Week Two: Jan 16-22

Site visits, villages, meetings, reporting, a drive and walks with the kids...

20 Jan 2011
Ok, so internet access is even more difficult to have, consistently, than I thought it would be. I have managed to do some updating today, primarily because Kida's car broke down on the way back to Segou from a quick one-day trip to Bamako. So I'm sitting in the hotel courtyard, having finished my petit dejeuner, while Kida is off on a borrowed moto to buy the replacement part. The camera battery must have died because I don't have photos of the mechanic's shop that was set up under a large mango tree where the customers sat in low chairs in the shade drinking tea while their cars were being repaired. In a couple of months the fruit dangling from that tree will be ripe for the plucking while "you" sit in your low chair in the shade in the heat looking up at those fat, juicy mangoes and your mouth slowly almost imperceptibly opens in anticipation... get my picture???

We came up to get me registered with the US embassy and then visited with several sisters of Kida who live here. All his sisters look like they are my cousin Stacy's sisters! especially his younger sister Mah. I look forward to posting those pictures because so far all of Kida's family are just wonderful people - wonderful women. His wife Fati reminds me of the actress from Black Orpheus. I even found a girl version of local councilwoman Cynthia Newbille. Today is a holiday, the 50th anniversary of Mali's National Army, once known as the Army of Resistance.... all the kids are off school and they've got a 4-day weekend.

The temperature has been perfect. The sun while high and bright, has been obscured by the seasonal dust stirred by the Harmattans (their Santa Anas) so no migraines, but I think I might develop asthma. I slather myself (hair too) in a karite/coconut/citron peaumade and usually wear a scarf. As lovely as everyone is and as much as I can envision living here, life here is very hard for most people. Everyone works, everyone is gracious. In the young men and women you can see that the hard work makes them either physically beautiful or wears them out early in life - the positive variables are all that can be imagined - productive labor, the luck of good health, a range of foods (all fresh), sufficient rest, a large family, a little education. Domestic service is prominent source of labor and the ease by which guests like me get to feeling like "life is good" here is a little unnerving. Women don't stop working unless they are affluent enough to have several servants. You can see why ex-pats would want to plant themselves in their former colonies. That said all the statistics say that the average Malian subsists on less than $2.00 (USD) per day. That no money in any society. So people try to sell anything, everywhere, any time. 

Speaking of which, last Thursday I was asked by Daffe to help jury a local arts competition on Friday  - Les Talents de la Cite - and then be present for the awards dinner on Saturday. Amadou Chab Toure, a Malian art critic, and artist/musician Oumar Koita were the two other jurors. We were corraled by Macky Tall (a Malian one) and Ousmane DIALLO. Maison Carpe Diem is a bar, bookstore, gallery run by Chab and his partner Katy. You can see and feel the place is a portal to the contemporary art scene in Segou and an an inevitable bit of French sensibility. A lot of French ex-pats and other Europeans seem make their way here. Down the street is a popular club, l'Alphabet, run by a man named Oumar who may soon be running the former Bajidala Center as a restaurant/bar/gallery/event space. L'Alphabet's house band was great last February and still great; playing a range of traditionally based music with contemporary interpretations. A much broader crowd of local artists, officiels, and regular folk come here. It is the mayor's favorite spot.

Anyway, I'm getting the sister cities work done and next week will be immersed in the artists workshop for the festival exhibition. Can't wait.

Samedi, 22 jan 2011

9 am: Left the house for a meeting I didn't know about only to miss it through a mis-communication and determination to finish making use of the internet access I hadn't had since Thursday morning in Bamako. I sent the draft of the site visit reports with photos to the VFOM/AUPAP working committee, so the US and Segou leadership have that document to review or file. Updated two relevant blogs, visitingmali and virginiafriendsofmali (.blogspot.com) Came back to the house around 11:30, very hungry and anticipating the afternoon roadtrip, sensing that Kida didn't really want to go, but needing to keep a promise I made to Mamy. She saw this trip as a way to counter the jealousy she felt upon learning that I had taken a looong walk with Bouba last week, to the river, to Carpe Diem and back. I got a call back from Ousmane Diallo who then came by to explain to me the agenda for the workshop which I was greatly relieved to finally have. So every day from Monday through next Sunday, I will be at the workshop site near the Bajidala Center, from 9am to 4pm, working on the pieces for the Festival exposition. Materials are being provided, so I don't have to worry about paper or charcoal, though I was looking forward to grinding my own.

