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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Life in Mali 2010

Happy New Year Everybody! It has been an obscenely long time since I've shared anything about my life over here in Mali. I would love to blame this on an inability to access the Internet, but in reality the blame is more justly placed on my laziness.
Things here have been great recently! Most importantly, the project that so many of you funded has been a great success. The main part of the renovations have been finished and The Campement of the Friends of the Elephants has hosted its first tourists, my wonderful mother Frances and my Aunts Mary and Kate. The trio came over for a two week vacation, arriving the 27th of January and leaving the day before yesterday. We had a fantastic trip including: a boat ride on the Niger, a three day Dogon hike, an elephant sighting, two great nights in Boni at the amazing campenment, the slaughter of a sheep for a party in my village and a trip to Segou for the Festival sur le Niger. It was fantastic having family visit and it gave me a new appreciation for this country as I was able to see it through their eyes.
The festival in Segou was especially impressive. The crowd was predominately Malian providing a very organic experience. This was a direct contradiction to the white-washed, European crowd I was expecting and let us really experience Malians' love of music. I'm positive I've never seen a more enthused crowd, especially to what I would call mellow acts. I believe my mom and aunts had a great time here. I know I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I've also recently received funding for a women's garden project in my village. Working with a Women's association there, we are going to dig a well, make some compost pits, get some new seeds, tools and give these ladies a revenue source for the association. It's been nice working on a project that I have a little bit of prior experience with.
Christmas this year was fantastic. I went on a 2 week trip to Ghana with four of my best friends. It was absolutely amazing! Gorgeous, cheap, english speaking (kinda though they seem to add an "o" to most words), developed and clean. The transportation overland was a bit long (47 hours), but the pay off was oh so worth it. The biggest differences between Mali and Ghana that would likely only be noticed by a Peace Corps volunteer are as follows:
1. "It rains ice cream-o!" (Translation: in Ghana nearly everywhere it is possible to buy "ice cream." While this "ice cream" is more similar to cake frosting, it is none the less cold and as you may have guessed since it tastes like cake frosting really delicious. It was also something like 2000 calories, but in typical African fashion a "healthy treat" (from the FanIce label) since anyone could use the calories.)
2. "Beach-o!" (Translation here is pretty obvious, but the beaches of Ghana were stupendous. Clean, isolated, once you got out of the big cities, and surfable. I will be going back before I leave.)
3. "Does that really say Milk Stout-o?" (Translation: Ghana had more than two types of beer and they tasted good. This was such a welcome change from the Castel and Flag world we live in up north that there may have been a time or two when we over compensated. Also, they had a milk stout that could be found most places and was delicious. Being a Christian country, there were also bars all over the streets that sold palm wine, local liquor, or bitters (British colonies.))
4. "Shop-rite-O!" (Translation: The Shop-rite is how the Ghanians in Accra refer to the Accra Mall. While there is a Shop-rite in the Accra Mall, there is also a food court, Apple Store, Nike Town, and get ready for it MOVIE THEATRE. It was amazing for the first hour. We honestly took pictures inside the mall. But, after an hour I remembered why I hate malls. We did see Sherlock Holmes and Avatar though. YES!)

Any way, Ghana was amazing but not as great as having Moma Frances and Aunt Mary and Kate here. Mary took tons of pictures which I will put a link to once she posts them. It was great to see some family. Any who are willing are welcome.

Much Love


Monday, June 29, 2009

Boni, Mopti Region, Life in Mali in 2009

Mama Frances finally laid the guilt on thick enough that lazily ignoring my lonely blog was no longer an option. The last 6 months in five words: Hot Fulfulde Bony Well-read Dude.
First and fore most, I have been site changed from Sokolo. This change of venue occurred following some Toureg rebel activity in the area surrounding my old village. Here's a link to a newspaper article concerning the attack:
While in the long run the village of Sokolo itself never directly experienced any rebel activity, PC was worried about my safety due to my isolation and rumors of an Al Qaeda cell operating in the area. The Toureg rebels have stated numerous times they will not attack foreigners, but Malian government strongholds only. So my danger was from some sort of crossfire or some increase in the Al Qaeda cell activity. It was a bit difficult to leave Sokolo. I really liked the village and was just finding a niche, language wise and socially, so the move was a bit trying. Yet, better to feel a bit put out than beheaded. PC gave me a few options once my evacuation was official. There were a few Bambara villages over in Kayes, another in Segou region, and finally a site in the Mopti region (where they only speak Fulfulde and French) with a migratory elephant population that goes by once a year. I went with the elephants.

