Valley Of The Serpent 2005-08-14
Last night in Sandicoly I was blessed by a meeting with an elder of the village who often travelled to Mali to learn spiritual secrets for the production of Gri Gri talismans. There he sat crossed legged on the floor of a dimly lit room draped with glittering bezin fabrics and surrounded by friends and family. After a string of Islamic and Serer greetings we humbly took positions around the room's walls. Tamseer explained to the elder that I was about to embark on a voyage to Bamako by bike and that I was looking for the best road to take. The elder pondered over the request like some kind of complex conundrum. But after just a few moments out came a waterfall of advice. He knew which roads would be impassable due to rains and where all piste and tarmac could be anticipated, he even knew the dates at which each road had been built giving some more clues as to there state of repair. It was decided that I should take the "high" roads to the north which were the long way round but by far the safest. We spent much of that evening talking about all aspects of Malian life, similarities and differences to Senegalese life. The elder furnished us with a colourful image of a land filled with much richer cultural stock where much could be learned, but also many strong marabou witchdoctors who should be feared at all costs. When the elder heard I was researching games he mentioned Segou, Djenne, Mopti and Gao as being good places to visit and then our evening came to a natural close as he blessed me and wished for my safety on the road. As I left his abode and stepped out into the moonlit compound of the village I felt a strange empathy with my hosts. I felt as if I were a young naïve member of the village about to embark on an adventure to a strange land whom only our elder had the authority of wisdom and experience. Endowed with gifts of his knowledge I felt more secure and more certain of my safe passage. After all Allah was on my side now, with marabou and imam blessings and the prayers of all Tamseer's family there could be nothing that could break their spell to harm me.
This morning I was up early preparing to take off once more into the unknown, but all my attentions were being diverted to the family Fall and most of all their children who were very upset and some brought to tears in the knowledge that I may never return. I promised Tamseer to send him a copy of the finished film for Njom wrestling once I had edited it in Bamako, to keep in touch and perhaps return one day to marry his sister, but in all likelihood this would not be the case. Finally back on the road to a new destination, it had been 10 months since I had this feeling of adventure and I relished every moment of it. The bike was taking a battering with potholes the size of giant turtles littered across the road like a pattern for one of those elaborate printed Senegalese fabrics, but finally I reached Tambacounda where the road had been predicted to improve. "hey Tim, Tim!" I heard a cry from the side of the road and immediately I recognised Wally, my first friend in the world of Senegalese wrestling. What an amazing coincidence to meet him out here on the way to Mali. We caught up with old news and then we parted. To meet a friends like that hundreds of miles from where you know each other is a foreign land makes one feel like part of the family and part of the state, Senegal had truly become my new home.
Arriving in Kidira and was finally rid of my hassles with the Senegalese douane, but feared the expectation of new problems with their Malian counterparts. On the other side of the bridge is Diboli a fairly horrible dark little dump or transitory lives and hopelessness. It was getting late and I had to forge on if I were to find a place to stay in the next town. I took a big breath and stepped up to the offices of the douane. It was nothing like Tamseer had said, these guys were pleasant and far more cordial than the Senegalese douane. They warned me of the road ahead, "you should not ravel at night as there are often bandits here." I had no choice but to stay in Diboli, but there was nowhere to stay. The douane looked at me for a few moments and then the accountant, Dramane, said "you come with me, we will make a bed for you and you will stay with us" Well if that's not an indication of hospitality throughout Mali I would be greatly surprised, I was stunned, the douane giving me a bed, food, water and their safety with no demands.
