Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas: A dialogue(s)

A phone conversation this afternoon between my step-dad John in America and my friend Jean in Mali:

[phone rings.  John answers.]

Christmas Eve:

Jean: Est-ce que Jennifer est la?
John: Who is this?
Jean: C'est Jean.  Vous pouvez la dire que je l'ai appelé?
John: I don't speak whatever language you are speaking.
Jean: I do not speak English.
John/Jean: click.

Christmas morning: (Masaran studies English at the university in Bamako)
[6 am. phone rings.  John answers.  Jennifer sleeps]
Masaran (chipper voice): Is Jennifer there!??
John: [grumpy early morning voice]Who is this?
Masaran: It is Masaran!  Is Jennifer there!??
John: [grumpy, doesn't realize phone credit is expensive in Mali] Anne!  Phone for Jennifer! [passes phone to Anne, returns to bed]
Anne: [walks to my room.  climbs into my twin size bed] phone is for you.
Jennifer: Who is it? 
Anne: Someone from Mali. [passes phone]
Jennifer: [holds phone to ear.  line dead.]

[5 seconds later. phone rings.  Jennifer answers]
Jennifer: [very groggy early morning voice] hello?
Masaran: Merry Christmas Jennifer!!!!!
Jennifer: Merry Christmas Masaran!
Masaran:  Just to greet - goodbye!
Jennifer: Bye!

[later in the morning]
John: [normal grumpy voice] Why would anyone call that early?
Jennifer: John, it's hard to remember the time difference when you're in Mali.  Even I call too early sometimes.
John: Well, for Christmas we should get you and your friends a map with the time zones clearly marked.
Jennifer:  Good idea.  Next year.

Nothing like the holidays to bring the world together!   Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Introducing Jean Morgan Coulibaly dit Papa dit Ce Koroba

On December 4th Esayi called me - excitement palpable even through the phone lines of our choppy connection.  'Annie had the baby!' he said.  I squealed and replied with the requisite blessings for a baby in Mali.  Allah ka den balon.  (May God give the child a long life)  Allah ka na kan dia.  (May God bless the baby's arrival) and so on.  'Can you come to name the baby?' he asked.  I replied immediately with an 'awo!' (yes) as I looked at my calendar.

And so this past Saturday I made my first outside-of-Bamako public transportation trip in nearly 4 months to head back to village and see Annie and her new bundle of joy.  I'd been collecting baby things over the past month in anticipation of Annie's delivery and so I packed up lotions, powders, soap, fabric and baby clothes in my overnight bag and headed to the bus station.  As I bought my ticket and eyed the Gana bus in the parking lot I braced myself for the stifling ride ahead.  Close quarters with screaming children.  Lots of dust and thick, sour air.  But it would all be worth it once I got to see Annie and the baby* - at least that's what I kept telling myself!

Once my bag was safely stowed under the bus and my name called to load, I chose a seat expertly located under an open (and uncovered) vent and opened up a new book - I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley - and settled in for the journey.  A man carrying a cooler, briefcase and prayer mat gestured to the empty seat next to me and asked if it was taken.   All views of my surroundings were temporarily blocked as I looked up to the voice and saw nothing but folds upon folds of pale blue bazin and embroidery.  I nodded my assent and the blue cloud arranged his affairs and crunched into the seat beside me.  After exchanging pleasantries and some Trident gum we turned to our own bus-ride past times - reading sarcastic short stories (me) and calling relatives in Senegal and speaking loudly in Wolof (him).  Mr. Senegalese man talked with his across-the-aisle neighbor about Bandiagarra (his final destination) and what gifts he could get there.  He decided it would be best to buy his 'samas' here in Bamako and so descended at the outside-Bamako check point to presumably purchase apples, bananas and bread.  He returned, arms overflowing, with bags of apples, bottles of water and his headphones secured in his ears as he shouted more Wolof and laughed loudly.  Once nestled into his seat again he turned to me and gave me a bottle of Diago water and two apples - 'On est compagnons de voyage!' he said when I feebly protested his generous gifts.

On Sunday morning I got up early to head out to village.  The ride out was peaceful as I passed familiar faces and trees and the early morning wind blew cool on my face, in my hair.  I pulled into the Coulibaly compound just after 8 am and spent the day sitting next to Annie, cuddling with Christine and cooing over the baby.  When I talked with Esayi on the phone on December 4th I asked him if he wanted to know the baby's name then.  He said no - that it could wait until I came back to village.  Then, a few days later, he called me and asked me to go ahead and tell him since they were filling out the baby's birth certificate.  After spending a lot of time talking with my family and friends about the baby's name, and trying to pick one that Malians can actually pronounce, I decided on Jean Morgan - the names of my step-Dad and Dad respectively.  Annie liked the names and said Jean Morgan's nick-name would be Papa.  Emma kept calling him ce-koroba (old man) which I am particularly fond of and adopted myself.  At the end of the day my heart and belly were filled with baby yawns and macaroni (respectively) and I left Annie with promises to return in February for Jean Morgan's (and Christine's) baptism.

Monday morning came quickly and I hurried around San greeting familiar faces.  Abu, the tailor, Moulie, the shopkeeper (Bacho was out farming rice), old-man Traoré who runs trucks from San to Gao, the gnomi maker near the BNDA.  'I ni faama!' we'd say and quickly catch up with one another.  No, I didn't move to America.  Yes, I live in Bamako.  How is San?  The family?  The kids?  I told them I'm here to see my 'jatigi-muso' (host-mom) who had her baby.  They would give their blessings and tease me about when I'd be having some of my own!  That's a few trips away I'd say.

And then, after less than 48 hours away from Bamako, I boarded a bus to take me back.  From my spacious seat behind the driver I giggled aloud at Crosley's sassy writing.  I napped uncomfortably against the window pane.  I thought about what this trip to visit Annie and Jean Morgan meant to me and to them.    While in village I saw the house I lived in for two years.  Greeted market vendors and goers at the weekly market and saw the projects and people I worked with on them.  And I came to a mini-realization/mini-reminder.  Sustainable development is a pretty couple of words.  Yet I think the most sustainable developments during the past two years I've spent here as a Peace Corps Volunteer are the relationships with which I've been blessed.  From blue-bazin clouded strangers to surrogate mothers like Annie, friendly acquaintances in market and treasured friends hailing from around the world.  While I enjoy high-yielding outputs and success stories as much as the next person - if these relationships are the indicators by which my time here is marked - I'm feeling pretty sustained. 

