Monday, May 30, 2011

Internet in Mali: 3G Orange key

         5,000 CFA phone card, a SIM card and my cell phone
When I moved to Bamako in September I drooled over cheesy pizzas, ice cream and the National Park and just general living in Bamako - the capital city of Mali.  I outfitted my kitchen with a refrigerator (granted, a tiny one), an oven (granted, a toaster oven) and a coffee table.  I bought patio furniture and basil plants to spruce up my terrace.  The question remained though - what about internet?  Could I afford a subscription on my Peace Corps stipend (granted, a tiny one!)?  At close to 30,000/month (about $60 USD), I realized an at-home internet subscription was way beyond my budget as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Lucky for me Orange, one of Mali's phone service providers, has folks like me in mind!

Rather than pay for internet to be installed in my apartment and a monthy fee way out of my budget I now use Orange's 3G USB key to have Internet Everywhere.  For one month I pay 5,000 - 10,000 CFA ($10-$20 USD), depending on their monthly deals, and can Skype and surf the net to my heart's content.  For one person the cost and amount of internet (1GB) are just right!  Even luckier is that I didn't have to buy the 3G key - my sweet, generous friend Bodil gave me hers after she finished up a research grant in Mali and moved back home!

I remove my SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card from my cell phone and insert another one specifically for the internet.  Then, I load phone credit onto the internet SIM card before replacing it in the USB key (there's a special slot for the SIM card).  Then, I plug the key into the computer, open my internet browser and the browser automatically deducts whatever the rate for internet is that month.  The fee for internet is 9,900 CFA/month but lately Orange has been running 1/2 off specials.  $10 for internet and unlimited Skype calls?  Yes, please!
Remove my cell phone SIM card to replace with internet SIM card

Add credit to internet SIM card

Make sure I have enough for however much internet is per month

Remove SIM card from phone and return to slot in USB key
Put key into computer and you're ready to buy internet credit and go!

What do you think?  Anyone ever use an internet key like this?  Do you think it is more trouble or less than an internet subscription?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Happy Birthday baby Christine!

August, 2008, 3 months old - the first time I met her!

With Tamara - the volunteer I replaced and who named her

                                                             "Djelika-ohh!! Tini be yele!" (Christine is laughing                                                                                           - and what she's shreaking behind me as I type this and she sees her picture)


Happy 3rd Birthday sweet baby girl - you've brought a lot of joy into my life!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Chief and his Council

