Monday, October 6, 2008

Meeting with the women

I went to my first women's association meeting this past Saturday with Annie, my host mom, who told me she was heading over to a woman's compound after dinner. I invited myself along which she seemed happy about. Annie didn't say what time the meeting would start, just that she was going to head over after she'd eaten. I wondered how all the other women would time their meals to end in unison with the end of hers but figured it really wasn't worth getting a gray hair over. Time is a curious thing here in Mali, and apparently in all of West Africa. Folks joke that you have to WAIT (West African International Time) and it's proved to be very true. I like these tests of patience because it's teaching me that there really isn't a reason to rush - at least not if it means passing up an opportunity to have a conversation or to take your time with whatever you’re doing which is usually the case.
But back to the women’s meeting. After Annie and I had finished dinner I put on my tailor made Malian outfit and we headed over lighting the way with my high-beam headlamp. My village, and from what I've seen, many of the surrounding villages are sort of like mud labrynthes. The compounds themselves have lots of space for kids to run around and to do all the chores but sometimes the compounds back up to one another and are divided by narrow corridor-like passages that make me feel like I’m navigating a medieval castle. I hope my pictures do more justice to what it’s like here than my words.
When we got to the meeting place we set down the stools we brought and greeted the few other women already there. An older woman I think is the association president picked up an iron pot and started beating it with a stick producing a shrill noise akin to a school-yard bell. I looked at Annie and asked her if she was announcing the beginning of the meeting to the 5 of us already assembled because it seemed like a loud way to start a little meeting. Annie laughed (good naturedly) at me and said that no, she was announcing that the meeting would start soon for the rest of the women in the village. Sure enough, for about 20 minutes women starting trickling in with their own stools, flashlights and kerosene lamps. At the meeting, the women discussed their peanut field and that they’ll go out to harvest the peanuts on Friday. I spent most of the meeting looking at the women around me (about 30 showed up) and wondering how these associations function since my Bambara comprehension isn’t exactly at a level where I can understand a meeting. I’m spending a lot of my time observing here and participating too. Harvest season is upon us here in Mali so folks are heading out to their fields everyday to dig up peanuts, chick peas and beans and cut okra for sauce. Soon they’ll cut down the millet and corn and then the work of thrashing and storage begins. All by hand too! Annie determines whether or not the field is too far for me to go to; her concerns for my hydration and fatigue are high.
I left the meeting smiling at the other women’s compliments of my outfit (I think they find it endearing when I wear Malian clothes and they sort of coo over me which makes me laugh a lot). I hope you have a little more insight into what I’m doing over here and if you were wondering how big my village is, take a small iron pot outside and hit it as hard as you can with a stick to see how far the sound carries. And if someone shows up asking about your peanut fields, you’ll know why.

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