Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Holidays in Mali!

Here I am ten days from my return home! I think about home constantly, but still have plenty to do in Bamako so time is not being wasted. I have been keeping up with interviews and have spoken to a lot of my neighbors about my project that has helped a lot.

Mostly, winding down to holiday season in the US means plenty of Christmas songs and eating your full of all the buttery warm foods possible, but in Mali nothing like that prevails. We have attempted to play Christmas carols when need be, but for the most part Holidays are not the same here.

Last week was Thanksgiving, and celebrate we did. Assigned with the monstrous task of making mashed potatoes for thirty people we ran about the neighborhood in a hurried manner trying to find a boutiki (Bambaran for boutique) that could sell enough potatoes. We bought 15 kilos (about 33 pounds) of potatoes, seven heads of garlic, enough butter to supplement us for our lost butter intake the whole semester, and sodas for our demanding task. Peeling potatoes under the comfort of Lord of the Rings was the first part of our day. Taking almost two hours we finished and set to boiling the potatoes until the perfect consistency. While nothing went wrong, the difficulties from lack of kitchen technology were abundant. We used the mortal and ground the garlic Malian style to be roasted for the potatoes. The pots we used to boiling we not efficient but large enough for all the potatoes and when it came to mashing, we got quite the arm work out.

Getting to dinner was fun in itself. It never ceases to amaze me with the multitude of ways around the city and we arrived at school late but with more geographic knowledge. When we arrived it was blatantly obvious that we had brought enough mashed taters for everyone and their guest. Thank goodness though, because all other foods were lacking. There were no complaints of not having enough, and that was thankful. This Thanksgiving is one to realize what home is to me. Being home for the holidays is something that I treasure each year, and not until now had I realized how important Thanksgiving is to me. I enjoy the company of family and also the warmth around the table. Chicken Soup for the Soul can borrow that, but sometimes family is what you need! So in assault to the lacking thanksgiving last Thursday, we are most definitely making up for it and celebrating again this Thursday with just my three housemates and I. They are the closest I have to real family in Mali!

This past weekend was also Tabaski, the day where the Malian ram population decreases by about 100%. Rams are killed and eaten all weekend. I had never seen an animal being slaughtered and Saturday was a day to remember. Driving to our Malian families’ houses, Sarah and I saw countless sacrifices across the city. The day included eating ram meat and cooking ram meat. My family killed three rams, so we had enough for many stomachs worth. That is including the stomach and other organs, which while being a specialty have become my least favorite taste. After scarfing down enough meat my family surprised me with salad! They told me they had bought it for me! How lucky. After eating my full I crawled into my bed and took a long nap. Tabaski was very entertaining to say the least.

This week is the last week of research and writing my paper. I look forward to it ending however that means my time in Mali also is ending. But I am taking plenty new stories and ideas home with me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

ISP starts...?

This week was a nerd week. I spend most of the week downloading files off the internet and reading them relentlessly. I feel like a total nerd. My escape for the week was movies that I have on my computer. I problem I have been having is, no one calls back here. You’d think you may get a call back after calling multiple people, but no one seems to appreciate it.

Yesterday the closest I got to talking to someone was when I was talking to some men about water and about to drop to bomb of my project and one man started touching my hair. He said “I know you,” not true and I quickly said I had to leave. Progress is slow going but hopefully will take a turn for the better quickly.

Other than that, I went to the zoo! It was horribly cruel but totally worth it. We could feed all the animals and I touched them too. After reading about the terrible diseases you can contract from these animals I felt a little revolted, but I suppose it was all worth it. I got to touch a chimpanzee!

Today we are going to the French Culture Center. Because my project is rough going I hope to at least entertain myself while I am here. The French Culture Center offers everything from speeches, lectures, performances, and dance lessons. I feel that doing something with myself may make me organize my time better. It is just difficult because there is no real outlet for fun, getting anywhere is work, and watching a French performance is work as well, but I suppose I just have to learn all the time!

Until next time!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Grand Excursion

Pictures from my travels across Mali!!

The sign at the base of the stairs at the Djenne Mud Mosque

Salt being sold in Mopti

Pygmy houses in the Dogon Country

The long road to the Dogon Country

Part of SIT on the dugutigi (village chief)'s house

Incredibly cute children in Djenne

Salt being sold in Mopti

The King's mosque in Djenne

Monday, October 26, 2009

Confusion persists in Mali!

