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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hospital Visit

Today we went to one of the two biggest hospitals in Bamako. Among other things I was upset about how much space was in the whole hospital. The health system in Mali is much different than America. First a person, if they can afford it, goes to a clinic. This is the basic level of care; there are elementary blood tests, a doctor that can prescribe medicine, and a room for resting if need be. (^^ Proof that I am alive!! I am with my friends Sarah and Luke in Sikasso^^)Next if the treatment does not work at the clinic a person goes to the CRef. A CRef is a more advanced healthcare center. There are more tests one can take and more medications. While a Clinic has one doctor, a CRef has more, depending on need. Lastly there is the hospital. This is the most expensive care and therefore weeds out when a person makes the ultimate decision to get care or not get any care. Which mildly explains the lack of room at the hospital. Point G was incredibly accommodating in the how much they want to help, but basic mathematics explain otherwise. In the size of a hospital double room, they had six people. Also is rudimentary care they were also lacking. From the open drainage system to the mold growing on the walls it was rotten to think that this was the best care that Mali could give. I also began to think about how people most likely get sick in the hospital as well, which while seeming ironic seems inevitable here. However unsanitary the hospital seemed, they did have a lot of good ideas and good programs. For all women suffering from fiscalation, there was an entire compound for surgery, treatment, and recovery. The women could stay for as long as the needed. Also because these women were shunned from their village, they are allowed to raise their child there. Also there are specific buildings for each type of health education, which is also rewarding because that means there are that many doctors in the hospital. However the nightly nurse is a medical student and therefore has not been trained in all the necessary precautions and that is unnerving if something ever happened during the night. All and all I was surprised at the state of the hospital. When we were walking out a man jumped into the drainage system to pull out his shoe. It seemed like a joke, but then he went into a building. I am unsure of who he was exactly but when everything is drained into it, I couldn’t imagine anyone in the state allowed into a hospital in America. But I am learning. On a better note I am trying to do something daring each day. Yesterday my friends and I caught a sitiroma during rush hour and got home. A Sitiroma is the public transportation system in Bamako. They are green vans that hold an uncountable number of people, that travel to specific neighborhoods and you must find the right one to get home. Finding the sitiroma was half the battle, then finding one that was not full was equally as difficult. At first we just kept walking in every direction anyone would point us. It was frustrating and finally we just said we were going to take a taxi. It was upsetting but we needed to get home. On out way to a street not full of sitiromas we saw “Kalaban Coura ACI” illuminated in the windshield of a sitiroma with Bob Marley painted everywhere. It was like a gift that the Malian Spirits decided to give us at the perfect moment. Well we ran up to it and piled in before the correct stop. But we were in for a treat. At the stop people fought to get onto the van. It was like a mini riot just for our eyes. People literally squeezed on through the wooden benches, between fighting arms, and finally the driver’s assistant capped the passengers and we headed on. Had we known there was a specific stop I don’t know if I would have done anything different. But I was totally glad that we got home. I was in shock that is worked out so well for us and then we got popsicles. It was a day to remember. Today I am going to ask my family politically driven questions. I can always play the “I didn’t know” card and move on. I need to present a news article to my class and figured my family can help me out a bit. Finally I have found a sort of niche each day. I like to go to the cyber a few times a week and get to know the cartier also. I have found a great ice cream place, and now I am looking for tailors, and eatable street food. I just want to be able to know my way around and even more look like I know my way around. I am tired of people giving me their advice, help, and leading me places when I can do it on my own. While the country is known for its friendliness, I can do it alone. See you soon!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Traveling out of Bamako: Sikasso!

This weekend was the ultimate get away! Modibo, our teacher, planned an immense weekend away from Bamako for all of us and it was unreal.

First we drove six hours to Sikasso. No stops needed for the eager awaiting Americans. We got to Sikasso, ate an incredible lunch, and then relaxed until told. We then went to a pool. I have not had my whole body wet since August 28th, 2009, so being submerged in water was ridiculous and very much needed. We swam forever and found no need to leave the pool until we were driven back for dinner.