Please someone, find me something cuter than a baby yawning.  I dare you!

See more pictures of Jean Morgan, Annie and me here!
*Esayi came to Bamako the day I left for a training with the volunteer who replaced me.  I'll get to see them both for dinner this Thursday before I leave for the States for my one-month home leave

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mission: Sikasso

In October PHARE trained over 280 pedagogical advisors from the 70 teaching academies in Mali on the balanced literacy approach and the use of interactive radio programs in primary schools.  This past week representatives from the PHARE program disbursed throughout the country (though only as far north as Mopti due to insecurity) to monitor the pedagogical advisors as they conducted trainings of over 16,000 primary school teachers.  Oumar, one of the PHARE drivers, Sarré, the leader of the PHARE training team and Bouacar Diabaté, a representative from the Ministry of Education and I had the chance to visit 7 teaching academies in the Sikasso region; here's some of what I saw.

Sikasso équipe (l to r) Diabaté, Sarré, Oumar, me
While the pedagogical advisors deliver the balanced literacy training and instructions on the use of interactive radio shows I sit in the back of the classroom and take notes on the presentations.  I will Sarré to catch my eye and motion my head to convey 'please say what I am thinking so I don't have to.'  The critiques and evaluative comments are not complicated but are at times better delivered Malian to a Malian.  I find myself writing and underlining -  engage, interact, make learning fun!  With the radio sessions the advice is usually to let the radio do the teaching and to not talk over the narrator.  The training in Kolondièba, a gem of a town 60 km off the paved road, takes place in an empty primary school classroom.  Sarré, Diabaté and I observe one of the sessions and discuss the budget with the director of the teaching academy and his accountant before crossing the dusty courtyard to sit in on a 1st grade class.   PHARE programs, as of November 29, are broadcast on the national radio ORTM each day at 10:30 and 11:10 am and so we sit in on this classroom to watch PHARE in action.  

In this row of a building there are three classrooms of normal size filled to an abnormal capacity.  4-5 children crowd into benches made for 2.  70-100 children crowd into a room built for 30-40.  Is this what they mean when they say 'education for all'?  The first grade teacher seems to not notice his classroom is overflowing with children and expresses his sincere pleasure that we can be there to observe the 10:30 radio program.  While he continues to set-up the classroom for the upcoming lesson - alphabet board, song-of-the-day, and radio, I look out at the bright little cherub faces and do a quick bench/student calculation.  With 28 desks and at least 4 kids to a bench I find there are over 100 6-7 year olds in this classroom.  The kids return my interested look and, elbows in each others faces and little legs squished into one another as their tiny sandaled feet swing on their too-high desks, I remember what I am doing here.  I am learning a lot with PHARE - namely how important it is to be passionate about what you do.  Working for and with people so dedicated to their jobs is inspiring and I see how critical it is to be a part of an organization where the end-result matters.  The radio lesson begins on time and it is immediately apparent what a true success this program is.  The children - once doomed to spend 3 years learning the alphabet - will now learn it in under a week, two at the most as evidenced by their grasp of the letters after only a couple days of the program being broadcast.  The teacher who before says he felt unprepared and without the resources to teach now has them.

At the end of each observation Sarré and Diabaté make encouraging remarks about the leaps and bounds being made by the USAID/PHARE program thanks to teachers and the bright future of education in Mali.  I, in an effort to be brief and avoid too much gawking at my Bambara, throw out an 'i ni ce, i ni baara-ji' ('thank you,good work') and wave.  We then welcome questions and comments from the participants.  Oftentimes we hear the complaint that USAID/PHARE doesn't provide batteries for the radios or can USAID/PHARE distribute the snazzy wax-printed fabric Sarré is sporting to all teachers?  USAID/PHARE is a $31 million dollar program.  That is a lot of American tax-payer money funneled into one program for one country.  When these questions inevitably come forth, and even sometimes when they do not, Sarré puts on his serious face and his big-bear voice.  He pulls me over to him and I look at an incredibly interesting spot on the back wall of the classroom.  He tugs my shoulder and says 'Americans care so much about the children of Mali - children they've never met I remind you! - to give their tax-money to programs like this.  I think we can do something to find money for batteries!'  I begin to feel like an arbitrary symbol of Americana as a non-tax-paying (or at least not much) citizen in this room of second-hand NY Yankees caps, Lacoste thrift store shirts and Obama paraphenalia.  I hope the people who sent these things paid their taxes.  Sometimes after Sarré finishes his speech there is an awkward round of applause - his voice erring on the side of theatrical- and sometimes I just continue to stare at the back of the wall.  I put a smile on my face that says 'I-don't-attach-strings-to-this-money, I'm-just-here-because-I-like-your-country-and-living-in-Bamako' and say a silent thank you that the speech is over.  After all, I've only ever paid enough taxes in my life to fund one of these training's pause-cafés.

Sarré with students in one of the classrooms we observed

The teaching academies, all constructed from the same blue-print as far as I can tell, have small overnight rooms tucked into the front of their compounds for teaching-related guests to stay.  Each afternoon we check the rooms where we spent the night before to make sure we've collected all our belongings and then we pack them into Oumar's truck.  I settle into my unofficial seat behind Sarré, passenger side, and try to find a comfortable position.  Diabaté gets in next to me and immediately pulls his radio the size of a Penguin classic book out of his boubou while Oumar flips the tape in the deck.  Diabaté draws the radio close to his ear and tunes it to a station playing anything concerning the recent elections in the Ivory Coast.   Usually a heated debate ensues about the better candidate - Diabité is for Allasane Ouattara in the South and Sarré is a staunch Gbagbo supporter*.  Oumar makes a joke that he's going to take the off-roads and laughs at himself.   An unfortunate trip out to one of the multi-age classrooms down a long, bumpy road early on in my time with PHARE resulted in an unplanned rest stop when I got sick inside the car.  Oumar still thinks it is funny.  I laugh with him not because I think my tendency towards car sickness is humorous but because I like the way he recalls details and people and that I am already a part of his memories.

