on March 28, 2006
The boat trip takes about 45 minutes and as you glide along the riverbank you become aware of the huge range of fishing techniques employed on the river. Some of the fishtraps drying in the sun on the embankment look like exhibits in a modern sculpture park. Every so often what looks like a scrubby hedge will jut out halfway across the river. These are actually markers to show the boatmen where vertical nets are suspended in the water. Casting and trawling are both done from boats of all sizes and shapes, casting is done all along the shoreline.It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that no two boats on the Niger look the same. There are small, dug-out canoe type boats, boats with reed houses built on them, boats with sails, boats with engines, ornately decorated boats, barely keeping afloat boats, and boats built out of bits of other boats. Given how shallow the river can get in places, I certainly would never underestimate the ability of the sailors in any boat on the Niger.
The shallowness of the river was illustrated when our pirogue had to stop to let a huge herd of cattle cross. It was quite surreal floating in the water with cattle walking around you.The riverside at Kalabougou is teeming with activity and awash in colour. There are pots everywhere in huge piles. Women balance them in stacks on their heads to the boats waiting to transport them to the riverside markets. On the sand between the mounds of pots and in the weed covered shallows, small children rush everywhere. It’s not clear which child is the responsibility of which adult unless it's one of those being subjected to a thorough washing, or in the case of the girls, a complex hair-braiding session as well. Every day is washday in Mali and the riverbank is also home to mounds of coloured fabrics waiting to be washed in those brightly coloured buckets and bowls made out of that two-tone plastic so popular in Mali. With the exception of the shaded area beneath a huge mango tree, the shrubs and trees edging the broad river beach were festooned with gently fluttering clothes and bedding. Beneath the dark green canopy of the mango tree the elder men of the village sat drinking mint tea. Not far away a group of young boys played a game marked out in the sand involving stones and matchsticks. All the time, people and carts made their way along the sandy track connecting the riverside to the village.The village is picturesque and the majority of buildings are traditional mud construction. It’s possible to see the pots being made at all stages of production. Cinnamon bark is used in the firing process and it smells great in the area where the firing is done. Wander down the back alleys by yourself and you may find that the women are more communicative.Remember to take plenty of drinking water, and enjoy.
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