We headed out from Mac's Refuge to this Dogon village...after a fantastic breakfast...we arranged our guide in Bandiagara (3000 ea=15000 total for afternoon). See Natl Geographic article 1969 March for more details on Dogon
...My own personal experience: the small children many many singing welcome song at the end of natural tunnel and then one child clamped onto each of my hands "helping me along" . Not realizing that they expect something until sometime later. A small boy pointed to my pen and foolishly I gave it to him, off he went screetching with joy...next thing I knew there were 4 more offering to help me for a pen! I had no more to give and realizing that even if I had more I would need enuf to supply the entire village! It took at least 20 minutes of them tracking me before they were convinced that I had none to give!
I had purchased kola nuts as recommended by our driver, for the tribal chief/elders so once we reached the casa palaver(talking house) where all important family/tribal events & disputes are discussed w/ the chief, I was prepared. I think because of my beard the chief motioned me to sit next to him(the "old man" of the group, ha). He immed. offered me snuff from a small horn so I took it an sniffed as he showed me(our guide later explained that it was a mix of tobacco and something else which older men use to "clarify" their vision/thoughts??) It did have an affect on me...this elder chief then showed me his eye which appeared to have cataracts, and seemed to motion I should help him, I had a strange feeling he knew I had my contact drops in my pocket, so I offered them and put some into his eye...he was very appreciative!
It was a strange communication, perhaps only my imagination...I knew nothing of what he spoke yet somehow understood. They passed millet beer around in a half gourd, very tasty! Then our guide said now was the time to offer our kola nuts so we (Mari had some too) distributed 4 to each of the three men...they seemed genuinely happy to get them.
The legend of these talking houses is that the Dogon people began in this area with four couples long ago, thus the 4 thick layers of sticks above, the roof, so when the people come(usually only men) to discuss things under the low roof they cannot stand up in anger or they will bump their heads. Also, the weight, psychological & physical, of these ancestors above them remind them of the need to be truthful and not speak in anger.
As we left our guide said they thanked us and wished us a happy and safe journey!
One other interaction took place when 6 to 8 Dogon women passed us climbing the cliff steps carrying 60 lb baskets of millet on their heads...vehimently insisting that we not take their pics! We later encountered them and for some reason they insisted that we needed to pay them for pics(which had not been taken). I still had kola nuts so I distributed one to each and then Craig took a picture after they passed! They immed insisted on payment from him! Luckily our guide explained that I had paid for him but still they seemed to grumble about it! There is definitely a cultural development w.r.t. tourism in that tourists are fair game for more income and the Dogon women expecially want recompense for pics to be taken...and never take a pic w/o permission!
Every part of baobab trees are used, leaves for flavoring, bark stripped every 3-4 years to make rope(for climbing cliffs to bury dead), and fruit which when dried is mixed with grains?? and eaten.
For more info on Dogon and Mali World Heritage Sites
Our drive to Sanga caused us to cross a tributary of the Niger R., actually forded it! We saw two bridges washed out two months before during the rainy season, I assume this was the same flooding which devastated Guinea and Guinea Bissau as well...roads there were in very bad shape. One location was being "repaired" with an earthen crossing, not a bridge like the ones destroyed, they had been rebar reinforced concrete!
We were fortunate to be in Mac's Refuge when Jim Traub, a freelance writer for NYTimes Mag. was there. He had hired a locally born consultant, Tierno Diallo, who specializes in working with NGOs and Govt. agencies on environmental issues especially. Translating for me, he said Tierno explained that yes, desertification had been expanding in the 70s and 80s but now in the past 10 years or so it seems to have stabilized due in part to human input, planting trees, etc. but also with more rain nature seems to be able to recover faster than expected. The past rainy season was particularly heavy with rain, very welcome and totally necessary for the people in the area!