Expat Living, Mali
Comment 1

on listening

In some neighborhoods of Bamako, houses and their yards are enclosed by high walls; some are grey cement, some are painted, and others have wild and intrepid foliage spilling over their tops.

Mali Bamako home yard compound tea coffee garden

A single wall separates one house from another, obscuring the view but not much else.  From my kitchen, I can just see over the wall and into the next door courtyard. On the other side lives a large family whose patriarch is very old, very loud, and more or less unhinged. He usually wears purple bazin, he doesn’t see well–perhaps at all–and occasionally he shakes, a shock running through his body from hand to foot, or head to knee.

But this isn’t about what’s to see; it’s about what the wall can’t keep out: the sounds this old man makes, to an audience he alone perceives, and extra loudly when the rain comes. Most of what he says is incoherent, but there is one word that pierces the verbal fog with thunderous effect: Allah.

Mali Bamako fleuve river Niger bridge sunset

It comes down heavy, and urgent: Allah. Sometimes the word punctuates his monologues, sometimes he repeats it in a rhythm, and other times it is a full-throated wail. It always starts in the back of his throat, rolling forward, gaining momentum, cresting just after the double-L, and ending with a gasp, as though he puts forth all he can each time. Today in the kitchen, cooking over a flame, I was mesmerized by the desperation in each call–by the acute, exigent need. I realized this was not a routine supplication; this was a summons.


His tone wasn’t pleading, he wasn’t begging for help–he was demanding answers, explanations, justification. My transfixion was broken by the splash of raindrops through the window screen, and I closed the glass.

From my vantage point, I saw someone appear and guide him from the rain to the cover of the house’s porch. After the shuffle of chairs and tables, he sat again, but not in peace. His conversation continued, milky eyes staring forward, one hand holding his forehead and the other gesturing for clarity. This was a reckoning, and I hoped his conversation partner had come prepared.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: on the inside | outerNotes

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