Thursday, July 28, 2011

May I [pretty] please go back to Lebanon?


mm.  manouche.

After reading Seth Kugel's article on frugal traveling in Lebanon, I'd like to go back.  Who's with me?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Talk of the Town Tuesday: Abdoulaye Doucoure and the Black or White in Bamako


Black or White.  My photo taken here
A few weeks back I started receiving text messages from my friend Babette resembling advertisements:
"Happy Hour Wednesday at the Black or White!
Buy one get one free drinks from 6-9!"
Unfortunately, my Wednesdays are already happy enough with English class in Titibougou which is about an hour from ACI 2000 and so I hadn't been able to find the time go.  But then last week my friend Ryan asked me to meet him at the Black or White so we could grab lunch in ACI 2000 and I finally got to check out the place and meet the manager, Abdoulaye Doucoure. 
Picture of ACI 2000 Boulevard found here
The Black or White offers a menu of traditional Malian dishes and other wares and of course any beverage you might be seeking but more importantly as Mr. Doucoure notes, it is a place for entrepreneurs of Bamako to meet and share ideas.

While the Black or White hosts Happy Hours each Wednesday, they also have Business Thursday from 6-9.  Abdoulaye says the Black or White is "an experimental lounge where entrepreneurs, especially those interested in agri-business, can convene to discuss business plans, feasibility studies and the practical aspects of doing business in Bamako."  Are you interested in doing business in Mali?  I think this might be one of the first places to look if so!

Abdoulaye is also the head of studies and in charge of procedures for Ammi Marketic (+001 223 07 77 16 87), the primary consultancy for the Black or White, which offers those services listed above to larger corporations looking to invest or work in Mali and looking to put a finger on the pulse of the Malian market.  Their firm helps businesses develop business plans, produce market studies and audits as well as helping with website development, geo-marketing and product distribution for firms outside of Mali looking to market their products in the country.

Born in Paris, France, Abdoulaye holds nationalities in three countries: Guinea (mom), Mali (dad), and France (where he was born).  He studied Marketing and Sustainability and has now returned to Mali to cook up some entrepreneurial ideas.  

Babette had us over for a delicious dinner last night and towards the end of the lovely evening I had the opportunity to talk with Abdoulaye and learn some more about what he's up to in Bamako.  Here's his interview so you can get to know him a little better:
Name: Abdoulaye Doucoure
Nationality: French/Malian/Guinéan
Langauges spoken: Bambara/Malinké, French, English, Spanish and can read and write Latin
Birthday: April 23, 1983
Occupation: Marketing firm consultant/Entrepreneur
Marital status: Single
 
What's your favorite place in Bamako?
Can I say all of the city?  I like Bamako because I know people everywhere!

Ok, you can say you like all of Bamako.  But what are three reasons why someone would want to come and visit the city?
First, definitely because of the people that live here - they're great!  Second, Malians like foreigners and they'll make you feel comfortable.  And third, people do things at their own pace here.  Not too slow, not too fast.

What's your favorite city in Mali?
Bamako!  (Abdoulaye, do you get out much??? :)

What's one place you'd like to travel to?
Boston!  It's a city of big thinkers and has the best schools, the best consulting firms but it's not as well known [as New York or Washington, D.C.] but I'm sure it's got a lot going on.

Favorite proverb?
Carpe diem!  Because living for the moment means more than just the moment - it means enjoying them, too.
Thank you Abdoulaye!

 Here's a rock and rolly video of ACI 2000 I found on YouTube to give you an idea of what the neighborhood is like:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Marvelous Monday...or was it the weekend?

Bouquet o' Basil.  Guess how much I paid for it all?  100CFA!
Happy Monday!   While I keep reading about heat waves in the States on Facebook and CNN news, Mali continues to be well...just hot as always.  This weekend I made a basil spaghetti sauce (not pesto, just spaghetti sauce with a whole stinkin' lot of beautiful basil) after having talked with my friend Alys about basil in market and eaten a delicious pesto chez elle and then Abdoulaye and I went swimming at a friend's place.  Aren't pools wonderful?  But I think they're kind of like boats - better if your friend has one and not you so you don't have to take care of it...
Abdoulaye talks to the water before diving it.  Makin' sure it's ready for him.

I hope you had a great weekend filled with basil, pools or whatever else makes your heart happy!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thank you Darien Book Aid!

