LGBTQ Fishing

A quick note about photos: I stopped posting them here because the process sucks and Facebook is so much easier. Can someone tell me if the links in the post about Photos are working for those of you who are not friends with me on Facebook? Thx. If they work then maybe I’ll link to them at the end of each blog post or something… Now on to the goods.

OK I’m back after a long hiatus. Sorry bout that. Blog blight or something got me. Actually, I traveled for almost 2 weeks and when I got back I had to hit the ground running with my final research project here in Bamako. I’m in the 3rd week of the 4-week project, so I have a little breathing room before things get even more nuts. It’s supposed to be 3 weeks of research and one week of writing. We’ll see about that.

I’m doing my final project (called the ISP – Independent Study Project) on the Kora, ‘Korafolaw’ (kora players), gender roles, and development. Or something like that; I don’t really know. Due May 7th, 15-30 pages. So far I’ve been fortunate enough to have an ISP advisor who is simply a bad-ass. His name is Dialymady Cissoko, and he’s worked with my school for quite a few years.

He is a griot in the truest, modern sense of the word. Google the word “Griot” cause I could write a novel explaining what the concept means, but I can’t spare the brain cells right now. I will however say that ‘griot’ is a French word for a person who’s a part of a caste of people whose role it is to pass information on from generation to generation orally, through speech, song, and music. But what they do is really much more; MC events, conflict negotiation, counseling, advising, and the list goes on. Some people have said that when a griot dies, it’s like a library burning down. The Bambara word for ‘griot’ is ‘Jeli’, of which ‘dialy’ is a form of. Therefore, ‘Dialymady’ is a definitive name, as if the last name ‘Cissoko’ wasn’t enough (which it is).

Now that you are thouroughly confused, I will say that Dialymady is one of the most well-respected griots in Bamako. He’s renowned for his kora-making skills, and teaches music all over the place. “J’ai pas de temps libre” he says. “I have no free time”. Which is not entirely true, because I’ve spent days with him and a good part of those days has consisted of lounging around at his house on the mountain overlooking Bamako, playing with his amazingly crazy little boy Pabouly, gazing at his 1-week-old son Fallay, sipping tea, and eating like kings.

I place Dialymady around 45 years old; he dresses nice, drives everywhere (a huge luxury in Bamako), and speaks only a couple words of English. He has a dusting of grey hair, a friendly, comic demeanor about him, and is generous in everything he does.

He has set up interviews for me with several kora players and students, and introduced me to the culture at INA, the National Institute of the Arts. I go there just about every day now to ‘causé’ with the kids and jam.

OK now on to the juicy stuff…

Dialymady is also the ISP advisor for a fellow student of mine, Aichata, who is doing her project on homosexuality in Bamako. This is a big, big deal. Homosexuality is ILLEGAL, socially taboo to an extreme degree, and ‘justice’ can be dealt by angry mobs. People who identify as LGBTQ here are literally risking their lives. So, how to do a research project on it? “It can be done” was the response from the Academic Director upon seeing the ISP proposal. Intriguing. As an aside, Elton John is HUGE
here, but everyone refuses to believe he’s gay.

So, since we have the same advisor, Aichata and I have become kind of a team. It’s awesome for me, because I’m very, very interested in her research as well, so I’m obliged to be a part of it. But when Dialymady asked me to help with it, at first I wasn’t sure why. Then one night it became clear.

Dialymady worked on homosexuality a few years back, and had some ideas about how to pursue it. We needed to find informants (who were LGBTQ identified) who were willing to talk to us, as that is basically the only (or best, in my opinion) way to do research here. So, one night the three of us went out about 11 pm to an area where Dialymady knew LGBTQ folks hung around. It was a place across the Niger river from centre ville, back in a neighborhood off the old bridge and near Amandine (the twilight-zone westaurant). It was an “espace culturel”; a bar, basically. And lemme say, there are not many bars here, as almost nobody, relatively, drinks alcohol. Mali is 95% muslim.

This espace culturel was small, dark, loud with dance music (the annoying kind), and virtually dead. A few groups of men hung around with a slew of beer bottles on the tables in front of them. The deal was this: go in, feel the place out, patronize (buy sodas), and then basically let Dialymady work some magic. The goal was to find an LGBTQ-identified person who was willing to answer some questions anonymously.

It was awesome. We were undercover; incognito… after top secret information- and we stuck out like flashing neon signs. We found a place to sit and observe, and I ordered a Fanta Cocktail, my favorite soda. We sat and waited for a while, and I realized for the first time why my presence was needed. It would be totally awkward in so many ways for Aichata to do this alone with Dialymady.

Dialymady came and went a few times, and after about 45 minutes, he came back saying he found someone to talk to. We went out back to the even darker patio, and there sitting at a table was a yound boy about 15, though in the interview he would give us, he said he was 20. He agreed to talk to us after Dialymady explained him the situation and offered to pay him for his time. We went back to our car and began the interview in the slightly quieter environment (because Aichata wanted to record it). I noticed he kept his door cracked the whole time in case an escape was needed. Rightly so.

Aichata posed her questions and Dialymady translated them into Bambara. The informant gave quick, short answers, and Dialymady relayed them in French. This was when I realized the other reason for my presense: to help clarify things for Dialymady.

Things progressed without a hitch, and after a while it was time to try another espace culturel. It was now about 12:30 or 1 am. Two interviews would be a good catch for the evening. We reasoned that since we were up so damn late, we might as well try to make the most of it so we didn’t have to do it so often (staying up late makes getting good sleep quite difficult because it’s hard to sleep past 6 or 7 in Mali because of the heat).

A few hours later we had conducted another interview, and on the way home Dialymady told us he had posed as a homosexual in order to find informants, which totally blew my mind.

I call this entry ‘LGBTQ fishing’ because it felt like that’s what we were doing, and the joke developed between Aichata and I while we were suffering through the 4th hour of loud dance music and our 3rd round sodas of the night. It came about because Aichata’s homestay family’s ethnicity is Bozo (not Bambara), and Bozos are renowned fishermen. It comes up EVERY time Aichata meets someone new. Viola.

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