At dinner we literally had a four course meal. It was the best meal I have had for a month. We had vegetables, fruit, real meat without bones, and yogurt! It was a balanced meal! I could not believe my eyes. While I would like to go in depth about my meals I will refrain and just tell you we ate well.

Saturday, we toured around Sikasso. First a hike up a mountain the divides Muslims, Christians, and Pagan religions, yet all practice the religions within the mountain. It was neat and there were people praying all around us. That was neat and there was an incredible view of the surroundings at the top.

Then we traveled to the great wall of Sikasso. It was small and one could easily understand why it has been broken down twice. But nonetheless it had helped them out in the past. So that was interesting.

Next we went to the burial tomb of the king, but could not get in, and then the spot where the king used to look over the city. Both we also enjoyable but would have been cooler if we were not a group of twenty-one white people who everyone seemed eager to meet, sell things to, or meet up with later. But I guess we looked a little out of place.

After all this we got time to relax and then visited a waterfall. We were able to take some time to ourselves and also with each other but there were never any time constraints. It was a fabulous weekend.

This morning we piled in the car and came back. It was just as fun. I think that Sikasso is much cleaner than Bamako and easier to manage. But Bamako does have everything.

On another note I took the time to think about my ISP, or Independent Study Project. I am going to study the effects of hand washing through Health Education, Hospitals, and NGOs in Bamako, Mali. While seeming odd you would not understand how many people just rinse their hands with water and then prepare food, eat, or mend their wounds. It seems easy to just say wash your hands with soap, but there are obviously many things obstructed people from being able to properly wash their hands. From accessibility, expenses, education, or ignorance. I would like to delve into these obstacles and attempt to gain a better understand of why, and then of why not.

So first I am going to visit all levels of schools. Next I will visit clinics and/or hospitals so see their programs to teach as well as practices. After this I will see the teachings and aspirations of local NGOs to help daily hygiene as well as water treatment. I would like to see the thought process, teaching, and follow up of one program to grasp the ideas behind each.

While November seems miles away, I only have one month to do all of this! So I have to start making appointments now and connections. I sound like an old man trying to start a business but I need to know what I am doing now so I can do it later. It is hard to put it all in my mind but I think I can do it.

I also may or may not be able to load photos soon, so you may be able to see me in the near future! Life in Mali is rapidly getting more and more tech filled.

But other than that, a weekend away from Bamako did me good. It gave me time to think, sleep, and get to know people better. There are only 21 of us but it allows for some people to be pushed out or in, so I was given a chance to talk to some of the people I haven’t. I was glad that I did, now I know some people better and got a break from some of the others.

Until next time! I think this week we are going to a fabric store, I will fill you in on all the juicy details!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The End of Ramadan

This weekend marked the end of Ramadan; the fasting, boy and girlfriendless, and all around odd hour month. Ramadan ends when a tiny sliver of moon is finally seen after the new moon. People can eat finally during the day, but it also means that there are a million things to do. I attempting to help my family out made dinner for them on Saturday so they could continue prepartion while I made them their meal.

I made a similar dinner to there normal meals but with a Mexican twist. There normal meals consist of some starch on a platter piled high with another type of sauce on top of that. It is usually eaten with their hands. My neighborhood American friends, Sarah and Emily, and I made salsa, guacamole, groundbeef and beans main dish, and put it over rice for them to eat. Everyone loved it. My dad even allowed me to watch TV with him that night. I couldn’t understand anything because it was the Bambara channel, but I felt appreciated. He even clapped when I put on my Malian dress, which is the most emotion I have ever seen him express.

My Malian clothing was remarkable, and nothing that I ever expected. I was underprepared for what it would look like because I was merely measured tby a man speaking Bambara and did not pick out fabric or a pattern. Knowing that I was going to receive Malian clothing I thought I would never fit in but Malian people love white people wearing traditional clothing. Mine was a white dress that has gold embellishments and makes me look relatively like a Greek goddess, minus my blond hair and very white skin I could have easily dance into 400BC Rome and have fit right in.

Next my cousin Yemerdou braided my hair. This first off does not make sense because the girls here braid their hair to be able to cover it with long straight hair, or a long straight ponytail. Needless to say I did not understand why my very very straight hair did not suffice, but it was braided nonetheless.