Our English club on the porch of NGO Victory with our books from Darien Book Aid

Last December, Abdoulaye invited me to teach an English class at the computer center where he works on the far outer reaches of Bamako. Abdoulaye teaches interested folks how to manipulate computers – from how to use a mouse to how to navigate the 'net – for a very reasonable price (about 2,500 CFA ~ $5 for one month of lessons 4x/week). The center also runs an internet café where people that live nearby can use the internet for super cheap (only 100 CFA/hour ~ .20cents!).

I reluctantly agreed to teach the class – I'd never taught English before and thought 'but how will I do it??' and while it has been a challenge teaching students with incredibly varied levels of English, some are studying at the FLASH – Mali's language school, others have never studied English at all, I am slowly learning to teach to the middle and use the more experienced students to help those with much lower levels. I rely heavily on TEFL blogs and lesson-planning sites and now, English on Wednesdays has now become an activity I look forward to every week!

A few months back our most lovely Peace Corps Resource Center manager, Mado, sent all Peace Corps Volunteers in Mali an email with information about how to receive free English-language books for English clubs from a group called Darien Book Aid. 'How convenient!' I thought to myself as I read the email, 'I know just the group!'

I checked out their website and found they've been donating books to English clubs for over 60 years.  I got in touch with their donations coordinator about receiving books for the center and she quickly responded. She requested a description of the recipients (what kind of club, level of English, the types of books they're interested in) and how long I would be in Mali.

Large bag of books from Darien Book Aid
Abdoulaye Bangoura, Manager of NGO Victory, opens the book bag
Almost!
A little more!


There they are!  Over 40 books in excellent condition
A few weeks later I headed to the Peace Corps bureau and found a 15lb box of books waiting in the package room with my name on it! Inside were over 40 books in excellent condition ranging in topics from Beatrix Potter books to the big book of Questions and Answers. If you're looking for a worthwhile organization to donate to, look no further than Darien Book Aid. We're so excited at the center to start our new mini-library which we're in the process of beginning. Students who have attended English class at least three times will be issued a library card that they'll use to check out books. Then, they'll have a few weeks to read it at home before they can take out another book. If you have any ideas for how to run an informal library, I'd love to hear your advice!
Bakari Coulibaly and Aissata Touré check out some of the books

  

So, if you're a Peace Corps Volunteer or anyone else looking to help start a library with English language books for your English club, all you have to do is:

  1. Send an email to Darien Book Aid expressing your interest.
  2. Reply to their email with information about your English club.
  3. Patiently wait a few weeks and then pick up your books from the Post Office
  4. Write a thank-you blog post to Darien Book Aid! 
Thank you Darien Book Aid!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Talk of the Town Tuesday: Comme Chez Soi

While Bamako, Mali, may be one of the fastest growing cities in the world, a visit to the city can leave you feeling like you are in an urban area competing to be one of the most exhausting!  Dusty work spaces, fumes from cars and motorcycles long overdue for an inspection and congested streets leave you feeling overwhelmed and gasping for a breath of fresh air.  But where in the world can you find fresh air in Bamako?

Hand-tiled pool and plenty of fresh Malian air (lofted lodgings nestled in corner)
Fortunately for visitors and residents of the capital city, a stay or dining experience at the Comme Chez Soi gives you just that.  With 6 luxurious rooms, a hand-tiled pool, a lounge area and a sprawling roof-top terrace open for dinners and brunch - all designed and implemented with loving care by the owners, Sonja and Gael, and a team of artisans - visitors to the Comme Chez Soi have the ideal spot to recharge from the draining chaos of Bamako to bounce back refreshed to their touring of the country or work in the city.  It's also conveniently located in the heart of Hippodrome which, I hear at least, is in the running the be one of the best neighborhoods in the city :)
Downstairs outdoor lounge area
But don't let my subjective review of the Comme Chez Soi convince you, the owners of the hotel are, after all, friends of mine.  Check out reviews of the Comme Chez Soi on TripAdvisor where their hotel is rated #1 in Mali (!).  Their quality service and 5 star dining experience rank them well above established, swanky hotel chains like the Radisson and the Hotel de l'Amitié (a former Sofitel).  Even better, travelers looking to save money need not sacrifice comfort - their prices can't be beat in Bamako.
  
