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More adventurous than the average bear

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Mali's Magical Onion

BBC Radio 4 - From Our Own Correspondent, Mali's Magical Onions:

"Kama Saramay (?) has one God.

Jiguba (sp?) says the village's conversion from animism to Islam 5 years ago has been good for the women and bad news for the genie in the cave.

The Genie?

Yes, he says. Unfortunately, the genie took up residence several generations ago in the only cave with a year-round water supply. The genie used to insist that anyone going in should undress first.

What? A peeping tom genie?

The cave is a good 20 minutes walk away, along the edge of a ravine. Everything is beige up here apart from a few tiny green shoots on the tips of wild grape trees. We follow a line of women and children carrying a colourful range of jerry cans and buckets

Jiguba explains the problem.

Our wives spend hours filtering the water, but our children still have blood in their urine. It spills hearts here (?). We do have a pump in the village, he confesses, but it's broken, we can't afford to have it fixed. So people use the cave. All the more so because we don't have to worry about the genie any longer

Samba, aged 11, offers to take me in.

A few more paces and the cave's entrance is visible. Samba brazenly dives in to the darkness.

Samba, I ask, are you afraid of the genie?
Oh no, she says, my family prays to God. Come on!

Samba's jerry can is a third the size that she is. She dunks it in the murky water then drags it out and tops it up with a plastic cup.

The rock we're crouching on is slippery - you could fall in and the weight of the filled jerry can seems far greater than little Samba should be carrying. Jiguba believes that the dress code for the cave - undressed - probably developed out of an understanding generations ago that women shouldn't wash clothes in the village's drinking water.

Now that the genie's gone, there's far too much traffic to the cave.

So you see, says Jiguba, we need a proper well, with a rope and a pulley that we can fix ourselves. If we had a solar pump, we could irrigate our fields and grow shallots all year round.

French experts have penned theses about the delicious Dogon shallot, but Jiguba isn't giving much away. It could be in the planting, it could be in the soil, it could be in the rock beneath the soil, he remains vague.

Jiguba clearly suspects I am an undercover shallot spy.

Has he followed the torturous peace negotiations for Mali?

No, he says. I have 30 cows and 30 goats, I have to fetch water for them every day. I don't have time to sit around drinking tea and listening to the news.

So will peace, if it comes, make any difference to Jiguba?

Look, he says, he points to the horzion one way, then the other way. That's my Mali, the rest is politics. Everything's fine in Mali but my village does need a well"
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