I readjust in my seat as the road bends in an effort to avoid the harsh sun reflecting through the window and onto my skin.  We pass groups of Chinese and Malian men in sun hats standing in the shade of tractors on the road.  Every 200 meters there's a detour as heavy construction continues on this vital commerce trail connecting Mali to the Ivory Coast - and a port to the Atlantic Ocean.  The dust kicked up by 18 wheelers on the detours make the trees, shrubbery and high-grass lining the off-roads appear as though they have been dipped in a sepia setting.  Just beyond, the crisp blueness of the sky draws a sharp contrast with the green mango-tree leaves left untouched by the red-dirt that finds a way into the folds of our clothes, the creases in our skin.  The smell of diesel exhaust sucks into the car as Diabaté rolls down the window and 'Whooosh!' yet another plastic bag gasps out the window.  I turn back my head to see where it lands.  The wind catches it up, up, up and I see the shiny black plastic rain cloud in the otherwise cloud-less, clear, blue sky, catch on the branches of a tree.   

In Sikasso Oumar unloads three chickens from the roof - a gift from one of Sarré's nephews in Yanfolila - and hands them over to the guard's wife to cook for dinner.  I sleepily drag my tote bag √inside and set up my mosquito tent in my 8x8 ft cinder block room.  Students from the Institut de Formation de Maitres (IFM) where we are staying call to one another and their voices waft through my screened window, mixing with other noises from the city.  Motorcycles, metal spoons striking metal pans and the bass from loud speakers all become a chorus - their sounds harmonizing to the the tune of a small, Malian town.  After dinner Oumar cuts into a watermelon bought this afternoon on the side of the road - one of hundreds spilling out from a road-side stand.  He calls me outside to pick a slice and through the screened door I follow his voice and the lingering smell of fresh, cold watermelon in the air.  I sink my teeth into the crisp flesh of the melon, juice running down my chin and onto my t-shirt.   I just hung up the phone  with my mom who says it is close to 20 degrees Fahrenheit in Virginia Beach.  I look up at the moonless sky hanging above me and shiver.

See more pictures from the trip here!

*Gbagbo, the incumbent, declared his victory while the international community cries out for the validation of the real winner, Ouattara. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Bamako???

The Gates - Central Park, New York City, 1979-2005.  Christo and Jeanne-Claude
 Bazin - Steets of Bamako, Bamako, 2010.  

walking the streets of bamako
i hear
flapping fabric asking to move slow.
crisp, dyed, fresh on the line.
bazin for the taking - none of it mine.
vibrant purples, oranges, amber and gold.
barika b'a la? i'll take it - i'm sold

 Bazin - Steets of Bamako, Bamako, 2010. 
Bazin - Steets of Bamako, Bamako, 2010.  

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mali matters

The night before my photo session with the Malian photographer Malick Sidibé I find myself tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling and thinking about my pose for the portrait.  Since writing my senior art history thesis at Mary Washington in the fall of 2007 on Malick Sidibé and the 2007 Venice Biennial (he won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, the highest award offered at the exposition) and then moving to Mali as a Peace Corps Volunteer in July 2008, I have wanted him to take my portrait.  I've visited his open-to-the public and in-business studio with all of my Mali visitors - Marija, Mom and Sarah - and we've taken self-portraits each time.  I met Sidibé in February 2009 with Joe and Ashley and even got a picture with him, but not one by him.  That all changed last month.  The whole process - from making the appointment to walking to the studio to the actual portrait - has encouraged my reflection on my time in Mali.  Pictures in Mali, as in the States, are illuminating evidence of people's lives that tell us 'I was there; that time in my life mattered; I want to remember.' 

I've taken an embarrassingly large amount of photos while in Mali and while I won't print them all, I am glad to have a lot to choose from when I finally do make an album of my life here.  If you spend long enough with a Malian, or even not that long, you are bound to get a glimpse of their treasured photo album.  Plastic covered collections of pictures with Malian singers or griots on the front and back of the album and moments from your host's life in between.  When I lived in village Annie would break out her small stack of photos from time to time and tell me about her past - her weight and children indicators of place and time.   'See how fat I was?' she would ask.  'I ate meat everyday then - look at me now!' she would remark, pointing to her noticeably smaller frame.  Through her photo album I met people from her past and learned things about her like how she came to read and write Bambara thus becoming one of the only literate women in village.  Sometimes I would bring out my own photo album and chuckle at the (admittedly insulting but ultimately comical) comments people dropping by would make.  Comments like - 'Is this your mom?  She's much prettier than you,' which, I mean really, what can you do but laugh and say thank you?   

On my way to Malick Sidibé's studio, however, I get nothing but rave reviews.  After careful deliberation I decide to wear my 2010 Panafrican Women's outfit - the last complet Abu made for me in San before I moved to Bamako in September.  Before I leave the compound I stop by Ma Diallo's room, my landlord and Bamako host-mom who lives downstairs, where she gives me an approving grunt and elevator-look-head-nod  - careful not to interrupt her prayers with words.  As I navigate the uneven roads to get to the Koulikoro road I receive a few thumbs-up coupled with 'C'est comme ça!' and 'i para-la deh!' (you're looking good!) before the Sotrama prendstigi ushers me into the coveted passenger seat - unobstructed views of the road, room to stretch my legs and plenty of fresh air to breathe. 

I meet Ryan and Kevin, two RPCVs who also want to get their portraits taken, at the artisanal market near the big mosque and we walk together to the studio.  On time for our appointment, we nonetheless wait a few hours for Malick to arrive - you can't rush greatness, right?? - and in the meantime take a number of practice shots.  Two of Sidibé's sons run the shop for Malick and while we wait for their dad to arrive we chat about their father's photography and what they do here.  Karim, the older of the two, repairs cameras and handles the appointments.  Dia, in his mid-twenties and who dresses à la American, accompanies Malick to international exhibits of his work and sells flashy watches and musky cologne sent by an older brother in the States in between.  After perusing Dia's inventory - Ryan and Kevin somehow both muster the will-power to say no to Dia's wares - Malick finally arrives.  Approaching his mid-seventies, Malick walks with a cane and the enduring and endearing smile of a man who has lived a full life.  Sidibé shuffles behind his camera and, ladies first of course, I move in front of the lens to get my close-up.  Sidibé positions us all - my previous night's worries about poses a frittered use of time - and then, as quickly as the portrait session begins, it is over. Sidibé, fatigued from traveling to the studio and our portrait session, retires to a chair on the front porch of the studio.  Another group of toubabs, waiting to pick up their signed portraits taken earlier that week, seat themselves next to him as we quietly slip away.  Coulibaly jokes from the peanut gallery outside the studio our farewell as Dia and Karim nod their goodbyes.

