Sunday, December 11, 2005


Jacques was portly, from Paris, and in his early fifties. He had lived in Mali for years. We sat outside in his mud-walled compound in Gao. His nineteen-year-old Malian wife brought tea and barely spoke to us. The air was hot and dry.

Jacques was questioning whether 9/11 was really a U.S. government conspiracy.

"We don't know what the truth is," he was saying.

His wife was dark, gorgeous, and tiny. She had the neck of a swan and flashing almond eyes. Jacques had met her when she waited on him in a restaurant in Bamako.

"I get comments on my wife all the time from my French friends," said Jacques, as his wife began silently setting down a bowl of pasta salad on the table, not looking at him.

The way he said it, you could tell the comments were critical of their relationship.

"My answer to them is, I have this wife because I don't want a wife who looks like yours!" he guffawed, craning his neck toward his striking wife. He took a swig of his gin and tonic and set his glass down loudly on the table.

Another lunch guest was a French woman who was in Gao visiting her young local lover, whom she adored. I liked her. Her lover worked at a nearby hotel where we would stay, and we could find guides to see the elephants there.

"They're so much more...sensitive..." she was saying, directing her comments toward the American women at the table who were involved with African men.

She was in her forties but very attractive, with long, wavy hair, full lips, and heavy-lidded eyes. She wore a thick gold wedding ring. She had children back in Europe, but came to Mali every year.

Jacques suddenly seemed taken aback, almost jealous, and his bulgy eyes narrowed.

"Do you know the stereotype in Paris of the blond woman with the black man? She doesn't have much there," he told us, pointing to his own head.