Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Shola Ajayi: The African Experience in America

I wish I had fast enough internet to load these clips (found via Africa is a Country).  Has anyone watched them?  What do you think?

There's even a Coulibaly!

Monday, March 26, 2012

With love from Mali

The boys making zamé du pays.. :)

Our dining area/hallway and new table!  Bathroom at the end and bedroom to the right

Feeling stripe-y in the courtyard
It has now been five days since the coup.  While folks protest in Bamako, the situation in the north is steadily worsening and it just feels like Mali has only taken leaps backward with this coup.  What were the junta thinking??

Meanwhile, Abdoulaye and I continue to hang at home.  We're excited for Senegal and their democratically elected president, Macki Sall.  We've been cooking and reading and eating and passing the time like snow days in America.  Sometimes it feels like we're getting ready for a hurricane in Virginia: filling buckets with water, making sure candles are at the ready, putting the flashlight by the door, stocking up on non-perishables, and charging our chargeables.  Then again, I don't think this unnatural disaster is just going to blow over.

Here is a link to some photos I took on the morning of Wednesday March 21, 2012 when a senior official from EDC came to visit a classroom implementing one of USAID/PHARE's approaches - the balanced literacy approach.  Come on, education!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day Four after the coup in Mali: Life goes on..

It is March 24th, 2012 – the third day Abdoulaye and I have been confined to the house and we are getting a little antsy.  We decide to take a walk after the heat of the day has subsided and before the curfew begins at 6 p.m.  We shutter the windows and lock the front door, and the door opening into the courtyard, behind us.  We walk past the train station near the house and pass women with bags of lettuce on their heads as they return from a nearby garden.  Further along, young guys run up and down a dirt field passing a tired looking soccer ball between them – coup d'état or not, the game must go on.

We turn a corner onto another dirt road and pass a woman getting fake nails super glued onto her fingers by Kadi, a woman who sells weaves and hair creams out of a metal shack shop.  Baara jigina? the woman asks.  “Done with work??” I reply, “There is no work – we just had a coup d'état!”  A baana, she says, sweeping her free hand in front of her to emphasize her point.  It's all over.  

 The paved road nearby buzzes with Sotramas, taxis, and motorcycles.  “Taxi, taxi?” drivers shout at us as they zip by.  Moribabgugu- hey! Moribabugu! boys shout as they hang out the side door of the Sotramas, yelling out the names of the neighborhoods they are driving towards.  Women with heavy make-up and tightly coiled braids piled on top of their heads pass by – dimanche est le jour du mariage à Bamako after all.  I just can't imagine getting married in times like this but life cannot be put on hold forever, can it?  

Looking around it is hard to believe the coup d'état has even happened.  Stores have slowly reopened around us and, aside from the fancy grocery store that has remained closed (except for yesterday morning) for fear of looting, life goes on. 

I live in a neighborhood on the outskirts of town far from (well, not next to anyways) administrative buildings and the presidential palace.  While we heard gunshots the first few days, now the only bang, bang, bang we hear comes from the sound of men pounding wax into bazin outfits to make them crisp and shiny – presumably to be worn at one of the weddings or baptisms that are about to take place. 

 While thievery has not been a problem in our neighborhood, looting has been a problem in Bamako since the coup took place early Thursday morning.  There are stories of 4x4s being stolen, shops being robbed, and private residences raided as military and civilians alike take advantage of the disorder and confusion left in the wake of the coup.  

Massaran is a friend of mine who lives in the apartment building caddy-corner to my former apartment where I lived above Ma Diallo's family.  She has come over each day since the coup to pass the time and chat about what is going on.  This morning she came over and said that last night a truck of about ten soldiers searched the house where I lived last year looking for one of Ma Diallo's sons who is a solider.  Massaran said they were looking for him to redistribute the goods he had stolen during the coup – including a 4x4 and two Sotramas worth of goods.  She said Ma, normally a fiery woman, meekly told them to search the house but that her son was not there and she did not know where he was.  Massaran said that the days before her son and the family paraded around the neighborhood bragging about their newfound riches and how cunning Ma's son was to have stolen all that he did.  I am so thankful I am not in that apartment anymore – I have no doubt that an encounter like that would have traumatized me.  