While rooms at the Radisson will cost you an arm and a leg, rooms at the Comme Chez Soi range in price from a reasonable 29,000 CFA a night ~ $62 for a basic, yet perfectly lovely, room to an only slightly more expensive 39,000 CFA ~ $84*, for more luxurious accommodations.

Glassed in upstairs terrace for relaxing after a long day as well as brunch and dinner
The Comme Chez Soi is great for those of us who aren't just visiting Mali, too.  With brunch from 11-3 each Saturday and Sunday, happy hours from 6-7 followed by dinner (Tuesday - Saturday), the Comme Chez Soi has become my Cheers of Bamako.  Not only does everyone know my name but I'll run into friends I haven't seen all week at brunch and we'll be reminded that even though we live on opposite sides of the river (read: far away!) we do live in the same city (read: we should hang!)

The Comme Chez Soi is owned by a couple from the States, Sonja and Gael.   Here's an interview with Gael:

Where were you born? 
I was born in Hamburg, Pennsylvania.

What brought you to Bamako?
After a motorcycle trip through Southeast Asia, Sonja and I wanted another adventure so we decided to ride 2 motorcycles this time from Barcelona to perhaps as far down as South Africa. We got to Bamako in April during the hot season and were not looking forward to more hot weather followed by rains. Not the best weather for the bikes so we stayed put in Bamako to rest and then saw the opportunity and decided to try to start a small guesthouse which became the Comme Chez Soi.

What's your favorite restaurant/place in Bamako?
I would have to say the new national park built so beautifully by the Aga Khan Foundation. It's so nice to have a green space to enjoy, something Bamako was really lacking a year ago. I'm looking forward to the new Zoo once they finish it.

Do you have a favorite place in Mali/West Africa/Africa (take your pick or all!)
Weirdly we have done very little exploration of Mali. The hotel business is not very conducive to time off. In terms of our exploration on motorcycles, we enjoyed Morocco, amazing country especially in terms of natural beauty. People tend to think of it as a desert country but it has so much natural beauty. We also loved Guinée, the Fouta Djalon area is beautiful, full of greenery, mountains, and waterfalls. It's such a plentiful area with a pleasant climate and where everything seems to grow.

What are the 3 best and hardest things about running a hotel in Mali?
Defining three concrete best and hardest aspects is difficult. The best aspect for me is simply the ability to realize this type of project considering our limited budget and all the errors we made. We were able to make many mistakes and not have to close down because we are in Mali and the competition is less fierce. Those mistakes allowed us to learn so much.

The construction was both one of the best and hardest aspects. The type of projects we tried to do during construction were very foreign to laborers so finding skilled labor was a struggle. The fact that we did much of the work ourselves and were able to train or find workers from the area to do the rest is something we are very happy with. Training staff is also a difficult aspect considering the lack of hotel management options for people who are interested. You have to start from scratch with training and it does take a lot of time.

Where in the world would you like to visit and why?
There are few places in the world I wouldn't want to visit. If we stay somewhere too long, we just start wanting to move on. That time has come for us and we are looking forward to new experiences. Next up on the agenda seems to be a trip almost around the world to visit parts of Asia, perhaps East Africa, the Carribbean, and areas of Central America to explore the option of starting another business.

What's your favorite quality in a person/client?
In a person seems a bit broad so I'll tackle the client part. I guess easy-going? You start to really want those when you run a place. A client who just gets what we tried to do and enjoys it as it was designed. When we first opened the place and we saw the clients using all the spaces we spent so much time creating, it was the reward to all the hard work.

Do you have a favorite proverb or piece of advice?
I guess the fitting one which is one of Sonja's favorites is: "There are no unrealistic goals, just unrealistic time frames." That one really applied to our project since we never thought it would get finished but one day at a time and we got there in the end.

Thank you Sonja and Gael for sharing your business (and for starting it!) and for the interview!  I'm already looking forward to visiting the next hotel you open!

Enjoy below some photos of recent trips to Comme Chez Soi's brunch with prices to give you an idea of the menu price range - get ready to drool (and buy your plane ticket to Mali to come and eat with me!)
    
Crêpe Ganache Chocolat 3,000 CFA ~ $6.40


Aerial view :)

Café Americano, 800 CFA ~ $1.70
Doesn't Karen's smile make you want to order some coffee??

