Benimatou, Dogon Country, Mali

22 Nov

Village of Benimatou, Dogon Country, Mali © Erin Lau, 2011

The final village that we stayed in on our 4 day Dogon Country trek was the village of Benimatou. Benimatou is spectacular for a few reasons, many of which I wasn’t able to capture during our short stay there. For one, it differed from most Dogon villages in that it contained not only Muslims, but Christians and Animists as well. Most of the other villages we saw were entirely Muslim, having converted to Islam in the past couple centuries. Benimatou had all three religions. Another reason Benimatou is amazing, is its location on top of the escarpment, looking over onto the immense vista of a never-ending valley floor. In addition, there were giant red rock formations jutting up in every direction, reminding me of the American Southwest. On the night we stayed there, we were lucky to witness some sort of Christian ceremony. It happened to take place directly behind our campement where their church was located. There was drumming and singing from far away, and it came closer and closer. Soon we saw a procession of people heading toward the church. The only problem was that there were about six camping tents blocking the entrance- tents belonging to Dutch tourists. But it was barely a hindrance as they simply picked up the tents and placed them aside. They all packed into their small mud church and we could hear muffled music, and what was probably a sermon. Afterward they reemerged and began dancing in a circle, a type of line dance, musicians on the sides. The music and singing was captivating, and while others in our group tried to sleep, I attempted  to record it with my phone. The next morning I asked our guide what happened last night, and he said – “Oh they’re just practicing some Christmas songs for the upcoming holiday”. Wow, I thought. I want those to be our Christmas songs!


Endé, Dogon Country, Mali

21 Nov

Village of Endé, Dogon Country, Mali © Erin Lau, 2011

As we trekked along the valley trail that followed the line of the escarpment in Dogon Country, there would be various cliff dwellings, the grandest depicted in the previous sketch of Tele. This one at Endé, though smaller and less complex, had a simple beauty as it faded into the red cliff. Some of us ventured up to explore the dwellings, others napped and enjoyed this amazing scenery. I took the time to sketch and do this watercolor, because I had a feeling we might not see this type of cliff dwelling again.

Granary and Dogon House, Dogon Country, Mali

19 Nov

Left- a typical granary, Right- mud dwelling at the campement © Erin Lau, 2011

We stayed at a campement, a rustic gueshouse, in the village of Endewo in Dogon Country. The drawing to the left is of a typical granary, made of mud with a straw roof, where a particular family (this one might belong to the wife) will store their grains. Inside there are various compartments for different types of grains. On the right, I drew one of the buildings at the campement we stayed at called Oumar Lagan, it was made in the style of a common dogon house, with carved wooden doors and a multitude of alcoves to put statues and other items in. I never got the full story on the purpose of the alcoves, but they seemed to be decorative.

Cliff Dwellings at Tele, Dogon Country, Mali

18 Nov

Cliff Dwellings at Tele, Dogon Country, Mali © Erin Lau, 2011

This drawing marks the start of our trek in the Dogon Country. The Dogon Country is known for its cliff dwellings, mud villages and granaries with straw roofs all inhabited by the Dogon people. It follows along an escarpment, or cliff that runs for appx. 250 km. The Dogon Country is a popular tourist destination, though when we were there we did not see a huge amount of other tourists. We hired a guide, and were part of a group of ten. Each day we would trek with our packs and see 3-10 different villages, some situated on the valley floor, some like this in the cliff. For the most part, however, the cliff dwellings are no longer inhabited, as most people work in the fields in the valley. The Telem people were the first to inhabit the cliffs, and built amazing dwellings into little alcoves, sealing them in with mud. They seem impossible to access. But what we don’t see anymore are the lush cascading vines that used to cover the escarpment, providing both shade and a means to climb into the dwellings. In fact the valley floor used to be a thick forest, and so living up in the cliff was a safer alternative.

Mud Mosque in Djenne, Mali

17 Nov

Mud Mosque at Djenne, Mali © Erin Lau, 2011

We made our way from Kayes to Bamako, and then from Bamako to Segou, Segou to Djenne. I’ll spare the details of the bus rides, except to say they were hot, unventilated and included a heated shouting match between passengers and the driver. We arrived in Djenne on Sunday, and were able to see the popular Monday market that takes place in the dramatic location in front of the mud mosque. The mosque is known as the largest mud mosque in the world, and the entire town of Djenne is a Unesco World Heritage site, which means its mud housing is largely preserved. I was originally going to draw on a rooftop to the side of the mosque, but realized it would be way too hot with the sun beating down on me. So Maya was able to talk to a stall owner in Fula and get us permission to sit alongside his stall with this great view of the mosque. The market was pretty crazy, and the heat limited me to one drawing in this spot.

