Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Last 24 Hours

I can’t believe I’m leaving today. After waiting for this day for so long, it’s really bizarre that it’s finally here. I have really mixed feelings about it—I’m happy to be seeing people again, eating good food again, and just having some sort of normalcy again, but at the same time I’m really sad to leave my host family and it’s absolutely crazy to think that I’ll probably never be in Mali again. It really has been an amazing experience. I’ve learned so much from just living here, especially because it’s a culture so incredibly different from my own. It’s funny that what made it so hard is also what made it so valuable.

Some final reflections in the form of top ten lists.

Top 10 Things I Won’t Miss About Mali

Honorable Mention: Bad Skype connections

10) Sweating under a mosquito net at night

9) Air and ground pollution
I am waiting to get off the airplane in France and take a deep breath. It’s going to be awesome.

8) Bathroom that doubles as a mosquito hatchery
Mosquitoes are never fun. When you’re trying to bathe, though, it becomes a little more of a concern because there are just some places that you really don’t want to get bitten. Also, somewhat related, I am really looking forward to warm showers. Cold water wasn’t too bad until the temperature dropped slightly in December. Now it’s just kind of painful.

7) Risk of illness
I am so happy that I never really got sick. With 18 students in my group, there were 11 cases of malaria, three cases of typhoid, three stomach infections and a whole other slew of the things that went undiagnosed, not to mention Jen, who got hit by a bus (don’t worry, she’s ok) on the first day. Needless to say, I was pretty lucky. Also, not having to sanitize water all the time is going to great.

6) My host-brother Tonton
While it’s not his fault that he’s a product of absolutely no discipline and huge amounts of spoiling, an 8 year-old that throws tantrums on a daily basis is somewhat annoying.

5) Most men ages 15-45
Some quotes:
“You please me a lot.”
“I fell in love with you the moment I saw you.”
“You are more beautiful than the dawn.”
“You’re the first white woman I’ve ever spoken to like this.”

4) Being a "Tubabu"
Most of the time it didn’t bother me too much, but I’m not going to miss being chanted at as I walk down the street or being grabbed by people who want to touch me/talk to me/show me something they’re selling. It is going to be weird being around so many whiteys, though.

3) Food (except fruit, plantains, frou frou, and bouillie)

2) 4-8 hours of alone time per day

1) Inaccessibility of everyone and everything

Top 10 Things I Will Miss About Mali

10) Malian soda
I swear the Cokes here just taste better. I think they actually do use another kind of sugar, or it could just be something about something cold in 100° heat. Also, D’Jino Pamplemousse (Grapefuite soda) and Fanta Cocktail (just sickenly sweet, unidentifiable fruit-flavored soda) are awesome.

9) Selected TV Shows
I think I mentioned my addiction to Brazilian telenovellas dubbed into French before, but I’m really going to miss Marina and Les Deux Visages d’Ana. I’m also going to miss Trace, the French/Caribbean music video TV channel. So bad, they’re good.

8) Fruit, plantains, frou frou, and bouillie

7) Slower pace of life
I’m pretty nervous about returning to the U.S. and having such a full schedule. I’ve gotten pretty use to having nothing to do all the time, so I’m pretty sure that my fast-paced, over-committed life in the States is going to be a shocker. Actually having time to read was also really nice. I actually read four different books just this past month, which you probably know is something of a record since I’m really not a big reader. It was kind of nice.

6) Speaking French

5) Cheap public transportation

4) Speaking Bambara
Although I definitely didn’t master the language, it was still really fun to talk to Malians in Bambara. I’m really going to miss it, especially the greetings.

3) My host sisters Jolie and Aïda and Jen’s host family

2) Being called Safi and Safiatou
Even my American friends here called me Safi, so it’s really sad to say goodbye to my Malian name.

1) Bean jokes being hilarious
This is sort of indescribable, but probably the best way to explain the amazingness of bean jokes is that it’s sort of like the whole country has the same, huge inside joke. As soon as I found out someone’s last name is Diarra or Coulibaly, I have free reign to call him a bean eater, and he usually argues back that I am his slave or an even bigger bean eater. It really is hilarious. I swear.

