Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ramadan 2011 in Bamako

with baby Ami.  is your heart filled? mine is.
Ramadan this year was lovely.  I felt at home and food-filled.  With a wonderful lunch at Bobo's followed by a chill and equally lovely afternoon with Annasoura - Abdoulaye, Massa and I went home with happy and full hearts.  Here's some photos from the day:
Annasoura is quite the griller.   Who would of thought?

Massa, Aissata, Abdoulaye and Zouheirata


Happy ladies
See more pictures from the day here!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A day to celebrate!

At DeGuido's in Bamako with some Cameroon RPCVs

Today is Ramadan in Mali - time to celebrate!  Granted, the above photo is not from a Ramadan celebration but it was taken during Ramadan.  More to come today or tomorrow on the holiday!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Summer in the City: Some Bamako Delights

Aminata is three-weeks and some change old!
At the end of my street I pass a group of women sitting on colorful mats with frayed edges braiding hair in a line like matryoshka dolls. Little girls dance around them, plastic charms clinking at the ends of freshly plaited hair, and I ask "I be se ka n kundigi kofe?"  Will you braid my hair later?  They laugh and invite me to come back once they are done with the head they are braiding now. Tiny, tight rows of hair in neat, swirling patterns. I feign disappointment I will not have a turn today and continue on.

It is late afternoon and I greet my neighbors sitting in plastic lawn chairs around empty pots of tea. “Comment se passe le jeune?” I ask.  How's the fasting going?   “Ça commence à etre serieux-deh!” one man says.  It is getting serious.  Shopkeepers and fruit sellers I see later share his tired face.   I ask Maiga, the proprietor of a nearby grocery store, how he's doing. “I'm just so thirsty!” he says, “All I want is to drink some water – forget the food!”

On the main road I pass tailor shops where the whir of automatic sewing-machine foot pedals does not stop as they complete last-minute and long-standing orders for the upcoming holiday. Shiny bazin outfits hang in storefront windows and mannequins model the newest trends in wax fabric. I make silent guesses as to how much these outfits cost. How much for the fabric? How much for the tailoring? How much for the intricate embroidery? Abdoulaye tugs my hand and I shake away the thoughts – I don't think I really want to know.
Fatumata seems to like baby Ami well enough - lots of pointing and saying 'bébé!' (here with Mom)
Abdoulaye and I stop by Bobo and Aissetou's house to visit. We talk about Ramadan and how Aminata is growing. I marvel at Aissetou's french fry cutter and she offers me some porridge even though it is not yet time to break the fast.   Esayi sends me a text message and reminds me that one year ago today I left village to come to Bamako. Has it really been a year?
Fatumata won't leave Worokia's side, aren't they beautiful?
As the sun sets and a haziness creeps over the city we hear the call-to-prayer. This time of day is my favorite any time of the year but especially during Ramadan. The streets are void of sputtering cars and Jakarta motorcycles driven by Malians not old enough to fast and I can cross the street safely. Women flip rice cakes in solid, cast-iron molds on the side of the road and sell steaming Kinkiliba, a local tea, in plastic to-go bags for those who did not make it home in time. The city is hushed save for competing calls to prayer and it is thrilling to think that in this country, where close to 95% of the population is Muslim, nearly all of the people eligible to fast are eating together around communal bowls at this very moment.

Next week life will resume it's normal pace. Colleagues will not look quite so...well, hungry and the banks will have less crowded masses in their lobbies and parking lots. Music shows and local parties will show up once again on the calendar and we will fall back into the groove of eating in public without fear of reproach and not planning our day around the setting of the sun. That is, until next year.

If this isn't ingenious I don't know what is.  Corrugated iron for making crinkle cut fries?!?!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Talk of the Town Tuesday: Jeff Nesmith and Gypsy Communications

Jeff promotes cultural exchange by showing how American men feed baby goats
How about a different talk of the town tuesday today?  My mind has been a bit distracted lately with other goings-ons (hopefully a post soon to explain!) so I haven't been on my blog game.  Many apologies!  Nonetheless, this week's talk of the town, while it won't involve an interview, is slated for a non-Malian and Jeff Nesmith fits the bill so I'll talk about what brought him to Mali.