The next day started with hard rains, and as the morning wore on it was apparent I would not be leaving for Bamako that day, or the next. 48 hours later the rains had subsided enough for the sun to dry enough of the slippery mud pathways for me to exit and be on my way again. Dramane and I exchanged numbers in the hope of meeting on his holidays back in Bamako. The rains had stopped just long enough for me to get on the road and past the worst of the piste, but no sooner was I back on the blacktop did it crash down again. I began to aquaplane and had to slow to 50km per hour for fear of sliding of the angular road which was higher in its middle than at its sides. The rains subsided again and I was tearing off the waterproofs to cool down as I sped north to Diema. The countryside here was breathtaking and the people in the fields and herding their cows along the side of the road were all smiles in their traditional dress, the spirit of adventure had truly returned. At Diema the barrage for the road was down, the police were not letting anyone through. "Hey Tim", Tim", not again I thought, who the hell knows me here I'm literally 600 miles from anywhere or anyone I know. I turned to see the pretty smile of Fatou a girl I had met in Dakar, who was on here way back home to Bamako for a holiday. We exchanged numbers and she advised me the police would probably let me go through as a bike would have more chance of passing the broken bridges up ahead. She was right and now I felt truly alone on a road to 2 broken river bridges, would I make it to the other side or would I be swept under the force of the current and be washed into the river Niger. The road was the worst piste with enormous corrugations and cavernous fissures creeping in from the sides. It was impossible to go any faster than 20km! per hour. A quick calculation saw me being on this road for 8 hours a numbing thought for my poor bum. Then I came to the first bridge where a small group of stranded trucks and cars were waiting for repairs to be made. The people here were desperate, no food, water or good rest for 2 days. The bridge itself had been torn from its sides so that only a thin sliver remained, just enough for a motorcycle to pass. So I did, and as I passed I witness jaws dropping in disbelief as they saw a huge impossible motorcycle of the like none have seen in real life before, laden with its sacks and a tubab at its command. I sauntered on and work stopped on the bridge as heads turned to see me pass. The 2 nd bridge was another matter. There was no bridge and I could only pass through the riverbed. I watched as others walked across the river bed to judge the likelihood of me being able to make it. I walked in myself and it felt firm and not too deep. The onlookers here were all egging me on, "oui c'est bon, pas de problem!". Before I took the plunge some women asked me how far it was to Diema as they had given up on their bus and would walk the rest of the way. I could have taken the stuff off my bike and taken them there, but I'm too wrapped up in my own path to get wrapped up in their problems. Whoosh, I was in the soup and then out of it again, the bike had triumphed its first river crossing. It was getting late and people warned me of bandits again. There was nothing for it but to find a good place at the side of the road. I came upon a village and there I found another group of lorries waiting for the bridges to be repaired. I was immediately taken in by the truck drivers who gave me a mat, foam mattress, pillow, food and water. We all discussed the problems of the weather and the road until a truck full of workers arrived from a day laying cable. Somehow an argument flared up between them and some of the locals, all of a sudden I was in the middle of a potential battle of 40 or so strong men who had nothing better to do than strip off their shirts and lay into each other. Somehow the peace was kept, but it was so easily going the other way, a small insight into how easily things can flare up here.
I wasted no time in getting back on the road as I knew I had at least another 6 gruelling hours on this road that runs through the Valley Of The Serpent. It's a wonder there is any road at all given that the serpent is continually winding its way across the earthen path. As I slithered and slalomed through the ruts, corrugations, craters and fissures I calculated the hours away, only 5 hours more, now 4, 3 to go, 2, 1, shouldn't be long now, just a little bit further, my bike and body were being put to the test. Finally there it was a petrol station perpendicular to the dirt track and tarmac, I had made it at last. After filling the bike and my stomach I could proceed at full helter-skelter to Bamako.
A Knock With A Minister 2005-09-16
I didn't know anyone in Bamako or Mali for that matter and so I thought myself lucky to find a good room with good people in Badalabougou. Soon I made friends and was correcting an English paper on prostitution for Mamadou Kante who also came to me for advice about his 3 European girlfriends who were due to visit him over the following months. I was very fortunate to make the acquaintance of Violet Diallo who was once the honourary console to the British Liason office and was still performing many of her those duties in her new role as consultant to NGOs. Violet was putting me intouch with NGOs to help me find film work, but also with local people such as her colleague Modibo, who told me a little tale of 2 kings playing a game of Awale. I had been here a month and had just finished editing my Senegalese film, I was ready for work and or moving on with my research for a Malian game. As luck would have it I was meeting with some new friends courtesy of Violet when I heard the sound of my bike's alarm, I was suitably alarmed to see the bike on it side. A 4x4 had toppled the bike over and the driver was smiling and waving as if to indicate "sorry, but it's a bike and its ok" sort of wave. I was having none of it. I beckoned him, the police and with the aid of my new friends Marianne and Adi we arrived at the police station with the owner of the car, an ex minister of youth and sport. Marianne performed like a true Malian woman, a sweet girly voice followed by her booming authoritative one, I could see both the minister and the sergeant dropping their heads in submission thinking "what did we do to deserve this", Lots of name dropping later, a wad of notes were thrust into my hand to pay for new parts. I had an address at the presidential palace to make their delivery and the telephone numbers of these influential types to aid me in future problems. The minister had been so shaken by Marianne and the threat of falling out with British relations he continued to call me asking if everything was OK.