However on the day of the fete I fell ill. I literally slept the whole day. For some reason Mali takes everything out of me, but my sisters insisted on me going on the boite and would have it no other way. So I will just divulge one bit of information from my club experience, there was a black light. I was a white person in the midst of Africa wearing all white traditional Malian garbs in the black light. I literally glowed in the dark.

But what I learned from my experience on the town in Mali, is do not go with your sisters. I felt unsure the whole time, my sisters do not talk in French but rather Bambara when they are out, which unfortunately I have not picked up on. And being their exchange student I am not treated like a friend but rather a parasite clinging and yearning to go where they go without failing to fit in. However when you are white you cannot fit in among the masses in Mali.

In contrast, the American students went out the night after the Ramadan party and were greeted with open arms. People literally think white people are celebrities. To find a balance in Mali is incredibly difficult because on the outside all Malians seem always ready to help and make sure you are alright, but when you get past the first conversations their intentions have either changed or they no longer want to help but rather talk to you in a different language or talk to you faster. While this greatly improves my French when I do understand what they are saying, when I do not understand it feel like a fool.

Mali is very tough because it is just not what I would expect. We are often in situations where no one speaks French, and sometimes not even Bambara. I did not realize how hard it would be to communicate. My sister returned from her exams but missed how I have already improved my French so insists that I carry my dictionary. It is difficult because no one gives you a chance before they laugh. While being easy to laugh off, because everyone does that here, I often search for an opportunity to practice these languages and being told to get my dictionary is not rewarding nor encouraging. Alas I am improving and am excited. I can respond in French much quicker and also form my sentences more complexly and this is only week four. There is still hope!!

So while there are many ups and downs in Mali, I also know that I have to look at the whole situation. I know that I came here to research not necessarily come back knowing about the personal lives of all my sisters and perhaps at some point I need to make the ultimate decision to pick between the two. Africa still holds many of my interests I just need to find where they are!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Getting Used to Mali

So I have been here for three weeks and things are beginning to become more and more easy. I have spent much more time with all members of my family and also have become more accustom to the streets and roads and therefore can travel around easier as well.

This past weekend my sister Djeneba left to take her week's worth of exams for University, this left me to assert my independence at home. So far I have learned to make dinner and also fend for myself for daily needs, this seems simple but when people here rarely speak french and when they do talk far to fast I have picked up this pretty quickly. But this has also left me time to hang out with my individual sisters and brothers. Each one is full of personality which seems to almost be a reauirement in Mali, there is no one who falls by the wayside nor does anyone tromp over anyone else. There is like an unwritten harmony of the Malians.

But I talked to my brother Bene for the first time, he was always off motoing or hanging with friends or just watched Merlin on TV. But I was mentioning to the family how I was going to read 'Sous L'orage' for my french class and how I was told that all high school students have to read it. Long after I brought this up my brother came up to me and said he had a present, he then gave me the book. As for a first impression he made a great one, and the following night we played a much more intense game of Malian Sorry than I have ever seen. This was a huge breaking point I thought especially when he came off so cold to begin with.

Also the students at SIT have found European Mecca in Mali. There is a very westernized street that has a market that sells ketchup, chips, real shampoo, etc... Also there is a pastry shop near it. This place, Armadines, is truly my hero. It is like a tiny piece of America, while entirely offputting that I missed American food this much, I am forever grateful that we found this delictable treat.

Healthwise, I have been doing better. I caught typhoid fever. Apparently daytime bugs spread typhoid and nighttime bugs spread malaria. You are safe at no point in the day. But there are other health problems as well, people do not eat the right things to promote healthy digestion nor do they eat enough nutrients. White bread, white rice, and pasta are my family's favorite foods. I have been struggling and never thought I would come to Africa and gain weight but it seems inevitable. I lose weght in my arms, legs, and face, but with all this starch I am going to be a walking potato at my return. But typhoid, hopefully I beat it, I took all the medicine so hopefully it all worked out.