Shrimp Burger 5,000 CFA ~ $10.70

Crêpe Sallée Crevette Artichaut 5,000 CFA

Eggs Benedict (4,500 CFA ~ $9.60) with a side of hashbrowns (1,200 CFA ~ $2.50)
Salade Asiatique (4,500 CFA) with a side of bacon (1,200)
*at the current exchange rate of 467 CFA/$1USD

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Time to make something happen : Impact Nice Kids and education in Mali

“We wanted to do something beyond our families. We wanted to work for a cause that reaches out to those in need who we don't necessarily see everyday,” said Toussaint Kasongo, President and founding member of Impact Nice Kids, when asked what sparked him to establish Impact Nice Kids, one of Mali's newest NGOs.

Raised in the Congo, Mr. Kasongo studied Economics in his native country before relocating to the Ivory Coast and then, 6 years ago, to Mali where he married and laid the foundation for Nice Kids, a private school operating in Titibougou, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Bamako.

Mr. Toussaint Kasongo with his children in front of Nice Kids

For three years Nice Kids has provided instruction for pre-school through 6th grade (adding a grade each year) and offers an alternative to the public schools in the community to parents willing and able to pay (150,000 CFA/year ~ $320USD). With small class sizes and individual student attention, students at Nice Kids receive quality bi-lingual instruction in both Mali's official language, French, and the language of the 21st century – technology – through sessions where children learn to manipulate instructional computer games and programs.

But when students leave Nice Kid's courtyard at the end of the school day they don't leave with just the abilities to read and write with confidence and manipulate computers – skills the majority of Malian students and most Malians regrettably do not possess – they leave with much more.

“When students leave my school I want them to leave feeling like leaders. I want them to leave with a sense of morality and obligation to their community. While parents often come to me and marvel at the level their children have achieved in French I am still waiting for them to come to me and marvel at their child's sense of community and service,” Mr. Kasongo recently said at a board meeting in Titibougou.

Something else makes Nice Kids stand alone. “What sets our school apart from others in Mali is the way we engage our parents. We don't want them to be passive actors in their child's education but rather active members of the Nice Kids community. We encourage them to attend parent-teacher meetings and fund raise for school supplies,” continued Mr. Kasongo.

But as enrollment increased at Nice Kids, Mr. Toussaint began to notice a disturbing disparity. “I would ask parents to purchase uniforms for their children and some would buy one or two uniforms, all that their child needs, and others were buying up to 6 uniforms, bordering on the excessive.  Even among my students and their families I was noticing this great inequality in wealth and I asked myself 'If this inequality exists in Bamako, what's it like in the villages of Mali?'”

Thus was born Impact Nice Kids, the humanitarian branch of Mr. Kasongo's private school, Nice Kids. “When we started this school I sat down with my teachers, as I do every year, and we talked about what kind of school we wanted to be. We talked about the desire for the school to be one that leads by example. For instance, if we want our children to have a high-level of literacy and ability to communicate in French then we need to be speaking to one another in French [rather than Bambara, Mali's dominant African dialect]. If we want our students to be conscious of their communities then we need to be role models who are actively engaged in the well-being of our community,” explained Mr. Kasongo.

With Impact Nice Kids board members in front of the Nice Kids school
Mr. Kasongo and Impact Nice Kids' board members recently honored me by inviting me to a meeting at their office in Titibougou. We spent the morning talking about the school's mission statement, their newly formed NGO, and touring both the school grounds and newly rented office next door. I learned more about the mission of both their school and their NGO, two independent structures that happen to share a similar name and interested board members. I didn't know what to expect when I received the invitation to attend their meeting but I left feeling motivated to continue to encourage the proliferation of primary education in Mali.

While Nice Kids is in the process of seeking financial backing from the international community through organizations like UNICEF and the EU, they are also looking to mobilize the immediate Malian community by looking locally for funding sources. While Mali may officially be one of the poorest countries in the world, a quick tour around Bamako will show you that there is indeed money pouring into this country – and it's not going towards development in infrastructure, education or health as evidenced by the ravaged roads and the country's regrettable rates in both literacy and mortality – it's going into multi-level mansions and villas in the capital.

Impact Nice Kids is hoping to make a difference in that vast disparity by being a catalyst for change to make a difference today that will undoubtedly result in improvements in Mali tomorrow: education.

“When teachers from our school and members from our board go out to village to visit family we are constantly getting asked by community members to help bring schools to their isolated villages, places the Ministry of Education doesn't even know exist!” said Mr. Ngolo Coulibaly, vice-President of Impact Nice Kids. “We wanted to come together and do something to help these communities since it just isn't fair that some kids have access to education and others don't.”