As a third-year Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali with USAID/PHARE I serve as a 'Communications and Outreach Specialist.'  I write success stories to send to USAID to contribute to PHARE's end-of-the-year report (2 per quarter) and take pictures of trainings and events.  I also help out around the office with a little bit of this and a little bit of that whenever and wherever my hands are needed.  As with many things it isn't the big moments or the job descriptions that are exciting but rather the little things that accumulate to make our work-at-large happen.   

One of the recent 'little thats' on my work plate was serving as a translator and assistant to Jeff Nesmith who is a DC-based videographer (among other things - learn more here) contracted by EDC to produce a film on their work around the world.  After 15 layovers (!) and filming in the Phillipines and Rwanda, Jeff finally arrived on our Malian doorstep to film some of the awesome work PHARE (and another project, PAJE Nièta) is achieving to improve the instruction of reading and writing in Mali's primary schools.
A boy reads a phone number for his dad
While Jeff speaks Portugese and Spanish (after having served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mozambique), those languages won't get you very far in Mali (nor will English for that matter).  And so, since I speak both Bambara and French (and English!), I got to tag along on his trip to Yanfolila, in the Sikasso region, to translate.   I enjoyed the opportunity to not only learn about Jeff and share stories from our respective Peace Corps experiences (let's just say my scariest experience in Peace Corps pales in comparison to Jeff's), but also to learn more about his work in the communications field.  Through my blog and my work at PHARE I've come to realize I take great pleasure in writing and taking pictures - and maybe I'd like to have a (real :) job one day where I use both skills.  Video is a field I haven't dabbled in much but after meeting Jeff and learning some more about the medium I am excited to experiment with it in the future.
Village bard (at right) serenades Jeff and his camera (and seeks 5 minutes of fame!)
I'm not much company on a road-trip (the lulling engines of Land Rovers puts me right to sleep) but once we got to Yanfolila, Jeff and I got to chatting.  I learned he has his own company, Gypsy Communications, and a beautiful family (wife, daughter and a bun in the oven) back home in DC.  Jeff works in print, web, audio, illustration and video and travels the world to produce promotional films for all kinds of companies (among other design work).  It makes you stop and think about what you're doing when you see people who work for themselves.  There are so many pros and cons to consider when you think about working for yourself or working for someone else and I am appreciating the great opportunity I've been given here in Mali to witness both.  
Visiting PAJE-Nièta's project outside of Yanfolila
PHARE and PAJE-Nièta selected Yanfolila for us to visit because the teacher who received the highest rating from the newly standardized observation tool (created thanks to the collaboration between USAID/PHARE and the Ministry of Education) lives and works there and also one of PAJE-Nièta's projects was nearby.  We filmed interviews (in French and Bambara) with a teacher, parents of students and a school director which we translated afterwards.  I also filled the crucial position of sound-assistant.  You better believe I know what it means to put a mike on F-1 now.

Flash!  Jeff snaps a shot of the lovely ladies who made all our meals during our sejour in Yanfolila
Language concerns aside for Jeff once we arrived in Yanfolila, my next matter of import was, of course, food.  Not only is food in Mali not incredibly varied - it's also the middle of Ramadan and so food options during daylight hours can be limited.  Lucky for us there was a lovely restaurant near our lodging in Yanfolila that served not only hot meals but cold beers, too.  And they even had a baby goat named Babette who was fed with a baby bottle and tethered to a hanger.  I mean really, what more do you need?

the ladies selling fried goods in Yanfolila loved Youssouf Diakité
Our footage all filmed we packed our bags and said goodbye to Yanfolila as charcoal clouds gathered in the distance and eventually made good on their threat of rain.  In the car on our way back to Bamako our driver, Mahmadou, broke his fast a bit early and offered some smoked meat and a coca-cola to Jeff in the passenger seat.  "I be sogo fe wa?" he asked while shoving a pile of smoked beef wrapped in re-purposed cement-paper packaging in Jeff's face.  Jeff mimed back that he was full, rubbing his belly and shaking his head, and added in English "I just ate lunch!"  Mahmadou, who doesn't speak English, wrinkled his nose and shook his head back at Jeff and I forgave my translating job for a moment since the boys were getting along quite well with their body language.  