Ryan and I return the following week to select our shots to be printed from the negatives.  The negatives are transferred onto photo paper - tiny prints of me, two of Ryan and a few of Kevin to choose from; it doesn't take long to make our selections.  Included on our negative sheet are two negative prints of a Malian man in a white boubou holding prayer beads as though offering them to the viewer.  We ask Karim about the man - humble, old and pious.  Karim says the man came to Malick after making his pilgrimage to Mecca and wanted a portrait to recognize his achievement of one of the 5 pillars of Islam.  Looking at this man's photo next to ours I am struck by the different reasons that brought us both to Malick.  I came to Malick to have my portrait taken by one of the most famous Malian photographers - a man I spent an entire semester of college studying.  The man in this tiny frame on the top-right corner of our negative sheet wants a tangible representation of his hajj.  However, upon further reflection I see that our reasons for getting our portraits taken by Malick aren't so different.  While my pilgrimage hasn't been to Mecca - my time and integration in Mali has been a special and heartfelt journey.  And when I frame this portrait and hang it in my home, like the anonymous, pious, old man will do with his own, it will hold the same significance.   It will say I was there, that time in my life mattered, I want to remember.

Dia and Ryan

What matters to you?  Do you have a favorite picture that helps you remember? 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bamako Bucket List- Part I

 Fletcher and me on our way out of the office
While on our Dogon hike with Sarah in August, Ryan and I put our heads together to make a list of things we wanted to accomplish while in Bamako.  After living in the big city for a year and anticipating a new job in Bamako, Ryan knew how easily the time can slip past and you find yourself wishing you had done all these things.  And so, under thatched roofs and in between Dogon cliffs we put together a living list of things to accomplish in Bamako.  Two months in and we're making progress.  Here's my latest attempt to work on the list.

After running a few miles at the park, Fletcher and I collect our things from the PHARE office and brave the streets of Bamako.  Bikers with 20-kilo orange-mesh bags of onions stacked 4 high on the back of their bikes pedal precariously close to the edge of the road and Sotramas filled with tired legs and colorfully wrapped heads cough past us.  Normally Fletcher and I walk together, in the direction of our respective homes, while I crane my neck behind us to try and read the neighborhood signs posted on the commuter buses indicating who is going where to try and catch a ride home.  But today is my first Modern dance class - improving our dance moves being a mutual Bamako goal of Ryan and I -  at the school near Fletcher's place and so I forgo the neck yoga and keep my eyes on the road ahead.

Known for its large variety of 'dead toubab' (read: thrift store) clothes and fresh produce, the market near the PHARE office is always bustling.  However, with Tabaski next week the palpable buzz of action has risen to a vibrating roar as truckloads of produce unload morning, noon and night on the sides of the road - piles of yams, onions, tomatoes and cabbage spilling over themselves asking to be bought.  In between produce women sit on low-lying stools fanning charcoal fires that heat crackling pots of shea oil and fried cakes or silver platters with sliced watermelon - appealing to both humans and flies alike!  Fletcher convinces me to pass up some questionable watermelon and since we're cutting it close on time we take a short-cut through a school yard to get to Fletcher's street.  I make it to the dance school just in time to see the previous class - ballet for toddlers - release.  Roly-poly two-year olds in mesh tutus and high ponytails - I hope I am only half as cute coming out after my own class!

I called the dance school the day before to confirm the class offered (Modern), the time (18h-19h30) and the cost (5,000 CFA/class - a little steep - but less if you get a carnet).  I wanted to make sure I was prepared and so asked the helpful French man on the other end of the line what to wear.  He paused and asked if I had ever danced before.  I mumbled something about a college class and, reassured that I wasn't a total debutante, he told me to wear nothing fancy, just shirt, pants and shoes.  Guess I'll have to save the sequined leotard for another class.

While I think the dance class I took in college was Modern, I wasn't sure what lay in store at this particular 'école de danse'.  Fletcher said his sister took a Modern dance class once and it involved a lot of Britney Spears moves.  The class I took in college, and the definition I found online, prepared me to be expressing my inner feelings which, for me, doesn't typically involve a lot of Britney Spears-esque moves.  I also did not know how I would feel about expressing my inner feelings with strangers or how I would be at following the class in French.  Fortunately, thanks to mirrors which make it easy to follow moves and dance names being in French anyways, both concerns turned out to be moot points.  Fletcher, tempted to stay when he saw the handful of ladies waiting outside the dance studio (sorry Fletcher - they turned out to be the unavailable moms of the toddlers) continued home and I headed inside where I met Fonfon, the dance instructor and man with whom I spoke on the phone, and the 4 other women in the class.  For the next hour and a half we stretched, chasséed and kicked the air which cumulated in a dance routine with only a few moves Britney Spears would envy.  I left the class with a flushed face and excited for the lesson next week.  The pursuit of the Bamako Bucket List continues!
Coming home to protective tomato paste cans and patio furniture

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

All better with a bean sandwich and more

 papaya/banana/peanut butter smoothie and new patio furniture

I came into work yesterday with an overnight packed and ready to go for a 3-day trip to Kayes only to find I would no longer be going on the trip I had been looking forward to for a week due to a miscommunication.  Frustrated, I walk over to Ba's breakfast stand which faces the PHARE office to buy a bean, plantain and french fry sandwich.  Safe under the shade of her umbrella stand I find Fletcher, another Peace Corps Volunteer at PHARE, in line to buy his own breakfast delight.  He offers to buy my bean sandwich and I feel my tenseness melt a little.  Bean and plantains - this boy knows the way to my heart! 

After work I put my book, camera and wallet into the coral beach bag my sister-in-law gave all her bridesmaids at her wedding in June and head across the street to the National Park.  'Djelika, i tununa-deh!' calls Doumbia, one of the security guards, from a low-lying stone bench.  I smile and wave and continue onto the stone pathway leading through the center of the park.  At the end of the path I find a bench by a tiered pond and set-up shop.  I look up every now and again and see cute couples walking slowly around the park and men jogging in track suits on the gravel paths.  Two ducks jump into the pond right by my feet and I find myself smiling at their little duck feet flapping in the water. 

While I am still disappointed about not getting to go on the trip I am also trying to keep my mind open that everything happens for a reason and maybe I am supposed to be in Bamako this week.  I gather my belongings at a quarter to 6 and leave the gardens to head to the French cultural center for a free dance performance.  I walk there from work and get to see the sun set on Bamako as I walk over a bridge that extends over the train tracks.  The dances (3 solos) at the CCF are interesting and I enjoy sharing them with a group of Canadian students here for a teaching practicum.  I leave happy to have shared in the experience with folks I truly enjoy.

