The best part of visiting small villages in Mali is both the coming and the going.
On arrival, you have to first visit the chief, who usually delivers a formal series of welcoming comments in Bambara, punctuated by the visitors responding at the end of each statement. Someone then usually explains why you are there, and the chief gives you permission to work in the village.
The formality is frequently repeated when you arrive at a homestead, where the head of the household will welcome visitors with a string of similar statements. These greetings are quite participatory. All the visitors usually respond, thanking the host, assuring him–as it is always a man—that yes, we are in good health, we are grateful for the hospitality, and other responses befitting such good wishes.
On leaving the process becomes more of a benediction. You need to ask your host permission to depart, and the desires for a good trip and other positives usually go on for quite some time, with everyone thanking the host.
The most energetic parting benediction I received was actually from an elderly woman, Madam Sidibé Traoré, the matriarch of one family in the village of Banakoro. I had been in her compound interviewing a young woman, our last stop on the visit to this village, and Madam Traoré was watching us with a curious look on her face while she sat in the shade and picked the seeds out of a bowl of cotton on her lap. When it came time to depart, I made a point of going to say good bye to her and she launched into a forceful benediction that soon had half the neighborhood responding and encouraging her.
I happened to have my sound recorder on so you can hear her benediction here:[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/blog.oxfamamerica.org/firstperson/2009/03/benediction-clip3.mp3]
I asked for a translation from a Bambara-speaking colleague and got this explanation: “She wishes you a good trip, good health, a long life, prosperity, and that you will return soon. And thank you for visiting.”
I left thinking that with that kind of a send-off I could not go too far wrong.