My new site is Boni. It’s a village of roughly 4000, nestled between two tall plateaus in the eastern part of Mali. Overall, Mopti Region is a world apart from the Bambara dominated Segou region. The predomintate ethnicities in the region are Peuhl, Songhai, Dogon and Toureg. The village of Boni is an interesting melange of all these ethnicites. What has made it expecially interesing moving up north is that hardly anyone speaks Bambara. So, the past 6 months I've essentially started over in everyway I had been getting comfortable in Sokolo. Fulfulde is the main local language in the north. It's the most commonly spoken language in West Afican as Peuhls strecth throughout most of the countries. The Peuhl are characterized as herding people, with a long thin build. The women wear large gold earrings and often have facial tatoos. While Fulfulde is a very pretty language and it was so great really focusing on Bambara for 6 months, th idea of starting another African language full on had me a little bummed out.
Therefore, I have been focusing most of my language acquisition efforts on French. This has been a lot of fun overall. I have been spending some time on Fulfulde as well, so honestly overall I can now speak close three languages like a 5 year old. What I do find most interesting about this little party trick is that French definitely feels the most belittling when speaking it badly. The language itself seems to be sitting in the corner smoking a Gauloises, smirking in the corner about the stupidity of Americans. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that most Malians also seem to smirk, or atleast seem confused, when a white person speaks such bad french to them. Fulfulde and Bambara make you feel like Whitey Champion of Africa, with all the villagers impressed and smiling. My french leaves people confused and little kids crying. The most comforting moment to date was when a few friends came to my site for a visit and my friends and host family in village could see that I do actually speak one language fluently. It seemed to give them hope that I could communicate affectively, and I dare say effortlessly with atleast someone in this crazy mixed up world.
Concerning my work at my new village, L'Association des Les Amis des Elephants is the group that requested a volunteer. My first big project will be creating a bureau for the association. It will serve as a work space, tourist information center, small artisan boutique and interim sleeping quarters for tourists. The migratory elephants of the Gourma pass through Boni this time of year along there 600km migratory trek. The area has good food and water for the elephants during the beginning of the dry season. Here's an article on the elephants (I wrote the biodiversity section): will soon be up an running which is a website a couple other volunteers. If you would like to donate to the bureau project, and give me some work todo here is the link the PC donation page
All contributions are greatly appreciated.
Soon I will be heading to France to see my mom and the Bobbies and then off to London to see Papa Mike. Much Love to all and I will write again soon.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. I actually had a remarkably American Thanksgiving. 4 turkeys, stuffing, 12 pumpkin pies and canned cranberry sauce. Not to mention the wonderful company of a good chunk of the Peace Corps Mali volunteers.
All in all things remain very well. I’m currently in Segou, waiting for the grant money to arrive so that I can purchase the initial batch of cool season garden seeds to be sold in Sokolo. I couldn’t say the wait is entirely a drag. Lying around surfing the Internet definitely has a strong appeal here in Mali. Quick rundown of what’s been happening with me: firstly, I had my inaugural biking mishap. I was riding along the canal in Sokolo, one handed carrying a cup of soaked beet seeds, when I decided shifting was a novel idea. Needless to say I ended up swimming among the lily pads faster than a Malian women can provide her crying baby with a teat, which it must be said is quicker than you might imagine. This all occurred under the watchful eyes of about 50 of my village women. I have yet to live it down. Plus, I imagine I’ll have a hard time getting a good beet harvest planted as such. Secondly, the first ten minutes of soccer with my new soccer ball, sent by my wonderful father, resulted in a popped ball. An overly ambitious village boy cranked a shot, sending it way wide directly into a thorn bush. Luckily everyone was excited enough to finish playing for the day with a completely deflated ball. Thirdly, I feel absolutely amazing right now, as I made the first of the Fair Trade Single Origin Hatian Bleu coffee my mother sent me in a package. I don’t think any coffee drinker can truly appreciate the richness of flavor of simple drip coffee until you have drunken extremely sweet, watered down Nes Cafe for four months. Finally, I have just finished the Harry Potter series and feel that I may be ready to start dabbling in some actual literature, although what an ending. A++. My father just sent me a good foundation. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, just shy of 1000 pages with extremely small print, and two books about the history of Mali, Sahara and Timbuktu.
Things at site have been quite good, although my garden likely succumbed to the blazing sun yet again during my Thanksgiving vacation. I think I’ll have to give up aspirations of a healthy garden while I continue to have the urge to escape village life periodically to eat “American” food and use the internet. Rice harvest is just wrapping up at site, which should bring back the daily soccer games. People have been a little too pooped to play very often this past month. I’ve been thinking about writing a short story directly translating Bambara into English. For instance a typical morning conversation between to men might go as such:
Musa: You and the morning.
Bakary: My mom. You and the morning. Was the night peaceful?
Musa: Peace only. Was the night peaceful? Is the family well?
Bakary: Peace. No problem at all.
Musa: No problem at all.
Bakary: Absolutely no problem at all. Are you well?
Musa: My mom. What happened before, was that good?
Bakary: Yes. Very good. I left.
Musa: You left? Already?
Bakary: Yes. I must go and wash myself.
Musa: Alright. Well, say it to them.
Bakary: They will hear it. May the day be peaceful.
Musa: Amen.
Anyways, you can see it’s quite funny when you directly translate it, as it is when you directly translate any language. My mom is a translation of “N ba.” This is the response to many phrases including: You and the man (I ni ce) and you and the moring (“I ni sogoma”). The woman’s response to you and the man is “my power” (N se). Well so long for now. I will likely write again soon as I may be stuck here in Segou for a few days waiting for some money. Shucks.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cold Season

