Saturday, October 23, 2010
One of the more memorable people I’ve met in Mohammed Mahoud Haidara. The last name Haidara implies that he is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. He lives across the street from my concession and has a store connected to his own concession. We chat often and I’d say I hang out more with him and his son than anybody else. Knowing him has led to more than I would have realized before. He had told me many times that Boue Haidara was a Sherif (I hope I spelled it properly). This means that he is an Islamic leader. It turns out that he is the most prominent Islamic leader in all of Mali, Mauritania, and essentially all the countries around Mali. One day I was having a bad day and I spent almost all day in the house. I came out to hang out a bit and Mr. Haidara flags down a car. He introduces me to this guy named Cheik Haidara, a direct son of the Sherif, and tells me that he spent time in the States. After talking about where I was from, I find out that he’s a wolverine and did both his bachelor’s and his master’s degree at the UofM. He spent 15 years in the States and is currently working in Bamako. The only reason he was in Nioro was to visit his father, or his “old man” as he liked to put it. So for the next week we’d hang out for a few hours at night. I took the opportunity of knowing somebody who spoke English to propose going to meet the Sherif himself. I put on the duloki-ba (literally large shirt, but it’s the robe that the Moors wear) that the Hairdaras gave me and met one of the most influential religious leader in Mali. I essentially just told him who I was, what I was doing and that I had come just to greet him and tell him that I was there. He seemed very happy with that and told me that I was now under his protection and that if I had any questions or any problems, to come talk to him and he would help me out. I expected him to give off a presence or an aura, but he felt like a regular 75 year old man. He was very calm and reserved and very tolerant. It seemed that he would legitimately answer any questions with understanding and never get offended. But it was the people around him that were taking in every word he said, that had this constant awe when around him, and could not wait to have the honor of speaking to him that demonstrated the respect and influence he carried. I had never been in front of a religious leader and was very nervous because I didn’t want to make any cultural mistakes and really didn’t know what to ask although I was assured many times that he wouldn’t get offended and would be more than willing to ask anything I wanted.
I’ve met a guy that only speaks to me in Spanish. He claims to have been to Spain and lists off the cities where he was, but everybody says he’s crazy. The weird thing is that I’ve been focusing so much on Bambara that even though I understand everything he is saying, I can’t think of words or respond in Spanish (rather embarrassing). Another guy I’ve met that everybody says is crazy is this guy who thinks he’s a king. He comes to the store across the street every afternoon and hangs out with Mr. Haidara. While there he likes to mumble to himself, often talking about how all the vendors at the market stole everything from him and that they refuse to compensate him for their wrongdoing.
I have met Fulani, Bambara, Moors, people from Mauritania, Ghanaians, people from the Ivory Coast, Senegalese, people from Burkina Faso, a Frenchman, a Belgian, people from every region of Mali, a Prime Minister, the U.S. Ambassador to Mali at swear-in, and lots and lots of kids.
Working with the CAP, I’ve met a lot of mayors and even more school directors. Every year the Prime Minister of Mali goes to a different city to make a big show of starting the school year. This year he chose Nioro. Although we didn’t get to have a prolonged conversation, I did get to meet and shake the Prime Minister’s hand, which was pretty cool and he seemed genuinely pleased that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.
One time, during my first week or two at site, two girls came to my concession and told me that there was someone planning on breaking in to my house to steal my tv. I responded by telling them I didn’t have a tv and why would be want to rob me? They didn’t really have an answer and my Bambara wasn’t good enough so they just repeated that he said he was going to break in. So I asked them what his name was and where he lived. Then I asked if they could take me to his house. Once I got to his concession I walked in and greeted everybody and we just started chatting. We talked for the next 3 hours and then he walked me back to my house and said that we were good friends and had to talk again. For the next week or two I made a point of stopping by his house every once in a while to chat and brought him tea once. My original plan had been to confront him and ask him why he wanted to rob me, but he never brought it up and I realized that there wasn’t really a point so I left it alone. But just by going over and meeting this guy I was able to diffuse a situation that could have led to a lot of frustration, a really scary night, and possible later isolation in the community depending on my reaction and how easy it was for him to break in.
The social culture here essentially forces me to greet many people every day. For the most part it’s integration and just trying to get to know the community, but every once in a while, someone says something or is part of an organization that I will work with in the future, or that I understand is necessary to my safety in a foreign community. When I tell the people here that we don’t greet strangers in the states just in passing, they always comment on how lonely it is. We always seem to be running around in the States so it’s hard, but you never know who you’ll meet just by saying hi.
The mosque at the edge of town.
Wotoro (cart) pulled by a fali (donkey)
Fanta and her daughter Kadri.
Kids in the family.
Part of my room. My water filter on the right, shoes, plastic bowl with food (one of the rare days I was given food in my room, probably because it had rained), the plastic bucket in the corner was where I would put the water to take bucket baths.
Quick run in the morning.
Ryan! My running buddy.