Then Mahmadou grunted "An be kelen!" and pulled his cement packaging back to the center console while chewing on a particularly tough piece of meat and re-directing his attention to the road.  I did translate that little gem for Jeff - we are the same! - and suggested he take a bite of the offered meat to assuage Mahmadou's generous heart.  Jeff then found the meat really was quite tasty and continued to munch on it until he and Mahmadou successfully finished the snack.  Mahmadou smiled at Jeff, Jeff mimed that he really liked the meat and I chuckled to myself in the back seat.  This interaction is symbolic of one of the things I love most about having lived in Mali a few years now.  No, not eating oily meat wrapped in cement-traced butcher paper or bumping along in the back of white Land-Rovers all over the country while laughing to myself (though both are nice) but rather sharing my new home and culture with visitors and witnessing their reactions to Mali.  The good and the beautiful - the bad and the ugly.  Because when it comes down to it I can't pinpoint one reason I live in Mali - there are a lot.  And it's not one 'thing' that keeps me but rather a whole lot of individual experiences and people - I'm glad you could be a part of it Jeff - we look forward to having you back!
More bottle time

Jeff, you may have stayed here in the Phillipines but really - weren't you more comfortable at the Pied à Terre in Yanfolila?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Talk of the Town Tuesday: Fatoumata Keita, Madame Niare

Giving a sample lesson at PHARE's booth at the Festival sur le Niger February 2011
Once I established where I would sit at work, I looked next for where to eat lunch. I was eager to establish work relationships and also curious to learn about professionals in Bamako – I spent two years, after all, with farmers! What were other Malians, especially professional women in Bamako, like?

A cursory glance around the office leaves you with a few significant first impressions: 1) There is a lot of education work going on and 2) There are a lot of men doing it. While the chief-of-party of USAID/PHARE is an (American) woman as is my direct supervisor, there are only 5 Malian women, 3 of whom are secretaries, part of PHARE's staff of about 40. The first friendly female face I fell upon was Fatoumata's. We got to chatting about her kids and she told me how she had story time at her house each night before she sends her kids off to bed and that I should come by to hear them. 'Story time!' I thought, 'who doesn't love a good story?'

Since our story time last September where she recounted traditional Malian fables for her cute kids (and even almost put me to sleep!), I have continued to admire Fatoumata's gumption around the office. After spending her childhood moving around Mali (her uncle with whom she lived was in the military and moved every year for his work), Fatoumata settled in Bamako for her higher education. When I asked if she thought moving around had an affect on who she is today Fatoumata said of course! She recounted a story of how wherever she moved she would have to learn a new way to make porridge. Some of her aunts liked their millet porridge with small millet balls, others preferred larger. Fatoumata said this is symbolic of adapting to wherever you are and situations you find yourself in. I agree!

Fatoumata attended high school at the Lycée de Badalabougou in Bamako at what she and her friends called La Colline de Savoir - the Hill of Hope – before entering University where she studied Anthropology. Her studies eventually focused on gender roles in Mali namely the problems of implicating women in politics. Her thesis is quite fascinating (I haven't read it but from what I learned during our interview the topic is quite interesting). If you'd like to know more, let me know!

After completing her studies Fatoumata began working for radio stations in the Koulikoro region. Her first show was called “Plumes d'Or” - Feathers of Gold – where she discussed poetry and music. Then she moved to a station in Kati where she had multiple shows including “Waati t'a bolo” - The realities of our time – where she discussed topics such as excision and HIV/AIDS; and “Niè ta kènè” - All ahead for progress – where she interviewed NGOs in the region to talk about the work they were carrying out and their successes thus far and with whom they worked, etc. In 2001 Fatoumata left radio to teach French at the Center for Industrial Training of Torokorobougou. Then, in 2009, USAID/PHARE scooped her up as the only female script-writer for the interactive radio instruction shows. Fatoumata also writes for a locally published paper, La Nouvelle Patrie, where she writes each week on various topics including poetry, the news and stories and fables.

