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Saturday, November 21, 2009

a write-up on my travels in Mali.

The trip to Mali was spectacular. I met up with my two traveling partners,
Brendan and Zach, in Basse (the biggest town in Eastern Gambia) in
mid-October. We set off overland into Senegal, riding in one cramped,
broken down car after another. At one point I was one of nine people
crammed into a 7 passenger car with an additional two people sitting
on the roof with their feet hanging down by the windows. We stayed at
a Peace Corps transit house in Tamba Kunda. We then got up at 3am the
next day and caught a bus over the boarder and into Mali. Crossing the
boarder involved going to three different police stations, but we got
through eventually. That evening we found ourselves at a Peace Corps
house in Kayes. On our third day of traveling we boarded yet another
bus bound for Bamako. The landscape changed almost immediately.
Endless fields of tall coos and looming baobab trees were replaced by
sparse fields of short coos and small sand dunes. Once we were off the
bus and making our way around Bamako, we realized that our Fula and
Mandinka language skills were useless. Hand motions, pointing, and
acting things out got the point across …. most of the time. After only
one night in Bamako we set off on the road again to Dogon country. In
a town called Sevare (in South-East Mali) we met up with a large,
jolly man, named Hassimi, who was an English speaking guide to Dogon
that many other Peace Corps volunteers recommended. He was great! We
slept in a tent in his compound and set out into Dogon country the
next day. We spent three days in Dogon driving between villages and
hiking up into the remains of now abandoned cliff side villages. It
was astonishing. Though I have never been to Utah, my travel
companions said that Dogon resembled the Utah landscape; flat,
sparsely green plains decorated with cliff-edged yellow and red rocks.
The villages we visited were composed of mud huts built right into the
cliff edge, which made them very hard to see from a distance. These
people supposedly made these homes because they were an animist
culture and were trying to protect themselves from the rapid
introduction of Islam that was sweeping across West Africa at that
time. Now, from what I saw, most of the villages (which are now
located at the cliff bottoms) had both mosques and churches in them,
though we did visit some villages where animist rituals were still
practiced (worshipping and sacrificing animals). We hiked around a
lot, saw small waterfalls, drank millet-beer, and listened to Hassimi
tell lots of stories. We returned to Bamako with lots of dyed cloth
and wood statues. We spent three more days in Bamako eating street
food, searching for live music, and visiting different markets. We met
lots of volunteers, including many volunteers from Guinea who had just
been evacuated after the shootings in the capital. We then prepared to
make our journey back. We shortened the traveling to two days be
taking an overnight bus, which brought us over the boarder at 11pm and
landed us in Tamba kunda in Senegal at 4am. Things went smoothly after
that all the way back to The Gambia. I was glad we had managed to get
our visas for Mali, which we were only able to pick up the day before
we left. Looking back, I was most shocked by how big Mali was,
especially compared to The Gambia. I also enjoyed eating coos-coos and
trying to speak French.

Since returning from the trip I have spent two and a half weeks
teaching at school. I ran a workshop with my teachers on promoting
alternative discipline in the classroom and proper lesson planning,
which went quite well. I also helped a group of very motivated
students put on two short drama skits; one on the importance of school
and one (more seriously) on the dangers of female circumcision. I
supplied them with costumes and taught them theater games. We
performed for the school and the students greatly enjoyed it. This is
something I will definitely have to do again. At home things are okay.
When I returned from my trip I learned that Mamasamba (my host father)
and Maimuna (one of my two host mothers) had had a big fight which led
to Maimuna leaving with two of her daughters. They have yet to return
and I have decided to just stay out of it because it is none of my
business anyway. However, the compound is rather quiet without the two
girls around. My latest project has been to start a garden in my
compound. Gardens are numerous in the village, but my host-family does
not have one. Gardening would be easy if there were not so many
chickens and goats around on the loose. Therefore, my first step was
to build a fence. I bought 15 meters of chicken wire and fenced off a
good sized garden. There is a concrete wall on one side, which
provides shade and saved me some fencing. I put a bamboo door on it
and have since dug too garden beds. Since the rain has now stopped
here, the soil has to be broken up before you can plant anything. Once
I return to site I plan to dig two more beds and then plant tomatoes,
onions, carrots, beans, and whatever else I can get seeds for.
Watering is what is going to make this interesting. I may try my luck
with some banana trees as well. The chickens in the compound, of
course, have discovered the fence and have been scoping it out. Things
may turn violent if I catch one in the garden. We’ll see how it goes.

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