A quick taxi ride and 1000 CFA later I arrive home where I greet Ma Diallo, my landlord and host, and explain to her why I am not in Kayes as I told her I would be this morning when I left for work.  I head upstairs and fish in my coral bag for my house key to find it is not there.  I think back to this morning when I was in a rush to gather my overnight and work bag and remember dropping the key in the wrong bag - the one I left at work so I would not have to tote it around the city after work.  I sigh -  sometimes the frustrations of the day add up so much it's comical.

an afternoon shadow on my stairs

I return downstairs and tell Ma the situation.   She gives me her 'Ehhhh!!??' face and tells me to go back to work to get my keys, vite-fais!  It is almost 9 pm and I explain the doors are locked and the guard-on-duty does not have the keys to the office.  I ask if I can sleep next to her - I will try to keep on my side of the bed!  She nods her approval and then begins to tell me a story about her husband.  Her husband, a militaire now living in France, often traveled for work.  Once, while they were living in Kayes, he was slated to take a train to Bamako but, like me, his name was left off the 'ordre de mission' and so he stayed at home.  That morning they heard on the radio that the train he was supposed to be on derailed (not uncommon here) and she said 6,000 people died!  While I don't think her numbers are accurate, I understood what she was telling me and appreciated it.  She said things happen for a reason, Djelika.  You weren't meant to go.  I fell asleep smiling, Ma snoring next to me, because even though days can be filled with frustrations, days are also filled with tender moments, from bean sandwiches to duck feet to snoring landladies, that make it OK.

See some more sweet moments in Bamako here

Monday, October 25, 2010


 Kettly Noel (l) and Nelisiwe Xaba (r)
On Friday night some friends and I, after eating pumpkin soup on my roof under a nearly full moon, attended Kettly Noel (Mali, Haiti) and Nelisiwe Xaba (South Africa)'s choreographed contemporary dance piece "Correspondances" at the French Cultural Center.  All I knew about the performance before I entered the theater was that it was about women meeting each other in different places.  The blurb on the Center's website did not prepare me for what I saw. 

Nelisiwe enters through a curtain covered doorway in the middle of the stage.  She wears a black and white flower-patterned trench coat and staggering stiletto heels.  Behind her and to the left is a row of hanging, black suit bags and matching black sacks on the floor.  She begins to describe her morning routine, in English and with her body, the places in her home where she checks out her outfit, make-up and hair each morning before heading out into the fray.  She says if she's going to have men craning their necks to look at her - she wants to give them something good to look at. 

Setting the scene
Then, Kettly announces her presence on the scene, breaking Nelisiwe's mirrors-in-the-morning monologue, from a balcony upstairs.  She's wearing a short skirt and carries a briefcase like you'd imagine a flapper in the 1920s holding at a train station.  She floats downstairs and starts giving bisoux to folks in the crowd, waving as though they're old friends and then climbs onstage, sets down her suitcase and steps to the back of the stage for a costume change. 

While Nelisiwe performs a dance with a 2 ft high doll pulled from Kettly's suitcase, Kettly non-chalantly changes into a black dress and a new pair of heels in the background, a simple black leotard on underneath which, while just like a bathing suit, is extremely shocking in conservative Mali.  I'm not used to seeing anyone else's legs but my own!  The two proceed to simulate a club atmosphere and their bodies speak not only to one another on the stage, asking and answering in a rapid-fire succession, but also to the audience as we imagine ourselves or others in a dance-club.  The two begin to hip-bump - playfully at first and then violently - as they compete for the attention of an absent man. 

Can you do this?
While Nelisiwe changes, Kettly pulls a microphone into the middle of the stage and begins a feminist monologue.  She lists her womanly attributes in emphatic French. Sensulle.  Oui.  Sexuelle.  Oui.   Sensitive.  Oui.  Soumise*.  Non.  Interessante.  Oui.  Belle. Oui.  Je suis une femme globale, oualie!  Then, she speaks about the state of Africa in the world and Anglophonie and Francophonie and asks us when will we start talking about Afriphonie? (one of my favorite parts of the show).  She ends the monologue by dragging the mike-stand off stage, verbally asserting her sensuality, as she burps loudly into the microphone.

The dance ended with an interesting statement on,'s hard to say.  It was a little graphic, mildly messy and a whole lotta confusing.  All I can say is check out the artists on YouTube if you're interested in learning and seeing more.  Throughout the performance Kettly and Nelisiwe coupled vehement social statements with satire, using their bodies and words, concerning Africa, women, friendships, love and politics for a dance performance that left me in awe of the capabilities of the human body and shaking my head at the meaning of it all.  Three days later I'm still talking about the performance with the folks I went to the show with and am looking forward to the Danse L'Afrique Danse! biennial in Bamako next week. 

Post-show - two medical gloves and a stage of fake milk...


Sunday, October 17, 2010

The new National Park of Mali

 a hibiscus tea break at the garden
Around 12:30 a lunch bell rings in my head and I fish 300 CFA out of my wallet, tie my sun hat on my increasingly blond head, slip my lanyard-string museum pass around my neck and look both ways before crossing the street from the PHARE complex to the parking lot of the National Museum of Mali.  Fatoumata's table, surrounded by broken-down museum buses in a forgotten corner of the lot, is laden with rice and sauce and occasionally frozen sweet drinks that she sells to museum employees, security guards and toubabs like me on a limited lunch budget.  I set my money on the table and collect a plate of tigadegana with hot pepper sauce and a bottle of hibiscus juice and enter the park grounds through the back door.

On October 1st the National Museum of Mali hosted the opening of the National Park of Mali situated on the museum grounds and spanning over 250 acres.  The National Park, financed and designed by his Highness Aga Khan and his eponymous foundation, offers two restaurants (in addition to the museum's), a tea house, playgrounds, a fully-equipped fitness center and juice bar, a traditional medicine garden, fountains and numerous benches to support tushes tired from walking around the expansive environs. 

yellow-brick road
For 5,000 CFA/month I have unlimited access to the gardens where I eat lunch each work day and, if I'm feeling spunky, run in the afternoon.  The paths on the perimeter are lined in loose gravel and the center walkway is paved in cobblestone and culminates in a multi-level restaurant with a terraced duck-pond below.  Strolling couples and track-suited joggers crunch up and down the gravel paths, teenagers with cell phones and ear pieces try out the fitness equipment and friends sip afternoon sodas and coffee and munch on croissants at the tea house while soaking up the garden air and sacred sound of silence in air-and-noise-polluted Bamako. 