While Fatoumata and I haven't become best girlfriends, work schedules and our own obligations at the root, I have enjoyed getting to know her little by little around the office and through work trips. She has a lot of interesting stories to share and is a part of some interesting socially oriented groups in Bamako. I learned a lot about her during our question-answer session for this Talk of the Town Tuesday interview and I hope you'll enjoy learning some more about her as much as I did! 

Name: Fatoumata Keita, Madame Niare
Birthplace: Farakoro-opération-thé, Mali 
Birthday: October 27
Marital status: Married, 3 children (2 boys, 1 girl)
Occupation: Script writer, USAID/PHARE
Langauges spoken: Bambara, French

What are your three favorite places in Mali?
  1. Where I was born, for sure! Farako-opération-thé, Sikasso. It's a paradise on earth. It's beautiful and contains, of course, many of my earliest childhood memories.
  2. Timbuktu. I visited the city and region on a work trip and love the architecture and sandy dunes.
  3. Banko. It's a small village near Koumantou that reminded me of home (see #1) with a peaceful life and lots of mango trees
What are two ways that are easy and difficult to be a woman in Mali?

First, I'll discuss the difficulties. It's really hard to navigate the acceptance of relations between women and men in Mali. To not be judged, discriminated against, underestimated etc. It's only compounded living in such a traditional society. Second, the social organization. I'm a writer and therefore need my solitude. But being a woman in Mali, even though I hold a professional job, doesn't mean I relinquish my traditional responsibilities as a woman. I still manage my household and am expected to respond to family obligations and welcome friends and family at any time at my home. It can be hard to carve out the private time I need to write. One could say I've been Westernized but I need my time for me!

As for the ways in which it is easy to be a woman in Mali – I appreciate men's respect for women. If I come into a meeting and all the chairs are taken a man will get up right away and offer me his seat while he looks for another one for himself. I appreciate that respect. I also appreciate and depend on the strong family bonds here, especially as a professional woman who is also a wife and mother. I have people in my family on whom I can always depend. For example, just last week I returned from a 13-day work trip – during Ramadan no less! Normally it's not a problem to leave home for work trips but during Ramadan the cooking responsibilities are much higher. I had to call a sister of mine and she dropped everything to come to my house and look after my children and cook and clean for my husband. It's not everywhere you could do that!

Who are your favorite authors?

I have a lot! When I was young I liked Victor Hugo. Especially his quote “Je veut etre Chateaubriand ou rien,” it's really inspired me in my own writing since obviously Hugo surpassed Chateaubriand!  I also like David Diop and his series of poems entitled Coupde Pillons. I like Ahmadou Kourouma not for his style but for what he could do with the French language translating African life into the French language. It's not easy to translate both language and culture and he succeeded at both. Then there is Isai Biton Coulibaly who is simple and concise – most of his works have been turned into films. I also like, of course, Amadou Hampate Ba for his inspiring, rich, traditional tales. His works contain many teachings and life lessons.

Do you have any favorite female authors?

Certainly! I enjoy Adam Ba Konaré, the wife of former president Alpha Konaré, and former first-lady of Mali for her work.  

What country would you like to visit?

I'd love to go to the U.S.A and visit Cleveland. Cleveland? Yes! I have a friend there and I'm curious to see what it's like. I'd also love to go to the Caribbean islands and feel what it's like to be on land surrounded by water.

What do you see yourself doing after USAID/PHARE ends in 2013?

A lot of things! I'd like to spend more time researching and writing – there's a lot to discover here in Mali. I would also like to pursue a doctorate.

What do you like about your work at USAID/PHARE?

I love how it's a creative outlet. I use my imagination and work is never the same. I am also learning a lot at once – budgeting for work trips, learning how to write educational radio scripts – it's never monotonous!

What's your favorite proverb?

I be se k'i pan musokoroni bo kunna o te fen ke. Nga ni I panna dalla kan kunna I b'o ye I nie la.

Il faut suivre des conseils des vieux/sages.