We continue to listen to RFI and watch ORTM (when they broadcast reports) and France24 to monitor the progress of the situation.  ATT's whereabouts are still unknown and each time they show clips from the raided palace I shake my head.  The ripple effects of Gadhafii's war in Libya have truly made their way to Mali in ways I could not have imagined and it is hard to believe that less than a year ago I was at the presidential palace celebrating the inauguration of a new group of PCVs.  Now it lies in shambles – burned, broken, and riddled with bullets – and ATT is nowhere to be found.

Abdoulaye and I are trying to remain optimistic.  Thank goodness for electricity and our internet key.  There has been no decision made to evacuate yet and we are hanging tight until Tuesday when work is supposed to begin again.  Until then we are watching movies, playing cards, and studying Susu (well, I am – Abdoulaye already speaks it pretty well :)  I am thinking of everyone back home and sending you love.  While I cannot say here doron be yan, that there is only peace here, I am hoping I will be able to soon.  

A blog with links to lots of Mali news.  Fascinating post about Amadou Sanogo, the leader of the coup.  A Kenyan minister was safely evacuated.   Will there be a counter-coup?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Update from Mali: Coup d'Etat and my Etat d'Esprit

Around 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21st I ran across the street to get lunch.  I normally go earlier but that morning, Larry Lai – vice-president of Education Development Center, Inc., USAID/PHARE's contractor –  came to visit a public school in Bamako to see a lesson delivered by a teacher trained in the balanced literacy approach.  As I uploaded the photos from his visit, I noted the time.  'I better run to get food before Fatumata sells out of rice!' I thought.  As I ran out I passed Cassie in the courtyard on her way back to PAJE Nieta's office after a morning of editing Bambara lessons for their out-of-school youth project.  We quickly agreed on dinner plans for the following night before saying goodbye.

After greeting Fatumata, I took my rice and hibiscus juice and went to sit in the park to eat my lunch.  I ate quickly – I still needed to put together my lesson plan for English class at Abdoulaye's computer center and email the pictures from Larry and USAID's visit and I just had an hour before I needed to leave.

But as I crossed the street one of PHARE's scriptwriters hollered “Hurry up!  Rebecca is calling you!”  Rebecca is my supervisor and the director of pedagogy for USAID/PHARE.  I found her sitting in the front seat of one of the project cars with her phone at her ear.  “Get in the car,” she said with a stern face.  “May I grab my phone and computer first?” I asked.  “Get in the car,” she repeated.

I did as I was told and listened to Rebecca tell me why we were rushing away from the office as I buckled my seat belt.  She said a march was planned to take place from Kati, a city 20 km (13 miles) from Bamako, to the President's palace – Koulouba – by soldiers who were unsatisfied with how the situation was unfolding in the north.  Our office lies at the foot of the hill of the president's palace – not somewhere you want to be when large masses of people are protesting for more arms.

We arrived at Sylvaine's home – the senior advisor in pedagogy and reading for the program – and we shared a beer as we let the news settle in.  We talked about what we thought would happen and then learned the American School had already decided to cancel classes for the following day.  Something serious was going on.

Rebecca called Oumar, one of PHARE's drivers, to take me home.  When I got in the car he asked where my bags were and I said they were still at the office.  He immediately called the head guard and asked him to return to the office on his motorcycle to retrieve my computer, cell phone and, camera, which were all where I left them when I left for lunch at 1:30.   I thanked him profusely – what if our office is closed tomorrow – and then Friday and then all weekend – and I don't have my phone or computer? I worried.    