Impact Nice Kids' goals are simple. They want to bring schools to communities in Mali where the Ministry of Education lacks the resources to do so and where the community is committed to education. They want to provide school supplies and instructional materials to villages with rudimentary school structures (i.e. mud schools without benches or chalkboards) to encourage education for all.

“Villages do exist where the chiefs and community members aren't interested in education for their children. While we don't currently possess the resources to conduct sensitization campaigns about the benefits of education, it's definitely on the horizon for our NGO,” said Mr. Coulibaly.

 At the close of the meeting Mr. Kasongo continued to explain Impact Nice Kids' purpose when he said “with Impact Nice Kids we are trying to expand the mission of our school, Nice Kids. We want to set an example for our students because a child learns more from what we do than what we say.”

Mr. Kasongo what you and your organization are attempting to do is incredible and if your students decide to follow in your footsteps Mali's future is sure to be a bright one full of leaders committed to doing rather than saying.  As Abdoulaye often says, 'Le moment du discours est fini - c'est le moment de passer à l'action.'  - The time for talk is over, it's time to make something happen. 



Readers! What do you think about all this? Are you interested in helping Impact Nice Kids build schools in Mali? Do you know of organizations interested in contributing to this cause? Please email me at jennifermorgandavis@gmail.com and cc Mr. Kasongo at tskasongo@gmail.com for more information and details.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Talk of the town Tuesdays: Annasoura Touré

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:)

Name: Annasoura Touré
Langauges spoken: Songhai (first), Bambara, French
Birthday: January 5, 1985
Occupation: Travel agency assistant
Marital status: Single but already scooped up!

“Come over for lunch and to meet the family,” Annasoura said to Abdoulaye over the phone. “Can I bring a friend?” he asked. “Bien sûr,” she replied. Of course.

And so began our friendship with Annasoura Touré. I say our because I was the friend tagging along with Abdoulaye and that lunch was the first time both of us met her. Annasoura is the older sister of a friend of a friend of Abdoulaye's – both of whom became actual friends – neither of whom are legends. Let me explain. Annasoura's younger sister, Zouheirta, was friends with a friend of Abdoulaye's from Guinea. Abdoulaye and Zouheirta chatted on Facebook and when Zouheirta learned Abdoulaye would be coming to Mali for his veterinary research she passed along the number of one of her sisters. “You've got to stop by and say hello,” she wrote, unable to meet with Abdoulaye herself since she was studying in Morocco.
Eager to spend more time with Abdoulaye, and curious to meet Annasoura, I immediately accepted his invitation to join him for lunch in the way that we accept to go places early on in relationships we aren't sure we really want to because we're so excited to spend time together.  But I was nervous. It is difficult to explain what I will call 'the toubab anxiety factor' but I will do my best.
 
Sometimes, as wonderful as Malians generally are (and you can generalize here), meeting new Malians can be a little overwhelming. The curiosity about others and immediate interest Malians take in others' lives that we don't have in the States (I hope out of our desire to respect privacy and not that we're just disinterested) is omnipresent in Mali. And while this curiosity facilitates integration into the Malian culture, it also means you have a lot of questions and commentary on your foreignness which sometimes you just don't feel like hearing. Sometimes I would like to walk outside and not have people notice I am not Malian by screaming 'Toubabuuuu!!!!!'. Sometimes I would like to speak and not have someone marvel that I can communicate with them – 'I be bamanankan meh-wa?????' Sometimes I would like to go to the friend of a friend of a friend's house for lunch and to meet her family without becoming the center of attention.* And that's exactly what happened with our visit to Annasoura.
 
That first lunch with Annasoura, and what has now turned into many dinners, visits and calls to say hello, was indicative of the girl herself and what our friendship has become: relaxed, full of laughter, welcoming. While her family did joke about marrying me off to one of the many Songhai men in their compound; they made the same jokes and in the same tone for Abdoulaye and Annasoura's sisters. Rather than feeling like an extraordinary Djelika I felt like a wonderfully ordinary Jennifer. Her mom embraced, literally, both Abdoulaye and I as we entered the living room and Annasoura's father – reminding me of my own step-father – was content to be left alone on the couch watching television while we gabbed over rice and sauce. Going to her house for lunch felt like going home (that is, if everyone in my home spoke at least 3 languages and had their origins in a city on the border of the Sahara desert – but you get the idea :)
 
Annasoura studied at the University of Bamako and logistics and transport at a specialty school. She currently works as an assistant at a travel agency called Fly in ACI 2001 (+00 223 2029 4247) and would like to one day work in import and exports. Learn some more about this wonderful girl I'm lucky to call a friend:

Where were you born?
I was born in Bamako but my family is from Gao.

