Gnissama Diarra invited me to his aunts house for dinner. The “house” was actually a compound: walled enclosure containing several bungalows that share a common yard. Once I arrived I had the honor of meeting aunt Mariam Diarra the eldest member of the household. I told her in Bamabara that my name was Diarra, implying that we were related. She thought that was just great and we shook hands repeating our name Diarra, Diarra.
I asked my matron and auntie if I could take her picture with Gnissama. Several kids jumped in the frame and it took a few shots to get a clear family portrait. Once I had it I showed Mariam who approved. Gnissama then brought me to a circle of chairs where two men were sitting. The oldest man was Bagari, Mariam’s oldest son and my host for the evening.
I liked Bagari immediately. When I met him he was literally laid back in a lawn chair. He had on a soccer jersey, faded jeans in flip flops. He was chatting with an Islamic scholar who wore a buttoned down purple robe and oakley-shaped sunglasses. The two men were passing the time until their fast was over. Naturally the conversation turned to Islam.
Bagari told me how Islam and Christianity were related, and when it became clear I knew this we moved on to the different branches of Sufi Islam in West Africa. I listed all the Tariqas (or paths) I had read about. He pointed out that these were all from the same Malaki branch of the faith. These claims were then affirmed by the young well dressed mu’allum sitting across from us. I got a good vibe from the conversation, which focused on connections.
Then we talked about music. The first artist Bagari mentioned was Bob Dylan. This confirmed my initial assumption. I was dealing with a right on dude. He also really liked Joe Cocker and B.B. King. We talked a bit about the Delta blues and the history of the music.
He said “I hope this pain is healed one day.”
The mu’allum left us.
Gnissama put on some tea so it would be ready as soon as the fast was over. He mentioned that Bagari was an artist and I asked if I could see his work. Bagari brought me to the part of the compound where he kept his pieces. He showed me wood work that he sells at a roadside market: replicas of Dogon art from the north. He pointed out the symbols for man, woman and the universe. He then brought out a canvas and lovingly brushed a film of tan dust from the surface.
The canvass held two spheres with thin white rays over a dark red-brown surface framed by two sandy slopes. He pointed the the bottommost slope, “this is the earth” and then to one of the spheres, “this is a spider”. I did my best to give him my impression of his work in my broken French. He brought my attention back to the earth and said “If we lose this it’s over.”
We went back to our chairs. The kids sat in front of a t.v. that was in the doorway of someone’s room and watched a 20 second countdown to the end of the fast. I counted down the last ten seconds aloud. We ate soft sugared biscuits, fried cakes made out of rice meal, and rice with onion sauce. The onion sauce tasted a lot like pot roast, which was fine by me.