So, with that, I say goodbye to Mali. It’s been unforgettable an experience.

K’an bεn Mali! Tu vas me manquer!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Independent Study Project

ISP time is more than half over now. I’ve done 12 interviews with polygamous women in the Bamako area about what it’s like living with one or more co-wives. Some of the questions, for example, were about how they divide up the housework and time with their husbands, how they feel about sharing their husbands with another woman (or two or three), and what their relationships with their husbands are like. It was fascinating. After that, each woman took a marital satisfaction survey. Only four of the women could speak French or read, so I had another Malian woman help me translate and record the others’ responses. Here’s a quick summary about the women I interviewed and what I learned:

Age: 45
# of co-wives: 1.58
Age at marriage: 17.4
Age difference between husband and wife: 10.33
# of living children: 4.25
Marital satisfaction percentile: 56.61

Interesting Info
Almost all of the women divided up tasks in a rotation based on cooking. Each wife was responsible for cooking for two days, and on those days she was also responsible for cleaning the house, making the husband’s bed, and spending the night with the husband. After her two days, the next wife would take two days, etc.

Most of the wives were fairly cooperative and helped each other out in various ways. They also considered the children of the other women as their own children.

Besides that, the goal of my project was basically to figure out what factors influence marital satisfaction for women in polygamous marriages. Based on the interviews, it seems like the three most important factors are the woman’s expectations about marriage, the behavior of the husband (specifically if he is abusive and/or if he shows preferential treatment to one wife over another), and the nature of the co-wive’s relationship.

So, that’s that, and hopefully I haven’t bored anyone to death. It really was pretty cool getting to talk to all the different women and hear what they had to say. One even told me that when co-wives don’t get along, “it’s like two hippopotamuses in one river.” Pretty remarkable. Now, it’s just writing and presenting that are left. Only a little over two weeks to go!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Grand Excursion

I’m finally back in Bamako after the “Grand Excursion” which included Ségou, Djenné, le Pays Dogon, and Mopti. I apologize in advance for the length of this blog entry, but we saw so many cool things that it’s hard to keep it short.


On Wednesday, we drove about four hours to Ségou. There, we visited a huge dam that was built by the French in the 1930s. Thousands of Malians died during its construction. Although fishing near the dam is illegal, all the men in the picture below are doing exactly that. The surrounding community relies on the fish, so the law is rarely enforced and fishermen are all over the place.

Unfortunately, I missed the rest of the trip in Ségou because, on the second day, I couldn’t be more than five feet from the bathroom, and I developed some sort of weird rash on the back of my leg. On the up side, if there was one hotel that I would have wanted to be stuck in for several hours, it was the hotel in Ségou. There was AC in the rooms, toilet paper in the bathroom, and CNN in English between the hours of 12 noon and 8 A.M. Pretty posh. Anyway, a round of antibiotics seemed to resolve the bathroom issue, and the rash seems to be on its way out, as well.


On Friday, the group moved on to Djenné. Djenné is situated on the Niger Delta, so the city looks a lot like an island after the rainy season, and we took a ferry to get there. First, we visited a tomb, which is shown in the picture here. The sign says, “Tomb of the young girl Tapama Dienepo, sacrificed to protect the city from evil spirits.” True story. Apparently, if you go inside the tomb, make an offering, and walk outside of it in a circle counterclockwise (or clockwise if you’re famous), Tapama will grant your wishes. I tried it, so I’ll keep you posted.

Then, we visited Djenné’s main attraction, the largest man made sand structure in the world, a huge mosque. According to a Malian, before Tapama was sacrificed, the mosque kept collapsing during construction, but after her sacrifice, the construction was successful. During the rainy season, though, parts of the mosque still wash away, so the town has to make repairs every year.