You can jump over an old woman's pile of poop and it doesn't do anything. But if you jump over her advice – you'll see the consequences.

Listen to your elders! (this is one of the funniest proverbs I've heard!)

Thank you Fatoumata! I really enjoyed learning more about you!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

DIY Bamako Thrifting Dress Transformation

There are a lot of treasures to be had in Mali in the clothes department.  Wax prints. Hand woven fabrics dyed with mud and indigo.  Outfits tailored just for your body in any style you can imagine...  But sometimes you just want to wear synthetic materials, you know?  And, while the fabric is truly gorgeous, it can get pricey and be somewhat of a pain to buy all the material, truck it to the tailor's, discuss a plan for the-outfit-that-will-trump-all-outfits and then get home to find one armhole two sizes too big or a hemline that didn't quite get hemmed.  Talk with Alys some more about that.  Or any girl that's lived here :)

And so I often make my way to Sugu Kura, the new market, in Bamako to go thrifting.  Piles upon piles of thrift-store clothes sent from a Salvation Army near you lie in plastic bundles on low-lying wooden tables in a cloistered section of the market.  Women sit on their piles of wares and shout out 'bi-naani, bi-naani!' 200CFA, 200CFA to attract passing shoppers with their seductively low prices.  The thrift business here is run much like that in the States.  The articles are divided by type - women's pants, women's tops, dresses, children's clothes etc. so all you have to do is either 1) know the name of what you're looking for and ask or 2) bring a similar article of clothing you are looking to purchase and wordlessly show it someone while nodding thereby indicating your urgent interest in possessing another article of clothing similar to the one in your hands.

Which is how I found myself in market a few weekends ago with a friend looking for some thrift treasures.  Would I tag along, she asked, and show her my favorite spots?  How could I say no?!  Especially when I found the treasure pictured above for only 500 CFA (~$1USD).  A floor length, baby-blue, lace-y and long-sleeved number that I knew I would wear all the time...  Well, flash-forward to a few weekends later and I still hadn't worn it (not a unique experience to America in case you were wondering!).  And then the dress spoke to me.  "Cut off my sleeves and make me shorter - it's too hot for floor-length synthetic dresses here!" it said.  Wow, I thought to myself.  My dress speaks really good English.  Must have been all the time it spent in the Salvation Army in America before coming to Mali.  And so I took a pair of scissors and got to cutting.  Here's the after:
After.  I found the belt at a belt-seller nearby for 200CFA

Voilà!  A wearable dress!

*Great talk of the town tuesday coming up next week!*

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Weekend tripper: Village adventure with a whole lotta love!

“Two tickets to San,” I say to the woman seated behind the barred bus station window. “Names?” she asks. “Jennifer Davis and Abdoulaye Bangoura,” I reply and hand over the money, 12,000 CFA (~$26), as she hands over the tickets.
I like the spelling of our names: Jenniphere...and...Bamcoura
And then Abdoulaye and I are San bound!  It's our first adventure together outside of the Koulikoro region and we are headed to the village where I spent my first two years in Mali, from 2008-2010, as a Peace Corps Volunteer to visit Annie, Christine and the whole Coulibaly family + Jim. When Annie left in June we promised to come and visit and we wanted to make good on our promise before the school year (and therefore, work) picks back up again. With the weather cool and cloudy it is also the perfect time to travel and we wanted to make the trip before Ramadan began on August 1st because of the following equation:

Ramadan + Traveling on Malian Public Transport = Grumpy Passengers

Best to avoid above equation if at all possible. Because sometimes it doesn't even take Ramadan:

Traveling on Malian Public Transport = Grumpy Passengers

Better to not intensify it.

