Saturday, April 25, 2009
Catherine Dembele - the pastor's wife and a crocheter with a pretty smile and inviting laugh.
Market is every six days in my village and I always look forward to weaving in and out of the small hangars to greet the old women and men who hang around chatting with one another, greeting folks they only see on market day who come in to sell their various treasures. Things get started as the day cools off so around 4:30 I peek in the direction of the two dead baobabs that designate our market to see if all the vendors have gathered. Go too early and run the risk of lingering too long. Go too late and all the best produce could be snatched up by the early birds. Timing is everything and I'm looking to fill my canvas bag with tasty treats to last me a few days as well as some gifts for Annie, Esayi and the kids.
Commerce is always going on in village and it's fascinating to see the laws of supply and demand at work. Annie is on constant commission to knit baby outfits for new and soon-to-be-born babies and business is booming as evidenced by the little ones sporting her handiwork around town - dainty hats, tops and booties knitted into delicate patterns of red, yellow, green and white - colors favored by the women and the colors of Mali's flag. Annie also buys peanuts, okra and yarn in bulk and resells them for a small profit. Esayi fills a 20 liter jug with gas in San and then redistributes it into recycled, one-liter wine bottles he sells to moto owners who find themselves in the middle of the bush and with no gas station for at least 15 miles. Catherine, the pastor's wife, crochets large doiley-esque pieces for women to lay on the cement benches at church so their fancy fabric doesn't get mussed by the dirt and dust that coats all surfaces this time of year; a souvenir from the persistent harmattan winds whipping around.
These two were hanging out in Esayi's horse cart - had to snap a photo.
The market in my village is different than San by leaps and bounds. Whereas San is humming and buzzing with people and all kinds of trinkets, village market is subdued and the variety is limited. You can find small stacks of tomatoes, onions, hand carved stools, tightly woven straw mats, bread, dried fish, baggies of salt and women who repair broken calabash bowls in exchange for millet. As I buy stacks of tomatoes or dried fish, the women selling it will load them in my bag, pick up an extra tomato or scoop of fish, and then knowingly look at me as they add it to my bag; an encouragement to come back to their spread the following week with an unspoken promise of another gift for her "terimuso" (girlfriend). Women also make fried dough balls and spaghetti which they sell in little plastic baggies for pennies a pop. Traveling salesmen bike in from neighboring villages and San, peddling things like rope, medicine, baby clothes and powdered soap; an ever-expanding market for their goods found in distant villages like mine.
After making my rounds I make one last loop of the market to make sure I've greeted everyone and gotten everything I need. Satisfied with my purchases and carrying my "shopping" bag filled with the deals of the week I wave goodbye to the crowd of women and children and navigate the dirt path back home, carefully dodging traffic along the way - cattle and donkey carts crowding the way, indifferent to shoppers like me.
Posted by Jennifer at 5:23 AM
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Joel is a volunteer in the San region, like me. His counterpart developed the Plasa method which is a tree planting method for the dry season. Here he demonstrates how to do it for other volunteers and their counterparts. The man helping him has a tree nursery and hadn't heard about the method before - he's now really excited to try it out on his own trees.
Esayi and I went to Segou this past week along with other volunteers from the region and their counterparts for a more focused technical training on things like tree grafting, soak pits, the Plasa method (a method for planting trees in dry/hot season developed by Jude Thera), shea work and solar dryers as well as how to draft project proposals and funding sources. It was a great opportunity for volunteers to share what projects they are trying to get started in their villages and for our counterparts to meet one another and discuss their ideas. We did a lot of round table discussion and also met with over 15 NGO's represented in the Segou region.
It's incredibly fascinating seeing our counterparts get so excited about projects and also talk with one another about work going on in different areas of Mali. Communication isn't easy here - electricity is sparse and while lots of people have cell phones, that doesn't mean they have a disposable income to make a lot of calls. With volunteers all over Mali there's an instant network of people and volunteers who are well connected to one another and can work to connect people who specialize in tree grafting or planting and shea work to come and do formations in our village and vice versa.
Posted by Jennifer at 6:17 AM
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Anne's beautiful niece Nema came to celebrate Easter with us "en brusse" She said that in San, they only celebrate Easter on Sunday (the audacity!) but in Zana it's a three day celebration. We danced Saturday night-Sunday morning, church on Sunday and then more dancing on Monday.
Sweet baby Christine in her Easter dress. Her bottom two teeth are coming in (Anne says her kids teeth come in slower than others) and is a speedy crawler!
