Academy Award Shorts
End of Feb. 27 Column

Mali Journal

[My older daughter, had email briefly last week and checks in from Mali, where she is serving in the Peace Corps]

My trip back from Bamako to village was more exciting than I might have liked. I took CMT, which is the nice bus (it costs a little more, but doesn't stop to pick people up at the side of the road, it just stops at the major bus stops, which doesn't sound like much but it makes things a lot more bearable), and yet somewhere between Bamako and Bougani we hit four cows. One was hit but was able to run off into the bush, one was killed instantly, one got caught in the grill in the front, and one got stuck under the bus. We pulled over to the side of the road, and the driver of the bus asked the passengers if anyone had a machete to kill the injured but still living cows, and of course, several people were prepared to help, even while wearing their nice traveling outfits. I think the problem was just that they had ten year old boys tending the cows, and they didn't get them across the road fast enough, plus the bus was probably going to fast. When the Fulani (cow herding people) adults finally showed up the men were sullen and the women were more obviously grief struck. We had to stand around on the side of the road for an hour or two while the bus employees, Fulani, and fancy passengers argued loudly. A military guy showed up and another CMT employee showed up to add their opinions. Eventually they loaded one of the dead cows into the luggage compartment (ew), and we finally headed into Bougani. In Bougani we went to the cow owner's house and the passengers had to sit in the bus for a couple of hours while the driver and the owner negotiated the blood price for the cows. I'm not sure how the negotiations ended, it's not like they made an announcement, but eventually we got on our way, and I was into Dougoukolobugu (the village at the main road where I leave my bike) by 4:30, so I was able to bike into N'tjilla before dark, which was the only thing about my day that was time sensitive. I'd meant to catch the 7 am bus, but I'd caught the 10 am because I'd gone out with some other volunteers the night before and didn't feel like getting up at the crack of dawn. I beat myself up about that for a minute as we were waiting by the side of the road, but luckily it is still cold season, and I had enough water, so it wasn't terrible.

I finally made some progress with my girl's soccer team. We held a meeting to thank everyone for trying out, and I thought we were going to announce the team members names, but the PE teacher decided that would discourage the girls who did not make the cut, so we just talked about the team in general terms. Luckily I had prepared some remarks ahead of time aside from the list of names I'd written up. The next week we had our first practice. It went well. Five or six of the girls didn't show up, so we pulled girls from the audience to play, and I myself played for the first half. The general level of play was better, since all of the girls on the field were the best of each grade, but they still followed the ball around like a group of 5 year olds in America. There was also a lot of hand balls and obstruction penalties. I think even though they generally know the sport, they don't really know the rules, so I decided to hold a second meeting to cover rules and positions. I spent a couple of days preparing my remarks for the meeting because a lot of it isn't normal vocabulary for day to day, and a lot of the time the PE teachers would just use the French expressions for the soccer terms, and although the girls nod along like they know what he's saying, I was pretty sure they weren't actually following. Only 12 of the 22 girls showed up for the meeting, but it turned out that they had that afternoon off for school for the Prophet's baptism holiday, so I was lucky any neighboring villages stuck around at all. This is the kind of thing it would have been nice if someone had told me about before hand when I asked if I could have the meeting that day, but they never do tell you until the day of. Anyway, the smaller audience was actually easier to address. W, the PE teacher, did a great job of taking my stuttered half-nonsense and turning it into understandable Bambara. We brought in a soccer ball and demonstrated throw-ins, obstruction, and other things. I tried to make it interactive, asking questions to make sure they were listening, and although they were hesitant to answer me, they would eventually talk when W insisted on them talking. He also added a lot of good stuff about feminism and leadership that I hadn't even necessarily said. I had a little spiel about teamwork and camaraderie, but he turned it into metaphors about family and medicine that I think were more digestible for the girls. I'm not sure if he's going through the motions for my benefit, or if he really believes what he's saying, but either way as long as he says it enthusiastically in front of the girls, the effect is the same. And to be fair, he seems sincere.

We only had one bank meeting. I want to do another big overview of the books and count the money in the safe to see if it has gotten any farther off since the last time we did that, which was at least six months ago at this point. We really need to be doing that quarterly at the least, if not monthly.

The last two weeks were the Prophet's birthday and baptism. They were both celebrated with midnight Koran readings by a visiting imam. I didn't go to the late night readings, but both were also followed by afternoon readings, which I happily dressed up and attended, even though I didn't understand any of the Arabic and very little of the Bambara, due to the crappy quality of the AV. The twins in my homologue's compound are my new BFFs. They've been walking the last couple of months but they're finally really stable, and they're also starting to try to talk. They've seen all of the other kids greet me and give me five, so now they are thrilled to be able to do that too, even though they obviously don't understand what they're doing.

I went to a CGS (basically school board) meeting. They were changing up the board. The School Director and Mayor's office representative basically just appointed the people. I thought there were going to be "elections," but no. When I asked my homologue about that, she thought it would just cause arguments and hurt feelings to vote. W actually nominated me for a position supporting le scolarization des filles. I thought that was sweet, but the Director rightly pointed out that job should go to a community member and that my job as liaison from the Peace Corps was keeping me plenty busy.

We are in-between cold season and hot season, so it has been both extremely hot and extremely cold these last couple of weeks. I think the extremely cold days were probably in the 60s. When I got into Sikasso this weekend there was apparently a air-quality warning for the cold days (the wind kicks up a lot of dust which is bad for people with asthma, or really anyone), which is too bad, because I did a bunch of stuff on those days since it wasn't insanely hot.

I found out my library project got approved, but I won't get the money for another week. There is some chance it is there, but when I went to the bank this morning the ATM was broken and the line was ridiculous, so I wasn't able to check on my account.

I also went this morning and met with a female seamstress (most tailors here are men) who might do training in Bougoulaba if we decide a sewing machine is actually something that would help their women's association. I got the prices and idea of how the training would actually run.

Since I've been in Sikasso I've been hanging out with a lot of the new stages. My stage is The Kennedys. T is from Team America. The stage before her was Risky Business; others are Honey Bunches of Oats (Hobos for short), and the Belushis I believe. The new stages are the Goodfellas and the Madhatters. In other countries they just give the stages numbers. I'm not sure why Mali decided to give the stages names instead. I like our name, but I don't love all the others. Oh well. I don't love how crowded the Sikasso house is (dirty dishes, noise, no toilet paper, slow internet, etc.), but the individuals are nice enough. I went out with them one night to a couple of the local bars. And then yesterday we hung out the Hotel Maisa pool. The weather was unbelievably pleasant. This morning I went to the market with T and we went a little too crazy on fabric, but what the hell. It makes me inordinately happy. We also got green beans, potatoes, and eggs for dinner, which we'll be starting shortly.

We had meetings this afternoon about Take Your Daughter to Work Day, which we are probably going to hold in April, and our in-service training in May. I made some arrangements for our March trip to Dogon country, so the next couple of months are starting to fill up, plus I'm in the process of planning my possible Senegal, Cape Verde, Morocco trip with in May...