Over the course of several days trekking across Dogon country together, Rasta and I settle into a pattern of companionable silence punctuated by random outbursts of non-information. For a guide, Rasta is strangely averse to anything of interest to travelers. He is particularly disdainful of precision, detail, and logic, preferring instead to take a more mystical, cosmic approach to his guide work.
We come upon a hunter sitting in the shade of an overhanging rock and engage in the elaborate, formulaic exchange of greetings. I hand him some kola nuts and he thanks me graciously, tugging at a long white Santa beard attached to his head with an elastic band.
"Why is he dressed like Père Noël?" I ask Rasta. It seems like a reasonable question considering that Mali is 90% Muslim, we're in the middle of nowhere, it's not Christmas, and the heat is almost oppressive.
"He always wears that when he hunts."
"C'est un mystère."
A monkey peeks out of a hole in a mud brick wall. It belongs to a man in a tasseled Dogon hat who sees my delight and motions me over. I coax the monkey with piece of papaya while Rasta chats amiably with the man.
"He is a hunter," explains Rasta, motioning to a collection of animal bones embedded in the baked mud facade of the man's house.
"Where did he find the monkey? Are there monkeys in the area? Do they eat monkeys?"
And that is all.
Other things that are a mystery:
- Public health
What Rasta lacks as a tour guide he makes up for in generosity of spirit and quality hash. Before lunch and dinner every day, Rasta opens a small bag of weed, lights up a joint, and passes the dutchie on the lefthand side. I explain to him that marijuana is not the drug of choice for control freaks and that the last time I smoked I thought the house was burning down.
"Ohhhhhhhhhh Tata!" He laughs. "It will make you closer to Jah."
Not only does smoking bring Rasta closer to Jah, but it gives him a monster case of the munchies. I look nervously at our dwindling sack of food as Rasta tucks into his third papaya.
"No problem, older sister," Rasta says, reading my mind. "Jah will provide."
"I'll take your word for it."
"Jah LOVE! You have to BELIEVE!"
Rasta is rather endearing when he's baked.
We chat by the light of the kerosene lamp, barely one language between us, and smile beatifically at the millions and millions of stars that light up the sky.
"I can't make sense of them," I say. "Where is the Big Dipper? Where is the Little Dipper?"
Rasta blows out the light. It is the last night of our trek and we are both feeling slightly melancholy.
"It's so strange. I can't recognize any of the constellations! Even the moon looks different here. I don't understand it all."
Lying on my back and resisting sleep, I study the sky and wonder who has scrambled its contents.
"Only the Dogon people understand the stars," he says, shivering under a thin blanket.
Ah, yes. That again.
It's a mystery.
Only this time, I am content in my ignorance. I wonder if there is such a thing as knowing too much.