On day 4, we visited an archaeological site from 250 B.C. where we saw what remained of Old Djenné, which was bases of mud houses and burial urns. I don't know if you can see it, but there is a human bone sticking up in the middle of the urn in the picture below. Crazy.

Le Pays Dogon (Sangha)

On Sunday, we got in the car for the seven-hour drive to Pays Dogon, which was by far my favorite region. As we got closer to Sangha, the village where we were staying, I started to feel like I was driving through the real-life version of the Lion King, and we actually drove through a small waterfall at one point. It was really cool.

The next day we went out hiking at 6 A.M. to avoid the afternoon heat. First, we happened upon some old men, and our guide explained that they were diviners. They ask a question and then leave peanuts, which foxes find overnight. In the morning,
they return to interpret the footprints of the foxes to find an answer. We continued our hike and we saw cliff dwellings which were just stuck in these little cracks in the side of a plateau. No one lives in them now, but people still climb up to them (I have no idea how) and make animal sacrifices. According to our guide, the only people that ever fall are those who "climb with bad intentions." I'm skeptical. We kept going and we hiked through a village where the Dogon people actually live. Two other students, Jen and Ruth, and I lost track of the group, so we had a sort of interesting experience running through village yelling for "tubabus." The Dogons don't speak any Bambara or French so it was a little tough, but we eventually found a group of French people who had seen another group of whiteys and we were reunited. Regardless, the hike was absolutely beautiful and the houses where the Dogons live are really cool.

That evening, we got to watch a traditional Dogon mask dance. This was by far my favorite part of the trip, and probably the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in person. The pictures don’t really do it justice, but they’re still pretty sweet.


The last stop of the trip was Mopti. It’s the commercial hub of central Mali, but besides that, the only thing there really is to write about is the man who explained (in English) that he wanted to give us "a demonstration of the air conditioned trousers" he was selling. Sadly, we did not buy them. Shocking.

Probably the most notable part of that part of the trip was setting the alarm for four in the morning on the day of the elections and huddling around a TV listening to McCain’s and Obama’s speeches in French. The next afternoon, Malians in the market kept stopping us to tell us that they thought Obama was great and several offered us goods for the “Obama price.” It was pretty funny.

The next day, we made the long drive back to Bamako. It was great to see the different parts of Mali, especially because many of the places we visited were so different from Bamako. After a week and a half of vacay, though, it’s time to get down to business and start work on my ISP. I only have three and half weeks, so it’s goodbye traveling and hello polygamy! (Sidenote: I am currently watching Miss Congeniality in French. Génial!)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Griots and Co-Wives

On Friday, we had a musical performance at school to learn about traditional Malian music and celebrate the end of classes for the semester. A group of musicians came, as did several griots who sang praises about our Malian family names. Traditionally, griots sang stories about families and legends, and they played an important role in Malian oral tradition. Today, griots sing at baptisms, weddings, and other special events, so it was really fun to get to take part in such an ancient tradition. The one downside was that they sang in Bambara, so we really had no idea what they were saying about our family names. I imagine, though, it was something along the lines of “Safi Traoré’s family is totally rad, especially because she’s in it.” (rough translation)

The next day, Saturday I had my first interview for my ISP! I met with a woman in a polygamous marriage and talked with her for an hour about everything from raising her children to her rotation of cooking and conjugal duties with her co-wife. It was incredibly interesting. It was slightly difficult because I had to read her the questionnaire that she would have ideally completed privately, but I still got some great data. It won’t be a perfect Psych experiment, but it’s going to be very enlightening in any case.

For the next ten days, we’ll being seeing Mali tourist-style on the “Grand Excursion.” We are visiting Ségou, Djenné, Pays Dogon, and Mopti. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to visit Timbuktu because of security risks of some kind, but the mosque in Djenné is supposedly amazing, as are the cliffs of Pays Dogon. I’m very excited, and I’m sure I’ll have to lots to blog about when I get back! Bon voyage!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Whoaa! We're half way there. Whoaa! 'Livin on a prayer!

