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.

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