So it's really not that cold. Although the other night I did put on the Irish wool sweater I brought until a constant stream of sweat finally confirmed that it was probably around 65 degrees out. It must be said though that the break in temperature has been quite refreshing. There are now, for instance, moments in the day when I'm not sweating.
A lot has happened since the last time I wrote. We had a fun little Halloween get together in San, a smaller city in Segou region. The night was a constant battle for ipod priority, as the PCVs found themselves divided into too musical camps. Those who really enjoying the deep bass lines, vulgar lyrics, and gyrating hips of gangster rap and those who are more interested in doing that awkward white person running-in-place dance move, shaking cropped hair to Bowie or the Talking heads. I'll let y'all speculate on which side of the fence I was sitting on and actually how often I was forcing my music taste on others. All it all it was fun and eventually everyone was united into a "pants-off-dance-off." Oh yeah and Obama is our new president! Righteous. I headed to Bamako with a few friends to watch the election and had a great time drinking coffee and watching t.v. all night.
In other more African sounding blogging, things have been great at site. I'm almost done with the entire Harry Potter series, which is quite the escape from speaking Bambara all day. I just jump into the wonderful world of magic. My garden was going really well, it liked my urine, until I left for the Halloween/Election break and my deaf neighbor watered it to death. I do assume this is probably a better death for a plant though. Especially since the alternative results in scorched leaves, crusted earth. I'm in Segou for a few days doing my first proposal for project funding. It is not my own project but instead and extension of the previous PCV's. Essentially a small grant is given by Millenium Challenge, the American organization here to boost Mali's food production and development, to purchase quality garden seed in Segou to sell up in Sokolo. The Malians seem to have a hard time pooling money for a venture such as this, but it does appear that the last project is quite effective and perhaps sustainable. The Bambara is coming along quite well, but I've finally eaten all the toh I can. The play dough consistency finally did my appetite in the other night when I attempted to force some down when I was feeling a bit nauseous.
Well until another time. Hope all is well.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Swear in Night

Swear In


I have now been a PCV for just over a month. I'm currently spending a few days in the region capital of Segou, Segou. Here I have been eating all the food it is impossible to find at site, swimming at the two pools in the ritzy hotels, flirting with two volunteers from Belgium and watching movies. It has been a nice break, although things at site have been quite nice.
Within Sokolo I have found the bare minimum of the things I need to have a happy two years. I can play soccer with the locals around my age. We play on the dirt courtyard of the school. There is a large well on the right side of the field which makes for an interesting obstacle for the mid fielders. Everyone plays in "yorow" or jellies and the organization reminds me a lot of a team of 7 year olds in the states, moving around the field in a large pack, heads down with no real concept of where the field ends or begins aside for the school buildings that border a large section. Some of the kids have amazing touches. We actually have a few shops that sell cold sodas. I found a few friends to spend the evenings with, listening to Malian music and drinking the overly sweet tea they are all so fond of. Also, I recently got electricity in my mud hut. I get one light and an outlet from 7 pm until around midnight. It has helped immensely to keep the roaches at bay in the lighted room, although as soon so the lights cut out you can here them slowly emerging out of the roof. I have also planted a small garden, tomatoes, melons, peppers, and I purchased basil, eggplant, carrots, salad and a few other varieties of tomato seeds this week in Segou. I'm fertilizing with my own urine, which I have been collecting a large plastic jug. Apparently it is a very cheap (obviously, although my urine my be a little more expensive since I drink so many Fantas) and effective nitrogen fertilizer, diluted to 1 part pee pee to 3 parts water. I've prepared a few of the natural pesticides, which don't seem to be as effective as I hoped although the garlic and hot pepper one does have a nice smell. Other than that I have been "yala yala" -ing, or walking around, within the village trying to work on my Bambara and meeting all the people I might be working with in the future. The Bambara is coming pretty well. For instance, I successfully talked my way out of paying an exorbitant fee for running stop sign on my new bike. Oh yes my bike. I recently received my new Trek from the Peace Corp, just in from the States. It's shinny and bright red, which of course receives a ton of attention around town.
All in all things are very good. I'm happy most of the time and have been able to read more books than I ever thought I would want to. I'm off to site tomorrow until Halloween when I'll go to San and then to Bamako to watch the election. Miss everyone at home almost as much as I miss good food, you cannot conceive of how many different ways they find to eat rice, rice powder, nearly powdered rice, rice, rice porridge yum yum. Feel free to call anytime as I'm living under the cell phone tower, 2234780057.