Kayes, Mali

16 Nov

Fleuve Senegal, Vue Hotel Khasso, Kayes, Mali © Erin Lau, 2011

My sketchbook doesn’t do a good job of explaining how we got from Senegal to Mali, and that’s because we barely had time to enjoy the journey outside of a cramped, pothole-dodging vehicle. We spent two days getting to Mali, from Kolda. First we took a sept-place Peugeot wagon to Tambacounda, in Senegal, and stayed the night there (after getting in around 4p). Then we took another sept-place to the border, got another taxi to take us across the bridge separating the two countries, and once on the Mali side, waited in the simmering heat for the bus to leave for Kayes. Once in Kayes, which is about four hours away from the border, there were only a couple hours of daylight left to see the surroundings. Luckily our hotel was along the Senegal River, which was a perfect sketching opportunity. There was a lot of agriculture along the river, growing corn and onions in the red, sandy soil. Kayes is actually known as the hottest city in Africa, owing to the iron in the surrounding hills that cause it to heat up like an oven. This worried me, as we made our way from one sizzling location to the next, I feared that Kayes would be unbearable. But luckily, it was no hotter than any other destination so far, and if anything, the heat was dry rather than wet. We were back on the road early the next day headed for Bamako, the capital, so unfortunately there was not much time to see the city of Kayes.

People in Kolda, Senegal

15 Nov

Maya's Tailor- Ibrahima Fati in Kolda, Senegal © Erin Lau, 2011

We visited Maya’s tailor, whose name is Ibrahima Fati, while in Kolda. Earlier, we had bought some bright green & blue patterned Senegalese fabric. We brought it to Ibu to sew an outfit that would be a gift for a small child. He had a wonderful old sewing machine with a foot pump, and he worked outside under the overhang of a building alongside the marketplace. Maya has had several full, traditional Senegalese outfits made by Ibu, only a couple of which she has kept. He was a wonderfully friendly and gracious man, and he let me sketch him and his tailor friend. In the same spot, I sketched a woman named Binta Barry, below. We did not know her, but she let me draw her, though she became somewhat self-conscious. She was wearing a beautiful dark blue top and skirt, with matching headdress. I wish I had had time to draw the pattern on the fabric.

Binta Barry, in Kolda, Senegal © Erin Lau, 2011

Balde House, Kolda, Senegal

14 Nov

Balde House, Kolda, Senegal © Erin Lau, 2011

For her two years in Peace Corps, Maya stayed with a host family in their compound, in the town of Kolda. Kolda is a medium sized town of a little over 20,000 residents, located in the southern part of Senegal, known as the Casamance. We stayed with her large family, whose last name is Balde, for about four days, eating meals with them, and hanging out around town. In the drawing you can see one of the main huts and the kitchen, along with a grouping of lush ornamental plants her host father and brother tend to. Maya had her own little cinder block hut and latrine, sheltered by a mango tree, that was out of view of this drawing. Living at their home was my favorite part of our Senegal trip.

Casamance River, Kolda, Senegal

13 Nov

Casamance River, Kolda, Senegal © Erin Lau, 2011

Maya and I biked several kilometers to a campement (rustic guesthouse), just outside the town of Kolda where she was based during Peace Corps. We wanted to go there to see the monkeys that come to drink at the river. The river was warm, and brown, like chocolate milk, and the monkeys were on their own schedule. After about 45 minutes, we did start to see some rustling in the trees from afar. Then some leaping figures. Big red monkeys were jumping from branch to branch, and a group of whitish/brown smaller monkeys were ambling along the bank. They were all fairly distant, so it was not really possible to draw them. It was hot, and muggy, and we soon biked home to take a bucket shower.

Traveling again 2011! Ziguinchor, Senegal

12 Nov

Boats along Casamance River in Ziguinchor, Senegal © Erin Lau 2011

I’m back on the road with my sketchbook, this time traveling with my sister in West Africa, specifically Senegal and Mali. My sister, Maya, has been living in Senegal for the past two years, working as a Peace Corps volunteer. She just finished her tour, and we decided to travel together. She showed me the places she knows in Senegal, including the town that she was based in. Then we traveled overland to Mali, a new place for both of us.

These are drawings I made several days into our journey, once we landed in Ziguinchor, Senegal. We had taken an overnight boat from Dakar, the capital, down along the Atlantic coast, entering the Casamance river delta and floating upstream on the Casamance river. Ziguinchor is a smallish fishing town, with a couple main streets and a couple main attractions. We only had one day, so we watched the coming and going of villagers along the river bank and took a small boat ride around the mangroves the flank the opposite bank. While on the boat ride, we saw many dolphins feeding and jumping all around us, as well as a variety of birds. There was even a large, half sunken ship, that had reportedly tried to get down the river with Liberian (?) immigrants until it was gunned down by police. In these drawings, there is an approaching thunder and lightning storm, and crewmen are preparing the boats for passengers to other villages along the river.

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