The Nuptual Game Of Princess Gnangale 2005-10-09
Modibo introduced me to his uncle Kanjura, a well respected man in cultural circles who's home was more like a museum of Malian artefacts than anything else. Kanjura was a wonderful storyteller, who didn't know the little tale of 2 kings playing Awale, but he did know this one.
Once upon a time there was a princess who married with a king and brought with her a beautiful Awale board made with gold and ebony. Everyday the princess and the king would play Awale to while away the hours and chat about important issues of the day. Princess Gnangale was an expert player of Awale and she always beat her husband. The king was very much angered by this and after a time he could stand the shame of being beaten by his wife no longer. The king went to see the princess's father and challenged him to a game of Awale. The king returned to the princess with the head of her father. "here, I have beaten your father at Awale and now I have his head" and threw the head into her lap. Princess Gnagale was horrified beyond compare, but she showed no reaction and said nothing. The princess sent for her griot. She took her gold bin bin from her waist and gave it to the griot. "Take this to the king in the next kingdom and tell him to fit it to one of his courtesans, when it fits he shall know what he is to expect of me in marriage. Then tell him if he wants to take me in marriage he must come to defeat my husband" So the griot went off to find the king in the next kingdom. The king took the bin bin and found it fitted his most beautiful courtesan and at that moment he knew he must have a princess of the same calibre. The king set of with his army to defeat the unruly husband of princess Gnagale. His army was strong and princess Gnangale's husband was ill prepared, but just when the king was about to kill the princesses husband, she called "Stop!, don't kill him, I have a better idea." They tied her husband to a tree and then princess Gnangale and the new king made love, right there infront of her husband. The shame was so great that the husband became a man without reason for living as if all his power had been cut from him. He was let go and walked like the living dead until he disappeared.
Kanjura had many other stories to tell, but felt most strongly that my chosen Malian game should not be Awale but something more to do with battle over land and the daily struggle between tribes over ownership. I decided though that Awale was a far more positive game to follow and had some very interesting attributes.
A second visit at the Musee national du Mali proved very successful. Instead of talking to the director and went in a little lower down and discovered a wonderful man, Oumar Diallo who helped me no end with access to library and game artefacts such as a beautiful Awale board. He too could not tell me the story of the 2 kings, Sunjata Keta and Soumaro Kante playing Awale. "If you really want to find out about this story you must go to the village of Kela where you will find the old griot historians who pass on their history by word of mouth, they will no the story if there is one to be told." What a wonderful adventure, I had heard about these griot historians of the Sahel when I was in Mauritania and loved the idea that I would now meet one to learn a lost piece of history.
After some more time getting over a parasite infection, I dumped some of my bags at the house of my new friend Mary Ballo. I was off to Kela to learn the history of 2 kings playing Awale at a pivotal moment in the foundation of the Great Malian Empire. It is a relatively short journey, but not the easiest of roads, but nothing like the trauma between Diema and Dijeni which had torn my rear mudguard in two. When I arrived in Kela the children came running immediately and escorted me to the house of a headmaster from the school. He was asleep so passed the time drawing two other teachers playing Dam in their school break. The children loved watching me add each detail to the drawing and pressed around me so tightly I could no longer draw without given them a strong hard shove. Finally I met with Adama Keita a relative of the great king Sunjata Keita. Adam spoke English and said he would help me to communicate with the griot. I was then furnished with my very own hut to sleep in and eat together with his family. The compound was home to all the teachers of the village and so there was always a lot of learning taking place as their well behaved children diligently read through their books. In the following days a meeting was arranged with the griot and I was excited to learn the story.