 Fletcher in the flowers (he's another PCV at PHARE)
On Saturday night the museum hosted the opening of an exposition titled 'North meets West' in their temporary exhibit space.  Massaran and I, a neighbor and friend, ventured to the museum on Saturday afternoon with her baby Aboudou on her back and my camera in hand.  The exhibit is the culmination of a 10-day workshop held in Bamako for a group Norwegian and West African artists from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo and Mali.   

Mama Bamako, 2010 - Bjoern Noergaard
Lunch, art exhibits, scenic benches - whatever the reason, the National Park and Museum of Mali provide the answer.  It's the right price, $10 a month for unlimited entry and 250 CFA/visit for residents (about 50 cents) and the right location for me (across the street from work and a 10 minute drive from home).  The garden gods have smiled on Bamako and I feel blessed for it!
tea house by night-light
see more pictures from the park and Bamako here

Monday, October 11, 2010

An ECU delivery and Vieux Farka Touré

On Thursday at 4 pm, Land Rover packed and ready to go with teaching materials for the San region 'Ecoles à Classe Unique', I climbed into the front passenger seat, buckled in and Oumar and I set out for San.  With Africando music on repeat on the tape player and popcorn and a candy bar between us, Oumar recounted all the trips he's taken as a driver for NGOs as we snacked our way to San.  Oumar's memory amazed me as he listed not only the year and location of his trips to places like Kidal, Niger and Chad but also the full names of all passengers on each mission.  Popcorn long gone and fingers sticky from the chocolate, we pulled into the first ECU village by 10:30 pm where we unloaded the materials and a metal case and were on our way to San by 11. 

Two of the trunks with materials inside (l) and the materials all unloaded (r)          
The next morning, waiting on a second load of teaching materials from Bamako (for three other villages), I made a trip out to my village to visit Annie, Esayi and the new volunteer, Jim.  Rainy season continues to the bafflement of most and to the dismay of anyone trying to navigate mud paths to villages 'en brusse' - getting out there took over twice the amount of time it should have.  I wasn't expecting to get back to village before going home in December and I was surprised by my nervous feelings as I left San.  Five weeks after leaving though, unsurprisingly, not much has changed and my nervous feelings melted as soon as I saw Annie, Esayi and baby Christine.  It felt great to see Jim in his new home and answer questions he had and also to see how well he fits in with the Coulibaly groove.  I was never nervous about him fitting in but seeing how much folks like him with my own eyes and how well he is adjusting was comforting all the same.  Annie has also put on 3 kilos (about 6 pounds) since our visit to the health clinic in August and Christine's little baby body has fattened up all over - not just in her belly. 

Oumar and I returned to San at 8 pm after delivering the rest of the materials that afternoon and made our ways to our respective jatigis (hosts) in San.  I got to greet the butigi owner Bacho and his brother Moulie and the official San-kaw tailor Abu.  I told Abu how everyone in Bamako loves my outfits and raves about how good my tailor is to which Abu replied he was looking for a studio in Bamako. The competition is fierce so I said I'd keep an eye out for vacant shops. 
Vieux Farka Touré and the band (photo - Pamela)
Oumar dropped me off at my house just after 4 pm on Saturday where I showered and got ready for a Vieux Farka Touré concert at the French Cultural Center.  Beforehand, I attended a birthday celebration dinner at my boss's home complete with gouda cheese, pudding, champagne and presents for the guests.  Everyone was going to the show so after the party we loaded into cars to get to the center where for 3,000 CFA (about $6) I saw one of the most famous Malian musicians perform to a sold-out crowd of about 350 people.  The concert included a lot of flashing, colored lights, use of a fog machine and encouragement to get up and boogey.  The whole band wore varying degrees of intricate bazin boubous - Le Vieux's the most embroidered and shiny of them all.  The bassist wore grey converses and the woman I was staring at all night in the front row with an exquisite pink and red bazin complet with puffy sleeves turned out to be Le Vieux's wife.  The older, reserved, ex-pat crowd isn't what Le Vieux is used to as he consistently referred to our relaxed atmosphere and calm demeanor but it was an awesome concert nonetheless.  In the end there was lots of dancing and with such an intimate setting, time for one-on-one greeting and photos afterwards.
me and Vieux Farka Touré (photo Pamela)
The next morning I went downstairs to greet my host family including Madame Diallo and her steady stream of visitors and tell them about my visit to San and the Vieux Farka Touré concert.  Madame Diallo asked who Vieux was and I said a Malian singer.  'Why did you go to visit him,' she asked.  'Did he die?'  I guess he needs to work on his national fan base!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Les Ecoles à Classe Unique (ECU)

Teachers discussing ECU information packet
The last two weeks of September I shadowed a handful of PHARE staff at a primary school on the banks of the Niger river in Ségou for an intensive training of teachers and academy directors on the 'Ecole à Classe Unique' (ECU) program the Ministry of Education is implementing with 35 schools this year after piloting the program last year with 5.  After spending over 80 hours spanning 2 weeks with 35 teachers, 7 pedagogical advisors, 20 teacher trainers and part of the PHARE staff, I re-emerged in Bamako rubbing visions of the alphabet out of my eyes and with the ringing of children singing instructional songs in my ears.  
Kids reading at an outdoor practicum
Camera in hand and Power-point warming on the computer, I spent morning, pause café and afternoon roaming from classroom to classroom and session to session to document the ECU training for tax-paying folks back home (and their dependents) and my bosses and colleagues in Bamako (the Americans of which I hope also pay their taxes).  Along the way, I learned what an ECU is and how it is supposed to be implemented in Mali.   
 Interactive learning on a mat
ECUs are intended for villages where the primary school population does not exceed 40 and the closest primary school is 10 km or more away - too far for a child to walk.  The idea is that instead of kids having to walk to school - or simply not go which is more often the case - the school will go to them.  By reaching out to isolated populations through ECUs, PHARE is assisting the Ministry of Education to realize the goals set forth by the United Nations and the Millennium Challenge mandating universal primary education by 2015.   