But resolution to the food here is to cook dinner for my family on Sautrday. I am going to make vegetable loaded tacos. There is fruit and vegetables sold everywhere, but no one seems to buy them. Also the european Mecca has chips and taco shells. I report back to tell you how it goes.

Also I have been dressing my maids wounds. She says it has been doing much better but I have run out of gauze. I am going to attept to find it today but the stores don't carry the same things here, but I feel like I am doing something great for her. However I still have no idea what it is, and hope to gosh it is not something spreadable but I have taken to wearing gloves when I dress her wounds.

Lastly we visited USAID today, The man Paul was incredibly helpful and reinforced my idea for my ISP fully. He spoke of all the good things that America is doing in Mali and for once I walked out of a presentation content at the outcome, most of the time I simply asked why. Why does this exist if there is no job guarantee afterwards? Why is this here is it does not inforce the persecution on marital violence? There are countless questions for our presentations that are completely openended, but today I walked away very very happy.

So I will keep on looking for these good things because often I walk away upset at the lack of my understanding the language or because of my frusteration with the actual process of the organization.

Until next time!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Week Two: Settling In

Hello everyone,

Mali time seems to either stand still or fly by. I have already been here for eleven days, but it feels like much more.

Reading the title of my last entry... Obviously the keyboard and my english skills are slipping, so aRriving in Mali was fun.

But since then I have come across a few cultural differences and many upsetting things. I have not yet to come to terms with the garbage. It makes me livid to see it piled high outside houses and in the streets, Yet I know deep down my attempt to collect my own trash will ultimately result in throzing in the pile as well. An angering thought.

Also I am in shock that people assume that cleaning their hands with just water will sanitize them. My two older sisters and doctors and they still only use water. Needless to say I wonder what they teach them in University.

Apart from that the people are incredible. They laugh more often and smile more than I have ever seen. I feel happier while I am here. This fact I also think leads to the age crisis here. Or rather my age crisis here. It is seemingly impossible to tell age here. I cannot tell if my sister is 13 or 25, she is 22 I asked but it could easily go either way. I think this love for happiness fuels their ageless appearance.

So I have decided to study water treatment and purity in Mali for my ISP. I am still in shock about the washing of hands and would like to see how much this influences their everyday life. The sickness percentages, the death age, or if it doesn't. Also when big coorporations dig a well or help for sanitization; do they return, do they teach the people? Goodness gracious I have a lot of questions.

But needless to say I need to find where they keep the soap and why people do not use it.

So there goes my intectual quest within the Malian misfortunes. But again I take the western approach and do not give the people a chance to explain their Malian way of life. Alas I do believe I will be befuddled and confused most of the time but I have already realized three months is too short.

But we visited a Womens rights group today. It was interesting but I cannot understand the place of women here. They hold them up like idols in the museum but will step all over them at home. I think there is a slight miscommunication when it comes to practicing the things they belive.

Last thought:

My servant here has an enormous cut on her hand. The family just says she is sick, she is sick. I cannot grasp if it is sick of the head or sick like a disease because she cuts off or just cuts herself. There are gapping wounds everywhere on her body. She deals with it civil war style and coats it in sugar. I guess Toto isn't the only one using this remedy. So my first question is, how long has this been going on? Next, my two older sisters are doctors, why do they let this happen? or do they not know any better? Also my servant family here is our cousins family... why do they let this happen to a family member? and if family is so close again why dont they treat it more effectively? So tonight I am going to give her some neosporin. It looks like it is an open wound for a long time. Unfortunately I will have to take my American mindset and not think about the consequences from my family.

Well until later...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ariving In Mali!!

I ni tile!!

I have arrived in Mali after a long flight and even longer days. It seems like everything is far drawn out in Mali, like it seems I have been here for weeks zhen it has only been a couple of days. But anyway....

I left Vermont after a tearful farewell and went to Montreal. My flight took off without any qualms and I headed to Paris. In Paris I met up with half of the students on the trip. It was really cool to know some of them before the program officially started. And after that the Paris airport had to evacuate our terminal. We left and had to go back through security with only forty minutes till our flight. Gross. Needless to say we were late for my first night in Mali!! What a bummer.

