Our film team was in Mali from Feb 7 to March 2, 1998.

Over this time they communicated with the webmaster by satellite phone, described each day's events and answered INTERACTIVE questions. Scroll down this page to find all the daily journals or... click on the links below.

Feb 8 | Feb 9 | Feb 10 | Feb 11
Feb 12 | Feb 13 | Feb 14 | Feb 15
Feb 16 | Feb 17 | Feb 18 | Feb 19
Feb 20 | Feb 21 | Feb 22 | Feb 23
Feb 24 | Feb 25 | Feb 26 | Feb 27 | Mar 1

Daily Journal: MARCH 1, 1998


Let's start with an important conclusion: Click here for Bruce's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "What have you personally concluded from this trip about the future effectiveness of anti-desertification efforts in Mali?"

Or read about his conclusion below: " Concluded would be too strong a word. What I feel is that there would definitely be room for hope. There's a lot of work to be done. For every area that one hears about or sees where there are efforts being made to stop desertification, there are lots of other areas where these efforts are not being made or there are things that are actually destructive still going on. You know it's hard to say. But certainly there is a lot of hope among the people that we were working with and good reason for it because we saw living examples of situations where people had turned it back. Whether you can do it on a national scale fast enough is another question altogether. Certainly locally, among the people that are actively working on the problem, it is being dealt with."

Now just for fun... yesterday in Toronto another Kensington Communications documentary - Separate Lives - won a Gemini Award for best documentary of 1997. Click here for Robert Lang's reaction when he heard the good news.

For this one... you'll have to get RealAudio. We're not providing a transcript because it's not the words that are interesting... it's the delivery!

Click here for Bruce's description of how the film team spent their final two days of shooting.

Or read his description below: " Well the big event yesterday was filming a local Malian musician singing a song she wrote for us about us being here. Actually it's two songs and we'll pick one, on that subject and slight variations on that theme. It worked very well. We were out on the edge of town and it looked quite nice. And she sang very well. And then today we started off by going over to meet Mobe Traore, who's a another guitar player from here who I'd heard at the Calgary folk festival back in the summer. We didn't expect him to be in town and he turned out to be in town, so we went and had a brief visit with him. He was about to go and play at a friend's wedding, so he invited us to come along to the wedding. We didn't stay for very much of it in the end. In the afternoon we ran around doing more shots....shots in the market. People in Bamako, especially the market, are much less excited about being filmed than the people in the country were, or much less pleased about the concept. There are some angry fists being shaken at the lense which I'm sure we have on tape. Basically, that was it...just basically picking up stuff that we hadn't gotten yet. As of about 6:30 tonight it was a wrap."

Click here for Bruce's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "Is there anything particularly unusual about (Malian) rhythms and playing style?"

Or read his answer below: " There's a tendency for the music of the area to break out in styles that are not exactly national or particular to one nation. The griot tradition is not just a Malian tradition...it's also Senegalese and Ghanaian and represented in other countries in the area. Any of the cultures that are artificially divided by the national boundaries that were left by Colonialism have similar expressions. When stuff comes on the radio, the Malian drivers are always immediately able to identify where it's coming from. So, they hear distinctions for sure."

Click here for Bruce's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "Do you think you succeeded in communicating through your music to people in the villages of Mali?"

Or read his answer below: " There was definitely an interest there. You have to understand that most of these people had never seen a guitar like what I play. They have their traditional guitar, the ngoni, which when they are trying to describe it to us, they will call it a traditional Malian guitar, which bears very little resemblance to the instrument that I play, especially the Dobro which is shiny chrome. It was pretty interesting for them just to see and hear it. Of course they didn't understand anything I was singing because nobody speaks English around here, so there was no communication of the specific kind that came through the lyrics, but there was definite sense of a shared experience anytime you play with or for people. They're there...they're into it...there's music as a bridge. In this case a different kind of bridge perhaps than what I would normally be dealing with, with an audience at home, but definitely things were exchanged through these performances. So yes I think there was communication there for sure."

Click here for Friedrike's answer to an INTERACTIVE question about education - particularly of highschool students.

Or read her answer below: " In the villages, basically if people get through the elementary school they are very lucky.....if they can afford it. What I know is that once they've done five classes of elementary, they go to sort of a middle school for another four years and if they're really good, in this case they would have to go to Douentza itself, or even to Mopti to get to a high school. So, that means you actually have to go to a boarding school to get to high school if you live in the rural areas because there are not many high schools around. At that point if you are in a boarding school, probably the rythmn would by very similar to our system. The kids who are younger, who go to middle school would have to work at home and help. So you would go to school in the evening and in the early morning and you would have to do your chores and help your family. But with high school, I think you would probably study pretty similar to what we do."

Click here for Friedrike's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "Do the people of mali have a written or oral history and how is this passed down from generation to generation?"

Or read her answer below: " The tradition is oral. You meet a lot of people who have never been able to read or write, but the history is very much alive though oral..passing on from one generation to another. Certain things, like it was mentioned that we were talking to the chief, certain things only the old people would be allowed to talk about with the chief, but then he would pass it on, so there's a lot of tradition. What the program has done, particularly with USC, is to try and write some of these things down. Not all of it. Some of the things you shouldn't write down, but other things would be very helpful to have in writing so, there is a little bit of a switch developing that the younger generation appreciates to have things in writing. But, I think the oral traditional will continue."

And finally... Click here for Bruce's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "Do you feel that the human and musical contact made by you and your team will have a lasting impression on the people you've met?"

Or read his (final interactive) answer below: " I think it will have a lasting effect on the people we met. I think, for one thing, we were very exotic compared to most of the people who were there. They won't forget us in a hurry. We were in their face for two weeks practically, in the case of the people of Ibisa. They were glad to see us. They received us very well partly because of the association with USC and partly because they were just hospitable people anyway. I think in some ways, doors were opened for us that were a little surprising. I think the interview that we did with the old chief of the village led to him revealing things about the culture that are not usually revelaed. The people who know anything about the Dogon culture will probably find the interview with him most ineteresting when they get to see it. But I think in the case of those people at least there'll definitely be a lasting impact. They will be telling stories about us and probably telling jokes about us for a long time to come. In the case of the other people around, I wouldn't think we'd be particularly memorable to the people of Timbuktou for instance, to whom we were just more tourists basically. But I think with Tumani Djoubati, for instance, I intend to keep contact with im. I think we got along really well and there was a sort of warmth that I think we both felt there that we both would like to keep going if possible, so, who knows where that will go."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 27, 1998

Today the team travelled from Mopti to Bamako (the capital of Mali) where they will spend the next few days. They didn't have much to say about their journey but they did answer some questions.

Click here for Robert Lang's answer to an INTERACTIVE question about what animals they have seen in Mali (it's a pretty long list).

Or read his answer below: " Everywhere we've gone, until today, we've had great encounters with a wonderful assortment of donkeys...they're everywhere, they're the beast of burdens around these parts. They're stubborn and just great looking creatures and they're everywhere. For the first time since we left Timbuktou we saw some horses, they're a small breed of horse, a little bit in the vein of a Morgan horse but they're smaller, they're around 15 heads I guess, somewhere between a pony and a horse. We've seen lots of dogs. In some areas they seem to like their dogs and look after their dogs...other times you seem almost roaming packs of dogs. They just wander around in packs. We see lots of goats and sheep....sheep that aside from their heads that give it away as sheep, look like goats because they're very short-haired. Lots of cows. The Peul people have a particular breed that they favour and they're spotted brown, white, black and white cows. They're quite different from the cows back home....long horns and a kind of a lumpy matter between their shoulders. They look a bit like bramen cattle. We've seen huge cockroaches in shower and in the latrine that we used to frequent back in Doentza, especially at night they would come out and hang around on the walls. We've seen lots of birds, wonderfully coloured birds that I haven't seen anywhere else and lots of chickens and today for the first time I saw a little group of pigs burrowing around in a mound of dirt and stuff. Of course throughout the trip we've seen lots of camels, until the last leg of the journey. Hippos, that was one of the few wild animals we saw in the Niger River when we were crossing on the ferry. Just near Douentza there's an elephant reserve which has all kinds of monkeys and elephants and apparently other wild animals. It wasn't the nature of our film nor did we have enough time to go up and take a look."

Click here for Bruce Cockburn's answer to an INTERACTIVE question about how the trip has changed his spiritual worldview.

Or read his answer below: " You see things, you experience things and it takes time to sort of put it all into perspective with all the other things you've seen and experienced, so it's a little bit hard for me to just pull out of a hat what impact this experience will have had on my view of things. I mean it's a reinforcement of stuff I've already seen. I've been in other third world countries with a similar degrees of difficulty of poverty, let's say. This is the first time in a desert situation and the first time in different kinds of cultures that we've moved through. What impact those cultures will have is hard to say. Spiritually speaking , I don't know that I am going to be swayed of my general world view one way or the other by this. Every experience that I have, that most of us have, if we go into it with out eyes open, it enriches us. It leads to interesting questions if nothing else, and I expect that this will do that as well."

