One of my closest friends talks to me about “upward spirals” of life lessons: Our baggage is ours, our faults and failings won’t leave us, and they come around again with cyclical persistence. But we face each approach differently, with a higher level of understanding. Each time, it’s a newer, better, stronger us that takes on those tired challenges. This is how you manage to accept the stuff that haunts you: it’s never the same you, even if it’s the same stuff.
Are you familiar with fernweh? A German friend mentioned it to me the other night over pizza. It’s all the nostalgia and longing of homesickness, but not for home–for somewhere far away. In the dry, dusty capital city of Bamako, at the edge of the vast Sahara desert, I cried over stunning loss and dreamed of the lush greenery of Ireland. In fact, I longed for it, I felt fernweh for Ireland, though I’d never been. In my gut it was a place I had to see, a place of my ancestry, and an antidote to the sand pit (literal and figurative) in which I found myself. Years later, after I’d moved on to work in the Horn of Africa, the Addis Ababa to Washington D.C. flight route was rearranged to include a fueling stop in Dublin. Embracing serendipity, I extended my layover on the Emerald Isle, my first trip as a solo traveler. It was, indeed, the tonic I’d sought, albeit delayed…
As in Mali, and elsewhere, many homes in Hargeisa are hidden behind compound walls. From the outside you can’t see much, although there’s plenty to hear. Below are some of my insides, on this Hargeisa hilltop. My popcorn obsession continues, bolstered by the availability of kernels in almost every corner store. Below, popcorn gets dressed up Malian style for a date with my Somali colleagues. In the bathroom, a bit of the eucalyptus that line the roads of Hargeisa, for visual and olfactory effect. How are your insides doing ?
Bamako: city of dust, city of bougainvillea. The friends who turn out to be heroes; The ones we break bread with who nourish our own hearts; The colleagues who become family; The neighbors who anchor our days; The greetings that never end; The showers that bring relief, both from dirt and sweat as well as from anxiety over the season’s harvest; The mornings that stun you into submission; The village chiefs whose class and style are unmatched; The history that keeps you guessing; The magic around every corner. After two years in Bamako, i’ve said (a long, rather drawn-out) farewell. Hopeful to be back soon and see an old friend with fresh eyes. Until then, starting over again somewhere new: [View of Hargeisa, Somaliland]
We hunted. We hunted for clothes, for shoes, for things we didn’t know we needed. We were on a mission to stay focused inside the whirlwind of fabric, colors, voices, and knick knacks that is the friperie market of Bamako. I followed the leader, the expert, the one who knew how to best liaise with the Boutiquier Masters of Piles of Clothes. We went boutique to boutique, stack to stack, dress to shirt to skirt… We moved from bed sheets to clothes to shoes and back again. We waited patiently, for shop keepers to bring their gems, and for each other. We waited a bit less patiently as well. We got to know the neighbors. There was trying on and trying off things, lots of questions and guessing, yeses and nos, and cash exchanged hands. In the end, all parties left satisfied, and tuckered out.
Prelude to a filling lunch, and much beloved in Bamako: Vietnamese nem, seasoned and ground beef and onions wrapped in a fried, crispy rice paper. Here’s the low-down on nem.
What’s your house like? Not the one that keeps you out of the rain, but the one to which you retreat when times are tough. The house you built from bones, and shards of glass, and pockets of generosity, and life’s gifts. The house you carry with you, like the tortoise you were meant to be, like the one you are sometimes. What’s it like? Grandiose, with room to dance? Or just big enough to nap inside? How do you arrive to that place? Do you run, do you crawl, do you saunter? How often do you go? What’s it like in there? Are you safe, and free of fear? Is it comfortable? Well-furnished? Are there plenty of rugs and pillows? Do you breathe freely? Who do you let in? For how long do you entertain? Do you remember the route inwards? Don’t forget it, keep practicing–it’ll come in handy when you need it most. . . . Photos of homes, etc. in the neighborhood of Faso Kanu, Magnambougou, Bamako