First of all, a few people have been asking about my address here. It’s sort of a toss up as to whether or not stuff will make it here, but it has worked for some people so give it a try if you want to! Here’s my address:

Safi Traoré
c/o Modibo Coulibaly
SIT/World Learning
BPE 2953

It’s seems crazy, but finals are a week from tomorrow! I can’t believe classes are almost over, and today is officially the halfway point. There are exactly 53 days left! (Not that I’m counting…) After finals, I’ll spend a week and a half traveling around the country with my class, and then I begin working on my independent study project (ISP). I’m going to be studying the marital satisfaction of women in polygamous marriages, so I’ve been doing a lot of work preparing for that in the past few weeks, too. Hopefully, it will work out!

The past week hasn’t been too exciting now that I’m back in Bamako. Classes has been getting a little more time consuming lately because we have several projects due next week. My classmates and I have to do river observations on the Niger, which has been pretty cool. Basically, we go to the side of the river and just check out what’s going on. I visited a Bozo fishing village on the river’s edge as well as well as a huge area where they extract sand to make houses and other buildings. I’ve been doing some research on Bamako’s horseback riding club and their Olympic teams for two other projects, as well.

Other than that, though, life has been pretty unexciting, just hanging out and trying not to sweat. It’s still between 35° and 40° Celsius almost every day (that’s like 95° to 100° Fahrenheit). Supposedly it’s going to “cool down” a little bit mid-November, but we’ll see about that. For now, I’ll just have to sweat it out!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sanankaroba in Pictures

I spent the past week in a rural village called Sanankaroba about 40 minutes outside of Bamako. Here are some highlights:

Chasing baby goats

Playing baseball with the village kids

Sleeping inside a mud hut (or outside when it was too hot)

Visiting children at the Village d’Enfants S.O.S., an international organization for orphans

Riding a donkey

Dyeing fabric

Attempting to carry peanuts like the Malian women

...still trying...

...and failing.

Dancing with the village women

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The End of Ramadan

Everyone was awaiting the end of Ramadan with much anticipation. Based on the lunar calendar, the celebrations would either begin on Tuesday or Wednesday, so most people had been preparing for two or three weeks before. My host family had been busy getting outfits made and buying shoes and food. On Saturday, I went with my sister to the Grand Marchet in Bamako, which was basically like going to the mall three days before Christmas, but worse. It was probably 95 degrees, and the market was absolutely packed. Getting anywhere was sort of like trying to shove your way to the front of a crowd at a concert. It was crazy.

Finally, early on Monday night, someone saw the moon, and shortly thereafter, gunshots rang out in the capital, signaling that the celebrations would start the next day. On Tuesday, my family got up early to start making food. As we sat in the courtyard, groups of children and men came up to our door and recited phrases in Bambara asking for forgiveness for the things they had done. We all responded, “Amiina,” (“Amen”) and then gave the children small amounts of money. The first picture below is of my host sister Jolie on the left and my cousin on the right. The second is my other host sister Aïda and my host mom. They're in the courtyard in front of our house preparing food.

The visitors throughout the day were very interesting, but the Ramadan outfits were definitely the highlight. My entire host family had outfits made for them of bazin, an expensive fabric reserved for special occasions, and my host sister Jolie had one made for me to match hers. Bazin is made of cotton, but it has a thick waxy coat that sort of makes it like wearing an outfit made out of that red and white picnic tablecloth fabric. Basically, it was freaking hot. In the afternoon, I put the bazin on along with the heels my sister bought for me at the market, and then we left to go visit her friends as well as some of my classmates’ families. I looked pretty silly, but all the Malians were very impressed with my legit African garb.

Now that Ramadan is over, it will be interesting to see how Mali changes. Because people could only eat after sunset and before sunrise, they were generally exhausted by about 4:30pm, and many places weren’t even open after the late afternoon because people went home to sleep. Music and dancing have generally been absent, too, because those things are also banned during the daytime. Hopefully, life will get a little more interesting as things return to normal. After being here for a month, it will be nice to finally see the real Mali.