Anne looked better in this outfit than I could ever hope to so we traded Easter outfits. Jackie, please note the green t-shirt that says "Sweet Baby." Made me think of all the sweet babies back in the states, namely you!
the whole fam damily as Memaw says. And folks may look grumpy/not smiling; don't worry, that's just the Malian way! I'll bring out my camera to a group of laughing kids and as soon as they group up for the picture they give me the saddest frown-y face you've ever seen. Then, when I show them the picture they smile and say what a great picture it is...guess I just cheese it a lot!
A lot of the kids get matching outfits - here is Ibrahim, Emmanuel and Samuel. Emma is my host brother and the other two are his cousins.
Posted by Jennifer at 4:14 AM
Monday, April 6, 2009
Me and the garden boys. These are my host brothers who help me pull the over 40 sacks of water needed to water my garden of lettuce, okra, tomatoes, eggplant and corn.
I check the time on my cell phone that hangs in my door frame (the only place I get reception). It's 9:52 and I've got 8 minutes to make it to the other side of village before the women's Bambara class begins. I peek through the window in my kitchen to Annie's compound to see if she's ready just as she slips into the outdoor bathroom with her bucket of water for a quick bath. I'm reminded of most of my mornings in college when I'd hop in the shower 10 minutes before class would start and my sweet roommates would roll their eyes as I dashed around grabbing lunch, books, keys and cellphone with sopping hair and running out the door to get to class on time. I realize not much has changed after living in Mali for 9 months as I grab my little day pack filled with activities to keep me busy while I sit in on the women's Bambara class in my village. I've got my journal, letters to respond to, a book, my nalgene and I'm out the door. I lock up and shut the gate to my area so chickens can't eat any more of my moringa trees and by the time I get to Annie's house she's donned a full complet with headwrap and her knitting is in hand, baby tied to her back like she's been waiting for me all morning. I think "Didn't I just see you going to take a bath..." but there's no time to waste contemplating Anne's quickness - we've got to get to class! We set off at a quick clip for the free standing classroom World Vision built at the edge of the village and where Annie and Bachary teach a class of about 30 women and girls who are too old to start school to read and write Bambara. Class starts at 10 and if you're late you have to pay 50 CFA (about 10 cents). Annie and I aren't late today - but it was close! The dedication of these women and Bachary is incredible. Starting from square one on February 17 with most of the women, now they can all write letters and read, albeit haltingly, words and simple sentences. For Aminata, Annie's sister-in-law, this past week the lessons got to be too much so she stopped coming to class. I pleaded with her - "but Aminata, won't your daughter Rachel go to school? Don't you want to be able to help her read?" but to no avail. (Annie was going to a training, also led by World Vision, on clean water and hand-washing). Aminata said class was too hard and she was no good. I went over to Bachary's compound and he said he was going to talk to Aminata about why it was important for her to come to class. I wished him luck but said that I had tried and she still said no. But you would believe the next day, there she was. I don't know what he said but whatever it was, it worked and hopefully she'll stick with it until the end.
Annie likes long walks in the millet fields, knitting cute baby complets and teaching women to read and write when she's not busy cooking for her family or washing clothes.
Annie learned to read and write Bambara from a missionary when she was 18. She's the exception to the rule here where a vast majority of the population is illiterate, especially women. I asked Bachary where he went to school and he laughed bashfully and said his dad didn't send him to school. How did you learn then? I asked. He said he would stand by the window of the school and copy the lessons from the board. I asked him how old he was and once again, a shy smile and a laugh. A lot of people don't have formal birth certificates and don't know, to the year, how old they are. They'll instead give dates relative to when a certain president was in power or a major event took place when pressed for a specific date. I offer that maybe he's in his mid-20's and he says he's at least 30 but I'm not so sure; he looks pretty young to me. No matter how old he is, I am impressed everyday with his and Annie's dedication to literacy in our village and the efforts folks make all the time to make a better life for their children.
Mai is too old to start school but she's learning to read and write and is cute as the day is long.
Everyday I wake up and do the chores around my house - pull water for the garden, water the flowers, sweep the house and wash dishes all knowing that this is temporary. After two years my time will be up here and I'll return to having water from a tap, refrigeration and paved roads. But my heart aches thinking about basic needs not being met for people like clean water, access to education and health care. However, all it takes to bolster my spirits is to take a look around me, at people like Annie and Bachary who work tirelessly to improve the lives of those around them and foster an environment, as much as they can, for their own children to learn and hopefully one day, things we take as givens (because they should be!) like schools, doctors and paved roads will be the rule instead of the exception.
Posted by Jennifer at 4:20 AM