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...