Teaching English In Kela 2005-10-26
Adama had to leave on a trip to see family and asked if I could take one of his English classes. I jumped at the opportunity as I had never done it before and thought it a great way to make relationships with the children. The entire school was watching me this morning as they raised the Malian flag while singing their national anthem, not least of all the older girls who were constantly fluttering lashes and smiling inanely in my direction. Some of these girls are already married with children and have not yet finished their basic education, difficult to comprehend sometimes. My class was brilliant. 65 or so ranging from 12 years to 19 years old, a pretty wide spread. The class was relatively well behaved, but my technique kept them all engaged for 2 hours of constant fun. I used the opportunity to learn about games and got them all talking about games in English whilst I learnt all the terms in their tongue Bambara. The class was delighted and from that moment on I was known as teacher to all children throughout the village. I later observed other teachers methods and was rather disappointed in their attitude, but then it was always difficult to find good teachers anywhere really. It is difficult here and something of an irony given that there were only 3 notebooks between 65 in my class in a village that is famous for being a capital of history. Some Malian's would say ah yes but we do not need books to remember and retell our history, that is why we have griot. Try telling that to a prospective employer in Europe and you won't get very far I thought.
A Meeting With Griot 2005-10-27
I met with the 3 most senior griot chiefs of Kela and was accompanied by Adama and Pierre the 2 headmasters of the school. We went through an ancient custom and procedure of demands for information and payment in advance for griot services. Together we then stepped through the history of the 2 kings who played Awale, and with some extra information that I gained on my second visit to Kela I finally have interpreted the following story which became the script for my film:
In the time of our ancestors in the Mandingo kingdom of West Africa, lived the fearful king and sorcerer, Soumaoro Kante. No one in the kingdom was free to say or do what they wanted because Soumaoro used his might and magic to oppress the people who all lived in fear of his wrath.
Soumaoro made life so difficult, that the people of the land decided they must have a new king. In secret the people appointed the 3 wisest men in the land; Toumou Manian the Chief Griot, Seremani Farrassi and Manjou, to find Sunjata Keita, the lion prince, who they wanted to be their new king. The 3 wise men went in search of Sunjata, who was living in exile in the desert city of Nema, many days journey to the north. The 3 wise men found Sunjata in Nema and said:
"Great Sunjata we have been sent by all the people of Mandingo to look for you. The people plead for your help to save them from Soumaoro's merciless grip, you must come at once"
Sunjata had the support of the Mandingo people and also of his friend, the king of Nema who helped by giving Sunjata a fearless army. Yet Sunjata knew this alone was not enough to defeat Soumaoro. So Sunjata went to see a sorcerer who would help him against the magic of Soumaoro. The sorcerer told Sunjata:
"When you travel south to Mandingo you will find Soumaoro at the river Niger and as all great chiefs know, you must greet your enemy as a friend to know him better and find all his strengths and weaknesses."
With this Sunjata set off with his army to find Soumaoro. But Soumaoro was also using his magic and knew that he too should go to meet Sunjata at the river as a friend. Sunjata arrived at the river and just as his sorcerer had said, there he found Soumaoro.
Sunjata greeted Soumaoro as a friend:
"Good day friend, I am the lion prince come from Nema, may god be with you"
"Good day to you friend, I am the King of all Mandingo, I wish your good health"
They smiled and together they went to the capital of Kangaba where they sat under the great tree, and as all great chiefs do when important decisions are to be made, they continued their discussions while playing the meditative game of Awale.
First to play was Soumaoro. As he took the pieces and placed them one by one he spoke aloud and said:
"I am the champion of all Mandingo and no one can beat me."
Sunjata hid his anger and said nothing, but instead took this moment to make precise observations of Soumaoro and his army. When it was Sunjata's turn to play he knew what he should say to distract and enrage Soumaoro. Sunjata placed his pieces one by one and said aloud:
"No it is I the champion of all Mandingo, no one can beat me, in battle, anywhere or anyhow."
Soumaoro was furious that Sunjata would dare to challenge his authority. At this moment they both jumped up.
"This means war"
"So be it, we shall meet in battle and I will be ready for you."
said Sunjata confidently.
As all chiefs know a decision made over the game of Awale is final and must be carried out no matter what the consequences.
That night Soumaoro consulted with his magic and to his horror realised his mistake; Sunjata had taken note of all Soumaoro's strengths and weaknesses during their game of Awale, while Soumaoro had only postured and shown his anger. Sunjata had the advantage and Soumaoro could not go back on a decision made while playing Awale.
On the day of the battle Sunjata's army made a quick and devastating victory, chasing Soumaoro all the way to the Nianan caves of Koulikoro.
