Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Meet the Coulibalys



Looking at my blog, it seems like I live with only Annie and her baby Christine. In reality, there's a whole slew of Coulibalys. (women always keep their last names here so if they ever want to return to their father's home, they can).
From (left to right) Samuel, Ibrahim, Emma, Moussa, Batuma (Miriam), Le Vieux (Thomas), Annie, Khadia, Aminata and Christine. (Not pictured are Esayi (Annie's husband) Johanna and Yacouba, Esayi's brothers and Khadia and Aminata's husbands respectively.)

While only 1% of Malians are Christians, there are a lot of Protestants in my village (maybe half) which means a lot of one-wife households.
The family is standing in front of the kitchen where the three women cook. (kithcen in Bambara is "gabugu" - this language is too fun!) They're on a two day rotating schedule; two days one woman cooks and the others rotate pounding the millet and washing dishes. It's a good system though all the work is pretty exhausting.
While Malians may not celebrate Thanksgiving, volunteers do! I'm celebrating with others in my market town and can't wait to see the creative cooking that will ensue over the next couple days.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Market day (Sing "Bonjour" from Beauty and the Beast to yourself)


My host-mom Annie with her older sister, Khadia (left) and her mom Hawa (at right). They live in another village but come into San every Monday to sell a sauce ingredient I can never pronounce let alone spell.

This is another Hawa (not Annie's mom) who sells tomatoes at the market in my village.

Market day in San requires a few things from its shoppers including: sunscreen, a broad-rimmed hat, patience and a fancy-cloth outfit. Armed with all four (though my outfits leave a bit to be desired since I need to get another "complet" made), I head out each Monday morning to face the crowds and heat to buy my week's groceries that can't be found in my small village 15 miles away.

I try and time my trips carefully, leaving at about 8:45 to reach market by 9 when most of the women have set up their booths and laid out their cloths and baskets filled with vegetables, fruits and grains. You cannot rush the task and there's also the pervading sense of claustrophobia so that I find myself stopping after each purchase to take a deep breath before heading on to the next item on my list.

As I navigate the rows and streets of women hawking their wares, a steady beat from an animal skin drum keeps me in time with the other shoppers. The beat comes from a man who is selling medicine out of old soda bottles relabeled and filled with cures for ailments of all kinds. I hear "Toubabou muso" (foreign girl) and get offered pills that will make me big and fat for when I go back home.

Passing on the pills I head to the meat market where I'm supposed to buy two kilos of beef to make hamburgers with other volunteers tonight. Everyone else in the house seemed hesitant to volunteer for the job and since I'd never done it before and was going to market anyways I agreed to buy the meat. Now I see why folks don't jump at the opportunity. What in the states would maybe take 5 minutes takes about 45 minutes here (including all the greetings and blessings).

I started the process by choosing the cleanest stall in the row of meat sellers. "Sik" removed a hunk of meat from a hook on his stall and hacked off two kilos of meat that he then wrapped in butcher paper and slid into a plastic bag. Next, we navigated through the stalls to a meat grinder around the corner who turned out to be a 14 year-old boy named Brahim who's handy with a sharp knife. For 200 CFA (about 50 cents) he cut the meat into small bits. As he cut, the cardboard he used as a cutting board tore to reveal the bare wood table beneath it. Brahim quickly grabbed a scrap of butcher paper from under the table and slid it under the torn cardboard, nodding to me with a look as if to say "Don't worry, it's sanitary." With no running water, un-refrigerated meat and flies, the torn cardboard is the least of my worries. Once he finished cutting, we headed to yet another location under a hangar to find a hand-crank meat grinder attached to a small bench with a vice. His friend sat on the bench to steady it as Brahim attacked the meat grinder with vigor. I braced my leg against the open end of the bench as we spent the next 25 minutes grinding through the 2 kilos of beef.

Two hours later, relieved of my groceries which I dropped off at my host-dad's horse cart to be taken back to village, I made my way back to the volunteer house. Sweaty, grimy and feet tired after my foray into the market I relax on the couch with the other volunteers, breathing slowly and thinking about the delicious hamburgers we'll eat tonight. After all the work that went into getting the meat (on Brahim's part), I'll savor every bite.

Monday, November 10, 2008

How small is this big world?

For what you are about to see, I want to remind my readers that I live in a village of 1,000 people that is a 2 and a 1/2 hour donkey cart ride from the nearest city, a 9 hour (total) transport to Bamako (the capital of Mali) and 4,573 miles from the East Coast.

This is Sita Sogoba and me. I was shocked when I saw her representing for my hometown so I went and grabbed my favorite sweatshirt so we could commemorate our love for VB together.



I loved this man's shirt and hat. I've taken to walking around my village around 4:30 every day because the lighting makes everything glow (as it does all over the world).

Do babies ever get boring? I don't think so! I love playing with Christine because she's so self-entertaining and is always laughing and smiling.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How old are you and what's your weight?

Here's my always beautiful host-mom Annie with her baby Christine on her back, pulling water from the well in our compound.

This is my endearing and lazy cat Caya (pronounced chai-uh). She likes to wait until I've started reading on this table and then jump on and lay on top of the book.


Two things that are reversed in terms of cultural ideals here (for an American) are the perception of weight and age. In America, women and men would gasp at someone telling them they are old or putting on weight. However, where I am, people take pride when others comment on their increasing age and telling them they're getting fatter.

My host dad keeps saying "Djelika, you need to eat to be big and fat so when you see your family they'll say, 'Mali is good for you - look at the weight you've gained!'" I try to explain to him folks back home don't view weight gain in quite the same light but he looks at me suspiciously like I'm just telling him that to shut him up. Yesterday when I told my host mom how beautiful she is she replied "Oh, I don't think so, I'm getting skinnier now that it's harvest season, maybe when I put on weight." The juxtaposition of the American fixation with being skinny and the Malian ideal that the fatter the better is a bit jarring and is still taking some getting used to.

And as for age. Perhaps it's a universal value to respect your elders but in Mali, it's a source of pride as soon as you can start to say you're getting older. This isn't as jarring as the weight issue for me since I've never had a problem (in the States) of folks thinking I'm older than I am. However, while I know many people perceive me as distinguished and wise because of my uncontrollable laughter and skipping around, I don't think I actually come across as being all that old. When a man came to vaccinate the farm animals in my village this past week he asked me how old I was. I asked him to guess and he said, "35?" Smile on my face and suppressing a laugh I told him he was only off by a few years.
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