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.