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

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