We pack a suitcase the night before and tuck in gifts for the family between changes of clothes and toothbrushes. Abdoulaye remembers Annie loves potatoes and so he buys 5 kilos to share with the family. I get tea and sugar for Esayi – sometimes guys can be the easiest and also the most difficult to shop for :)

Esayi meets us at the volunteer house in San on Friday afternoon and we load our belongings and selves into his horse cart. Riding out of the city I point out familiar places to Abdoulaye from the two years I spent coming and going to San each week to get groceries, use the internet and have a cold drink in this regional capital. I point out Abu's tailor shop, the direction of market and Bacho's boutique, and the BNDA where I spent many a Monday morning waiting to withdraw part of my Peace Corps stipend to spend at San's weekly market. We marvel, along with Esayi, at how quickly San is building up. The road leading out of San and into the bush is littered with half-built homes and piles of rough, cement bricks demarcating lot lines. The suburbs exist even in Mali!

As we hit the limits of the city we pass a teenage girl. The trot of Esayi's horse hasn't quickened enough to keep us from greeting but before we can she calls out “Blanche Neige!” Snow White! We laugh at her substitute for the standard 'toubabu!' (foreigner/white person) and turn our attention to the packed dirt path ahead. I flop on my stomach to stay in the shade of my straw hat and listen to Abdoulaye and Esayi speak to one another in their respective forms of Bambara.

It's Abdoulaye's first time on a horse cart and we snap photos along the way as we pass fields and families farming beside tiny, tucked away hamlets. I admit to Abdoulaye I did not have much patience for long, painful horse cart rides during my first two years and opted instead to use my Peace Corps issued bike which I would sometimes ride alongside Esayi's cart. When we arrive in village, backsides sore from bouncing on the floor of the cart – a thin mat separating the two – Abdoulaye understands why.

roil and boil.
Annie and Christine are freshly coiffed by Batuma, Annie and Esayi's oldest daughter, and are waiting for us along with Jim, Emma and Le Vieux beneath a millet stalk hanger. We unload our bags from the cart and sigh with relief to be on solid ground once again. Jim, who has now been at site close to a year (!), welcomes us to his home, where Tamara and I also spent our service as Environment Peace Corps Volunteers, and we unload our things before re-joining the family outside.

I plop onto a plastic string chair and pick up the comfortable thread of conversation always left with Jim. Abdoulaye joins Annie as she pounds millet and Christine wanders over to check him out, too. Calm, familiar, routine. Words some people really don't like. Feelings I've grown to love.

Then night falls and after a bucket bath Annie serves dinner – beans and bread – on a small, cloth-covered table. “Brussey-kono restauranti,” Annie says cheekily. Bush restaurant. We giggle with her and tell her that it's just like Bamako; we feel right at home. 
she's a little girl!
We retire to bed early, exhausted from waking up at 5 a.m. for an eight hour bus ride followed by an hour-and-a-half horse-cart ride out to village. But it hasn't rained in over a week and the balmy weather makes it difficult to fall asleep. Sleeping inside a mud-hut is like taking a nap in a hot-yoga studio. It's happening alright but your clothes are soaked through at the end of it and you're just left wanting more sleep. We wake up groggy the next morning and eat breakfast, siri porridge, when we sense a change in the weather. We get up to look outside and see a slow, dark mass creeping towards us from the eastern sky. “Rain!” we shout. Esayi looks relieved though not yet convinced rain is actually on its way. Abdoulaye reminds me that every person we've greeted thus far has said they're doing fine and their families are fine but where is the rain?!?

A heavy rain begins to fall and we watch the storm from inside Annie's hut. Thick drops of rain swirl around the compound and bursts of water pour from clay drain pipes into the depressed grooves on Annie and Esayi's packed-earth lawn. The storm slows to a drizzle and we decide to take a nap to catch up on the sleep we missed the night before. When we wake up Abdoulaye and I embark on a village tour. The place has become a ghost town with the onset of the rains this morning – everyone is out in the fields taking advantage of the soft soil – and I am secretly relieved to avoid the prying questions of who Abdoulaye is and what he's doing here. We do meet a few grandparents along the way, those too old for intense farming, but they spend more time remarking my long absence from village and dismiss Abdoulaye's presence once they discover he speaks only a stilted Bambara since they speak no French.