After Soumaoro entered the caves he was never seen again, he had lost his power and now Sunjata was king of all Mandingo. Sunjata created a fair and just constitution becoming the first ruler of the Great Malian Empire.
The men cheered, the women danced and the people were happy again.
And that is the story of how 2 kings decided the future of an empire over a game of Awale.
Back To Bamako 2005-10-27
With my story in the back I jumped for joy, I had one of the best stories yet about games and their part in forming the world we live in. What's more I had decided to return to Kela to make a film following the story to be acted out by the children of Kela. I quickly shot around the village taking photographs of children. The children were all desperate to have their photo taken and I was soon out of film. I promised them all I would return with the photographs once I had got them developed in Bamako. So overjoyed with my find and experience of Kela I forgot to take care on the road. I was going just a bit too fast to notice a devilish combination of potholes up ahead. I hit them with a crack an never have I felt the 250 kilos + baggage and I leap so high of the ground, I felt like Jeremy McGrath on a motocross bike. God knows how I managed to land straight and keep going, but I did. But the incident had made its mark on the bike, the sub frame a the back had snapped in 2 places. I took it easy the rest of the way and soon got the bike welded up and photos in development.
I returned to Kela with an ambition to trade photographs with the children for a chance to make my film with them. It wasn't hard at all really, for all those who I didn't manage to take a photograph were hundreds more who were more than willing to take part in making a film.
Ramadan had come to an end and a party had been arranged at the maison de jeune. After 2 failed blind dates in Bamako I was pleasantly surprised to find I was the heart throb of twins. Sara and Bintu Diabate were always nearby and when it came to the party I was suddenly thrust onto the large circular concrete dance floor. In the open air and in front of hundreds of Kelian youth I danced with Bintu to 'Chimy Chima', a top ten Malian hit about an alcoholic drink. I must have danced like a drunkard it sight of this irresistible beauty, but when the dancing was over there was little more we could share than unrequited glances. Muslim society pushes love into the background, into the shadows and makes any open display of fondness an impossibility. Coupled with an inability to communicate in the same language and me not being able to get my head around the idea of paying for passion, as is the African way, I had to pass. This didn't stop the entire village talking about us though and my naïve questioning about the legalities of marrying twins. It was quite a struggle to explain that it was quite out of the question for me to marry either since I couldn't communicate with them, since for the African way of life a marriage and children with cooking and cleaning is all one should expect from a wife. Not for me I'm afraid.
A Game Of Meditation And Decision Making 2005-11-03
It was this night that I learnt more of the culture in Awale. Lafia Diabate came to play for us with his guitar and sweet voice and later explained the importance of how Awale was used by all great chiefs to fall into a impeditive state so they could concentrate on important issues and make poignant observations. He told us how once a decision during Awale was made that it was final and that neither player could go back on their word for it was a fate worse than death that would await them. This information was exactly what I needed to complete my script and understanding of how important Awale was in forming decisions that would mould the futures of entire kingdoms. The realisation of how a game could play such an important role is surely the best find of my journey so far.
I had prepared a script and Adama helped me to translate the children's lines into Bambara. I then spent my days wandering around observing the children and selecting them for the parts of Sunjata, Soumauro, Sorcerer, marabou, griot and armies. We played Awale and learnt the lines. The children had become so wrapped up with their lines that they would often run up to me and practice their lines with me day and night.
I finalised script and storyboard, now it was only a matter of finding a time in the day when I could get all the children together and Adama at the same time to start filming. "The children have no concept of time Tim, you will just have to wait for them." Adama advised me, and wait we did.
Yesterday's filming wasn't a complete disaster, but it was a bit of a false start and certainly an education in organising people with no concept of time and working with children a complete unknown for me in terms of filmmaking. Nevertheless I had been suitably impressed with everyone's attitude to making the film. Parents and older brothers were watching what I was trying to do and helped by finding suitable costumes for the children, in all I felt very positive about making something from nothing, the bare bones of any creative thrust.
Yesterday was the final chance to make the film and in just 4 hours of hard work I had all the images in the can, but I'm loathed to look at what I have for fear I might want to do it all over again. The children really loved the experience and took great joy from promenading around the village cheering and singing as we went from location to location. Perhaps the most worrying part of the day was when we acted out the battle scene. The boys got over excited and put all their heart into the scene, so much so that there were a few younger ones who got hit just a little bit too hard in the skirmish. At the end of the day when all the children but one had departed, one of the marabou actors, Adama, said "merci pour le film" shook hands and walked off, knowing I we be gone the next day. I was relieved and heartened by his appreciation of the event and that it was to some degree a partnership between us all.