Click here for cameraman Martin Duckworth's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "How would you compare the current trip to Mali to the one you took in October as far as landscape, environment etc. How much drier have have you found it? how much hotter?"

Or read his answer below: " When we were here in October it looked dry enough to us, although that was supposed to be the end of the rainy season, but there had been very little rain and it looked dry enough to us, but now it looks even worse, there's been absolutely no rain since then. The Niger River is at a much lower level. We drove bridges across Rivers that were completely dried up. It's quite a desperate situation. Our focus this time was on the market gardens. That is something that USC has helped the local people to get into in the last few years to make up for the lack of food during the so called rainy season or winter season, the rain that hasn't been coming for the last couple of years. So, they've got them into market gardening and that harvest is around this time of year. So we focussed on that principally this time. The market gardening is mainly in the hands of the women here, so we see how the women now are playing a central role in helping the communities to survive."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 26, 1998

Today the team travelled from Douentza to Mopti by way of (world heritage site) Sanga. Below you'll find info on what happened today plus answers to a couple of questions.

Click here for Robert Lang's description of the day's events and the itinerary for the next few days.

Or read his description below: " We had a travel day...moving away from Douentza to the west...to Mopti. We went through a place called Sanga and Bandiagara which are on the Bandiagara escarpment ....the Dogon area. Today we went through there and spent a good part of the day wandering around in the cliffs of Sanga, which I'm sure Bruce will tell you more about. Very, very beautiful part of the country. And tomorrow we are heading towards Bamako. We should be there by the end of the day tomorrow. The following couple of days we're going to be filming with a Malian musician on Saturday."

Click here for Bruce Cockburn's description of the ancient cliff dwellings of Sanga.

Or read his description below: " As you arrrive in it you are kind of going what's all the fuss about...this is a world heritage site. It's steeped in history and remarkable for these cliff-side villages. When you drive into town from the direction we came from, you drive across a sort of broad rolling plateau. You know it's nice country, but you don't see anything that suggests it should be a world heritage site. The town itself is undergoing construction and reconstruction and the buildings look more substanital, are better built using concrete instead of the banko-clay stuff you see elsewhere. It all looks pretty dressy! When you get past the town and the road winds down this incredible escarpment face and you find yourself confronted with basically a broad desert plain that goes for 200 kilometres, all the way down to Burkino Faso. The cliff-face itself is dotted with Dogon villages that are built very much in the traditional style, moreso than the ones we saw around Douentza, the ones that I saw at least anyways. Right in the cliff-face above these villages are the reamins of houses that were inhabited by people called the Tellem, who are pre-historic people who were there when the Dogons got there. There is evidence that they lived in these cliff-face dwellings for thousands of years. Their mysterious in the way that nobdody knows much about them. They were either exterminated or driven away in confrontations with the Dogon, who were forced into this area with their confrontations with the more agressive Islamic peoples, as they moved into the area. So, that's the basic history. The Dogon villages are set up below the cliff dwellings. The cliff dwellings are little kind of turret-like structures that are built right into the cliff-face and they presumably are built over the entrances of caves so instead of living as cave dwellers, the way we think of neanderthals living, they were living in the caves but they built on to the front of the caves quite sophisticted structures of interesting architectural design. It's really incredible to look up at. Some of these things, you can't fathom how they ever came and went from them because they were 400 feet up a cliff, that's just basically a sheer drop and there's somebody's house there. And then there's another 200 feet to the top of th cliff. These are broad estimates in terms of figures, but that's the kind of impression it gives. One theory is they had rope structures that connected these buildings and the ground but, our Dogon guide said he didn't think that was the case, that they just climbed up, but that's a bit of a stretch so, who knows. But a really incredible depth of history in these structures and an incredible landscape. You can see for miles and if the sand hadn't been blowing in the distance you could have seen probably all the way to Burkina Faso from the top of this thing.... it's just amazing!"

Click here for Bruce's answer to an INTERACTIVE question about body language.

Or read his answer below: " They use their hands a lot when they're talking. They speak (the Dogon people) in short phrases. For instance when we're greeting the chief of a village, there'll be a bunch of the elders of the village sitting around..the chief will speak and he'll come out with a short phrase and everybody will go uh-huh and then he'll come out with another one and everyone will go uh-huh. Their speach is accompanied by, it depends on the person how much body language they use, but there's a lot of hand gesturing and it's distinctly local ..different than anything you would run into in Italy, for example, where people are famous for waving their hands around when they talk. It's a different kind of hand language. Body language...people stand very close to you. Then sense of personal space is very different here from what it is at home. In a crowd, people crowd right up against you and nobody minds."

Click here for Bruce's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "Do the people of Mali have values that you see missing in the Western world?"

Or read his answer below: " People are friendly...open and welcoming. You know, you'll meet somebody on a path and they'll be looking pretty surly...they'll have their regular "getting through the day" face on just like people at home do. But as soon as you say hello there's this beam of a smile that comes out and they're engaged with you immmediately. You exchange greetings and you shake hands. There's an openess to communication that you don't see much at home these days. One thing that struck me as we were driving along today, everywhere you drive people, particlarly the kids, but adults as well, will wave at you. You're just a car passing full of strangers, they have no idea who's in the car, but there's this desire to exchange greetings, to communicate in some way. I remember when I was a kid in around 1949 and 1950, I would be pretty little, but I can remember being driven around and farmers driving by on their tractors would wave at you as you drove by if you were in the country. You don't see much of that anymore either, but there was a sense that...I was struck by the fact that we once had that same sense of the appropriateness of communicating with each other even though it was only instantaneous or momentary, that these people have. And it seems to me that the loss of that indicates maybe a deeper loss."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 25, 1998

Today was the team's last day in the Douentza region. They're leaving tomorrow at 6 am to go to Bandiagara which is another part of the Dogon country about two hours to the west. (By the way... the camera that they jerry-rigged yesterday still works.) Below you'll find info on what happened today plus answers to several questions.

Click here for Bruce Cockburn's description of the days events.

Or read his descriptiont below: " First thing we went to a village called Beni which is the site of a dam that's being built across a narrow valley, the intention of which is to catch the run-off during the rainy season and hold it. It's going to be about two metres high which will produce a lake of that depth approximately....that will cover quite a large area and hopefully I guess, in their view, will last through most of the dry season. From that dam they will have a system of irrigation channels that will allow them to improve the soil and develop farming in the area below the dam. So, it's a pretty important project. It's the biggest undertaking of that sort. It's a micro-dam, it's not a mega project of any sort, but it's an ambitious undertaking under these conditions. USC is providing the materials and the villagers are providing the work. Basically they've committed themselves to getting it done before the rainy season starts. It's well underway. The wall we saw is about a metre high and it runs the whole width of this valley. It was kind of an impressive thing to see. The village itself is perched on a ledge on a plateau high above the dam in a very interesting locations as well. I guess it's worth adding that one of the reasons that the dam is important from an irrigation point of view is that on the other side of where the dam is, is the village's only water supply, which is a well that requires the women to walk about a kilometre straight uphill carrying water on their heads....every day to supply their household needs. Obviously under those conditions there's nothing that they can do in the way of agriculture. So this will provide hopefully, a way for them to expand their economic base and their nutritional base as well. We spent the afternoon in Ibisa catching up on whatever we thought we'd missed and saying our goodbyes to people. That pretty much summs it up. It was nice to get a last little vivid glimpse of Ibisa, which is such a beautiful location. When you get above the village into where the springs are, it's all lush and green and beautiful and it's about the only spot like that anywhere near here, so it's kind of a magic little place."


Click here for Bruce Cockburn's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "Since you'll be leaving the Douentza regions soon... What are you tired of and what will you miss?"

Or read his answer below:" Sand in everything!! I'm a little tired of that. What will I miss? As times goes on I'm going to think of all sorts of things probably. This place has an atmosphere all its own and the kind of windy dry spaces that you find here represent a kind of landscape that really appeals to me anyway. I've always like that kind of thing, so certainly sitting in Toronto in the middle of winter, I'm going to miss that."

Click here for Robert Lang's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "Where did the name 'River of Sand' come from?"

Or read his answer below:" It was a mistake!! It came out of, I think, a conversation I had with Bruce. He was trying to remember the name of an article that he thought he had read and he said something and as I remembers it ...it was River of Sand. What a great title!! It turns out that it wasn't the name of the article. So it still fits. We've been up here for a few weeks, so that's a good sign."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 24, 1998

Today the team continued to film in the village of Ibisa. The temperature is around 40 degrees Celsius but feels a bit cooler (fortunately) because of high winds and because dust clouds partially obscure the sun. Below you'll find info on what happened today plus answers to several questions.

Click here for Bob Lang AND Bruce Cockburn's description of the days events.

