So every day that I am walking through the streets of Sinsina, it takes me maybe half an hour to get from one place to another only a block away - because in Mali, you have to greet every single person you walk past and have an extended conversation inquiring about the status of every individual member of their family. Since most men have multiple wives, and all women have many, many, many children, this takes a very long time. How are you? And your wife? And your other wife? And Bagary? And Bintu? And Adama? And Moussa? And Salif? And Umu? etc. etc. etc. If you walk past someone and don't have this conversation - even if you just had it with them 15 minutes ago - then people will think that you are extremely rude. And thus I have the same conversation maybe 100 times every day. Its endearing that the Bambara people are so sociable, and at times I wish Americans would care so much about their neighbors, but when you really have to go to the bathroom in a very explosive manner and there are a dozen women sitting in the street cooking millet between you and your designated bodily waste receptacle area who all want to know about each and every one of your 13 siblings, this institution of Malian culture is often very... inconvenient.
And also, while I am standing there in the musty road greeting people, every 20 paces or so I am mobbed by a crowd of children. And they all want to shake my hand. It wouldn't be so terrifying if kids' hands weren't as a rule absolutely filthy all the time. You see, the kids in my neighborhood really like playing with dirt, mud, dried cow pies and dead animals. This one kid was taking a whiz on the side of a wall, sees me, and comes over squealing with delight that he was going to have a chance to shake my hand. Ew. And if I didn't, then he would tell everyone in town how rude I was - so I had to think of a really crafty solution.
Hm... I eat food with my fingers. Little kids' pee on his fingers, transmitted to my fingers - Bad. What part of my hand never goes in my mouth... Um... My knuckles! Hey, I wonder how Barack Obama's speech in Denver went last night? Mmm... Barack Obama... THAT'S IT!!!!
So, I taught the little kids in Sinsina about Barack and Michelle Obama's "fist bump", otherwise known by FoxNews as a "terrorist fist jab". "This is how the new President of America shakes hands! He only touches other people's urine-free knuckles!"
So now all the kids know that if they want to shake hands with me, they have to punch my fist. The kids really seem to love it, because the Tubab is letting us punch him! This is ten times more fun than handshakes! It worked really well, until a mob of kids are punching my fist giddily and one 3-year-old girl 2 feet shorter than all of her peers joins in in. And she runs over and punches me right in the balls.
I did my best to explain in Bambara that Barack Obama doesn't punch people below the belt. Only Republicans do that.
Judy Clarke: How to Save a Life - Vanity Fair has an excellent new profile of Judy Clarke. My favorite line, and it is not an exaggeration: Her record defending the indefensible speaks for ...