Once home I began to straighten up the house and unpack my bag.  The night before I returned from a trip to Mopti, San, and Segou to evaluate medersa training sessions on the balanced literacy approach.  We were scheduled to return on Thursday but came home early when we learned that Segou had not yet started their training sessions due to a misunderstanding with the bank.  Our team (me along with two representatives from the Ministry of Education) spent Tuesday straightening out the money matters between the bank, USAID/PHARE, and the Teaching Academy of Segou before making it home in time to celebrate Naw Ruz with Abdoulaye and the Baha'i community.  At the time I was just happy to be back with Abdoulaye and celebrating the Baha'i new year – now I am even happier because if I had not come back early I would still be in Segou for the indefinite future (at least until Tuesday when the military lifts the curfew/travel restrictions).  

Oumar returned with my bags a few hours later.  Mankan bora deh! he said.  It is rowdy out there.  He said the Minister of Defense had gone to Kati's military camp to discuss the situation in the North and it had not turned out well and they chased him out of the city.  A ma ni, he said.  This is bad.  

Abdoulaye got home soon after and I sighed with relief – I did not like him being away when things seemed so uncertain.  We ate dinner with Ousmane and listened to the news that ORTM, Mali's national radio and television station, had been taken over by the military.  We discussed the possibility of a coup but I also brushed aside the thought – maybe things will calm down.  Abdoulaye and I hung our mosquito net outside and by 10:30 were fast asleep.

Around 4:30 a.m. on March 22nd Abdoulaye and I woke up to the sound of gun shots.  Nothing nearby and nothing as intense as what people heard who were closer to the city center but gun shots nonetheless.  After one shot we turned over – maybe it is nothing we mumbled.  After the second gunshot, Abdoulaye suggested we go inside and I snuggled into my pillow.  After the third we jumped up and grabbed our mattress and mosquito net – this is not the time to be sleeping outside.

Then, at 5:30 a.m. Abdoulaye's phone rang.  Ousmane was on the other end and told us to turn on the television – that Mali's government had been taken over and the military had successfully implemented a coup d'etat.  

We spent the new few hours watching France 24 on t.v. and listening to Radio France International (RFI) for updates.  I spoke with one of my Peace Corps directors who instructed me to stay inside (the military had imposed a mandatory curfew until further notice) and to call if I had any concerns.  I am lucky because I have an internet key and a television – it is a blessing to be able to stay so connected!  

After following the news and watching ORTM military reports broadcast in between music videos (it appears the junta has an affinity for Malian music videos circa 1980), we settled in for our snow day of sorts.  Ousmane and Abdoulaye went out to purchase ingredients to make rice and sauce à la guinéene and I trimmed the shrubs in our little courtyard.  This morning Abdoulaye and I ventured out to get breakfast (daytime curfew has been lifted but everyone must be inside by 6 p.m.) and now he is watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on ORTM (I guess the junta likes the idea of finding golden tickets, too) while I write this blog post and prepare to do some homework.  

The recent events in Mali, covered closely by blogs and news sources covering the Sahel, have called into into question what democracy is in Mali – a country formerly hailed by many as a diamond in the rough of West Africa, and Africa, for holding democratic elections since 1992 (in 1991 ATT – Mali's president up until March 21st – held a coup d'etat to overthrow Moussa Traoré's government).  Mali will celebrate (or will they? And if so, how?) the 21st anniversary of ATT's coup on March 26th, 2012.  While I understand, to a degree, the unfolding of events here – I also have many of the same questions as others - namely, what made Mali's democracy so democratic?  How will the events in the south of Mali impact the rebels advancing in the north?  Will Peace Corps close their operations here?  Will USAID suspend their projects?  Life is looking a little uncertain right now but I know it will become a little clearer in the following days and I will update here when I know more.

While I am left with many questions and am eagerly awaiting what comes next, I will also capitalize on the next few days to catch up on my school work for SIT.  Next week's topic?  Transformational change and how to enact it.  Fitting don't you think?   

