My community here is very dramatic and all too gossipy. Everyone is concerned with everybody else’s affairs because that’s what there is to entertain in a limited (small) society where jobs are lacking. The other day my girl friend ended up in a fight with another girl because she’d heard from her friend’s friend that the girl had talked about her behind her back. Whether or not the girl was guilty of the offense, the subject she was supposedly blathering about was not particularly wounding. She confronted the girl and, after a very brief, what I can barely call a ‘discussion’ between the two, the whole neighborhood had arrived to catch the insults and fists flying in both directions. It started with my friend leaning across an elder (who had been acting as the intermediary) and throwing a punch to the jaw. Maybe one could draw a parallel to a similar experience witnessed in middle school, but these girls are in their mid-twenties fighting over hearsay.
I admit fully to speaking in generalities, but I find Malians to be easily incensed, a bit hot blooded. But, what I love is that they mellow out as quickly as they are roused. A simple ‘sabali sa’ or ‘cool it’ works with amazing efficacy. Example: I was in Bamako about to take a cab. I noticed two other tubabs (foreigners) and assumed they were headed to the same neighborhood. I asked them to share a cab with me. They said sure, they had one ready at 2,500cfa…was that a good price? I said, listen, I got this cab guy going for 1,500cfa. So they quickly hopped in my taxi. At this point, their original cab driver ran over yelling in my face and was up in arms with our driver as well. It was a heated argument that certainly didn’t look like it was going to end soon. I raised a hand and said, ‘sabali sa.’ He looked at me, his shoulders dropped, and he listened attentively as I apologized that he had lost some business, but that we were obligated by reason to take the better fare. He smiled in understanding, blessed me, and walked away.
The story of my friend also fits this idea. It soon became clear that the story had been altogether fabricated – the girl was completely innocent of talking behind her back. My friend regretted her actions (which had included throwing the initial punch, later smearing the name of the girl’s family, and threatening by text message both the girl’s sister and cousin). She apologized to the girl and they were back on good terms all within 24 hours of the blow to the jaw.