Toune mosque, San Region

Afternoon errands
Kadia the potter

Adama Diarra, Toune weaver
baby donkey!
The Chief and his Council
After our days spent evaluating multi-age classrooms I spent the afternoons wandering the alleys and paths intersecting and dissecting the villages with my camera around my neck.  I like setting out and not knowing what I'm going to find.  Here are some treasures that fit just that bill.  
The Toune mosque is smack in the middle of super-bush, Mali, West Africa but is one of the fanciest mosques I've seen here in Mali aside from World Heritage sites like the mosque in Djenne.  Women washed clothes behind it in a cement wash area next to a deep well.  Children walked by without looking as they carried pots of water and firewood on their heads.  
Walking to the pump in Toune to fetch potable water for me and the boys (the boys being fellow PHARE-er Moussa, a Ministry official and a guy from the Centre d'Animation Pedagogique - CAP) Kadia saw me with my camera around my neck and hollered at me to come over and take a few shots of her and her pots - big ones - that she sells in market.  When she shouted at me I cringed and thought, eef, is someone just trying to hassle me??  I tried to shake the thought from my head as soon as it entered and headed over to her compound.  As I entered the cleared area in front of her home she opened her hands - a coil of clay rolled in one and a smoothing rag in the other - to show off her work.  What beauties!  And what a reminder to keep my mind and heart open to opportunities like these to meet folks and see something new.
On another trip to the pump (did I mention it's averaging 105 degrees Fahrenheit here - yeah, I drink a lot of water) I heard the fwoomp, fwoomp, fwoomp of Adama's spindle and saw his slowly moving bundle of threads and invited myself over to take a peek.  A wicker basket filled with tiny spindles of carded, cotton thread on Adama's right, a foot loom at center and then yards upon yards of coarse, cotton fabric piled in another wicker basket on his left side.  Kind of incredible to think about what goes into making your own fabric from growing the cotton to picking the cotton to turning little tuft balls into thread to turning it into fabric to dying it to sewing it all together.  Whew.  I'm perspiring just thinking about it.  Well, continuing to perspire that is...
The baby donkey was rolling around being his cute self when I stopped by to say hello.  Didn't you know baby donkeys love having their picture taken too?  
The chief of this Bozo fisherman village is wearing a fabulous, yellow turban scarf overexposed in this photograph.  At the end of each evaluation we spent some time with the village chief and his council talking about what a multi-age classroom is, what they think of the new school in their village and discuss any recommendations they have for the program. Don't you love the look on the chief's face? Most folks said they want an actual classroom built instead of the tarp and thatched roof situation they've got going on, a garden to help the women make some extra money which would then translate to school money for the kids and a well with potable water.  PHARE only works in the domain of teacher training - I just hope sessions like these didn't get their hopes up they would provide more. 
Leaving Toune (one of 4 stops on our San adventure for multi-age classrooms) we pulled our car alongside a nondescript mud hut like the hundreds we passed on our way in and the handful of others we passed on our way out.  As we waited for some fish to be fried and carried back to San I slipped my sandals off and sat on a mat in front of a man pulling and twisting rope - jerky motions and his coil of rope hooked through his toes to keep it from tangling.  I picked up a chubby baby and as I shook her cheeks while I greeted the man to my left.  He didn't respond and so I stopped my cheek shaking to repeat my greetings and saw he didn't hear me because he didn't know I was talking to him - he was blind.  And so I turned my full attention to him, repeated my greetings, and he replied - here doron - peace only.  
I started my nosy list of questions about his rope work - how long has he been doing it? where does he sell the rope? how much is it a yard?  I finally asked his name, Saline Balo, which prompted another question (I'm kind of like the human form of when you give a mouse a cookie) 'i ye mun ye?' - what ethnicity are you (last names indicate ethnicity in Mali but I couldn't place his) and he chuckled.  'Noumou,' he replied.  'Noumou?' I said, crinkling my nose and not recognizing the classification.  'Nga i be kan jumeh fo?' - but what language do you speak?  He chuckled again and replied 'mogo-kan!' - people-talk! - and I had to laugh at myself.  In my effort to put everything I see, hear, taste, smell into categories I can get tripped up in my tidy boxes.  Nice to know that all it takes to get me back in line are experiencing mosques, hands, looms, donkeys and cute old men with turban scarves to remind me I don't need any of those boxes.  After all, we all speak people talk, don't we?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ecole a Classe Unique - Multi-age classrooms in Mali

One of the aspects of my work with PHARE involves continued support and evaluation of the multi-age classroom initiative (Ecole a Classe Unique - ECU).  The 35 ECU teachers have now received two trainings on how to manage their multi-age classrooms as well as a trunk of ECU materials.  Now it is time for an evaluation to see how the program is really working on the field and make sure those materials haven't been dropped off in a sand dune in the Sahara desert or traded for tea and sugar. 

The villages where ECUs are established are Isolated - yes, that's with a capital I.  Remote populations off the beaten path (literally).  The ones we've visited thus far in the Sevare region are only accessible by boat during the rainy season and until the rains dry up afterward (usually in January).  These are truly kids who, if there was not an ECU in their village, would never have the chance to go to school.  Pretty powerful stuff if you ask me.    

For the past few days and the upcoming week PHARE staff and Ministry officials are traveling all over the country - from Bamako to Kidal (let me tell you - that's a lot of ground to cover) - to visit all 35 ECUs.  I'm tagging along to get photos and video footage of the action.  Here's some of what we've seen the past couple days:
a multi-age classroomin in the Sevare region.  the black trunk at left is from PHARE and the village constructed the walls of the classroom in a shady clearing next to the chief's home.  this particular village was in love with their teacher.                 "don't let him go back to mopti/sevare where he'll find a wife and never come back - he's too good to lose!!" the chief said.
working on a language arts lesson
Sugu in bambara means market

using old bottles for a math lesson to see if 2 small bottles equals the one large  bottle at left  

  Newly circumcised boys staying in an initiation hut by the river
A Bozo (one of the 12 main ethnic groups in Mali) fisherman village - these are isolated villages! 
What I have seen thus far is encouraging.  The kids are reading and writing with relative ease - a big deal for a Malian student - and even expressing their creativity and imaginations - something else you don't often see here.  

Do you have any questions you have about the ECU program?  I'd love to hear them so I can address them later!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

Annie and Christine
Me, Sheri and Lindsay catching snowflakes in a Farm Fresh parking lot :)

Me and Mom at Michael and Courtney's wedding

I have a lot of great Moms in my life - Happy day to all of them pictured here and those who are not, I wouldn't be who or what I am without you!!
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