Monday, April 6, 2009

Classy folks in village


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.

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