When we arrived in the airport I instantly felt the heat and sweat start emminating from my body. Again gross, but I saw the SIT sign held in Lamine's hand and felt instantly at home. All of our teachers greeted us with big smiles and even dealt with our very poor french.

The first day of class. First we learned the sturcture of the school; what we will learn when and where and how intense the course are. This was mildly unsettling because many of the people in our program have lived in a french school or Haiti. I took the requirement of three semesters to heart and was not worried, Needless to say now I am worried.

So after learning about the structure, we were dropped off in the middle Bamako and told to get some random information and return by taxi after bargaining for a price of something from the market. I learned Malians are very nice but really want my tubabu (white person) money. But I held my ground and moved on. Two men helped us through the market and then asked to take our taxi with us, my partner was far too honest and kind and that seemed to hinder us in the market but we still made out with a thirty cent toothbrush that I will not be brushing my teeth with.

Then I lost my passwords in the deep depths of my brain, sucky I know. So then I couldn't tell my parents I was safe; or the Malian embassy I had made it... I was freaking out, so for all the people who I told I could text you... not the case, you can text me but I cannot respond. But today I figured out the keyboard, practiced my password, and have made it back to the world of technology, who knew I was so saavy?

But today we met members of our host family. I met my two sisters and they are very nice. It was hard to speak french with them, normally women do not learn french and they never spoke up so I felt rude to continue saying 'quoi quoi' all the time but I learned nothing except I have five sisters and two brothers and my dad works hard.

Tomorrow we leave for Siby and stay there for two nights, It will be fun but we hqve our french placement test and I am certain that my no years in any french institution will not help me. But I feel I can speak relatively well.

One parting note: It is not a joke about the left hand.... they really use it to wipe. I will keep you posted on any new info on this front but I don't know if I can actually do that.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Get Packing....

I am going to Mali!! After a summer of uncertainty, Mali is just four days away. Africa is so very close, and I am getting more and more nervous by the day. However my academics have been struggling, so things I have to do before I leave:

  • finish the assigned books for the summer
  • practice my french
  • read more about Mali

But apart for my growing nerves I cannot wait to board the plane and take off. It will be incredibly life changing and probably one of the most important trips of my life. It will most likely shape what I will and will not do for my career and it will be awesome. I just want Thursday to be here.... but at the same time not really.

Today was the start of preparation for the trip. My family and I went out to collect all the necessities for Mali. The cart was full and I still feel completely under prepared. But instead of waiting until the last minute, I am packing it all today and tomorrow so that I know what I don't have and what needs to be where etc... Also I have to think of ideas for gifts, like homemade CDs, Vermont goods, and other objects that package America. Needless to say a lot is on my mind.

Yesterday, my boyfriend's dad invite me to a work picnic; he works for a company in Burlington the has many offices overseas and a very substantial one in Mali. At the picnic I spoke to a few people that have stayed at the company's location in Bamako and they could not stop talking about it. One said, "If you don't like Bamako, you don't like Africa." Another, "It was the best time of my life," and for my own personal measure, "Your french is good enough to survive in Mali." (this while not entirely positive, is refreshing) So I brought this news back to my mom and she has calmed down a bit. She also read "Men of Salt" by Michael Benanav, about a journey across the Sahara (where Mali is) in a caravan to find salt in Taoudenni, Mali. Although I will not be traveling that far north, it is nice to know that my mom has taken the time to do that. Thanks Ma!

Malian news.... Everyday I type "Mali News" into google. It has had mediocre results but still I am keeping up to date with what is going on. This past week the Malian government has tried to pass a new law giving women the right to receive inheritance and have more standing and choice within a marriage. Oddly enough it is being protested against not only by men but also by women. It has rubbed the shoulders of Muslim traditions and therefore the Sharia, the way Muslims live their lives. Therefore, not having a country ruled by Sharia, but instead an established political power separate of religion has hindered this country in an Islamic point of view. However there are still women, Muslim and not, who agree with this change in power within a lawful relationship. It will be interesting to see how it panes out while I am there. Being a woman I will not be given the same respect as a man, and I will have to make respectful changes while I am there.

A bientot (see I know my francais)