The Best Voodoo Day Ever?

By John Warburton G4IRN

g4irnAsk a VooDude about his best experience ever and you might rightly expect anecdotes of huge never-ending pile-ups, amazing DX popping up on 10m long path in the middle of the night, unforgettable high-rate and personal-best operating hours, great openings to JA on 160m, stories of team camaraderie, uncomfortable bus rides across stressful border crossing, bumpy roads, AK47s pointing at us, burst tyres (aka tires!) and meeting new friends in the various countries.But for those who were there, one particular day will stick in our minds forever.

After the 2005 CQWW CW contest on Tuesday 29th November 2005, the TZ5A crew decided to take a guided bus tour into the country-side around Bamako, Mali. Our local contact, Mr. Cissé who worked at the national PTT office and who had issued our Malian amateur radio licenses suggested that we visit the village, Dioliba, where he was born and grew up. It was about 40km (25 miles) or 3 hours drive out of town down mud tracks; we hired a mini-bus and Mr. Cissé and a local guide came with us on the journey.

We didn’t really know what to expect, however Mr. Cissé told us that he was well known in the village – after he started working at the PTT he organised the installation of a telephone line into his village, giving the locals a communications link into Bamako and thereby enabling families to contact their loved ones staying or working in the capital. He turned out to be quite a celebrity in the village and little did we know it but we were about to experience something very special – at least for us first-world visitors.

Mini bus from hotel

Mini bus from hotel

The day started with us meeting the mini-bus outside the hotel. It was cramped, uncomfortable and the roads ahead were of pot-holed backed mud; the thought of a day travelling like this daunted us all. But we were there now, no turning back!

Mr Cissé and a local guide drew our attention to various points of interest en-route as we traveled through several villages, the likes of which are probably not on the usual tourist-trail. The first video clip shows one of the suburban villages, just outside of Bamako where the roads are still good,  that we drove through – it’s quite typical of an African city suburb.

We eventually arrived at Mr. Cissé’s village and were greeted by one of the respected elders – the headmaster of the school.

The school building dominated the village – it seemed like the raison-d’être for the village’s existence, they obviously put their childrens’ education and progress high on the agenda and were fortunate enough to have the funds to do this. We had planned, as a group, to give a modest donation to the school and hoped to find the right moment to slip the envelope to one of the village leaders.

School Master and student

School Master and student

 

After meeting and greeting we were given a tour around the school and had the opportunity to meet some of the teachers and speak to some of the kids. They were all very well behaved!

 

Dioliba Classroom shot

Dioliba Classroom shot

 

 

After touring the school we noticed that the elders of the village had drawn chairs up into the central area and were starting to gather. More people came out and we were invited to sit down with them, forming a large circle. We really didn’t know what was going to happen! The video below shows the elders starting to gather and the village ‘griot’ starts to shout. I thought at this stage that he might be shouting at us and didn’t know if I should feel comfortable about the situation or not!

After lots of repetitive shouting and gesticulating, we were invited to hand over our modest financial donation to the village. Although we were planning to keep the actual hand-over low key, the villagers had different ideas! To keep everything absolutely open, honest, transparent and to avoid any accusations of cheating, Mr. Cissé counted out the money in front of all the elders so every dollar was accounted for.

It was difficult to tell if the donation had gone down well or not, however the griot continued to shout and chant.

After this finished, some drummers came onto the scene, banging out rhythms and calling for people to dance. At last, we had a sense that the village was elated with us being there and they were putting on a show of appreciation! The headmaster got the dancing under-way!

On hearing the drums, the kids were dismissed from school and the whole village came out to celebrate and dance.

Band & dancers

Shortly afterwards, a man dressed in costume and mask appeared – we called him the ‘bogieman’  – scaring the children as he danced around.

Beware the Bogey Man-2

It was all great fun and a real privilege to have witnessed something so remote from our normal cultures. The visit to Dioliba was capped with a lunch of deep fried fish and chips – this day was by far the best Voodoo day of my life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Vince K5VT for the video clips.