Or read their description below: " (Bob Lang) This morning we filmed a tree nursery and a seed bank that have been established in this area. It was quite impressive. A small beginning but a very important one for the people in this area. This afternoon we were up with Bruce filming a musical performance in a village called Wollo, which is just on a plateau north of here...north of Douentza. It was quite a site....Bruce on the edge of a cliff and a hundred kids watching him with his steel Dobro. (Bruce) As Bob said it was a kind of a plateau part-way up the side of the foothill slope of these incredible cliffs. It was a really amazing landscape...there's an amazing view from there. It's a bit of a funky place...it's partly abandoned. A lot of people have left for the exode. Those who've stayed, there's apparently a political division among them. A couple of people want to be Chief and not much is getting done around the village. You can kind of tell that by the state of things. There's a noticeable funk about the place both literally and figuratively, but the people were really welcoming and definitely interested in what we were up to. And it looked incredibly beautiful from up there."

Click here for Bob Lang AND Bruce Cockburn's description of something they wish hadn't happened (but it turned out okay).

Or read their description below: " (Bob) We had a little mishap with the camera. Fortunately the Betacam is a workhorse and even though it's damaged a bit, it's still usable and we got through that.
(Bruce) The Betacam actually separated into two distinct pieces which are now held together with gaffer tape, but it worked all the same. So, that's some kind of testimony to the Betacam, I suppose."

Click here for Friedrike's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "What is the Canadian team expecting to come out of this documentary. (i.e help for Mali, public awareness, generate cash relief, evangelistic outreach to local people, political agenda)?"

Or read her answer below: " Certainly, to try to raise awareness in Canada about the complexity of the lives people have here in Mali by living in desert and pre-desert areas and fighting very hard to keep their livelihood and keep their environment going. For that you need solidarity. That's very clear. Raising awareness in Canada is very important. USC Canada has been here for 10 years so we're very keen to have a broader base of support in Canada and use our various means to do so. The video would be one means to raise the awareness and help people appreciate the situation. At the same time, we've added in a completely new component in the sense that we also believe that Mali has a lot to offer in terms of music, in terms of culture and tradition, which we would all be very intrested in. There's also that element of outreach. Certainly it has nothing to do with evangelism."

Click here for Bruce's answer to an INTERACTIVE question about whether "corporate guilt is an issue for an American (Christian) believer in these troubled times."

Or read his answer below: " Is it necessary to look at what corporations do and to make choices about your own stance on things based on what you find when you look like that? I would say of course it's important. It's important for everybody...Christians and otherwise. To me the world is sliding faster and faster into a kind of almost corporate-based fuedalism that certainly serves the interests of those on the boards of major corporations and it doesn't really serve the interests of anyone else. It's a very grave threat to the kind of democratic ideals that we all grew up with. So, I think that needs to be paid very close attention to. The more people that are concerned about that kind of thing, the greater the likelihood that we will get around it somehow...around this threat. But in spiritual terms for me, it comes down to a matter of conscience. If you are talking about whether you want to invest in a certain corporation then you have to look at what that corporation does and you have to look at whether by doing these things, you're supporting something that you don't want to be supporting. And that's what it comes down to."

Click here for Bruce's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "You mentioned that Mali is a Muslim country. Are other religions practised too (like animism)?"

Or read his answer below: " It's officially a Muslim country, but there are vestiges at least, of other faiths. The Dogon people with whom we've been spending all this time...the only public statement or overt statement we've had on that issue you've already heard. The indication was 'OK we used to be superstitous, now we're not because we have the faith'. But in fact I think those old traditions linger in people's minds and hearts and I think it's clear that there's a connection with the earth among the people that is not, as part of my limited knowledge at least, the Islam faith. It is something that goes back further in history than the arrival of Islam. Just as you find the same thing among people in the Christian world that have preserved elements of earlier views....that have a general world view that is broader and more earth-based than what the very formal faiths that we've inherited have tended to be. So, the people in Ibisa still do make sacrifices to keep the spring flowing. They just make smaller ones than they used to make. That suggests to me that there is a lot of other stuff going on that we would have to be here a lot longer to get the dope on."

Click here for Friedrike's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "Do people spend a lot on batteries (for radios)? Is this a problem? Does anyone use wind-up radios?"

Or read her answer below: " I haven't seen any wind up radios around here. I've heard of them, but I haven't seen any and I don't think.... where we are right now...they don't exist yet. People use a lot of transistor radios. You normally find two or three people around who have them and they share the news or the music with everybody around them. I'm sure they're spending a lot of money on batteries but they have no choice. I mean, it's also that you find that the simpler and cheaper solutions are not available to people who are poor, so they spend a lot more money on basic things or things that they see as a luxury like a transistor, because that's the only way they can get it."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 22 and 23, 1998

Today the team continued to film in the village of Ibisa. They tell me that while yesterday was supposed to be a day off it didn't end up that way so there's lots to tell you. By the way... while at this time of year Douentza usually has a problem with malaria carrying mosquitos, because of unusually low humidity (under 10 percent) there is no mosquito problem this season. Lots of dust though. Anyway... on with today's journal:

Click here for Bruce Cockburn's description of a musical encounter with Malian Ngoni player Nassourou Hamadou Sare (February 22).

Or read his description below: " This thing that we did yesterday was actually a really nice way to spend part of a Sunday afternoon... jamming with this guy, who actually looks like a cross between an African version of Hugh Marsh mixed with Ray Charles. He was really cool and he played great. He had a four string version of the Ngoni that he played pretty much in a rythmic style but he had finger picks made up of balls with little leather straps that went around the fingers. He drummed on the surface of the instrument as well as playing the instrument. It was really interesting to watch and fun to play with. We did a jam together based on a thing that he started playing and we did a song of mine called Kit Carson in which he played kind of a rythmn stuff along with me. It was fun!"

Click here for Bruce's description of activities for February 23.

Or read his description below: " Today the musical content called for a recreation of this casual drum lesson that I had the other day when the folks at Ibissa pulled out the drums for us. So I had a whole personal kind of involved lesson for the camera today which was also a very interesting and fun. Otherwise we were just kind of poking around the town shooting things which will turn up in the film. People doing their thing and various farming techniques and that sort of stuff."

Click here for Bruce's description of what kind of food the team (and local people) are eating.

Or read his description below: " We haven't eaten in a local persons house exactly. So I shouldn't try to answer what local people eat. But what we've been eating, it has generally consisted of rice or some other form of starchy matter, millet, couscous like stuff or pasta, spaghetti cut up in little pieces occasionally. It is a pretty meat intense diet traditionally, the meat being chicken, lamb, sometimes beef, sometimes a little bit of fish. It is usually presented, in our experience at least, most of the time we've had a stew made of this plus various vegetables which are put with whatever the starchy substance was. The vegetables include a kind of bitter gourd thing that grows on a vine in the sand. It don't know what it's called. When it's cooked it's kind of bright green and it is bitter tasting but it mixes really well with the sauce and other ingredients. I'm told it's bitter melon, but it doesn't really resemble a melon very much. It's small, about the size of a hard ball and it's very firm as well. That, yams, casaba root, onions, various things like that...hot peppers, savage little red peppers, that come in these casseroles which we eat with great caution."

Click here for Bruce's answer to an INTERACTIVE question about the role of music in the lives of the people of Mali - more specifically: does music help the people in troubled times?

Or read his answer below: " I would say the answer to that is a bit speculative, but I think the music here is integrated totally into the rest of these people's lives. Those people who have transistor radios or cassette players have them going all the time. There's music on the radio all the time, that's Malian music primarily although we hear other music from other African countries as well. In the village you don't hear music all the time. but people sing all the time. The kid who's hearding the goats is singing, the kids on the way home from school are singing, people sing while they work. The women are pounding millet and they're singing together while they do it. It's not just a way to escape from your life and feel better its a way to make the actual work you are doing go better and I think at that, it's very comparitive to the roots of blues. Very few people are professional musicians here. There are a few but most are people who are farmers and other occupations and they play music,instruments, at a community function, like celebrations of any kind...the instruments come out and people play. Probably what you'd come across in Cape Bretton."

Click here for Bruce's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "What is the perception that the people of Mali have of what's happening in the world (IRAQ crisis, etc...) and how about yours, how do you look at these big events from a place so distant... and peaceful like Mali?"

Or read Bruce's answer below: " You know it's not that distant. It's actually a lot closer to Iraq than Canada is. We don't hear a radio all the time so we're not up to date on exactly what is going on but people do check up on it..sure. The people that we associate with...there's a radio in the truck and the news is on from time to time..people pay attention to that stuff. Also, as we do at home, they pay a lot of attention to the sporting events. There's been a inter-African football championship going on the last couple of weeks and that's been the focus of a great deal of attention in the media. People are aware of what's going on around them, because it's going to effect them and they know that. They live their quiet lives but they're pretty much aware that they can be affected by things taking place somewhere else. The African experience has certainly been, over the last several hundred years, of people being adversely affected by people from somewhere else. So they're pretty tuned in to that kind of stuff. there's also a war going on in Sierra Leone, right next door. So people are paying attention to that to."

Click here for Friedrike's answer to an INTERACTIVE question "Are other forms of fuel being made available to the people for their stoves, other than wood?"

