Thursday, February 18, 2010

1 Feb. 2010

I arrived in the middle of the night at the Bamako aeroport, but even in the dark I could see the red earth of Mali, the red earth of the approaching Sahel, the red earth of Africa I have only read about, attended lectures on, heard other visitors stories of, seen movies filmed on location in... all adjacent, vicarious experiences and yet there I was: standing on the tarmac breathing the dust of Africa, the dust of joy, into my lungs.
Je suis arrivé au milieu de la nuit à l'aeroport de Bamako, mais même dans le noir, je voyais la terre rouge du Mali, la terre rouge de l'approche du Sahel, la terre rouge de l'Afrique que j'ai lu seulement, ont assisté à des conférences sur, entendu d'autres histoires de visiteurs, vu des films tournés sur place po .. tous, à côté des expériences d'autrui, et pourtant j'étais là: debout sur le tarmac de respirer la poussière de l'Afrique, la poussière de joie, dans mes poumons.

This photo is of me and one of my dear new friends, Kalifa Toure, a Sonrai of Gao (an eastern region in northern Mali), who lives with his wife, Ami, and their three children, in Bamako. He is the Mali-based representative of Virginia Friends of Mali. Cette photo est de moi et mon cher ami nouveau, Kalifa Toure, un Sonrai du Gao, qui habite avec sa femme, Ami, et trois enfants a Bamako. Il est le représentatif, en Mali, des Amis du Mali en Virginie. We were having lunch at a restaurant in Bamako, San Toro, part of a center that included a gallery, studio, and gift shop surrounding a beautiful courtyard filled and shaded by tall, leafy and flowering trees, palms and shrubs. Nous étions en train de déjeuner dans un restaurant de Bamako, qui faisait partie d'un centre qui comprend une galerie, atelier et boutique de souvenirs entourant une belle cour remplie et ombragé par de grands arbres, feuilles et fleurs, palmiers et d'arbustes.

This photo is of my new friend and hostess in Bamako, Carol Hart, Michelle Elcoat-Poulton and between them is Geneba Coulibaly. They are all long-time friends. Carol has lived the better part of 20 years in Mali; she and Robin and Michelle have been friends since their college days and share a commitment to their lives, friends, families and work in Mali. Geneba is a powerful woman who raised her eight children to adulthood on her own, but also as part of a society of people who are so family-centered that few who are friends are not also part of the extended family, sharing in responsibility and kinship. Cette photo est de mon nouvel ami et une hôtesse à Bamako, Carol Hart, Michelle Elcoat-Poulton et entre eux est Geneba Coulibaly. Ils sont tous amis de longue date. Carol a vécu la plus grande partie de 20 ans au Mali, elle et Robin et Michelle ont été amis depuis le collège et partagent un engagement envers leur vie, les amis, les familles et le travail au Mali. Geneba est une femme puissante et gentille qui a soulevé ses huit enfants à l'âge adulte sur ses propres, mais aussi dans le cadre d'une société de personnes qui sont tellement centrés sur la famille que quelques-uns qui sont des amis sont aussi partie de la famille élargie, le partage de la responsabilité et de la parenté.

As a point of emphasis: I do not want to over-idealize any description or circumstance, but I do want to point out characteristics that feel somehow distinct from my experiences in the U.S. in a generalized way. People are people every where and in every dynamic, but there are some broad characterizations that bear acknowledgement for the understanding they can bring to a given situation or set of experiences. Comme un point d'importance: je ne veux pas trop idéaliser une description ou une circonstance, mais je ne tiens à souligner les caractéristiques qui se sentent en quelque sorte distincte de mon expérience aux États-Unis d'une manière généralisée. Les gens sont les gens partout et dans toutes les dynamiques, mais il ya quelques caractérisations générales qui portent la reconnaissance pour la compréhension qu'ils peuvent apporter à une situation donnée ou un ensemble d'expériences.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

In ka kene? Tooro si te!!!

Mali is a revelation.

Hot, dry, red dust, rudimentary plumbing, sporadic internet access, limited potable water, poor sanitation infrastructure. The people are generally gracious, beautiful, certainly beautifully clothed at all but the lowest income levels, organized, very hard-working, especially the women.

Segou has an unusually accessible government structure -- a characteristic some of our own mayors might consider -- and remains of a manageable physical size and population, is a very pretty small city. Associations are formed by every conceivable grouping of people and issues, but Madani said he thought they are not as impactful as they might be because tend to have a narrow, short-term view of their own usefulness, to be activity-based, not upon a fundamental principle. I told him we have similar problems with community organizing in the states.

Malians have kept HIV-AIDS/SIDA at bay, but polio is evident and of course, malaria. Quite a number of French, Netherlands and other international NGOs are on the ground, all over the country. Poverty is thorough in Bamako. Thousands of hand made shacks, improvised awnings and patios and markets and vendor stalls. Every intersection, every stop our car was approached by people, boys and young men mostly, hawking phone cards or other conveniences. i only saw women beg directly for money; one old woman leading a blind man gesturing for something to put into her mouth; other younger women, usually walking or seated with small children - also gesturing for something to put into their mouths. I had my camera out and had been taking pictures, but finally had to stop. It seemed absurd to photograph living, struggling people as though they performed for my entertainment - disrespectful. This became the norm throughout the trip so you will see relatively few photos of individuals that were not acquaintances unless they asked to be photographed.

Robin said that within a decade or two the population of the urban centers of Mali would increase exponentially through migration from rural areas. I'll need to check the data, but Bamako is apparently one of the fastest growing cities in Africa, and except for hotels and a consular complex abadoned shortly before completion, all structures are just one to two stories high. The market districts are incredible with ART as far as the eye can see -- into doorways, alleyways, street stalls, makeshift studios, ground-level, rooftop... Apparently the Grande Marchee burned to the ground recently and the artisans and shopkeepers are re-establishing themselves along new routes.

Air pollution is horrible; also like Los Angeles - in the early 1970s. The smell of dioxin, burning plastic (discarded water bottles and black plastic bags) is pervasive in this northern, affluent district. Everywhere crushed plastic bottles paved the streets and the plastic bags billowed and swirled with the dust at our feet.

The temperature was 40 degrees C that day. My uniform was a lightweight tunic with pants, sandals and a scarf on my head. I started my malaria medication regime today and a security detail patrols Carol's home all night. Carol's cook is a man named Salifa, very nice and highly skilled - dinner was delicious. Most Malians in Bamako, and Segou I later learned, speak Bambara (a Malinke language spoken by Bambara farmers and traders). Many also speak French, but that increases with level of education; a few spoke English, too.