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?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the write-up, Jen. Had a blast and can't wait to come back! ...but let me book the rooms next time :)

-JN

Jennifer said...

my pleasure, Jeff! thank you and we look forward to having you back soon! (and i look forward to a 5-star hotel :)

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