What's your favorite place in Bamako?
My favorite place is Sotuba. It's on the banks of the Niger river and one of the few places where you can experience nature, calmness and clean wind in the city. If it's a question of restaurants my favorite is the Lagoon which I like for the same reasons I like Sotuba except there is also food :)

What's your favorite city in Mali?
That would be Gao, my native region. While I was born in Bamako and most of my family is here, whenever I go to Gao I feel like I am going home. I don't know how to explain it – words escape me! The sense of hospitality is overwhelming – family or not, people you barely know will kill a goat in your honor when you come to visit and then fight over who gets to host you for your next meal. And the stars at night – it's incredible up there. You can sense the adventure with your car getting stuck in the sand – it's total desert there!

What are 3 reasons why Mali is a great place to be?
  1. The hospitality.
  2. The sense of family.
  3. The desire to help one another.

What is another country you would like to visit and why?
I'd love to visit Brazil since I've seen so much of it on soap operas and films on ORTM (Mali's national television station). Beach Copacabana!! I would also like to visit India since I love the way they dress and the United Arab Emirates to visit Dubai – you can get everything there! I've heard that people in Dubai have so much money they don't know what to do with it and so they build these incredible buildings. I'd love to see the architecture.

What's your favorite quality in a person?
It's important to me that people are nice and have a sense of humor and aren't afraid to smile.

What's your favorite proverb?
Les conséquences corrigent mieux que les conseils.
Consequences teach better than advice.
Let people experience something for themselves to learn what's right and they'll learn more than anything you could have told them.

Thank you Annasoura!


*Some of these experiences can also be wonderful – I don't mean to sound ungrateful – just not all the time.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Has it really been 3 years in Mali??


Three years later I still coo over sleeping babies strapped to women's backs. I still marvel at moon rises and starry nights in village. Bambara continues to challenge and delight me. Baby donkeys continue to be precious. I still love sunsets and the sound of rain on tin roofs.  Happy 3 years in Mali* – I love you a little more for different reasons each day.


PS As with any relationship though, there are times I don't like you but I'll always love you :)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Happy July 7th! (and belated 4th!)

Gael found fireworks in Bamako!
b.ab.y Z, Babette and Kevin

Gael, Laura and Sonja cheese it up
Alys, Bodil and me.  Happy fourth at the Comme Chez Soi!

With pulled pork, hamburgers and cheddar cheese, potato salad and carrot cupcakes, we had a veritable fourth of July in Bamako!  Happy (belated) birthday America!  Thank you for hosting us Sonja and Gael!





Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Talk of the Town times Two-sday: Drs. Abdoulaye Bangoura and Massa Malevogui

lucky me!  kisses from Massa (l) and Abdoulaye (r)
 Life has a funny way of bringing special people, places and moments into our lives. My life in Mali is no different and it has indeed brought a lot of special people, places and moments into my life.

I met Abdoulaye in October 2010 through my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer at USAID/PHARE. He came, along with a group of young students, to help us at the office prepare training materials for a national teacher training. It was like at first site! Charismatic, charming, intelligent, patient, funny, attentive; everyone wants to be around Abdoulaye and I'm head over heels! After helping out around the office for two weeks, where he was trying to earn the money to return to Guinea (after coming to Mali to conduct research for his veterinarian thesis), he received the news that he had gotten a job at a computer center in Bamako. Rather than return to Guinea where he did not have a job already lined up Abdoulaye decided to stay in Bamako until the defense of his thesis in April when he would return to Guinea. Well, life not only has funny ways of bringing people, places and moments into our lives but also keeping us in places, too! Fast forward to July 2011and Abdoulaye is still here in Bamako accompanied by his friend and fellow veterinary school graduate, Massa, with plans to soon open a veterinarian clinic here in the capital.

Both Massa and Abdoulaye recently received their degrees in veterinary medicine and are living here in Bamako. Here's a double interview for you to get to know them both a little better! Please leave questions and comments below!