Mali undoubtedly is the most confusing place I have ever been. What I have found is that either logic is not known notion or similarly there is another force more important than logic that I do not know of. Examples are to follow.

Example 1. We were waiting after a school day trip for a taxi. The people left for a taxi were not all going to the same place. There needed to be two stops for each taxi and our school van had already left so we could not switch the number or location of the people (this sounds like a word problem). But out teacher could not figure this out. Logically we would have just put stops closest to each other in each taxi and paid that much more for a taxi, and that is what we were explaining to our teacher. But instead the location of the stop didn’t matter and our teacher made a fuss about paying that much more. After about ten minutes of struggling with the taxi driver we piled in the awkwardly situated taxis and headed off. I was in the taxi with our teacher. He then explained that we just didn’t understand and should have just let him deal with it. While not seeming like a big deal this situation happens all the time all over Bamako. If situations were explained I feel us Americans would ever feel overwhelmed. But instead it is only understood when it is too late. While it is just money and is not the most important thing in the world, I feel people would be more aware of what they are paying for when every FCFA counts.

Next my sister wanted to go out to dinner on Saturday night. She had been talking about it all week. Saturday rolled around and she fell asleep. She woke up just to go to the bathroom and I asked why she didn’t go to dinner, and she said, “my dad probably wouldn’t let me.” So I asked further, “why hadn’t you asked him, what don’t you try to sneak out, are there any other reasons, etc…” and she said she just didn’t want to. So I really went into prying mode mentioning how she had talked about it all week, how it’s a big deal to go to a restaurant and how she should really try and go. She then said no she just really didn’t want to ask. I felt I had pried enough because she decided to go back to bed. Again I am completely perplexed and want to know why, but in all honesty, that was probs her reason. She probably got tired and wanted to go to bed and that was easier than going to the dinner she had been talking about all week.

Example 3. When question by one American student to a Malian, why don’t you eat more peanut butter the Malian respond, “I don’t want to get Malaria.” Not making any sense, the American student questioned more, “How are they related, How does this happen, Why do other people eat peanut butter?” He just said when you eat peanut butter you get malaria. While the healthcare is not top notch in Mali, this is not right. Most people do not affiliate anything with symptoms and actual disease. The most often medications are given to merely treat the symptoms not to solve what the problem is. This has obviously proved to be semi-effective, but not a good approach. But peanut butter is not a chance event. One might think that he knew someone who got Malaria after eating too much peanut butter the day before. This is not true, when this was asked, he respond with that it is just fact and peanut butter is just like that. Logical? Correct?

While I remain more often than not befuddled in Bamako I have realized that I have learned the most useful skill, laughing at myself. If at home you thought I laughed enough, I haven’t found a better cure for lack of communication, confusion, or down right awkwardness to date. I feel I do get frustrated when I cannot get my point across, I cannot tell myself enough to just let it go. Obviously no one really cares, and if they do they can blame it on my skin, this also seems to be a common remedy.

I have finally learned the knowledge of survival in Mali, and it has proved to be very useful. If someone knows you are more than willing to make a fool of yourself and not be embarrassed they are more likely to be your friend. I have chanced upon many great opportunities like this and cannot to find some more.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Last weeks of class

Bamako got the better of me this past week. I was told the most heart wrenching news to date. Last week a man was caught in the act of stealing by the people of the quartier. Because stealing is such a huge cultural taboo this man was beaten where he was found. He was then dragged to a bigger intersection and more people took turns beating him. There was a huge circle and people would take turns hitting him with whatever they could find, from belts to large branches. This man was beaten until he was not recognizable and apparently his skull had cracked. At this point the people left him there and then called the police. This has been my one eye opening moment in Mali. I have walked through and seen the hospitals and know how then run. I have visited and spoken to many Malians about the police force in Mali. This was the first time I knew in my whole life that no matter what people would do for this man who was beaten until he was almost dead, he was going to die. If he was taken to a hospital, they don’t have the technology to fix a broken skull, or that amount of blood loss. If the police were called earlier, then would have done nothing to the neighborhood and nothing to the man, thus not allieveating the problem at all. But when they were called they still could do absolutely nothing because the man was about to die. I have never felt so low and so helpless, although I know it is culturally acceptable I wish to never hear of witness this again.

This week also marked the last week of classes. That also meant three weeks until we start our research for our final project. For me I am completely overwhelmed but three incredible things did happen this week that lessened my stress a little.

