“The Bed on the Roof” by Bonnie Black (Gabon)

(The following story is excerpted from  the Mali memoir of Bonnie Black, How To Make An

African Quilt: The Story of the Patchwork Project of Segon, Mali)


By Bonnie Black (Gabon 1996-98)

The iron ladder (painted white) against the front terrace of my home in Mali

One afternoon, on the way homefrom teaching a [patchwork quilting] class at Centre Benkady, I stopped at a metalworker’s atelier to ask whether he might make an iron ladder for me that could be attached securely to the front terrace of my house, allowing me to have access to the flat roof. The man, Mr. Dao, agreed, and within a few weeks the sturdy, narrow ladder was installed.

Then, as if heaven-sent one Monday morning I saw  on my way to the centreville marché, but not yet far from my home, a Malian family from an outlying village conveying on their donkey cart a new, hand-made traditional bed frame made of smooth sticks tied with cowhide to be sold at the market. … [I told the driver I would buy it if he would bring it directly to my house.]

Once on the roof, this narrow bed provided me with a private sanctuary, a refuge, a solution to the confines of my oven-like bedroom, a new love affair with the night sky. With strips of rubber inner tubing, I attached tall bamboo poles at each corner, forming a four-poster bed, to support my mosquito netting. Thus protected from the ever-present threat of malaria, I felt ready to face the elements, braced to take on the encroaching saison chaude.

And not only that. This rooftop getaway renewed a sense of child-like wonder in me. I felt like a kid, climbing, unafraid, up the narrow ladder to her own secret “hideout.” Once on the roof, it was as if I’d reached a mountaintop, where nobody could see me but I could see everything, especially the sky, the countless diamond-like stars and the fat, bright-as-day moon. …

When la saison chaude arrived, I was ready for it. Sleeping on the roof, I enjoyed a slight, treetop-level breeze. Though the days were typically punishingly hot, the nights became blessedly tolerable. I no longer perspired all night. I slept well, as if on a cloud, beneath a glorious canopy of stars.

To learn more about Bonnie’s Mali book, please visit the home page of her website: www.bonnieleeblack.com The WOW Factor: Words of Wisdom from Wise Older Woman


Bonnie Black (Gabon 1996-98)

Bonnie Lee Black (Gabon 1996-98) is the author of many published essays, as well as five published books: Sweet Tarts for My Sweethearts: Stories and Recipes from a Culinary Career; a historical novel, Jamie’s Muse, based on the lives of her Scottish great-grandparents who emigrated to South Africa in the late 19th century; and three memoirs about her own life-changing experiences in various Africa countries (www.bonnieleeblack.com). An honors graduate of Columbia University in New York (B.A.) and Antioch University in Los Angeles (MFA), Bonnie taught English and Creative Writing at the University of New Mexico’s Taos branch for ten years. Now retired and living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, she writes an award-winning weekly blog called The WOW Factor about the ex-pat life there (www.bonnieleeblack.com/blog/).

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