Tuesday, August 31, 2010

K'an sooni!

On Friday at dusk Modibo, a Peace Corps driver, turned the familiar corner of the mud-wall lined path outside my hut to arrive at Esayi’s compound. Modibo, along with Esayi, Bakari and a handful of other capable, strong, young men, loaded his white SUV with all the treasures I accumulated in village the past two years. Tables, chairs, trunks, suitcases, pots, pans, a bike, a gas tank and stove all piled creatively into the back and top of the truck. Waati sera! The time has come!
Esayi and I in front of my house
I spent the last two weeks at site throwing out papers, packing my belongings and saying my goodbyes to folks. After knitting with Annie through the heat or rain of the day I would strap Christine to my back and head from compound to garden, garden to compound and greet people and explain one more time that soon I would be leaving and soon a new volunteer, Jim (AKA Adama), will arrive. Women would look up from sifting millet flour or corralling a child to say, ‘eh, kelen??’ – Already??. I would laugh and say two years isn’t already! Old men would grin or frown, offer one their hand (or their oldest sons’) in marriage one last time and say ‘eh, an be deli ka soro i be ta’ – Just as we get used to one another, you go. It’s hard to imagine it taking so long to truly feel a part of somewhere and in truth, I’ve felt a part of the village for much longer. But the comfortable interactions, the greeting and knowing people’s names and their families, the knowing where to go in village for milk powder, dried fish, batteries and flour – that really did take a long time and even up until the last week I continued to learn about the village and its varied dynamics.
Christine getting ready for the party

Esayi and Annie agreed it would be best to have a farewell party the night before I left. On the Monday before I sent money with Esayi to the San market to buy sugar, tea, cigarettes and gasoline for the fête. Annie met with the women’s association a few weeks earlier to discuss renting strip lights, speakers and a generator. Wednesday night I sat down with Annie to knit and Baissata, the president of the women’s group, joined us so I offered her my chair and sat behind Annie on a low-lying mud wall. They began to speak quickly and I followed words, expressions and body language to figure out my party had some problems. Annie said the woman in charge of coordinating the lights and speakers forgot to rent them. ‘An be na mun ke?’ she asked me. What will we do? I shrugged, and said well, no party? I didn’t know what to say or what to do. Disappointed, I left to make a phone call and when I returned Annie said we had another problem. I smiled and said let’s hear it. She said Baissata had come back to tell her an old woman in village died. That her funeral would be tomorrow, Thursday, the day before I leave. In my village, where animism is a predominant religion (akin to spiritualism), the whole village is expected to go out to the fields and bury the body together. And so, after greeting the family of the woman in the morning, we all headed out to the fields to bury her body and dance next to the grave. That night heavy rains came and the celebration of her life didn’t start until 3 am. I woke up at 5:30 and headed over for the last song, just before dawn. While not having a party was too bad, I’m not really leaving yet and so we’ll save the party for another visit (in ch’Allah!) and hopefully we’ll have a good time then.
A rainy season sunset as I bike into site for the last time
Modibo got in the truck, anxious to get back to San to break the fast of the day (it is Ramadan) and Annie and Esayi quickly said their farewells: ‘Allah ka sira numan ye; Allah ka nogon ye nogoya.’ for a blessed my trip to Bamako and a quick return to Zana. A small crowd had gathered around the truck to witness the hubbub and as I looked back, Modibo’s white SUV leaving the way it came but with me in it, I saw the small crowd dissolve as night began to fall. The men to Shaka’s for tea and talking. The women back into their compounds to take care of dinner and wash the kids. The children chasing after old bike tires with sticks in the well-worn ruts in the road. After two years it’s nice to know that while some things have changed because of me, (hopefully for the better) life here is the same. Waati sera.
Two of the treasures I had to leave behind

See more pictures from my last week here!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Fumbles, Food and Fun!

When writing my blog posts I often feel like waving my arms around me and saying, 'See??!!'  because my words fail me.  I spent these past 3 weeks waving my arms around and saying 'See??!!' but it was to a friend.  I spent these past 3 weeks talking until I was blue in the face but it was with someone next to me.  Exploring Mali with one of my best friends, Sarah, we talked about our lives in Mali and France and she got to see the country she's been reading about for 2 years on my blog in person.  Seeing her nod and get a real grasp on my life here was touching and an incredibly rich experience for us both. 
Sarah and Maridee checking out mud cloth in Koutiala
The day after arriving in Bamako and staying at my friend Ryan's place (thank you!) Sarah and I loaded into an NGO pick-up truck with my overweight bags and her carry-on size suitcase and headed to Koutiala.  Once there we relaxed at the volunteer house and tried to catch up on some sleep - I was pretty fuzzy after a 12 hour flight and a bumpy truck ride.  The next day, watered and fed, we headed with Maridee, another PCV who is based in Koutiala, to the mud-cloth association where she works.  We learned where the dyes come from, how the mud-cloth is made and some of the history behind the designs before making some purchases and taking a few lovely pictures.

From Koutiala we traveled to San in a friendly mini-bus where the other passengers loved Sarah (of course!) and taught her lots of things in Bambara in between questions about her man and reasons for being in Mali.  In the span of the few days we spent in San Sarah learned to greet in Bambara, purchased many bolts of fabric to be made into gifts and matching outfits and ate a large amount of peanut-butter-sauce-covered rice.  While passing through a plastic-sheet covered stall in the fabric section of market an old, frail man took one look at me and Sarah and made me promise I would take her inside in case of strong winds to prevent them from blowing her away.  I happily agreed and Sarah nudged me to say the same about him!

Tea at Uncle's (left) was a mainstay of our visit to San
After biking the 20km to village (it's part of the travel ritual :), Sarah finally got to give baby Christine snuggles, Annie hugs and Esayi confirmations that yes, she was in good health and happy to be here.  We collected shea nuts with Annie one morning, tried to help pound millet into flour, toured the village to meet all of my friends and folks I work with and spent a morning in the cereal bank as the last of the grain was issued to families in my village. 
Sarah is a trooper biking through the marsh from my village!
We were then honored to attend Cassie's farewell party at her site and next headed to Djenné to see the largest mud mosque in the world on Djenné's market day.  The mosque is pretty much all there is to see in Djenné so after a day there we headed to Mopti and stayed with a volunteer, Susan, (thank you!) and then to Sevaré where we purchased treasures (of course!) and prepared to leave for our Dogon hike.  The 3-day Dogon hike took us on a beautiful tour of the lush cliffs with breathtaking views of the encroaching desert and scrubby brush below for only 8,000 CFA/day (about $16) from Dourou to Telly. 

Checking out the scenery in Dogon country
Carefully navigating the rocky terrain ahead of us I lagged behind the group on our Dogon hike.  I heard Oumar Guindo, our sailor-mouthed guide and comedian for the trip, holler back to the rest of us 'Got it?!' after his inaudible commentary on the landscape around and below.  I waved my arms around and said 'See??!!' to Sarah and she turned back and smiled.  I have been truly blessed to have Marija, my Mom and now Sarah come and share in my experiences here and actually see for themselves this beautiful country and the people I know (and all the ones I've yet to meet!) in it.  Because when it comes to Mali - sometimes there just aren't words. 

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