Late afternoon visit to city of Markala and the Barrages (Dams) of Markala - reknowned for its French colonial architecture and traces of infrastructure for flood control, and possibly sewage management, including the dams which were constructed to create a vast irrigation system which is still used. The dams are, however, a military zone and no photography is permitted. The idea of agriculture seems like it should be odd, is odd, but for the history. Becoming defensively nationalist, coopting economic power by keeping agribusiness in the perview of the armed forces... In the centuries before colonization the terrain between Sekoro and Markala was the domain of Da Monzons of Segu (the great Bamana Kings of the region). On the road to Markala are placed markers that announce « Site de la Residence da Monzon Jara » and « La Tombe da Monzon Jara 200m ». The whole family went on this trip which was lovely and I have a very good photo of them with friends who run an NGO, a center for social services providing aid to the poor, those in need of healthcare, vulnerable women and girls...

As time goes by I find myself slowly asserting small acts of solidarity with Fati, probably very small. She speaks very little French, and I speak zilch for Bambara. But at the same time as I am becoming accustomed to the rhythm of living in this household it gets harder to simply accept being waited upon and eating meals with Kida while Fati and the kids not only eat in the kitchen, but after Kida and I and whatever man-friend happens by. It's like being an honorary man. Then, in the evening by the fire, Kida and the other men like to joke about how assimilate me into the world of Malian women in relation to their men, about the benefits of polygamy (me adding a Malian man to my matrimonial harem) when there are four women to every man in Mali and giving me instructions to make the traditional Malian tea in Bambara. HA! In my most gracious way of thinking, which is pretty nearly my default, clearly I would be a bad wife here. I would have to be single if I were a Malian woman. Just thinking about how I am now, and, really how poor a « wife » I am to my very gracious and flexible and liberated American husband, I would only be more miserable knowing I was always wanting to be whatever I wasn't. If I decided to take a second husband or even male concubine, I have a feeling the line-up of prospects would be flattering, intriguing, and probably a little political. Good grief. Of course that fireside kidding is complemented by the meetings I have with people working on social problems (like street children and domestic enslavement and child abuse) that are caused or exacerbated by polygamy and the effects of occidental interference during colonial times and the ensuing legacies of under-development.

As we drove around yesterday afternoon it suddenly struck me what an tragically rich place this impoverished country is. All around you are people in creative, entrepreneurial motion. There are goods, locally grown or produced stuffs of all kinds are stacked up along every road, every street.

I am going to miss the ritual sounds of prayers coming through the dark across the rooftops and through the unlit city streets. I am going to miss the sight of trees unhindered by public works' ordinances in their growth to mature individuality. I am going to miss talking long walks in the moonlight through streets lit by people, small fire pots, cigarettes, black and white TV screens peering through windows, and the occasional neon of a part-time nightclub. I am going to miss Fati's extraordinary face, Mamy's desire for power, Lalu's joyful ferocity, Bouba's reserved, observant determination, Sidi's chocolate brown eyes and tendency to huge smiles at the least bit of attention. I am going to miss the background ever-presence of Batoma and Naa, servant girls who will receive no education, speak no French beyond « merci » and « bon jour » or « bon soir » and take every opportunity to be sure I greet them in Bambara. Kida has a huge heart, is an advocate for the realities of people's needs and what motivates them, greets everyone, knows almost everyone and knows how to stay connected. My affection for the whole family is growing, they've given me a name to take if I like – Awa Sissoko – making me a real « tanti » in the family.

BUT I have been jarred into another truth as on countless occasions I have heard myself referred to as the « tubabu » from America. Tubabu is the Bambara term for all whites. So, no matter how connected I think I feel to something aobut this place, to most people I am just another « helpful » white woman from America. I give. I am naive. But I'll recover.

Off to the international youth chamber of commerce fundrasing dinner tonight at Motel Savane. Seated with Yah Traore and his wife. Kida left for a time, but returned in time to create the only enthusiastic cheers proffered by the sparse crowd for the newly elected president of the chamber and his officers. I kept thinking about how much Malians enjoy a party, and was almost annoyed at how silent they were. But I always enjoy evenings with Yah and his wife. Yah was honored by the group.