Or read her answer below: " At the moment in the program areas here people use wood....that's their only real fuel. If you have money you can of course buy other fuel sources. The program is not designed to provide services for people, but to help them use what they have more efficiently. One fuel source would be solar energy but it's a very difficult one to introduce in areas where the literacy is below 10 per cent. People have to struggle and don't really understand it is a more technical concept. There is an effort being made to introduce a solar dryer for vegetables and fruit in a pilot project, to get them thinking of those types of energies, but it will be a slow process and it will have to be introduced with a lot of education and sensitivity, to their cultural traditons and their land. So, that would be one obvious way of moving forward. What we have done is introduced improved stoves so they don't just cook on an open fire which they've done in the past. So, these are actually portable stoves that use about one third of the fuel or wood than the open fire."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 21, 1998

Today the team continued to film in the village of Ibisa.

Click here for Bruce Cockburn's description of today's events.

Or read his description below: " We spent the whole day in Ibisa shooting stuff...a range of things...the market. It was market day and it was a very colourful scene with people milling around, buying and selling. People came in from neighbouring villages with their own produce and crafts and so on, including things like bamboo bed frames that a number of men brought in from a nearby village...all kinds of different stuff. We witnessed a cooking workshop wherein new recipes were introduced involving some of the new vegetables that are part of this market gardening program that is the subject of some of our filming. Had a little interview on camera with a guy who gave me a drum lesson the other day. We talked about the exode. We were wondering why there were so few young men in the village, young being mid 20s to mid 30s. You see a lot of older people and a lot of women and children and not so many men of that age. So, we wanted to ask this guy, because he was one who did fit into that age group, why that might be so and he said that in his own family a number of people had left to look for work. In their case it was partly seasonal. This is the off season in terms of the real hard core agriculture that goes on, so some of these people had gone to the city to look for work or other parts of the country. He stayed because he is now the head of the family because his father is dead and this guy is 31 years old. So he stayed to kind of oversee things and some of his relatives are there to help him with the gardening and so on."

Click here for Bruce Cockburn's VERY SURPRISING answer to the question "What do people in Mali think of Canada, assuming they know about us at all?" (If you're a Canadian you'll definitely be touched by this one!)

Or read about it below: " That's a really interesting question. I don't think a lot of people in Mali think very much about Canada one way or the other. But one thing we found out about immediately on our arrival in Bamako within the first couple of days was that in one of the areas where USC is working near Bamako, this village had heard about the ice storms in eastern Canada and had taken up a collection to send to help people back home....to help the victims of the storm. The collection was a very modest sum by our standards but an enormous sum by theirs and it is something that has to been seen as quite special."

Click here for Bruce Cockburn's answer to an INTERACTIVE question about whether he been inspired by his experiences in Mali.

Or read his answer below: " Yes....is the short answer to that. I have been inspired by many things. ..the energy of the people, their hospitality and warmth, the culture, the music, the colour...it's a marvellous place from a human perspective. It also has a marvellous landscape that has been inspirational in lots of ways but what that will produce in the long term is impossible to guess at. I've been taking lots of notes, we'll just have to see what develops."

Click here for Bruce Cockburn's description of a dust storm (the first one the team has experienced).

Or read his description below:" We also had a sandstorm today that was actually one of the most interesting features of the day for me, before we even got to Ibisa. We woke up this morning and it was partly clouded over and the mountains were almost obscured from view with blowing dust. It was a great scene at one point, driving down the highway with dust blowing every which way and a guy comes ridimg out of the dust on his white camel with his turban wrapped around his face and a transistor radio hanging around his neck. There's a big soccer series going on right now among various African countries and everyone is tuning into the radio all the time to hear the results of whatever current game is going on so, I assume that was what he was listening to."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 20, 1998

As they did yesterday... our team continues to scout and film in the Douentza area - concentrating on the village of Ibisa.

Good news about Bruce's health... He figures he just had some sunstroke yesterday and he's fine today. (He actually said he'd "checked himself out of the Ebola ward" but I'm darn sure he was just joking.)

Click here for Bruce Cockburn's description of today's events.

Or read his description below: "Film, film, film...mostly around Ibisa. We went to one other village, the village of Beguima this morning, that we had already been to once and we followed on the original plan with those people to film them working their land. They turned out all dressed up in their Sunday best for the film shoot which was kind of pretty looking...not entirely authentic but certainly nice looking...nice colours and so on. They have a lovely garden there. We spent more of the day at Ibisa, the town that we are concentrating on and got shots of people working, doing their thing and covered some of the landscape and that sort of thing. So, we had a celebratory lunch...they've been having meetings to do with USC programs all week,,,,this being USC's local headquarters and they wound up their program today so everyone was saying goodbye and taking off to their own respective districts. One of the villages had donated a lamb which we all ate a piece of in honour of each other and in honour of our continued good luck with the work at hand and so on. And it was all very nice."

Click here for Bruce's description of the difference between the North American guitar and the Malian guitar (called a "Ngoni").

Or read his description below: " They come with varying number of strings. The instrument is called an Ngoni. It's got a short little neck. It's about the size of a mandolin or smaller even and the body of it is a gourd or shaped wood with a goat-skin head and it's played with the fingers the way a guitar is but it's got a very high pitched, kind of twangy sound to it that's quite neat. This instrument is thought to be the original form of what's become the banjo and other instruments like that."

Click here for Bruce's answer to a question about what "surprised him most" about Mali.

Or read his answer below: " The whole place is surprising in lots of different ways. The landscape... there are cultures here that I've never seen before. The depth of history I suppose is certainly different from my experience in Mozambique where you had the sense that people had been cut off from their history. These people, at least the people that we're in contact with, have a very keen sense of the depth of their history and of their roots which is different from elsewhere. And of course in the western hemisphere there isn't that same sense of the depth of history, except among native people."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 19, 1998

As they did yesterday... our team continues to scout and film in the Douentza area - concentrating on the village of Ibisa.

By the way... Bruce is slightly under the weather today (just slightly... don't worry) so he won't be able to answer today's questions today... but tune in again tomorrow and hopefully you'll find his answers here then. (The rest of the team is just fine.)

Click here for producer Robert Lang's description of a full day of filming and interacting with the people of the Douentza region.

Or read Bob's description below: "It was a very good day. We had a morning where we filmed a women's group who were doing market gardening which is quite unusual in this town because it is a Muslim town and a traditional dogon town at the same time and the women have traditionally not had their own market gardening. They really weren't responsible for anything that would bring them any income. This is recent activity...actually close to a year and it has been quite a revolution in this village. So they had responsibility for this market garden, they look after it and they get the benefits for their family. It took a lot of convincing of the men in the village to allow them to do this. So we were filming with them and then we went up and spoke with the chief who gave us a very interesting talk about some of the history of the village and the Dogon people who have been around different parts for 1000 years. A lot of their traidtions had to do with traditions that go back many thousands of years. One of them Bruce actually asked about was the fact that there is a spring from which they have quite a few benefits for their agriculture and food growing, so he asked about this spring and what it meant to the community. Very interesting, interesting response that had to do with a combination of Muslim beliefs and the traditional beliefs of the Dogon and how they integrate those two. In the afternoon we did some further filming around the village and ended up, when we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do next, Bruce pulled out his guitar, even though he wasn't feeling very well, and played a little bit from the back of the jeep and then Martin took out his monitor and showed the women, whom we had filmed this morning, some of the footage that we had shot with them and they were tickled and very entertained by it. So we had a little cross cultural communication and a little give and take during the day...it was a really good day."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 18, 1998

As they did yesterday... our team continues to scout and film in the Douentza area.

Click here for producer Robert Lang's description of the days events.

Or read his description below: "Today was our first real day of shooting in Douentza. We decided to focus on one town...a village called Ibisa. It's a little town in the foothills of the escarpment near Douentza, about 30 or 40 kilometres away. A very active little town that has a lot of projects going on that we find in all the villages in the area around here. We decided to focus on one village instead of two or three and on too many different matters. There's some interesting people and projects and also a lot of variety in this village. So we're going to hang out there for a few days."

Click here for Bruce on a drum lesson that turned into... something bigger.

Or read his description below: "One of the things we did by way of getting to know the villagers...we presented it to them that I was interested in their music. So they organized a little thing for us. The drummers brought their drums out and what started out as a couple of guys with drums sitting in a courtyard, actually eventually giving my a drum lesson, turned into a big bust up party with everyone dancing...the old chief dancing and a guy firing his flint lock off. It evolved into quite a wild thing for a little while and then of course, I had to play. It was a hard act to follow but they were a great little audience."

Click here for Bruce's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "How do people cope with the heat there, what sort of clothes do they wear and stuff like that?"

Or read his answer below: "Well, I don't think they have as much trouble coping with the heat as I do. They wear the traditional clothing which is a loose robe. Usually the man will have trousers and a t-shirt under his robe. That's kind of the traditional look. They wear a kind of long scarf wrapped around their head...not a turban exactly, but it has a similar kind of look except that it comes around their face and they can pull it up so only their eyes are exposed if there's blowing sand or if they're out in the sun too long. The Dogon people with whom we're working have a traditional type of hat...a straw hat sometimes with leather sewn on it. You see them at home sometimes in import shops. It's kind of a conical hat that they wear on their head directly or over top of the scarf. The women wear...well it depends on how much money the people have too. Some people wear whatever they can get. The traditional woman's costume is a bit more elaborate than the man's. There are several layers or overlapping layers of bright cotton prints and that kind of thing. Very colourful."

