Monday, August 6, 2007

Dear Uncle in Timbuktu!

Dear Uncle in Timbuktu!
I apologize for just now finding the time to write to you … Malé and I have been very busy, but this weekend I finally had some quiet time, and wanted to take the opportunity to give you an update, and above all to thank you.

As you know, Malé arrived here in Bamako on the 11th of June. I knew he was on his way, and I was anxiously awaiting his arrival. I was literally standing by the window for hours, waiting to see his car turn onto the street. He had driven the 1000km almost without break, just stopping once for a catnap. When he finally arrived, I was taken aback by how tired he looked: the last two weeks had taken their toll. But soon all the anxiety and stress were replaced by relief and happiness: we were together again, and we would begin our new life together.

We discussed where we would live, and it became clear that for several reasons we would best stay in Bamako. Soon we started looking at houses and apartments to rent. I felt very savvy and professional, since I had been through that experience already, and was able to set the parameters from the get-go: well – no, running water – yes, real kitchen – yes, extra quarters for staff – no. We saw several rejects, and finally one house that needed some work, but had potential. But the owners were agreeable to my demands, and we made an appointment for the next day to sign the lease. Thinking that his wife was done shopping, Malé wanted to cancel our next and last appointment for that day. I wanted to keep that appointment, since you never know, and I was not done shopping until I was back on the A-train with my Century 21 bags in tow – so to speak.

So we went and met this other man, who wanted to show us a house in a neighborhood called Faladié Sema. (We had been in this neighborhood for a first time in February, when we visited some friends. They told us that they liked living there because the neighborhood had one of very few gardens in Bamako. Later we dropped them off at the garden and the sight of its palm trees and flowers and rosebushes and lawn was so extraordinary that Malé and I talked about it for a long time afterward. Bamako to us until that point was about traffic jams and pollution and noise and garbage. I had mentioned to Malé that if we ever had to live in Bamako, I would only want to live there, by that garden.) So, when the car turned onto the street that lead to the garden, we exchanged cautiously optimistic glances, thinking that maybe we would be shown a house somewhere in the vicinity of it. When the car stopped at a house right in front of the garden, we looked at each other in disbelief. What are the chances …!

We entered the property, and found ourselves in a lovely little court, shaded by a huge mango tree and a flowering bougainvillea. Potted plants were everywhere: ferns, palms, aloes, and other exotic specimen. Some steps lead onto a tiled terrace and from there into the house. The house opened into a large living room, and to its left were two large bedrooms and a bathroom. In a room behind the living space was a large, European-style kitchen, with –YES!- built in cabinets, running water, electricity, and space to put the refrigerator. A staircase led to the second floor, where we found another huge living room with dining area, two more bedrooms (with A/C!) and another bathroom. Of the living room was a lovely balcony. The staircase continued and led up to the roof, which offered a nice view of the garden and the neighborhood and its many eucalyptus and palm trees. Behind the house was an annex building with another two rooms and a bathroom. A separate staircase led up to another roof with a laundry line. All in all it was exactly what we had hoped for, but never thought of finding. Malé negotiated the rent price, and after a while we agreed to sign the lease for 175,000 CFA a month – about $350.

Settling into Bamako also meant settling down with Male’s three older kids. He brought them back from Timbuktu the last time he was there on business, about 5 weeks ago. They are here to spend their summer vacation in Bamako. Moctar, 13, Hamsétou, 9, and Moustaphe the Bandit, 5 ½, have had many adventures so far: they have learned to swim, how to take care of two kittens, how to play on the computer, how to manage your allowance, how to clean your room German-style, eat Nutella for breakfast and Quark for dessert, make collages, complete word scrabbles, and read books at bedtime. We are discussing what will happen after the summer; I know that Malé would like them to stay with us in Bamako.

So, dear Uncle, life in Bamako has been good for us so far. This house has been such a gift: it is so peaceful and rejuvenating. Just last evening we were sitting on the terrace, and listened to the birds in the mango tree chirp, screech, and sing. But there are other perks to living here as well: I can eat Pizza, go to the movies, visit the French Cultural Center for a concert, hang out at a pool and eat ice cream. There are plenty of ex-pats and foreigners in the city, and I am afforded a certain degree of anonymity. There is a small supermarket in walking distance, where I can buy French butter, dishwashing detergent, toilet paper, and other essential supplies. It gets even better: we have DSL at the house so that I can be online or call friends with SKYPE whenever! In addition, I don’t have to worry about mean little boys wanting to hunt and eat my kittens, like I would have to in Timbuktu! No sand storms here, either. All in all, my life here in Bamako is probably a lot more comfortable and easier than it would have been in your town, Timbuktu.

So, I need to thank you after all. Thank you for being close-minded and prejudiced; thank you for fearing me and what I represent. Thank you for forcing Malé to choose between following your orders or following his heart. Thank you for facilitating what was probably the most romantic, most overt act of love and devotion and commitment displayed by two people. (The kind of stuff that we often see in the movies, and not often enough in real life.) Because of your desire to sabotage our relationship, we were afforded the opportunity to affirm our love with the support of our friends and family.

I am sorry that you could not change your position, but I understand. You have a lot to loose after all; you power and authority was challenged by Malé’s refusal to change his heart. If you had permitted him to be with me, all the young people that look up to him may have gotten some funny, subversive ideas of their own! And the next thing you know you will lost everything that you have: the ability to control by instilling fear. So I understand: you were fighting for your survival, the survival of your way, your world. But we were fighting for our world: one where people can make their own choices, one where belief is a private matter, one where love, communication, tolerance, acceptance, curiosity, and fun are more important than dogma and obedience.

So, if you are ever passing through, feel free to stop by and say “hi”. We would to chat, sip some tea with you on our terrace, and show you our world….

All the best,