PHARE sought to achieve certain objectives with this training, one of which was how to organize the ECU classroom.  Some teachers will hold class in a one-room school house and others will conduct school under the shade of a mango tree and on the surface of a plastic mat.  Other objectives included how to employ active teaching methods in the classroom, how to use the interactive radio sessions broadcast on ORTM (the Malian National radio station) and produced by PHARE, how to produce teaching material in the respective national languages and to discuss the history of the ECU in Mali.  PHARE staff also spent time working with the directors of the teaching academies to discuss the evaluation of ECU teachers and how it differs from those with a single-level classroom. 
Moussa teaching icebreakers (hangman) 
With grades 1-6 in one classroom the teacher encounters new challenges to engage all students simultaneously and to effectively instruct.  One of the guiding principles behind ECUs is the desire to instill autonomy in its students by encouraging them to teach one another.  For example, during language arts, the 4, 5 and 6th grade students can pair up with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades to produce books.  The older students write the story while the younger ones illustrate.  With math, while the teacher helps the 5th and 6th grade students with long division, the 4th graders can help the 1-3 levels with their addition and multiplication - correcting and guiding each other along the way.  

With over 14 languages, 7 of which were present at this training (Bambara, Dogon, Peul, Songhai, Tomashek, Bomu, Bozo), the Malian Ministry of Education (and PHARE!) has its work cut out for them to produce quality bi-lingual classroom materials and teachers capable of implementing it.  The amalgamation of languages made for colorful conversations at the training and also a lot of nagging about why I only speak Bambara and French.  Why don't you learn Fulfuldae? the Peuls would say.  What about Bomu? said the Bobos.  And don't forget about the Songhai of Kidal! said the cute, little old man who had never before this training been past Gao.  I would smile, offer up the word or so I know in their language (if any), and joke about all the beans they ate before coming to the training.  After all, not only were they (jokingly) insulting my capacity to learn obscure African languages, they said the man drawn on the chalkboard after the lost game of hangman was a Coulibaly!
Transcribing the training information (delivered in French) into national languages (Tomashek seen here)

 One of the participants in the middle of a simulation lesson to practice what was learned
Bringing all the levels together for a lesson

Friday, October 1, 2010

Some after photos of the new place

I'm back after a two-week training in Segou with a few things left to do: painting of tables and book shelves, buying a fridge, etc.  More to come soon on the training! 

the kitchen
Living Room

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Worth the wait!

Walking through sugu-kura in the Hippodrome quartier, Sekou, who works for PHARE doing administrative tasks, calls to say he has an apartment for me to check out - can I meet him at my boss's place right now? I hang up the phone and put down the pile of tomatoes I am haggling over, ask God's blessings for the woman's business, and make a beeline to the road to catch a Sotrama.  As wonderful as it is staying with one of my bosses, after a week in Bamako I am ready to move into my own place.    

30 minutes later, Sekou knocks on a large, metal gate and we enter a stone courtyard.  A mango tree grows in the middle of the enclosure and I eye a cute baby on the tile patio toddling after one of the house cats.  Fruit trees and a cute baby - so far, so good.  Sekou and I slip off our shoes and enter the living room where a sizable women sits on a cushy chair, prayer beads slowly rotating through her fingers, and bazin-clad visitors eye me suspiciously from their seats on opposite couches.  I offer my hand to the woman in the chair and dip as I shake hers to show my respect.  She gestures for me to sit on the couch beside her as Sekou explains we are here to see if the apartment upstairs is a good fit for me.  The woman, introduced as Madame Diallo, nods her approval and gestures for me to go to the door.  As I leave I feel the eyes of Madame Diallo's guests on me and, sure enough, I turn to find 5 pairs looking in my direction.  I start to feel less like I am here to approve of the apartment and more like I am here to be approved of by Madame Diallo and her family.  I straighten my pagne and slip back on my shoes to head upstairs. 

Sekou leads me up a broken-tile mosaic stairway that curves around and up to an East facing apartment.  It's as though the family decided their home needed a little something else and plopped a three-room dwelling on their roof.  Metal rods stick out at regular intervals, a way (I assume) of evading real-estate property taxes since owners of 'unfinished' residences (i.e. those with exposed metal rods) are not required to pay taxes on their real-estate.  Sekou gently guides me around the exposed tetanus hazards while I marvel at the panoramic view.  To the North-West there's a large, packed dirt clearing.   Around the perimeter women sell fried dough and paté and in the center young guys chase after lobbed soccer balls.  Those who are less athletic watch from the sidelines in plastic-string chairs while playing cards and pouring tea from charcoal-heated, silver pots.  In the distance a hill slopes down and to the East, framing the scene and leading my eyes back to the apartment.

I hesitate before we enter because there are no visible windows.   A lover of natural light, I remind myself to keep an open mind - good apartments in this neighborhood are hard to come by and I can only be but so picky.  But as Sekou opens the door I see I have nothing to worry about.  Afternoon light pours in through windows on the West wall through gold curtains and spills over onto the fully furnished living room.  It's more than I could have hoped for!  In the next room, I find a bedroom outfitted with a bed-set, a real mattress (I've been sleeping on a foam mattress squished down to about 2 inches) and an armoire with full-length mirrors.  At the end of the bedroom is a bathroom with a toilet, sink and shower.  While bathing under the stars was one of my favorite parts of living 'en brusse', it will be nice not to have to truck outside in the middle of the night to heed mother nature's calls.  An empty room to the far left could serve as the kitchen.

I gush to Sekou that I love it and he heaves an audible sigh of relief and flashes me a big grin.  He's been dashing around the city for the past couple weeks following leads here and there of vacant apartments that fit PHARE's parameters and I can tell he's glad the search is off.  We close the window shutters, lock the front door and head back downstairs to tell Madame Diallo the news. She's finished praying now and her guests have gone.  She tells me she's 'très contente' I'll be living upstairs and as we say our goodbyes I try to contain my giddiness - I finally have a place to live.  Leaving the compound and making my way back to my boss's to let her know the good news I'm reminded - some things really are worth the wait!
 The bedroom before
More pictures (afters!) to come soon - the internet is being slow!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Quest for a mosquito net and sheets

Leaving work on Friday, I collect my bag and leave my air conditioned work area to enter the fray of market where steamy heat clings to my skin.  I walk down a tree-lined avenue, taxis honking at me to ride instead of walk, towards sugu-ba (the big market) to purchase new sheets to fit my new mattress and a mosquito net.  I stop for a snack at a portable vietnamese stand and watch as people narrowly avoid motorcycles and close-cutting taxis weaving in and out of traffic as they navigate their own way to market.  I finish my spring-roll treat and, after following the directions of fellow shoppers and shopkeepers down this street and winding back that one, I finally find what I'm looking for.