Click here for Bruce's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "(What are) the kids like in the part of Mali that you are in now? Are they smiley, shy, friendly, curious, frightened?"

Or read his answer below: " The kids are generally....certainly not frightened. They generally are smiling. It depends on what's going on. There's a school in the village where they go from 8 am to noon and then 3 to 5:30 in the afternoon. I'm not sure what age groups are involved with that. The school kids also have their own little market garden they use to help finance their school supplies. It's an interesting contrast to the attitude that kids have back home. The kids realy want to be there, and they really want to be learning what they're learning. Generally speaking, the kids, as well as everyone else here, they live very hard lives but they're always ready to joke....to relax and laugh whenever the opportunity comes up."

Click here for Bruce's answer to an INTERACTIVE question on the difference between the "haves" and the "have nots."

Or read his answer below: "I'm not inside this enough to answer with any authority, but obviously money. To our way of looking at things all of these people are seriously lacking to different degrees. Some of them are doing fairly well ...some of them own more land. It's very much a family thing. Some families are going to be better off if they own more land that produces more vegetables or better crops. I don't know. I'm not inside the structure enought to have a sense of whether, for instance, blacksmiths do better than farmers or vice versa. But there's obviously, as there is in every society, some people that do better than others."

Also... please check out the Photo Gallery for pictures of the villages around Douentza.

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 17, 1998

Today, our team continued to scout the Douentza area for possible shooting locations.

The description of the day is broken into three parts:

Click here for Bruce's description of the day's travels.

Or read his description below: "We visited a village called Badiari first thing this morning. That was a village that was one of those filmed by our folks when they were over here in the fall. So basically we were just looking at that village to see if there was anything that they hadn't covered and that we needed to cover. We had an interesting visit to their seed bank. It's basically just a building where they store sample types of seeds and the various things they grow including trees that are around so that they can plant trees or crops when the occasion calls for it. If they run out of regular sources of supply they've got the seedbank set up and can grow locally adapted varieties of these products. But otherwise it was interesting looking village perched on a sort of ledge about 40 or 50 feet above the plain. All of these villages are fantastic looking to my eye.... It was typical of those kind of villages, but interestingly placed. But we decided that that village was pretty much covered by what we already have on film so we probably won't shoot there. This afternoon we went to another village Wollo, which called for a half hour drive and a half hour hike up slopes that were made up of enormous shattered boulders...made up of huge pieces of rock piled on each other and the village was almost completely hidden from view over a rise in this terrain. We hiked up there and looked over the place...it was an incredible scenic place. A beautiful village with an atmosphere of real ancient presence that overlooked this broad plain with mountains in the distance. I would have loved to have been up there for the sunset because we were looking westward and it must have been incredible. That too offered not a whole lot other than scenic elements in terms of making the film because the kinds of projects that they were working on were represented by other things that we're looking at elsewhere and they were hampered in those projects by apparent political difficulties within themsellves ...a dispute between two individuals that seemed to have weakened their ability to organize themselves."

Click here for Bruce's description of a local school.

Or read his description below: "I was quite impressed with the school teacher who seemed to have a realy good rapport with the kids and the kids who were there were really enthusiastic and into it. You saw among the kids an interesting variety of economic levels represented. Everybody in these parts is poor by our standards, but you notice the tremendous range among the kids in the classroom, of quality of clothing for instance. There would be ones with pretty fancy, nice clothes and all presentable and there'd be other kids who were there in rags and looking like they weren't so well cared for and so on. There seemed to be a definite range of have and have nots with that village. That was something that struck me."

Click here for Bruce's description of a musician he met (and plans involve in a musical collaboration).

Or read Bruce's description below: "We made contact with a local player of the traditional Malian guitar. He plays the instrument called the ngonie and he was recommended to us by Ali Farka Toure as someone we should look up when we were in this area. Luckily Bob managed to find him by crashing one of the weddings that was going on. He came by and we arranged to meet with him on Sunday and see if there is any common musical ground we can find and we'll just try jamming and see where that goes. So, that was kind of a nice note to end the day on and that pretty much brings you up to date."

Also... the team answered a couple of questions:

Click here for Bruce's take on the status of women in Mali. (We'll have more perspectives on this as the trip progresses.)

Or read Bruce's description below: " The status of women varies according to which particular ethnic group they belong to and also probably according to whether you're dealing with urban people or rural people. In small towns, things are liable to be more conservative, although we have to temper that observation with the fact that in one of the towns we visited yesterday, the women were very organized, very strong. While the men may have had traditional attitudes, the women weren't necessarily buying it completely. In the case of the Tuaregs, that seemed to be an anomoly. Most of what I've observed seems to be a pretty relaxed version of what we think of as the Islamic "arrangement", if I can put it that way! The men do a lot of sitting around talking and the women do a lot of working. The men and the women in each of these communities seem to represent distinct groups. They don't consult with each other before they decide how they're going to deal with us for instance. The men make those kinds of decisions, even when it involves the women. For instance, one of the villages we went to today....most of the men had left the village in the exode (exodus) in which people leave small towns looking for work elsewhere in the off season, and this is an off season unless you're into market gardening. So, in this case, the town was full of women and children and only a few men. A couple of the men met with us and decided that they couldn't really speak for the village because the chief was away, but it was fine if we dealt with the women. We could basically work with the women's co-op and anything that they were doing, but the village as a whole would have to wait until the chief came back...whenever that is. So, that's the kind of thing I mean by the men making the decision even if it involves the women and not them. How deep that goes, what it means on a day to day basis for families, it's hard to guess at from my perspective."

Click here for Robert Lang's answer to an INTERACTIVE question about whethere the trip has had any "anxiety-provoking" elements. (Bob offers a filmmaker's perspective.)

Or read his perspective below: "It's very relaxed. The only anxiety provoking aspect of it is not quite knowing. The film hasn't been planned in advance completely. We knew what we wanted to talk about...we knew our general approach...we knew what the subject was...but we didn't have the material to put together that story. It's not anxiety inducing or anything. It's something when you're making a documentary film, your always concerned about. Will it all come together in the end. "

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 16, 1998

Today, our team scouted the Douentza area for possible shooting locations.

To hear Bruce's description of their day... click here.

Or read his description below: "We basically gave ourselves a slightly leisurely morning. We didn't leave here until about 10 am...here being the USC headquarters and guest house, in which we're housed. The first stop in the day was this village called Beguima and we looked at the work they're doing...the gardens and the type of farming they're doing. Basically we were scouting for where we want to get ...look more intensively with respect to the film,. So it was kind of a general introduction. We met people and we were introduced to the village elders and there was much discussion about how we would proceed and when and that sort of thing. They were hospitable and interested and accommodating, so we made arrangements to film them later in the week. We then had lunch and this afternoon we went to another village called Ibissa which was a very interesting place because we are in a geographical situation that is peculiar in that to get here you cross miles and miles of flat desert and out of that flat desert rises very abruptly an escarpment maybe 2000 feet high. Which has at its base a lot of hills made out of rubble, presumably out of the escarpment. There's a foothill kind of situation and then you have these incredible cliffs rising just behind the foothills. In this particular village of Ibissa, there's a spring at the top of the little valley in these rocky hills and the spring has created a kind of oasis-like situation. There was an amazing town, a maze of kind of little valley-type streets and ancient looking architecture and gardens lush copmared to everything else around...lush gardens of corn and garlic and various other kinds of crops. These are market gardens they also grown tobacco and millet during the appropriate season. Basically we were doing the same thing there that we did in the previous town and that was being introduced to people and take a general kind of look at the place. I have a feeling we'll be doing a lot filming there because it was a remarkable place visually and a place that one senses is rich in culture and history and I think we'll get a lot out of our contact with those people."

For pictures of the villages the team visted today please check out our photo gallery. If you watch our RealMedia video from Mali (shot last fall) you will see the "escarpment" that Bruce talks about in his description of the day's events.

Also today we have a couple of answers to serious questions. I should mention that some of this material is more appropriate for adults than children so... websurfer discretion is advised.

Click here for Friedrike's answer to a question on the general availability of healthcare in Mali.

Or read her answer below: "The average health service...there is one medical person per every 23,000 people. That translates roughly into health care accessible to less than 20 per cent of the population on average. Which means that the north, which is normally more deprived than the south of the country, has even less than that. So the health situation is very, very poor. There are many areas where there is nothing. With development programs like those of USC the communities have started to realize that maybe they have to do something by themselves. They don't have a lot of money, but they've been able to group the villages together and set up a dispensary together and they've hired young people who have just finished medical school and haven't gotten any experience yet and can't really get jobs in the cities and jobs in the south....and they go out into the north and they work as medical facilitators and they are called bush doctors. So they've been very, very helpful and the communities have been helped tremendously by this beginning of a medical service in the north and even that is not enough but it's a start. So the government has seen there is a lot of initiative on the community level and one hopes that there will be more programs following."