First, I had a meeting with ARD. ARD, Assistants in Rural Development, is an organization based in Vermont that helps developing countries. They analyze and critique what is going on in the country and aid smaller NGOs with their work so that they have the funds to start and finish their projects. My meeting was my first to date and very helpful. The man explained their new project, WAWI, Western Africa Water Iniative, and got me in contact with some of the smaller players in the project. Just knowing that it was so simple to get in contact with an organization as well as make a good connection was a good feeling for my first meeting. Also I got invited to play Flag Football. I can say it was time well spent, and next Sunday I will be on the field.

Second, I had a meeting with UNICEF. This was truly unbelievable. I got a meeting with the Water, Hygiene, and Sanitation Specialist with my research project being on hygiene. I was thrilled and the man literally mapped out my project. Section by section he wrote what I needed, what he knew and what would be the best approach, I feel like I am already done. Also when I asked if there were any internship or volunteer possibilities he said he email me back as soon as possible with all he knew about UNICEF opportunities, so if that works out that would be ideal.

Thirdly, I found where I am living. My friends and I went on a house hunt and found a house, incredible safe and incredible close to many NGOs in the area. I am excited to be in a place first of all safe, and second of all not where I have to tip toe around trying to find anything. I will be able to cook for myself and may stray from the nightly cukes and tomatoes. I am looking forward to have a comfortable outlet in a time where I will be incredibly stressed.

Until next time and I will try and keep you well informed.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Village Stay

The Village Stay took place this past week in Sanankoroba, Mali. It was a trip to remember. I felt like I had literally taken a step back in time. While this seems like a juvenile way to look at it, there is no other way for me to get across what the village was like.

We met our families under a tree outside of a tire shop. The house was very near the mosque and therefore also close to the well. All of which was going to be helpful and useful during our stay.

The academic week was full of small art projects like making fabrics and t-shirts, which was a nice break from the norm. Also I learned to appreciate firstly how much effort goes into fabric making in Mali. And secondly the way Americans plan. This week there was a lot of sitting around and I felt frustrated at first, but then I brought my Ipod day two and had plenty to do while I waited.

Staying with a family in the village was difficult. Saving the details, to perform your routine daily activities there was much more stress. A quick description of the day in Sanankoroba; waking up, because there is no running water or electricity I still had to use my headlamp in our mud hut. There was one window but it was prison style and about one square foot. Then after thoroughly wet wiping one’s hands (contacts were hard this week) we left to greet the family. In Mali you must greet each member of the family only after you wash your face. So, even though we Americans have travel ready everything we would take the “kettle” and head to the bathroom. A kettle is a device used for all bathroom-cleaning needs. A Malian uses the kettle to washing their hands, wash their face, and clean themselves after going to the bathroom. Then upon our return we would greet each member of the family wherever they were in our compound and then eat breakfast. Breakfast remained challenging again because Malian food is difficult. We got bread and coffee (surprisingly good) but no one at seven o’clock in the morning can finish a full loaf of bread. Now the most difficult part of the day is the bathroom. In the same room, without plumbing, is where one goes to the bathroom and showers.

The act of showering was far more difficult than going to the bathroom. The body is an impeccable work of art when you want it to be, and village stay 2009 was no different, going to the bathroom became a choice. But showering was a different story. Again, without too much specifics, the bathroom dirt floor is covered in urine and therefore a soft floor. There is a specific area for number two, which I thank whomever for, but it did not make much difference in smell. And to my utter surprise not everyone used the hole for their solid treasures, and I would rather not explain how I found out. Showering took on a new methodology. Me and my hutmate showered together in bathing suits. This allowed the task to be laughed at because it was one of the hardest things to do each day. But end of the week tally, I lost both my bar of soap and razor in the mess of the bathroom floor.

Needless to say, tasks we take for granted in the US, are incredibly stressful for me here. Now for a Malian who knows nothing else their whole life, I am not sure if it is as equally stressful but there is no enjoyment in getting clean. I had a hard time being able to come to terms with this, but to me it helped that our host family was beyond nice and could not stop laughing to duration of our stay. This overall happiness made everything alright, thanks Bob Marley.

But in detail our family was a hoot. The first night we helped pound millet for To, a Malian delicacy. And then after dinner we had a talent show with every small child that came. There were easily thirty kids who swarmed us each night and I am still unsure if they were part of the family or not. This talent show carried on each night of the village stay.

