Not that long ago, I was on a 5 day trek through the Dogon villages in Mali and every day I would pass by groups of villagers who, from the looks of it, had just congregated together to sell and trade food and goods. In every market space, I would shop for fruits and kola nuts, the former for me to stave off hunger on my walks and the latter as offerings to village elders. Being a complete stranger to the culture in Mali, I never knew what I would find for sale, which was part of the fun of wandering through the markets.
After about the second village market, it dawned on me that I rarely saw men – neither selling nor buying. Mali is a conservative Islamic nation and at least in the villages, there is strong gender distinction when it comes to who does what work. In the case of markets, the village women were the vendors of all food items except for meat. They are also responsible for cooking for their families so food buying is also their responsibility. Off to the side of the main market, I would often see smaller groups of men selling meat.
The women were naturally curious about me and I about them. With my guide as translator, we queried each other. I wanted to know about the things they were selling and they always had a ton of questions for me. Along with the serious conversations, there was also a lot of mutual giggling. I had a lot of fun interacting with the women and visits to the villages market quickly became my favorite trekking moments.