Click here for Friedrike's answer to a question about whether female genital mutilation is practised in Mali.

Or read her answer below: "The issue of genital mutilation is a serious issue in Mali. It is still very widespread in the country. There are programs underway to address it, but it will take quite a lot of work to change. There are a lot of traditions involved and it is, as probably people know, not necessarily linked to Islam. It is a much older African tradition and it needs a lot of work and education before it can be addressed in a constructive way."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 15, 1998

Today, our film team travelled from Timbuktu to Douentza. But before we get into that (and your questions) click here to hear Bruce Cockburn tell you about last night's concert by Ali Farka Toure. (As you'll hear... Bruce was invited to "join in.")

Or read his description below: Well last night was the big concert with Ali Farka Toure in Timbuktou. He brought guest artists with him...the local griot and another singer and some people from Mauritania. One of them sang, one of them played guitar and the other a large base-sounding kind of drum. They made very interesting music. Quite different from the Malians, more arabic sounding, more North African sounding, but really neat and intense. Ali Farka Toure was very good. He had invited me up to jam with him. The phrase he used was "it would be great if we could play together" so he called me up after he'd done a bunch of songs by himself. We played but I don't think we exactly played together. It had more to do with Ali Farka just playing period. The fact that I happened to be there was of less consequence than some of the things that were happening for him. So, it was an interesting encounter. The first tune we played together worked quite well and then after that he turned up and that was it for me. I was there for awhile, playing along with him. It was very interesting actually. I got to watch him close up. He did some pretty neat things. But as a musical experience it fell short of rewarding, let's say. But the concert overall was a success and the Afro-Pop people were very happy and the evening was a fine one."

For those who asked about animals in Mali... click here to hear Bruce's description of the animals he saw today.

Or read his description below: "We saw hippos today. There were camels and donkeys, goats along the road, many different kinds of very interesting looking birds.....Although someone gave me a book of West African birds before I left, I didn't have room to pack it. It's sitting in Toronto. I'll have to look up these birds when I get home."

As I'm sure you all know, every country has its legal recreational drugs (like alcohol in North America). Click here for Bruce's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "Have you discovered the Malian equivalent of the Tungba yet?"

Or read his answer below: "So far it's beer. Being in an Islamic country, booze is not a big part of it although I hear stories about things that people have encountered, but I haven't seen anything myself. The thing that people talk about here is a tea. They make the tea out of green tea and lots of sugar and they boil it a bunch of times and pour it back and forth and back and forth quite awhile to make it. You get it served in a shot glass. It's a really interesting combination of bitter and sweet and it packs a wallop!"

Click here for Bruce's answer to the INTERACTIVE question "Are drums popular in Mali?"

Or read his answer below: "Drums are very popular in Mali. Every place we've been somebody's been playing drums. I don't mean people on the street, but when there's any kind of celebration going on, or event taking place, so far there's been drums around. I would say, like other countries in this part of the world, the drum is a central part of the culture. It has an important place in the music."

And finally...click here for Bruce's description of the ferry ride that began today's journey from Timbuktu to Douentza. (I was supposed to be a "three hour cruise.")

Or read Bruce's description below: "This morning we left quite early. We had to take a ferry to cross the Niger River from Timbuktou to get the road to Douentza. We were told the ferry ride would take maybe three hours. It was a bit mysterious because the river's not that wide. When we got on the ferry, which was just a flat car ferry with not particular superstructure....it would have held maybe six cars if you really packed them in...we were the only two vehicles on board and it turned out that this boat was powered by basically a dug out pirogue with an outboard motor. The engine on the ferry didn't work and hadn't obviously worked for some years. That would explain why it might be a three hour trip...it was probably a 35 horse-power motor pushing this thing. The first thing we did was get caught on a sand bar. The water was very shallow, so the crew got out and pushed and the outboard driver did his best and eventually we got off the sand bar and made our way across the river and continued our journey from there."

Since the team is now in Douentza... you might like to look at some pictures of Douentza (taken last fall). To find the pictures, click on the button on the left labelled "Photo Gallery."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 14, 1998

Today, our film team is in Timbuktu! They had hoped to meet Malian pop-star Ali Farka Toure who is giving a concert in Timbuktu tonight but... well they did meet him but not as they had planned.

Click here to allow producer Bob Lang to set the scene (especially if you don't know Ali Farka Toure).

Or read his description below: "We did film the impromptu meeting of Bruce and Ali Farka Toure right outside the hotel here which was kind of interesting to see. He was immediately recognizable as opposed to the other musicians that we've met....recognizable as a famous musician in a way because he had this signature style about him. He looked like an African John Lee Hooker and his guitar style is reminiscent of John Lee Hooker. So we immediately put them together and Bruce walked right up to him and said hello. It was kind of an interesting meeting that way. We didn't expect it. It was a bit of a surprise to meet him right outside the hotel."

Then click here for Bruce's description of the day - including meeting Ali Farka Toure.

Or read his description below: "The day was characterized by a few things. One certainly was meeting Ali Farka Toure. That was unexpected and a neat thing. It caught us by surprise because..first of all...although we thought there was a possibility we might meet him tonight, we thought we would be introduced to him by the folks from the Afro-Pop organization. It was an unexpected thing that he arrived this morning before we even really got doing anything. We'd been out shooting some stuff but it was much earlier in the day. So, I didn't have my mind psyched around meeting him. I was a bit ga-ga ...it was great. He remembered meeting me at the Winnipeg folk festival and was very friendly and welcoming and invited me to sit in with him tonight which I think will probably happen but like everything, it's a wait until the last minute thing. But that seems to be what's going to happen tonight. So, I'm looking forward to that."

Click here for Bob's answer to the INTERACTIVE question on how the film equipment is holding up in the heat.

Or read his description below: "That's a good question. It was a real concern of all of ours, even Martin who had been here in October...because he had been in Douentza and not up here in the real desert where you're literally driving over sand dunes for hour after hour. We were all concerned because electronic equipment doesn't respond very well to dust. It is more harmful, but so far ...touch wood....it's doing very well. We're trying to keep it clean and we're covering it whenever we're travelling, to keep things as clean as possible but even then there's dust in the air so when you open the camera to put in a new cassette you can see it and you don't quite know where it came from but there's dust in there. As careful as you may be its everywhere and we're trying to keep it under control...keep the equipment covered whenever we're not using it and cleaning it whenever possible too!"

Click here to Bruce's description of a day wandering around in Timbuktu.

Or read his description below: "We did some poking around the town. It's an amazing little town. It's a tourist trap definately..or the closest thing to a tourist trap that Mali has to offer. It comes by it honestly because of the depth of history visible here. It's a meeting place...it's always been a market town. From its origins it's been a centre of all kinds of things and the people...there's many different ethnic groups and cultures that come together here as well, including us..so that's kind of exciting. Then, the river and looking at USAid/World Food program thing and the obvious contrast between that kind of thing and what USC's all about."

Click here for Bruce's description of a shopping trip that ends with an discussion with a "Tuareg gentleman" (who has interesting things to say about the historical role of women among the Tuareg people).

Or read his description below: "We did a bit of shopping, doing the tourist thing. We were taken into the Tuareg area. People were trying to sell us stuff left, right and centre. One place was a women's co-op. It's worth pointing out through the course of a conversation with this Tuareg gentleman who was giving us the history of the town, I asked him at one point about women because he said that the university that was here in the middle ages, that was a famous university in the Islamic world, at one point it had as many as 25,000 students...was founded by a woman. That caught my attention because we have a particular image of women in the Islamic world. He told us in Tuareg society, women run things, in contrast to the rest of Islam, where its permissable for men to have four wives. Among Tuaregs that's extremely rare because Tuareg men respect their wife...that was the phrase he used....which is an interesting glimpse of a whole other society that I know virtually nothing about. It was fascinating. We had discussions about the role of the marabou, who are kind of Tuareg society-like, like a lot of other societies around here, structured along family lines where you can be a warrior family or a shepherding family or a marabou family. The marabou are the intellectuals, that was his word also, who are responsible for judging disputes...who are responsible for spiritual guidance (the study of the Koran) and who are also involved in the magical side. I asked him about magical practices and he got momentarily upset. He said magic was a really bad thing and noone wanted anything to do with magic. But I asked him about what you see people wearing around their necks and he said that's grigory and grigory is there for keeping evil spirits away or whatever and has nothing to dow with magic. It was a really interesting discussion with this guy whose name was, interestingly enough, Mohamed Ali."

Click here for Bruce's answer to an INTERACTIVE question on the kind of food they're getting to eat in Mali.

Or read his answer below: "Drink has been mostly fruit juice, or beer or water. None of it is particularly interesting, but it's welcome when it comes. Food....we've had interesting food. The food here is a particular cuisine. In this area it's a little different from down around Bamako. Around Bamako you can see the french influence very strongly....the cuisine that we were exposed to at least. It's food that is traditional to the area too...its couscous, rice and potatoes and starch based food...but also interesting sauces. Not particularly spicey but spicey sauce is available if you ask for it, but it doesn't seem to come that way. A lot of things are kind of couscous with a stew of vegetables and meat...usually lamb or sheep. And today we've been invited to join the Afro-Pop touring group in their dinner which has been provided by Ali Farka Toure. He donated five lamb to be eaten so we are going to partake of that just now."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 13, 1998

Today, our film team travelled from Lera to Timbuktu - arriving just as darkness fell.