Thank you to all my friends and family that reached out to make sure I was OK and also my new SIT family who sent emails and facebook messages making sure I was alright.  I'm so thankful for you all!  

PS - this has also been a special time to hear more about Abdoulaye's experiences with unrest in Guinea...he experienced his first in 1996 when he was in the sixth grade 

**  Thank you to the anonymous reader for their clearing up of the dates/Guinea history

Friday, March 16, 2012

Guinean flute music at the CCF

Abdoulaye, Massaran, Ousmane and I went to the CCF on Wednesday to see some Guinean flute music.  Abdoulaye captured these beautiful shots so I wanted to share.  Hope you have a great weekend!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Putting down (some) roots

 In January Abdoulaye went to visit Esther (Annie's sister) and her husband, Paul, (pictured above) to visit and talk about purchasing a piece of land.  Then, as Abdoulaye says, 'le temps n'était plus au discours mais aux actes !' the time was no longer for speech but for action!  and he bought a piece of land.  The property measures 20x20m (a little over 1,300 square feet) and is situated to the left of the chief's house and to the right of the plot of land the Christians in the community purchased to eventually build a church.  Half of the land is on a slight incline (as you can maybe see) and down below is the Niger river (the harmattan winds are still blowing and everything is covered in a dusty haze these days).  We're excited to plan for a little house and the two trees we have on the property (a shea and a palm tree).  

The village is just outside of Koulikoro and about an hour from Bamako, Mali's capital.  We're not quite sure what the land will be to us - maybe a weekend getaway place or summer camp for when we have kids? - but it's nice to have an even more permanent connection to Mali.  We're also looking forward to having visitors!  :)  Any takers???

Abdoulaye writing his name on the little metal land-markers

:)  our first piece of land!

With Paul, Esther's husband (Esther is my host-mom from village, where I spent my first two years,'s younger sister)

Where's Abdoulaye?  Here are the limits of the property with Paul on the right and Abdoulaye in the back left (me in the front)

Chief of the village, Madou Samaké

Monday, March 12, 2012

2012 Malian Presidential Election

With the Malian presidential election slated to take place on April 29th, there are a lot of stories swirling about the contenders.  But will the elections even take place (article in French) in April with all the unrest in the north?  Unlikely.  Nonetheless, here are a few links I have found useful to learning more about the candidates (and an election guide with how the election process works/Mali's government structure):
Dioncounda Traoré (source)
Soumaila Cissé (source)
IBK (source)
Modibo Sidibé (source)

Dioncounda Traoré (his blog, his CV - he's a fencer!) , 
Soumaïla Cissé, (his blog, he studied in Grenoble, too!, his crew),
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, (his bio.  According to this poll - he's the favored candidate among the Bamakois),
Modibo Sidibé, (an independent candidate)
Yeah Samaké.  (He's Mormon! and an unlikely candidate...)

This article outlines the four major candidates.  However, the author notes that this election will not produce a decidedly different leader than the president currently in power, ATT:
"While this presents an invaluable opportunity for the country to consolidate its democracy, however, the actual impact of the election on ordinary Malians may be rather minimal. To begin with, the four clear frontrunners are all male, all of a similar age, all educated in France, all friends with the president, all establishment figures, and all of a similar political orientation." 
 An informal polling of my colleagues shows the following leanings:

IBK %61
Modibo Sidibé %23
Dioncounda Traoré %8
Soumaila Cissé %8

(granted, my polling sample was incredibly tiny at only 13 people...)

What do you think about Mali's candidates?  Who do you think will win and when do you think the elections take place?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Happy International Women's Day!

March 8th is International Women's Day - how are you going to celebrate??
I'll listen to Chidinma's song, Kedike, a few times (Abdoulaye made it my ring tone :)...
...and maybe even boogey to Oumou Sangaré!

You could...
listen to Amadou and Mariam,
donate to Oxfam,
read an article,
celebrate the achievements of women,
learn about an eco-friendly women's dyeing factory in Bamako,
strike a pose à la Kettly Noel,
learn more about the problems facing rural women and education,
or check out this site for more ideas on how to celebrate!

