and carefully spruced myself up to be seen in public. A lady just doesn’t go out if she isn’t dressed to the nines. I had some beingiers (fried dough balls something like doughnut holes but greasier and not as sweet) dipped in honey and milk for breakfast; then it was on into town.

The market was barely open when I was ready to do my shopping but people were waiting on me so I couldn’t afford to dawdle. When a meal takes a good 2 1/2 hours to cook you need to start at ten if you want to eat in the noon hour. Luckily I had most of the ingredients already. I only needed tomato paste of which I bought a small tin in a shop instead of just the amount I needed from a lady with a big 2 kg tin, as I would normally, since there was no one else out selling it at this time in the morning (9am). Then I found a couple of women selling the stuff for another dish but they had bouillon cubes so I got that and finally a man with a gunny sack of sweet potatoes. And off for home.…

I arrived to the chant of my name by all the younger kids. What was this about? I was told they were excited that I would be making maffe. And when asked who should prepare it they had all said me instead of one of the other women who theoretically should do as well or better than I for they have been doing it for all their lives. I admit to a certain surprised pride in that.

The men’s prayers rose in a background crescendo to my pounding spices in a mortar. Sifting and pounding and chasing off the little tykes that want to sneak pinches. The other ladies made doughonah (a thick beverage of millet flour, baobab powder, powdered melon seeds, and I don’t know what all other spices and hot pepper). That finished, they retired to the tent and made tea, taking the children along. I was left in relative peace to finish the meal. It turned out quite well except despite using a pot twice the size of normal I almost underestimated the quantity needed. There was certainly nothing extra for supper. We ordered out.

After lunch and tea most of the men left and a little later the women took off too with any left overs there might have been. They don’t understand that we might have wanted some for dinner; to them there is no economizing, especially when it is at someone else’s expense. I think they even took the bar of soap that was for washing the dishes. I had to buy another for the clean up, which a niece did. I was busy preparing the rest of the meat for preservation. Chop in small chunks and cook it with a little salt until no moisture is left then let it set out to harden. Makes for the equivalent of jerky. Any way that’s a day in the life of me

10 Feb 2007