Click here to hear Bruce tell you about today's leg of the journey.

Or read about it below: "It was a day that was at once both a path of mini adventures and monotonous at the same time. We got up early and we left the place that I told you about last night...the town Lere in which we were the guests of this french NGO. When we got up, those guys had made breakfast for us. We'd slept in the courtyard...it was a pretty amazing atmosphere. Houses here centre around a courtyard. In this case, it was a big installation. They had their offices and living quarters and there were two courtyards and we were in the living quarters one where we just put out mattresses they gave us and most of us had sleeping bags...and we just lay down on those under the full moon and in my case, it produced a really good night's sleep. We were up early...left there while the sun was still really low. We found that even as the day progressed and the sun got high and did its usual thing going acros the sky, the light never really got to be full day light. There was always this kind of weird twilight atmosphere and its the amount of dust in the air..... this blowing sand which you can't really see. It doesn't blow over you in waves the way Hollywood sandstorms do...but it's just this presence in the air that causes strange silvery light which is quite beautiful and spooky. We had lunch in a place caled Niafonke, which is where we were originally going to be spending the night, but didn't make it to. We discovered that Ali Farke Toure, who we hope to contact tomorrow, owns a hotel and restaurant here, or he operates one. So we went to the restaurant, but he wasn't there. So, we had lunch and it was quite decent...fish and chips basically in a sophisticated form. And we carried on and in the afternoon...the big adventure was those of us in the front vehicle, noticing that the other vehicle was nowhere to be seen and we waited and waited and they didn't show up. So, we turned back and went to look for them and way back, close to where we'd last seen them, we found they'd been stuck in the sand and had to get themselves out. It was a bit of a potential adventure there. It was almost like getting lost in the desert, but not quite. We were lost with our satellite phone. Eventually we found our way to Timbuktou and we're now standing in front of the hotel in Timbuktou."

And (don't miss this) check out Bruce's description of what the desert is REALLY like (as opposed to the way it looks in Hollywood movies).

Or read his description below: "The desert, as you drive across it at least in the direction we were going...you go through a series of kind of micro climates where the texture of the sand changes in colour...the vegetation changes and the spacing of the vegetation changes....less water ....you get further into desert-like conditions. The bits of vegetation get further apart until you hit a spot where water does come to the surface, or where lakes hold their water. For this part of the year, everything's green. It's quite interesting. As you go north and you go higher, the trees get smaller and the plants change because there's less oxygen, less water...more cold, shorter growing season etc. The conditions in the desert seem to change in a similar pattern."

Click here for producer Robert Lang's description of the road to Timbuktu (although "road" may not be the right word).

Or read his description below: "When you look at the map where we were...I think you have some details on the web site...from Lere to Timbuktou you see a solid line on the map. Driving on it you don't see a solid line...let me tell you...all you see is sand. You're really amazed at the drivers, especially our driver who is in the lead, how he's able to negotiate and figure out which path to take. And that's all it is really. Sometimes there's a bit of a semblance of someone having driven over this sand before...and he seems to instinctively know which way to go, which amazes me every time. And he always seems to end up at the right place!"

Click here for Bruce's answer to a question about what it's like to play guitar in a very very hot climate (which segues into a kind of "It was so hot that..." section).

Or read his answer below: "Well, first of all, I've been able to avoid playing guitar in the direct sunlight, so I haven't burnt myself yet!!! But, in the full heat of the sun, I tell you this is not like any (heat) I've experienced before. In the middle of the day standing out in the sun is like standing next to a hot stove element. Unbelievable!! You can actually feel youself being burnt while you stand there. So, I imagine having the guitar out in the sun is something I'd rather not experience."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 12, 1998

Today our film team is on the road to Timbuktu. They were thinking maybe they'd make it in one day.. but now they're pretty sure they'll get there tomorrow. Tonight they're staying in a little town called "Lera."

Click here to hear Bruce tell you what they saw today on the road to Timbuktu.

Or read about it below: "There was a lot of sitting around. I was in the back seat. It was in incredible day actually. It started very early. Well, we were going to start at six but we probably didn't leave until 6:30. It was still dark when we went down and the sun came up and we were on the road. It was pretty basic highway travel, for this part of the world anyways. There were interesting glimpses, as we'd pass through towns, of people getting up to start their day. As we progressed closer to our destination, which was a place called Niafonke, which would put us within striking distance of Timbuktou for tomorrow, we got into more desert-like conditions. It was probably a couple of hundred kilometres, which you wouldn't think, under normal conditions, would take us very long....it took us many, many hours...driving over flat terrain which was pretty much just trees stuck in sand. At one point, one of the highlights for me was going down this abandoned road and finding ourselves approaching a little town and on the edge of the town was a well. The wells around here are built so they are raised....they slope the ground up to the well. It's on a little rise and there's a wooden framework to support the bucket and pulleys. There was a group of nomadic herdsmen at this well with herds of goats and a couple of camels and a lot of cattle. There were three camels with which they were hauling the water. We had to wait until they cleared the way for us to get through. It was incredible scene. These guys were carrying swords and daggers and living the way they always have. It was really something....beyond my immediate powers of description. From there we basically wound our way on until it became apparent that we weren't going to make it to Niafonke before dark. You don't want to be out in the desert after dark because you can't see where you are going for one thing, so we ended up stopping at Lere. It's a town that's built out of materials that are basically found locally, so the buildings are low, one storey buildings, made out of mud brick, that look just like the ground around them....this incredible harmony of architecture and landscape. The town is nearly a ghost town because of the desertification in the area, until very recently. We're very grateful guests of two guys from a french NGO (non governmental organization) who are here digging wells and putting in water systems for people to combat the desert. As a result of their efforts, people have come back and there's now a thriving market and a town full of people, who were very curious to see us driving through."

Click here for Bruce's reponse to questions about why Mali interests him (in particular)

Or read his answer below: " That's actually quite simple. I've done a lot of work with USC in the past and I've known for a long time that they've had projects in Mali. Bob Lang, who is directing the film, approached me initially with the idea of coming here to make this kind of a film and I welcomed the invitation to participate. At that point it was just kind of a theoretical exercise and we weren't sure it would come to pass..but it seemed like a great idea from several points of view...from the value of the work...from the point of view of the possibility of making a very interesting film and of me being in it ....and from my own, very selfish point of view...getting a chance to go to Timbuktou. It's not every day you get invited to go to Timbuktou. I was made an offer I couldn't really refuse. That's why Mali in particular."

Click here for Bruce's answer to an INTERACTIVE question about the difference between Mali and Mozambique.

Or read his answer below: In comparing it (Mali) to Mozambique, I can't say they're worlds apart...but they are a great distance apart...culturally, historically, physically. The cultural traditions of Mali go back to the early middle ages, at which time the first of a series of empires occured that achieved a very sophisticated degree of culture. There's a real pride in that tradition among people and a sense that they have a connection with that tradition. People are aware of it and preserve it and revere their family relations to the past. And so that's a very distinct difference from Mozambique, which had been the victim...perhaps that's not the right word to use.....of 500 years of colonialism, followed by 25 years of warfare. Mali's had its struggles too, and it certainly had its colonial experience, but it was a much shorter colonial experience...only lasting 100 or so years. It was a colonial experience that was imposed upon a culture that was already very aware of itself and strong."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 11, 1998

Our film team is still Bamako, the capital of Mali.

Today Bruce had an exciting musical encounter with a Malian musician. We tried to transfer the music they made from Mali to Canada using our satellite phone. Unfortunately it didn't work. (Click here to hear a few seconds of the unfortunate result.)

But never mind... You can still click here to hear Bruce tell you all about it. (Link note: click here for info on the West African musical instrument called the Kora.)

You can also read what Bruce said below: "Well the big event of the day was the recording of the music that you really didn't quite get to hear. That happened at the home of Tumani Djabouti, whose name I think I mentioned to you last night and maybe the night before too...the one we've been anxious to hook up with! He is one of the finest exponents of an instrument called the Kora and we made a plan that we would get together today and it actually worked out. We spent the afternoon doing a couple of songs together in front of the camera in the courtyard of his house. His house is a big old Malian house with a little apartment-style courtyard in which many family members live. Tumani, as the oldest son of a relatively recently deceased father, is the head of the family. So, he, at the age of 30 or 35..something like that...is responsible for the welfare of about 30 people and is an amazing guy...partly maybe due to the responsibility. He's really gracious, a really enthusiastic person and a fantastic musician. So we basically played for awhile this afternoon. We played a song of mine called 'World of Wonders' and a traditional Malian tune...because Tumani doesn't sing. So I played (on the Kora) and he played (on my guitar) and it worked out really well. Everyone was happy!"

Also... some INTERACTIVE participants have been interested in Bruce's feelings about being in a Muslim country. Click here for his thoughts on this subject.