Name: Dr. Massa Malévogui
Age: July 21, 1986
Marital status: Single
Occupation: Recent graduate of veterinarian school
Where were you born?
I was born in Macenta, Guinea.

What made you interested in becoming a veterinarian?
In Guinea, when you're done with high school you take a test (le concours d'acces a l'enseignement supérieur), and the State decides what you will study. First, you make a list of sixteen areas of study that interest you out of about 20. From that list of sixteen the government looks at your score and decides what you will study based on the results of the exam. Veterinary medicine was my first choice. I put veterinary medicine as my first choice because it was a new field of study and people didn't know much about veterinary medicine, students were only focusing on general practice and I wanted to try something new.

What's your favorite place in Guinea/Bamako?
My favorite place in Guinea is Macenta, my native town. My family is there and it's where I was born so it's naturally my favorite place. The place I like the most in Bamako is the National Park of Mali; it's beautiful.

What's great about Guinea/Mali?
If you're interested in visiting Guinea, well, it depends on the visitor. In Guinea there are many natural resources, there's the ocean. There are many rivers, mountains and large forests.

What's your favorite proverb?
Pélé pélé ka dihri lavé (in Massa's native language, Toma)
Ces plusieurs goutes qui remplissent une marmite.
It's many drops that fill the pot.
With time and patience we achieve our goals.

Final comments?
I am very happy to get to know Bamako and to have such lovely friends.
Massa and Abdoulaye hamming it up on my porch
Name: Dr. Abdoulaye Bangoura
Age: October 28, 1984
Marital status: Single (sort of!)
Occupation: Recent graduate of veterinarian school and manager of a computer center

Where were you born?
I was born in Conakry, Guinea.

What made you interested in becoming a veterinarian?
A lack of choices and of money! When I finished the baccalaureate I wanted to study Communications. But at the time there wasn't a university in Guinea where you could study Communications – you had to go to Senegal and I didn't have the means to go. And then the way the government decides for our studies in Guinea means you don't really have a choice. Making a list of 16 choices out of 20 isn't really making a choice when the government has the final say! Since I couldn't study Communications in Guinea, I decided I wanted to study architecture. However, I put veterinarian medicine as my first choice but more as a pipe dream - I didn't think I had the grades to be selected. Then, I was selected and I began my studies to become a veterinarian. I thought I would study veterinary medicine until I had the means to go to Senegal to study Communications. Well, I never got the means and I learned to love veterinary medicine! I don't regret for a minute having studied veterinary medicine because over the years I have learned to love this career. Overcoming the challenges of veterinary science and all the excitement involved; this is real love! Love that has come over time and that I've been a part of creating myself.

What's your favorite place in Guinea/Bamako?
My favorite place in Guinea is Conakry (the capital) because it's where I was born and where my family is and where all my childhood friends are. It's where I feel at home. My favorite place in Bamako? Jennifer's house! Why? Because it's my refuge! It's where I feel at peace, relaxed and loved.

What's great about Guinea/Mali?
Guinea is a country of history. It's a country of people. A country of people who live by facts. We're a young country but we are aware of our history and the realities of our country. Poverty, a lack of democracy, injustice, insecurity. We are aware of these problems and we're not ashamed. We recognize that overcoming these problems are just steps in the history of our country that we must surmount them – just like countries around the world have done before us. And, in addition, Guinea is paradise! Everything is beautiful! The men. The women. The landscape. The life. And the joy reflected when Guineans share with others.

Mali is also pretty good :) When you're in Mali, you feel at home and I like that. I like the joking cousins aspect of Mali. We have it in Guinea but in Mali it's even more intense! Also it's important to remember, as our former president, Ahmed Sékou Touré, once said 'Guinea and Mali are two lungs in a single chest.'

What quality would you most like to have?
I'd like to be more patient. I think it's an important characteristic.

What's your favorite proverb?
Lohré boo ki oki fo ali. (In Abdoulaye's native language, Susu)
Quelque soi la durée du jour, ca va venir.
Be patient, what you're waiting for will come.

Final comments?
I think that what you're (Jennifer) doing is important even for us (the interviewees). These interviews encourage us to reflect, to discover more about ourselves, to learn more about ourselves and to learn from these discoveries. And my last comment? Never stop!

Here are some pictures from their surprise party we threw to celebrate their veterinary achievements!


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