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.

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