   My work space with Almamy Traoré (left and smiling) and Sah Cissé (right and at work!)
The smell of fried dough and open sewers rise up to mix for an unwelcome aroma as I enter the shop.  A discreet storefront, one of the few open ones the day after (or of, depending on when you saw the moon) Ramadan where yards of pastel fabric hang from the ceiling and pool together in a single, large, wrinkled mass on the floor.  I plunk myself and work bag onto a roughly made plank bench and look around the shop which is no larger than a small, walk-in closet.  I quickly see what I came here to buy: a flowing, lace-adorned pink mosquito net and light pink sheets with embroidered flowers.  I ask for the net and 3 meters of the fabric to get sewn into a fitted sheet at a tailor near my home. 

Outside the PHARE office

A man lounges on a chair outside the door and, nodding towards my bag of embroidered sheets and mosquito net scoffs, 'Pink?  It's because you're a feminist.'  I look back at him, puzzled, recalling the feminists I know.  The shopkeeper comes back with my change and, smiling at the funny observation of the lounging man, I start the walk home as the once threatening clouds begin to pour buckets from the sky.  I cringe as I miscalculate puddles and pull my shoulders in under my red umbrella while passing shopkeepers quickly covering their wares with forlorn, plastic sheets.  The only colors visible in a once vibrant market are the shiny troops of families returning from greeting for Ramadan in bazin complets (a fancy type of fabric) and new, holiday sandals as they walk quickly to find shelter from the sleeting rain. 

 A nems stand.  Yuumm.
I forgo the teetering Sotramas, filled with passengers dressed for Ramadan celebrations, and decide to walk, even though it's a long way home, because the rain lets up and the afternoon is mine.  I turn off to walk behind the main road where kitchen gardens line the mud paths and guards in maroon uniforms and matching caps sit in plastic lawn chairs outside villa walls.  The air is decidedly cleaner only one street off the main road - fresh vegetable smells replacing the stifling odor of unfiltered exhaust.  For a minute I'm transported out of Bamako and back to village where bending millet stalks and flowering okra line the paths to village rather than crumbling sidewalks and gaudy home furnishings. 

I follow the rising spires of the large mosque near my home to find my way in the maze of intersecting, muddy roads.  My neighborhood is characterized by large, shady trees and as I near my home I fold up my umbrella and let the rainy season breezes and afternoon sun wrap around me.  Mining offices and small hotels are interspersed with tiny hardware shops, tailors and egg-sandwich stands in the area.  I dodge errant soccer balls kicked by little boys in Spanish soccer jerseys and greet groups of women braiding hair outside metal lean-to beauty boutiques.  I climb the tile-mosaic stairs to my apartment, gauzy net and cotton-candy pink fabric spilling out of my overflowing bags, and collapse on my couch.  I turn on the ceiling fan and close my eyes as the afternoon call to prayer pours through my windows. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My work in Bamako - In honor of International Literacy Day (September 8)

A week ago I moved from a village with a population of 1,000 to Bamako - a city with a population of over 1,000,000.  I moved from a mud hut where branches reinforced my roof and I used an outdoor latrine to a cement house with indoor plumbing, ceiling fans and electricity.  Instead of working with farmers and a women's group, I work with the Programme Harmonisé d'Appui au Renforcement de l'Education (PHARE), the Ministry of Education and USAID employees.  Instead of biking 15 miles to get fresh food, I hop on a Sotrama (the public mini-bus system where you pay 125 CFA/ride - about 12 cents) to pick up fresh vegetable and household supplies from open markets and shops on the way home from work.  

PHARE is a $30 million program funded through USAID that coordinates with the Ministry of Education to improve the quality of teacher training in Mali through direct teacher training, radio broadcasts, smart phones and virtual training centers.  I will not be teaching students but rather assisting in the development of lesson plans, teacher training manuals and communication/public relation materials. 

This past week I took part in a number of meetings.  One of them was with the 17 directors of the teaching academies of Mali where I listened to one of my bosses, Rebecca Rhodes (an RPCV from Guinea),  report on the work PHARE completed during the 2009-10 school year and what the program hopes to accomplish (in coordination with the directors) in 2010-11.  Later in the week I sat in on training-schedule development meetings and made a visit to a village 70 km from Bamako where PHARE is monitoring the success of the one-room schools the ministry is promoting throughout Mali (it was a long and bumpy ride that my stomach couldn't handle!) One-room schools are implemented in villages where the child population is under 40 and one teacher teaches grades 1-6.  It has been applied to schools around the world with great success. 

In Mali, public school begins in early October.  The interactive radio programs PHARE has produced, the primary tool for reinforcing French literacy skills, are 30 minute lesson plans and will begin to broadcast in mid-November.  The interactive radio programs provide teachers with learning tools on how to teach (over 1/2 of teachers receive NO formal training) while simultaneously helping students to learn French which they need if they want to be competitive in either the national or international job market later on and also for their own educational development.

See and hear what interactive radio programs are like in Somalia 

Statistics show that by the end of grade 4 in Mali, only 23% of boys and 10% of girls can read a simple sentence in French.  Mali ranks at the bottom of the United Nation's literacy rankings.  Can you imagine sending your child to school and them not learning the alphabet until the third grade?  That's what happens in Mali.  Can you imagine sending your child to school to share a classroom with 100 other students and one teacher?  That's what happens in Mali.   Can you imagine sacrificing an extra pair of able hands on your farm and paying for your child's education only to have them come home having learned nothing?  That's what happens in Mali.  After witnessing the fervor with which Annie and Esayi pursued their own children's education in village, having received limited education themselves, I feel the pressing need for an improved education system in Mali.  Quality education produces people who are able to inform themselves on civil issues and creates an informed voter base who can then elect quality, non-corrupt leaders which in turn leads to an improved economy and internal infrastructure which then overflows into all aspects of social and economic development. 

I feel blessed to have spent 2 years living in a rural village where Annie, Esayi and my neighbors taught me about life in Mali (and also for the public education I received in Virginia!).  I am looking forward to applying the cultural lessons learned in village to an office setting in Bamako and towards work I truly believe in.  I have engaging and interesting bosses and colleagues, stimulating work and a beautiful National Museum to visit during my lunch breaks.  While my job description has changed and I will play in a lot less dirt than I did in village (with 999,000 more people around), my reasons for being here are the same.  I live in a beautiful country with warm, welcoming people and I have work that challenges and inspires me.  Allah k'a i deme!

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