Or read his answer below: I feel welcome...I feel well looked after. It is a real good feeling, you know. I don't have any problem being among people of other faiths. I live among people who don't subscribe to the Christian view of the world at home all the time, so why should it be any different here. People are hospitable and the faith is evident. You can hear the call to prayer coming from the mosques at various hours of the day. You sometimes see people praying in the Muslim manner. That's part of the culture.

This particular country appears to have a lighter approach and a less fundamentalist approach than some other places. People are quite relaxed, for instance, about the presence of alcohol in society. There are bars and there a lot of people who don't drink, but apparently they are not very judgemental of those who do. So, it's not a situation where the faith weighs very heavily on society at large, or at least the external appearance is that. What it means to the people internally...I haven't talked to anyone about that, so I can't answer that.

It's important for people to remember that Islam is now more a united front than Christianity is. there are different strains of it. People take to it in different personal ways. There are traditions in Islam that represent varied approaches and varied interpretations of the Koran and so on.....just like there are with Christianity. So when you hear rhetoric that things are being done in the name of this faith or that faith...whichever one it is ...you have to be cautious about assuming that goes for everyone who embraces that faith."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 10, 1998

Our film team is still Bamako, the capital of Mali. Today was really really hot (they didn't know how hot... just hot).

By satellite phone the team tells us what they're up to and answers some INTERATIVE questions. The voices you will hear (by clicking below) belong to USC film liaison Friederike Knabe and singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn.

For those of you who want to know how Malians are combatting desertification click here for Friedrike's description of a USC project in action.

Or read her answer below: "We went to see our first project and it was a village just outside of Bamako...about thirty-five kilometres and it is near a planted forest. This was our first lesson desertification in the sense that we learned that desertification starts at a particular point and those points get degraded and then join together and it spreads. We could see that in action and what USC Canada is trying to do to reverse the trend of the cycle. It was quite impressive and it was very, very hot!"

For those who are interested in the children of Mali you can listen to Friederike speak about what kids eat and what games they're into.

Or read her answers below: "The staple food here is millet and rice and some sauce. If you have a little bit of money in the family then you may have some chicken also. Usually people eat twice a day and that's pretty good. Many people only have one meal a day because there is not enough food. Of course they all try to get the kids more food if they can. The kids have to help, as in many developing countries, looking after the animals and working in the fields."

"Kids play games like they do everywhere. They make a lot of toys themselves in the villages. At the moment it is the big world cup of soccer football, which is currently happening in France I understand, so here everybody is into soccer football. It's a game everyone is playing. Even the kids are playing it!"

AND... you have to hear this: Click here to hear Bruce talk about what he called a "harrowing" musical encounter.

Or read about it below: "It was a slightly more harrowing musical experience than the one last night, as I'll get to. It was very rewarding and in fact really great! We went to see a griotte, which is the female of a grio. I'm not quite sure how to describe it ethnologically, but the grios are families, that in traditional Malian society, had a heraldic function. Its their job to sing the stories of the history of the country and the families that they are associated with and in some cases act as mediators on all sorts of levels in social interactions. They have a very important role in society and their singing is characteristic of this area and it will be familiar to people who are used to listening to Afropop music."

"So this woman who we went to see is someone that we hope to engage to perform for the film and she's committed herself to doing so. But we had a great time meeting because her house is a typical traditional Malian house with a courtyard and a porch. We were invited to sit on her porch and she came and sat by us and fanned the flies away while we talked...and she offered us water. Various members of her family came and went as we talked and she sang for us. She doesn't speak much french, she speaks Bambara, which is one of the major languages in Mali. She understood some french, so one of her sisters for awhile and then her brother-in-law were translating for her. We carried on this kind of discussion about music in general and about her involvement in particular and then she turned to me and she said "you have to sing" and I said "Oh no...I can't do that without my guitar, it's not my style". I was kind of shocked and she insisted. So I ended up having to sing a few verses of 'Stolen Land', to the great interest of the folks around who kind of made a fantastic audience because they listened so intently to everything you sang and of course they're not getting the words. But they would respond with little vocal sounds themselves and at one point they were singing along to 'Stolen Land' or the chorus of it. It was pretty exciting." Click here to hear how Bruce plans to interact musically with Malian musicians to create music for the the documentary film "River of Sand."

Or read his answer below: "The true answer to that will not be phrased in the future tense, it will be after the fact when we know exactly what was going on. But our intention is, for the purpose of the film, to have me interacting with one or more of the musicians here. Not with ??? ...her music stands on its own which would only be interfered with by my presence. But a couple of other people...Tumani Djabouti, whom we met last night for instance...we are hoping to arrange with him to get some kind of a jam on film. There are other people we are thinking of in that way too. As far as recording a CD...no we're not really thinking of that at all. Anything is possible in the future I suppose, but that's not in the plans right now."

And finally... Click here for Friederike's take on how the government of Mali is tackling the desertification problem.

Or read her answer below: "Currently the government of Mali is a democracy and they are very interested and concerned about the problems. They are very interested in community solutions, so we have a very good collaboration with government officials and they've been very helpful. They are also very interested in preserving traditional species of trees. Some of them have disappeared from the countryside and they are trying to help set up gene banks and a Biodiversity institute to try and help recover some of the traditional knowledge ...and work with the local people to address those problems."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 9, 1998

As they were yesterday... our film team is Bamako, the capital of Mali preparing to travel to Timbuktu.

As we did yesterday... we have a satellite phone interview with Bruce Cockburn in RealAudio format.

Click here for Bruce's description of what the team did today or read about it below:

"We had a very interesting day. We spent the morning in a meeting...another planning meeting...with the people we are going to be travelling with, organizing where we will be going, when....and all of that sort of thing. Then we engaged in a fruitless search for a bank to change money. Our timing was bad. The offices that do this were closed the hour that we were there. After we hooked up with a quebecois guy, (Gaetan Marchand), who has lived here a long time and is acquainted with a lot of musician people around. He took us to meet Tumani Djabouti and we had an interesting meeting at Tumani's house, listening to him play. I actually got a bit of a Kora lesson from him, which was more embarrasing than anything else. It's all added up to a pretty colourful day."

Click here for Bruce's answer to the question, " Is this trip providing inspiration for a new song or songs?"... or read about it below:

"Well, that's a good question. I sincerely hope so, but you never know how that's going to work out. We actually had a really interesting encounter tonight with a guy named Tumani Djabouti, who plays an instrument called the Kora which is kind of an elongated harp-like thing that uses a gourd as a resonator. And he's a master at this instrument...one of the few recognized masters evident. He played a little bit for us and we are hoping we will be able to hook up with him and jam a little bit. When you start doing that, all kinds of ideas come out. So, that, plus the incredible variety and intensity of the surroundings....there's a pretty good chance something will come out."

Click here for Bruce's answer to the question "Which guitar did you bring?"... or read about it below:

"I didn't bring the Manzer guitar. I brought my ? because it travels a little better. It is made of metal so it is less prone to being susceptible to extremes in temperature and humidity and we are certainly in a situation where we have extreme degrees of temperature and an extreme lack of humidity. That was the guitar of choice."

Click here for Bruce's comments on the effect of Mali's politics on the life of the people of Mali. Or... read about it below:

"I am not as knowledgeable as I should be to properly answer that (question) but my impression is that it (politics) is doing a little of both as it does in most places. The country has a democratically elected government that has been in place for a few years. It had a history of some troubles in the past but lately things have been pretty cool and certainly the vibe walking around the streets is very calm. You don't get the sense of a repressive military presence or anything like that. In fact there is a conspicuous absence of police in the streets compared to some places I've been and people are going around in what seems to be a pretty good mood. There's a lot of smiling and friendliness everywhere you go so that, to me, adds up to a place where, at least for the urban people, things are rolling along fairly well."

Click here for Bruce's answer to questions on the relative affluence/poverty of Bamako. Or... read about it below: " Yes, by western standards, certainly it is a poor city (Bamako). Compared to other places I've been.....Mozambique for example, it is rolling dough. There's a lot of poverty in Bamako. There are extremes. There are people here, as there are elsewhere, who are doing just fine thank you and then other people who are doing less well and there are a noticeable number of poor. One of the things that has happened as a result, partly of desertification, is that a lot of people have been leaving the countryside and then coming to the city in search of some way of supporting themselves other than by farming, because in the presence of a drought and an increase in desertification, farming has become more difficult. So, the numbers of people looking for work have swollen in the city and that puts pressure on all the systems, as it will."

Daily Journal: FEBRUARY 8, 1998

Right now our film team is Bamako, the capital of Mali preparing to travel to Timbuktu.

They're staying in a tiny hotel called "Almunia." Daytime temperature: 40 degrees Celsius.

Today we have a satellite phone interview with Bruce Cockburn in RealAudio format.

Click here for Bruce's general impressions of Bamako.

Click here for Bruce talking about why he's involved in the River of Sand project.

Click here for Bruce's answer to the question "How much stuff did you bring with you to Mali?"

Click here for Bruce's comments on the merits of internet technology.

To find the team's whole itinerary click here.