There are 4 volunteers in our stage that graduated from the University of Michigan. All of us are in the education sector. Also, our country director is a wolverine, so of course we had to leave our mark :)
We painted this world map mural in one of the schools in Baguineda Camp. Although it may not last forever and may not seem effective, the people here have very little understanding of the world outside of their village. They believe that there are only 5 continents (Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas). As purely an image, it demonstrates how much more is in the world and that Mali is just a small part of that world. For the most part, Malians know their village and Bamako, but otherwise have no concept of the world.
Another image outside my door.
My host family - my host dad, his first wife sitting down, and his second wife on the left.
Daow. This is one of my host brothers. I hung out with him a lot and we chatted in French. He's at the University of Bamako studying pre-law and owns a store in a town nearby. When I asked him what he wanted to do getting his degree, he wasn't sure, but thought maybe he would either study more, keep working in the store, or work in the fields. His older brother has a degree in marketing and now owns a few hectacres of corn field.
Everything a Malian woman needs to pound millet, toh, and shea butter.
The girls eating dinner of toh and okra sauce.
This is my host dad's mother, Tieman (my host dad's father) Diarra's 1st wife. She hangs out under her gwa all day and takes care of the little girls. My room is in the back left of the picture.
Kadi is Fanta's daughter, in her terrrible twos, has been learning how to pound since she could walk, and probably the chubbiest baby in Mali. Fanta is 17 years old and her husband died while she was still pregnant with kadri.
My host dad's house is the white one and his wives' house is on the right. They aren't so much houses as they are sleeping rooms since everyone just spends time outside.
The water pump
Normally breakfast wasn't this good, but I had to take a picture of this one where Ryan brought over an egg sandwich with fries and oranges. I also included a full pack of 10 gazelle tea packages, the best tea in Mali according to my host family.
What I see outside my window. Including my 5:00am alarm clock, the family donkey...
The Michigan bear studying Bambara with his water bottle
My bed under the mosquito net.
The kids of Soundougouba during the full moon.
This is what I like to call the full moon rabbit costume. The kids get underneath and dance around going from concession to concession getting small change and snacks. Kate (the other volunteer in the picture), and I got under the rabbit at one point and danced around a bit.
Rocks by Soundougouba
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Ramadan started while I was in Nioro during site visit. This means that all Muslims must fast, so they can’t eat, drink water, smoke, or drink tea which is really funny because this might be the hardest part for them. Not drinking tea makes them jittery and some were irritated during the first week or two before they got used to not being constantly caffeinated. Other than eating breakfast at 4 in the morning before the sun goes up, life goes on as usual. The women still pound millet, corn or shea, do laundry, cook, fetch water, and take care of the kids all day. The men still go out to the fields, and as difficult as I thought it might be, they sit around and take naps even more than before (I think a result of not drinking tea). At around 6:30 or 7:00pm, the Imams on the radio begin to announce the end of the fast. The women break out the monni (millet cooked in water with lime juice and sugar). I think that this is to cut the thirst, because with enough lime juice it is refreshing. A few times they had a ginger juice which was good, but rather spicy.
After the bucket bath, my host father dresses in a nice full length boubou and sits down in his new bamboo recliner. He listens carefully to the radio and although it doesn’t show, I know his stomach is pounding, his head is light from dehydration, and I can almost visualize his thumb striking the lighter while his fingers itch for the feel of a cigarette to rest lightly between them. The air explodes with the sound of prayer as the sun dips slightly behind the horizon. Every concession has a radio tuned in to the same program, and the mosque’s sound system begins the chants that proceed the break of fast. After ensuring that the men have everything they need, the women can finally sit down for a few minutes. The children are eating, and the food is ready, they only have to wait for my host dad to grunt or say a barely intelligible word for them to get the bowl and set it in front of his chair. After going to mosque one more time, the family will stay up late, sometimes until 2:00am before going to bed. The whole time they eat corn on the cob, monni, and whatever has been prepared. Then they wake up at 4:30am to eat before the sun rises again.
The month of fasting ended when I got back to Nioro as a volunteer. It was pretty fun because everyone enjoyed their day off by killing a sheep, roasting it and spent the whole day eating and drinking tea. The kids also go around and bless everyone wishing them a good year for them and their family and in exchange you give them a little gift. This is the only time I have given a gift, but I still avoided giving money and only gave them little things I had brought specifically to give as gifts such as pencils or stickers (they really didn't like the stickers and found them boring). Ramadan is really an awesome month. It really helps the Muslim community understand what it's like for a large portion of the world. Many people do not have the luxury of eating all day or even eating 3 full meals a day. So for a month the Islamic community joins these people in fasting and understanding what it's really like not to have food or water in their stomachs for a whole day. Of course some people cheat and just about everybody has a day or two where they are very irritable, but for them it's spiritual and brings them closer to their families and every human being in their community. They create the support network of understanding that nobody else is eating or drinking and help eat other through the day.