Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Seen it All

Gundo, Anne (baby Aissata), Mark, Fanta, Sori, Demba, Vieux, unknown village boy

We just finished a whirlwind tour of Mali with Andrew's parents. We first visited our village, where Andrew's parents had a blast meeting the villagers and going "local" for a while. Anne did all the traditional women's stuff, like carry a baby on her back, pound millet, and carry water on her head. She also ditched us all one night and went out dancing til midnight with the local women.
Mark and Anne eat breakfast at a popular PCV eatery in Bamako
Andrew in the Kayes marketplace
Andrew's parents talk to students at the school

Eating with their hands
Traditional clothing

After our village, we headed down to the chutes of Gouina, the giant waterfalls near Kayes, and spent a couple of hours playing in the water before attempting a disastrous "short cut" to Bafoulabe, site of hippos.
Guina Waterfalls

Despite the distance of only 45 km between Guina and Bafoulabe, it took us over 6 hours and we almost didn't make it. After almost breaking our 4 wheel drive land cruiser and pissing off the driver, and paying a bribe to the railroad chief in order to illegally drive over a railroad-only bridge, we made it in too late to actually see any hippos. We then continued on to Segou, site of the annual river festival, where I saw enough white people to make me think I was back in the states. We saw lots of cultural exhibitions, dances, concerts, and took a canoe ride on the river. Segou was our first new visit and it was a welcome change from the trash and hassle of Kayes and Bamako. We stayed with a family in Segou in their house, which was mostly very nice.
Festival on the Niger, Segou

On the way to Dogon country, we stopped at Djenne, a World Heritage Site and the largest mud mosque in the world. It was pretty neat to see, but it was HOT. Keep in mind, this is supposed to be "cold season" and our average temperature on this trip was about 95 degrees. The entire city of Djenne is built out of mud, which was really interesting to see.


We then headed to Dogon country, picking up an amazing, eccentric Irish/Australian couple along the way, and hiked for two days on top of the cliffs, seeing traditional Dogon villages and ancient Tellem houses built right into the walls (think Mesa Verde cliff dwellings in the American Southwest). We had a lot of fun, but poor Anne got heatstroke and didn't make it past the first village. She spent the rest of the time hanging out at the campsite. The Dogon were initially animist, but have mostly converted to Islam, with a few to Christianity. It is interesting seeing the sacrificial altars and rooms for menstruating "unclean" women, but this is largely a thing of the past. The last animist spiritual leader (think Dalai Lama) died two years ago and they may not choose another one.
Dogon Cliffs

Nicole, Mark, and Hasimi, our guide

Santa Claus, the hunter...?!?

After Dogon, we went to Hombori to see some awesome rock formations: the Hand of Fatuma, and Anne and I were really sick. Some sort of intestinal parasite that kept us running back and forth to the bathroom for a couple of days. We were well enough to see the wild desert elephants in Gossi with fellow volunteers Jared, Bess, and Natalie. We went on a nice sunset boat ride across the lake. They also made us a delicious dinner of "wijila," which is a northern dish of giant dough balls dipped in a red, cinnamon, meat sauce.
Little children in Hombori
Hand of Fatuma, Hombori

Elephants in Gossi

Sunset canoe ride on Lake Gossi

The last part of our journey was to Timbuktu, Tombouctou in French, which in all honesty was a waste of time, except we can now say we've been to Timbuktu and we found a French copy of The Lord of the Rings in a used bookshop. Otherwise, there was nothing to see except old plaques indicating previous homes of "famous" explorers who also made it to Timbuktu (though not necessarily back). Timbuktu was very expensive, from the hotels to food to guides to entry fees. There were also tons of touts around trying to sell us crappy souvenirs at every second of the day. They were literally camped outside our hotel room door. We were all very, very happy to leave Timbuktu. But Andrew and his dad did get a fun (if overpriced) camel ride into the desert.

On the way back to Bamako, we stopped in Mopti to see why people stop in Mopti, and Andrew was pleased to have seen the market there, where they make canoes, sell dried fish and vegetables and HUGE slabs of salt (they weigh like 30 lbs). We bought a three pound brick of salt for $2. You may remember from a history class that they traded salt for gold. On this trip, we got to see both the salt and the gold, pretty cool. The salt mine is a 15 day camel ride north of Timbuktu out into the sahara, and the gold comes from our village (and others near us) in the west of Mali

Walking the streets of Timbuktu

Restaurant and turbans

Mark and Andrew's camel ride into the Sahara

So now we've officially seen Mali
! I can truthfully say that Mali isn't really worth it as a vacation spot unless you're very hardy and have lots of money and patience. No one site alone is worth visiting Mali; combined the sites make for an interesting visit, but it's no reason to pay all that money to fly here unless, like Anne and Mark, your children are there begging for a visitor, or the history of West Africa deeply interests you.

In other news, my theater project in Kenieba was a success. Only five teams showed up but over 400 people pushed and shoved to come and watch the performances so the messages about HIV/AIDS and family planning and malaria were definitely heard. My team won second place, even though they were certainly the best group. The team of Kenieba, who didn't have a great skit, won first place. All the judges (not chosen by me)were from Kenieba. No one was surprised, but the other teams were outraged. It was a big let-down for my team, who worked so hard to prepare for the competition. But overall it was a success. Our school's team is planning on doing more theater pieces for the village, which is wonderful.
Rehearsal for village

Final Competition in Kenieba

Andrew's textbook project that he has been telling you about since Thanksgiving was finally not accepted (only took six months). The US government has decided that giving textbooks to students and teaching them how to fundraise is not a good idea. So in the absence of a supportive government, we look to supportive citizens. Now with no red tape, and the use of a honeymoon registry website, we can get
money straight from you.

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