I show Abdoulaye my favorite places around town – Fakoro's garden, baby pig outposts, a big tree on the outskirts of town, Dramane's garden – before we make the loop back home and Abdoulaye marvels at both the breadth and intimacy of the village. As we enter the compound Annie takes note of our scruffy hair and dirty feet and gestures to a boiling pot of water nearby. “Does Abdoulaye want to take a bath?” she asks and I take the hint. I scoop bowl after calabash bowl of cool water into a plastic bucket and add hot water to taste before placing it on the cement floor of the bathroom. By now the sun has set and the first stars of the evening are making their appearance.

Dinner is served again on a table and we fill our bellies with freshly steamed dumplings and a bowl of pasta sent over by our neighbor, Maté. Esayi makes tea and we sleepily chat with one another and absently watch television brought out especially for our visit. Annie knits as we chat about goings-on in Bamako and America and before long we are all yawning and checking the time on my watch. We say goodnight and, having wizened up to the temperature difference, collapse into our mosquito tent set up outside. I quickly fall into a deep sleep but Abdoulaye is too concerned the interior wall we're sleeping behind is going to be charged by a wild cow/donkey/goat and so he does not. At least one of us doesn't wake up groggy!
All gussied up and somewhere to go
On Sunday morning Abdoulaye lays in Jim's hammock and practices reading aloud from the new English book we just ordered online and received when Suzy came to visit. Jim doesn't speak French and Abdoulaye doesn't really speak Bambara so the two boys are communicating in a combination of broken Bambara and English (Abdoulaye) and English (Jim). They manage to get their points across.

Then the church bell rings and we head over to sing, clap and sit our way through a two-hour church service before noshing on zamé, me and Jim's favorite rice dish, and packing up to head home, our weekend in village already at a close! Christine insists on joining us for the horse-cart ride to the paved road about 17km away but when we head out around 2 p.m., Abdoulaye pulls her onto his lap and, a few minutes in, she promptly falls asleep. An hour later we have arrived at a bus stop and we wait until 5:30 p.m. when a bus finally passes by from San that has space for two. Annie, Esayi and Christine wave goodbye from their horse-cart and head back to village as we head back to Bamako, the sun slowly dipping in the horizon.
On the ride home I gently squeeze Abdoulaye's hand and sneak peeks at him between cat naps. I have now shared my village experience with heavy handfuls of people who are incredibly dear to me in person and through my blog. I'm so happy to add Abdoulaye to the list.
See more pictures from our trip here!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

August Break: 8-4 Baby Girl Diallo

Oops!  Didn't put up a picture yesterday.  Here's a handful to make up for it today.  A dear friend of Abdoulaye's and now mine, Bobo and his wife Aissetou, recently had a baby girl (last Thursday to be exact).  She's beautiful and we're looking forward to getting to know her!

baby girl

loves peace already

baby girl and her momma

tiny toes all there

Happy one-week-in-this-world baby girl Diallo!  I don't know your name yet (baptism happens today and your name hasn't yet been announced) but I'm already smitten!

*Just found out her name- Aminata Thelma Diallo.  Beautiful!  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August Break: 8-2 Treasures

Talk of the Town Tuesday: Jim Cave, Peace Corps Mali Volunteer Extraordinaire

Jim with the Coulibaly kids - Christine loves him now!
Have you ever left a job you loved because it was time? Have you silently (or not so silently) worried if your replacement would be up to the task of what lies before them? Have you wondered how they would adapt to the working environment and if they would love it the way you did? I think it's safe to say the answer to all of those questions are yes if you are a Returned (or current in my situation) Peace Corps Volunteer who has enjoyed their service and site and has been replaced.

Fortunately, my fears were assuaged when I met Jim Cave, the volunteer who replaced me, last August. Leaving village last year to come to Bamako for my third-year with USAID/PHARE was easier after meeting Jim because I no longer worried if he would early terminate his service or not be up to living out in the bush. He fit in from Day One. Born in Great Falls, Montana, Jim is the kind of guy that calls his family weekly just to chat and that anyone would want to call a friend because he's so sincere and genuine. He took right away too the simple beauty of the San region and the gentle nature of our village. A mutual Malian friend once said of Jim, “He hasn't integrated into Mali's culture – he's just a part of it.” And it's so true. Whenever I tell other volunteers, when they ask where my site was for the first two years, that Jim replaced me – if they know him – they automatically sigh and say “Jim Cave? He's such a sweetheart!” And it's so true.

