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Dimanche à Bamako: a Day of Marriage

Where are the men? This is what I asked Fatima who I introduced myself to after she gave me a what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here look. I was under a promotional Ocean’s 13 tent at a wedding in Bamako. Fifty some women and me; George Clooney and Matt Damon looking down on us from above.

Fatima was regal. Her dress of layered, sequined batik, matching headwrap, triple-pierced ears. A queen talking to an idiot. I was submissive, ready to heed orders to leave.

This griot, as friendly as he was, was booted from the tent.

“Here is not for men.” Before I could point out my effeminate ankles, she said “it’s not serious. You can stay.” Why was I allowed to stay in the women’s tent? Because, for better or for worse, white people get a pass in Africa.

I could have wandered over to the men sitting under a tree, sipping tea. But I do that everyday. In the tent, the ladies, dressed in their finest, were dancing up a dust storm. They were accompanied by an all female percussion ensemble – the first time I’ve seen this in West Africa – and two singers. Overturned calabashes in water basins, a metal chair, and a jerrycan – these were their instruments.

All the songs started with just the two vocalists. Call and response. Then the percussion came in. Super tranquillo. Women formed a circle on the dirt dance floor and started moving clockwise, hips swaying. A little faster. A little faster. A little faster. And so it went until the train was about to come off the tracks. The women in the center, raising spirits and kicking up dust:

I was invited to the wedding by the senior brother in a family that once hosted Jenny Cooper, my former roommate and blokus opponent in DC. Jenny had studied abroad in Mali and in addition to raving about the country in general, she also had a lot of good things to say about the Karabenta family.

The day began with an unsurprising amount of chaos. Sunday is one of two days of marriage in Mali (thursday is the other). This means that everyone getting married makes a mad dash to the mayor’s office around 9AM and they push and shove their way until a paper is signed. Then it’s singing, dancing, car honking, and wildly unsafe moto maneuvers, all the way to the family compound where the real party starts.

Here are some pics:

Bracing myself for the mayor’s office.

I love this. Some dude tried to cut this lady off. Nuh uh. No way. Look at how badass she is. Beautiful dress, purple shades, heels, and she’s driving a motorcycle with a look on her face that says “I’m going to tear you limb from limb.”

The bridal party. I’ve said this before, but that girl second from left is a real punk.

The groom’s party

The bride and groom. That’s as close as I got. They were getting whisked off to different locations every thirty minutes or so.


While I’m in Morocco right now, a part of my head is still in Mali. To the Karabentas and their warm hospitality, I will one day repay the favor. And here is a special treat for you. This is Mamou Sidibe singing. This is the woman that ladled fresh milk into my mouth from a calabash at the Palais de la Culture. Here she is with a dancy track. Feel free to download.

mamou sidibe_wi da by lionsinthetiles

Please keep Cote D’Ivoire in your thoughts.

I spent the month of October in Abidjan and met a lot of people who became great friends. After ten years of economic and political gridlock, Cote D’Ivoire deserves to get its feet back on the ground.

Right now, Laurent Gbagbo is refusing to acknowledge that he lost the election. This man has been in power for over ten years. I spoke on the phone today with Faty and David, my beloved hosts for 4 weeks, and they are both very nervous. While their neighborhood has remained calm, there have been several instances of violence involving the army and opposition supporters. Gbagbo has closed all borders in and out of the country, foreign media is being intercepted, and there is a nightly curfew. It will be an incredible tragedy if this country descends back into crisis.

Most major news sources have done an awful job reporting on Cote d’Ivoire. If you want to follow, I suggest searching Cote d’Ivoire in google news or searching the hashtag #civ2010 on twitter. John James, a reader here at the site, is a correspondent for the BBC and he has been sending consistent updates from his twitter account here: http://twitter.com/ourmaninafrica

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{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Maureen Brady Johnson December 3, 2010, 11:35 pm

    Phil, I am sitting in an upper room of my home, snow is falling outside and I am transported thru images and sounds to an enchanting land…by one of my former students!!! Love the dancing, love the people emotion in the photos, LOVE the music…Keep it up, Phil. I am learning so much and really enjoying the journey!
    mrs. J

    • phil December 4, 2010, 9:17 pm

      Thanks Mrs. J, your words mean a lot! It’s great connecting with you! I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of snow right about now, actually! B well, Phil

  • Andi December 5, 2010, 4:12 am

    What an incredibly unforgettable day my friend! I would love to witness an African wedding. That woman on the bike rocks my world!!!

  • greg urbano December 5, 2010, 12:29 am

    you got some great photos here!

    • phil December 5, 2010, 3:44 pm

      hey greg thanks!

  • phil December 5, 2010, 3:46 pm

    Andi, she rocks my world as well 🙂

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