While being in Sanankoroba I realized many things. I realized the need for aid for development, but I also learned more about the love of the culture. These two huge elements almost are restricting one another. Malian culture is rich in Bamako and even more so in the village. But because a lot of aspects of the culture are disengaged from development it becomes hard to force or promote change when customs are so fully intergraded into a society. I found that small changes to build an economy, a sustainable future, or to ensure your family can visit the doctor are a life change for these people. Even while just writing that it seems obvious that one would rather have that backboard than nothing, but to a Malian the choice is difficult. Coming to terms with that is hard and then trying to explain it to Malian is even more challenging.

So for me I was very happy to come back to Bamako to use a faucet, but I did miss the atmosphere of the village almost instantly upon my return. Paying attention to the important things in life; your family, your aspirations, and your wants and needs are the fundamental base line in Sanakoroba. Bamako, taking hold of western thought, sometimes leaves your true feelings on the side. Bamako is a city with the same thinking; to get a job and make money. In Sanankoroba people do not need to have money because they live off of their own gardens and animals. This simplistic lifestyle is nice to see actually working and even better to see how happy people really are.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A weekend in Bamako

Hello Again!

Today we braved the African transportation system again. My friend Sarah and I took a taxi to the National Museum and met up with our friends to see two Chinese photographers interpretation of Mali. It was interesting and there were a couple of breathtaking photos but I felt I had seen this all and I have only been in Mali for a month! But as for the places I have yet to go, Timbuktu being the most talked about, it was truly amazing. There were magnificent pictures of the desert and of classrooms. And most memorably there was a picture of two brothers on a bench, the younger carefree, laughing, and laying on the bench, and the older was stern and sitting erect next to his brother. It was a perfectly captured moment and that I applaud. But I felt that the art itself was nothing to be wowed over. While the lightning was good it was all things I have see millions of times over in Bamako and that was discouraging from my point of view because it seems like the effort was lost.

To contrast, had I seen the photo exhibit in the States I would have loved it. The pictures were full of color and really showed a lot of Mali, but I am in Mali. I felt that if this were an incoming raising event the best bet would be to take it back to China or another country. Malians rarely visit the National Museum. I felt out of place but this time I was surrounded by white people. So if there were to be an income-generating event I believe it should be for the people, not for the visitors.

In the room next to the exhibit was a room full of organic cotton made by people from Mali, Chad, Benin, and Burkina Faso. It was pottery barn in Mali. I felt again out of place and that the museum is directed towards the audience of visitors. While being important to actually have an audience, I feel in the States often having a wider audience is more important than having a few people pay a lot. While this is my disagreement with the National Museum, I understand that they do need to make money. Going back to the beginning I felt that this room was beautiful but westernized. Had I come back with items from this place I would feel like a westerner in Mali, not a person trying to understand the culture. The difference to me is the attempt of the person. I am not expecting myself to give up my habits and or customs from life, but I am not expecting me to force my life onto other people. To come here is a privilege not an opportunity to force western ways on people that have already experienced their whole lives. So in my eyes I will continue to attained the events that seem interesting to me but hold my values, both old and new, close at hand because I need to stay awake in a place where I am so out of place.

After the Museum we braved the Grande Marché again. This time I bartered, I bought things, and I looked totally in control. I walk with authority now; I can easily get my point across in French and with time in Bambara. While being my first time not with twenty-one white kids flanking around and sticking together, this time was world’s better. I could not belief how sure of myself I was, and also how easily I said the phrases. I am learning quickly. But now I am going with a list into the marché because I need to have a sure idea of what I need and not get sucked into situations where I just buy things because I am overwhelmed.

Rushing into October I feel confident in myself. I know I still have a list of troubles, worries, and uncertainties, but I am knowledgeable of all of the basic things that I need to know. I continue to find new people within and without our group to spend time with and also I find more and more activities to do around the city. While I miss quiet Vermont life, Bamako is not all that bad. There is smog, soot, and an unbelievable amount of smells; but there are also surprise sunset views, children with the biggest smiles, and people always willing to help.

I am getting to know Bamako, which gives to a lot of comfort for when I am left on my own for a month. Because I know I can brave the streets of Mali, day or night, I know I will be fine. The most trouble I will ever put myself into will be self-inflicted. I know that I will be able to weasel my way in or out of anything and I am glad that I know I can do that.