|It was already afternoon and we were still in Bandiagaraat the edge of Dogon Country. We'd learned it was too far to walk to our destinationespecially in this heat. We'd wait and see if our Korean friends would arrive with their truck. If they didn't arrive by 3:00 we'd hire a couple of motorbikes.
I went in search of Nescafe. This way, a guy said, and I followed. But the stall he led me to was empty except for a few chickens that occupied the one rickety bench. My helper found the proprietor but he said, No morefinsished. So the helper took me into his family's compunda grouping of simple mud buildings around a courtyard. He sat me in a chair in the shade and went off to boil water.
As I sat a couple of men came bysurprised to see me sitting there. But friendlyone conveyed to me via pantomine that they were off to the mosque to pray. What is the polite thing to say to someone who is going to pray?
Then an older guy shuffled in. Scraggily gray beard, basic baggy clothes, barefoot. He carried an old tattered shoulder bag. Seeing me, he came right over uttered some greeting and sat down in the dirt at my feet. He checked me out with deep penetrating eyes as he reached into his shoulder bag. He pulled out a smaller bag and dumped its contents on the ground between the two of usshells.
I'd seen such shells beforein the fetish market in Bamakonext to the dried rat heads and monkey hands. Before minted currency came to West Africa these shells were used as money. Now they are believed to have special powers.
I looked up from the shells and met the man's eyes, trying to surmise meaning. It was futile. I looked back down at the shells implying, Now what? He started shuffling the shells loosely back and forth in the dirt. I was distracted momentarily by the cluster of flies that had crowded together sucking on an open wound on the man's foot.
The man continued to shuffle the shells back and forth then stopped and pulled a second small pouch out of his shoulder bag. From inside it he took pinches of a dark brown powder. He dropped these pinch-fulls haphazardly over the shells. He put a pinch in his mouththen offered some to me. When I declined he shrugged it off and threw more over the shells.
The shell shuffling resumed. But now the man was also chantinghis eyes half closed. When he concluded the incantation he opened his eyes fully and spoke to me in Bambara? Dogon? - needless to say, I didn't understand a word.
The guy who'd brought me there showed up with the Nescafe. Seeing the old man with his shells at my feet he tried to explain. But we didn't share a language. I got something about "problems" - "you will have problems". I had heard about Dogon hexesmaybe one had just been put on me.
The Nescafe man then took a position squatting next to the old man. The old man turned to face him; started shuffling the shells. Chanting.
He then seemed to be explaining the outcomepointing out the positions of the shells. But not before the Nescafe man had added a coin to the mix. The Nescafe man listened attentively; he seemed satisfied with the results. The old man shuffled off.
The Nescafe man told me he'd explain laterin French to Evelyn. She could translate for me.
What he eventually told her was that there is a custom here. If you want to avoid problems in your life you must buy a Dogon blanket. And then you must give it away to the first child you see who needs it.