This night Lafia came to visit again, this time for work. I needed a griot singer to accompany the film. I had for a long time wondered where was the delicacy and the intimacy of something more refined and beautiful in African culture. So much of what I see is blunt, bold and brash without sensitivity. But here tonight in my hut as we huddled together for warmth Lafia delivered the history of his people through the delicacy and power of his voice opening a door to another time of Kela and the Malian Empire. I was transported away from their poverty driven lives to a time of great kings and magnificent things. I slept that night with the warmest sense of completeness, this experience in Kela, learning the griot's story, making the film with children, hearing Lafia's music and a small romance with twins is surely the variety and wonder in life we should all be experiencing in a truly civilised culture.
I left Kela just after witnessing the rare sight of a ceremony raising a new chief of the village. My bike just made it back to Bamako before it died on me. The starter motor and packed in which would mean waiting for parts, so I had to extend my visa and vehicle permit.
School Run 2005-11-23
My days in Bamako without an operation bike have led me to the school run. Everyday from the bosom of Mary's family home I leave with Salif, her son, Basolo, the driver and Boi the live in cook. We drop off Salif, then Boi and I go with Basolo to various locations to organise my future visas and other preparations. The company is most welcome and Mary and I can talk for hours about Malian culture, or rather she can educate me about it since she has been here for 19 years. I finally met a girl called Mirai, one of the dancers at a bar I have been to a few times. She needed a place to stay so I invited her back to my place where she promptly fell asleep from drinking too much beer. So much for that romance, I give on Mali for love and look forward to being able to communicate more fluently in Ghana.
Finally after 2 weeks of waiting my parts arrived and free of taxation since I had saved that contact at the presidential palace.I speedily got the bike back on the road after changing the starter motor, overhauling the brakes and flushing the cooling system. People here are amazed that I can be a mechanic and a filmmaker and a traveller. They don't know the half of it, since I also build my own website and develop many other things to get me through the day. They called me "Wassa" in Kela, meaning master, but I explained I'm nothing of the sort, simply a jack of all trades who is unlikely to be master of anything. So now I've left the comforts of home and arrived at Djenne to the hospitality of the mission culturel, a contact courtesy of my good friend Oumar Diallo at the Musee National du Mali. Djenne is like an island indeed I had to take a ferry across a river to reach it. The town is well conserved and the mud built mosque is a truly impressive sight. I tried to draw the mosque but it defies perspective and seemed to refuse me this pleasure just as non-Muslims are denied access to visit the temple.
I wasn't expecting to find any more info on Awale here in Djenne but I thought it would be worth giving it a try, however my meeting with the so-called griot here was a waste of time. With my visa running out and my need to get on and find some work got me back on the road to Bandiagra in Dogon country. Arriving at night I was not welcomed with such open arms at the mission culturel as Oumar had hoped. I didn't mind, I didn't want to get wrapped up in any more complexity and research, so for the first time in months I took a cheap room and rested for the ride to Burkina Faso.
Dogon country looks really interesting and its villages are quite beautiful from the outside, but I had decided to give it all a miss, I had made my time work in Kela and spent too much time dillydallying in Mali, time to get on to Burkina Faso. I followed an old colonial road that Mary had told me about. It's a beautiful route of hairpin turns through rocky outcrops and the first time in hilly countryside for over a year. There are some even more interesting place to look at around here, but I've got to get my head down and plough on through to Justin and Kerren's house in Ouagadougou. Get my head down I did, the gravel on the piste road has me skidding around if my head was in the wrong place catching the wind at the wrong angle. Once I was back n the tarmac and got up to speeds reminiscent of auto routes in Europe and found my head ducked down to one side to combat the side wind again. When I finally arrived at Justin's I had developed a pretty horrible crook in my neck. No time wasted here, Justin and Kerren are leaving Burkina Faso, selling their car, packing and passing on the flat to new owners. I'm not intending to be here long either, got to move on to Ghana for work. But wait a minute who's this rather pretty Italian girl inviting me to the desert for Xmas. Damn it I'm going to have to pass on this invitation too! Who knows maybe I'll be back in Burkina for work on a film anyway.