After studying Political Science and History at Montana State, Jim came to Mali – his first time leaving America (aside from skipping the border into Canada) – to be an environmental specialist with the Peace Corps. After Peace Corps he's hoping to see the world – maybe by teaching English in Thailand or Indonesia – before studying law at the University of Montana where he hopes to concentrate on worker's rights. Before joining the Peace Corps he spent a summer in Washington D.C. working for Montana Senator JonTester where he was particularly interested in labor and worker's rights and then he spent a month with the Montana Farmer's Union which focuses on small family farms in the state.

He's adorably handsome, kind-hearted and seriously, pretty much loved on the spot by anyone who meets him. This past weekend I went back to village with Abdoulaye and he suggested Jim be the Talk of the Town this Tuesday.  But of course, I said!  Jim's the Talk of the Town every Tuesday!  I could gush about him to anyone willing to listen and even to those who aren't but I'll let you fall for him on your own with his interview:
Abdoulaye & Christine, Me, Le Vieux, Annie, Esayi and Jim (back row) Emma and Batuma (front)
Name: Jim Cave aka Adama Coulibaly
Birthplace: Great Falls, Montana
Birthday: April 8, 1988
Marital status: The lady who scoops up this treasure is going to be lucky
Occupation: Peace Corps Volunteer, Mali
Langauges spoken: English, Bambara

What are you three favorite things about the village where you live?
  1. Easily the Coulibaly family (Annie & Esayi et. al). Esayi is not only my best-friend in Mali but quite possibly my best-friend period. They've made me feel such a part of their family and have been so supportive [as I adjust to Mali].
  2. Everyone's a farmer here and there's a sense of community with all the communal and seasonal work that takes place like brick making, house building and repair and farming. There's a real sense of helping one another out.
  3. I am in biking distance to San. [Which, despite what the Lonely Planet Guide calls “just a truck stop,” is quite possibly the best city in Mali.] (wait, did Jim say that or did I? I think we both did)
What's so great about Mali?
  1. The people! (are you readers getting the idea that Mali, like Virginia, is for lovers?? (of people that is!) I like how open to conversations people are.
  2. Ethnic groups continue to maintain their identity through dress, traditions and language. I like how different the country is depending on where you go.
  3. It's a varied country with the Sahara desert in the North and a lush, almost tropical climate in the South. People in San speak legends of what it's like in Sikasso where they sometimes have two growing seasons (gasp!)
Where would you like to visit in Mali?
I'd like to visit Sikasso and Dogon country and if the security situation were different, Gao and Timbuktu in the north. It's wild to see Tamasheks get on the bus – they look and sound so different than Bambaras!

What's your favorite blessing or proverb?
Dooni dooni konon be a ka nid dilan
Little by little the bird builds his nest.
Take your time!

Allah k'an kelen kelen wuli. [blessing said before you go to bed]
May we rise one by one.
If everyone gets up at the same time it means there's a problem somewhere! Best if we don't all get up at once.

What work are you doing at site?
I've helped to coordinate continued training for both the men's cereal bank association as well as the women's cooperative that focuses on shea nut and butter production. I'm hoping next year to work more closely with a Farmer's Field School to focus on field crops and problems like erosion and how to combat pests.

Why should we visit you in Montana? (as though we needed a reason!)
If you've only ever been on the East Coast coming out to Montana is like visiting a different country. The animals, the landscape – it's all so different! The cost of living is also reasonable relative to other states so you won't spend a lot on food or accommodations here but can enjoy skiing in the winter and hiking and fishing in the summer. There's also no sales tax!

Any final comments?
I'm glad I replaced you – you've been a consistent help. I also know my Mom is going to read this so I'll let her leave a comment. :)

Thank you Jim/Adama!  I'm so glad you replaced me, too.  And thank you Mrs. Cave for reading :)
All we're missing is Tamara!
Abdoulaye is Takana-izing Jim and Christine.  He liked it!

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