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Siby: moonwalking in rural Mali

The bus with Special Olympics day-trippers leaves early with us and Kasim on board. We are heading for the village of Siby and it is a matter of who-knows-what-to-expect. We often turn up in a place and then find out what is planned for us. The mystery, as ever, is intriguing.

The football field in Siby, MaliThe Ball in Siby — too hot for football at 45 degrees in the shade

In Siby’s mayoral compound, drummers and hunters are gathered. At first the drumming is haphazard, but more and more people gather as the drums call folk together. The mayor, village chief and other dignataries arrive. The ceremony takes shape.

The team from Special Olympics Mali with some Siby localsThe team from Special Olympics Mali with some Siby locals

Phil is introduced to some athletes who have represented Special Olympics Mali. BandongoBu Sidede was a gold medallist in the javelin and won silver in the 800 metres at the Special Olympics Games in Shanghai in 2007. Aged 12, his mother had got him involved with SO Mali and his trainer Sedou looked after his development and accompanied him to the SO games.

Phil and two Special Olympics athletesPhil with BandongoBu Sidede (l) and Trezeguet (r)

Chairs and benches form a circle. Phil starts to dance. The drummers, all male, are joined by a female singer with a trance-inducing voice.

Siby hunters with The BallHunters with The Ball

Mayoral dignitaries, looking proper, sit on chairs over to one side. The chief of the village and the elders gather on benches under the shade of the finest tree. We’re taking turns filming with the Sony camera from Africa 10. It’s hot, very hot and we’re sweltering getting shots of the scene.

Phil does his whirling dervish impressionPhil does his whirling dervish impression with a scarf

Phil dances some more and launches several times into spin, a flick of the head first, then dervish trance-style second — to a great reception. He’s invited to continue and a scarf is wrapped and tied around his waist. Gutter spinning and moonwalk. He feels particular affinity to the hunters and is drawn to their engaging smiles. It is they who lead the dances, a wisp of hair is handed to each dancer in turn and ceremoniously returned to a particular elder.

The hunters carry guns and dance with them conga style. Phil is invited to join in. Up he pops, is handed a gun and then off he goes.

Siby hunter dances with a gunA Siby hunter dancing with gun

Then it’s time for the ceremonial speeches. An hour passes. Andrew, still suffering from the cumulative effect of our gruelling itinerary over the last few days, falls asleep time and again. No offense is intended — and none is taken — as Andrew valiantly yet unsuccessfully attempts to fight off the waves of exhaustion.

The Mayor of Siby speaksThe Mayor of Siby gives a very, very long speech
Andrew cannot resist his exhautionAndrew fights sleep as the Mayor speaks
The Ball is presented to the villagePhil presents The Ball to a rep of Siby Village (m) and Alou Diarra dit Lopez from Special Olympics Mali (r)
All fingers point at The BallAll fingers point to The Ball

By now slightly delirious, well watered but wanting something to eat, we head off in a bus to an old meeting place in the crook on an impressive canyon nearby. We are offered rest under a tree while the others go up the hill. Phil asks how far. “One kilometer,” come back the reply. Special Olympics have carefully crafted their plans for us with the intention of looking after our health. But this looks too good to miss.

The high point of the hikeThe Ball and the Special Olympics Mali ensemble at the high point of the hike
Dramane Traore from Special Olympics MaliDramane Traore from Special Olympics Mali, the organiser of the Siby visit, kisses The Ball

We can see why the empire of Mali began near here. Like the Grand Canyon, the water-shaped towering pillars and an extraordinary arch frame the plain below. Mostly scrub and brush in what seems to be an exceptionally dry earth. Baked by a dry heat throughout the day, the plain is full of lush green trees, many laden with golden tear drops of mangoes. As Phil scampers across the rocks — to the horror of the Special Olympics staff — he feels he is truly in paradise.

Written by on Saturday, March 20th, 2010

2 comments on this post

  1. You are finding new definitions of beauty to add to The Beautiful Game. Thank you for sharing your amazing adventure!

  2. Ashton Applewhite March 22, 2010 at 12:29 am

    fantastic journey, wonderful chronicle. thank you.

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The Ball 2018 left England on 25th March 2018 and travelled to the World Cup in Russia.

The Ball 2014 kicked off from England on 9th Jan 2014 and headed to the World Cup in Brazil.

The Ball 2010 left England on 24th Jan 2010 headed to the Opening Ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Ball 2006 travelled from London to the Opening Ceremony in Munich, Germany.

The Ball 2002 was carried 7000 miles across Europe and Asia to the World Cup finals in Korea & Japan.