Abdoulaye and I were going to go to the CCF to see La Marche des Lionnes but now we have dinner plans with friends instead.  Hopefully we can catch the film another time!

How will you celebrate?  Had you heard of International Women's Day before?  I hadn't heard of it before coming to Mali!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

26 birthday candles!

All gussied up and with somewhere to go!
From the looks of my blog one might think all I have been doing my first few weeks back in Mali is eating heart-shaped pita chips and pizza!  Luckily there has been a nice mix of settling into the new place (pictures to come), keeping up with school assignments, and melding back into the USAID/PHARE groove. 

For my 26th birthday Abdoulaye treated me to dinner at DaGuido's, one of Bamako's tastiest Italian restaurants (at least, this article says so) - my fourth birthday in Mali!  Here are posts from when I turned 23, 24, and 25.  It is fun looking back at my blog posts and seeing the changes I have undergone.  At this time last year I thought I was bound for the trans-siberian railway - now I am working on a Master of Arts in International Education and I am engaged!  Life changes so quickly!

26 was a little harder to swallow than 25 - I am technically in my late-twenties, right?  Oh well, pizza tastes good at any age and I am hoping my laugh lines are endearing :)
Goat cheese salad, pizza, mango juice, and some chocolate ice cream - I'm a happy girl!

Ousmane and Abdoulaye
Ousmane dropped Abdoulaye off after work and we got snazzied up before hitting the town.

Love this one

Do you have a favorite way to celebrate your birthday?  I didn't put butter on my nose this year like my mom always had us do - there's always 27!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Spotlight on Music: Chidinma

Abdoulaye loves watching documentaries and I love dance music.  Upgrading our t.v. package was a compromise  - he got the National Geographic channel and I got Trace

I heard the song "Kedike" by Nigerian artist Chidinma last night and I am in love.  I love her voice, the lyrics, and the dancing.  Check it out!  She won Season 3 of MTN Project Fame West Africa - I wonder if we get that channel....

Monday, March 5, 2012

Africa from A-Z: Cameroon

Image source
Time to jump back on the saddle with my Africa from A-Z series!  With school, coming back to Mali, and celebrating the day-to-day - I have been a little preoccupied.  But I am feeling back in the groove of things and excited to keep learning about the countries around me.

My experience with Cameroon is limited to a few friends that have lived there and/or visited.  The Peace Corps girls from Cameroon (including Claire) and my friend Fleurette who will be returning home to Cameroon this week (she hopes!).  She was a veterinary student with Abdoulaye, Massa, and Ousmane in Guinea and did her last year of research in Mali with Abdoulaye and Chantal.  I hope this post honors her country well!
I recently found the blog Africa is a Country and it is just what I was looking for.  Africa news (in English!) about the 'real' Africa.  Politics - yes - but real life, too.  Here are some music links including Cameroonian artist Yanigga.  

I want to learn more about the Chad/Cameroon oil pipeline financed by the World Bank.  The documentary Quel Souvenir is not yet finished by see the clip above to learn more.  Here is an interview with the makers of the film. 

More Cameroonian music .
Festivals in Cameroon.
Just in case you are looking to go to the movies in Cameroon - here is a map of the theaters!

Have you ever been to Cameroon?  Have any Cameroon news or tips to share?

A little bit of this and that

park musings with Cassie, Aissetou, and Aminata
Heart-shaped pita chips??  Heart-shaped love.
Add caption
School, work, friends- coming back to Bamako has been a delicious blend of them all.  We ventured out to the National Park last weekend to soak up some of the dust the harmattan winds have been blowing around and to eat up the last of the pita chips from our engagement party.  I am looking forward to reflecting some more on my first couple weeks back and sharing some of it here and getting back into the swing of English class at the computer center where Abdoulaye works.  I hope your week gets off to a great start and you've got lots of treasures to look forward to!
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