Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Bana!!


So, I will be leaving Mali on Saturday, but we are all moving out of our host families' houses and into a hotel tomorrow morning, and I probably won't make it back to a cyber until I am back in the US. I will be spending another week in Paris, arriving in NC on May 25, and then heading back to Kenyon on June 2, where I will be spending my summer doing research. I will probably do a real final post when I am back in the US and better able to reflect/when it hits me that it is really over, but, for now, I just want to say thank you to everyone! The emails, facebook messages and phone calls are really what helped me to survive a really hard (though, I think, also incredibly rewarding) semester. If it weren't for you all, I don't think I could have made it through typhoid, language barriers, the constant barrage of being called "Tubabou" (Bambara for French/white person) and marriage proposals, and living in a host family that consists of 4 children under the age of 12.

So, until I can sort out my thoughts/feelings enough to do a real post/ see and talk to a lot of you in real life, thanks for everything, or, in Bambara


Monday, May 5, 2008

We only have about a week and a half left in Mali! I finished writing up my ISP yesterday (the final topic ended up being the intersections between public health and reproductive rights discourses in the case of Family Planning), and got it bound today. Now, I have to do a presentation on it Weds, and then I am done with work until August! We have our final party with our host families on Saturday (we are supposed to cook American food for them, but I'm not sure how that will work, because I have yet to see a regular stove or oven in Mali), then we move out the following Weds. I will take Thursday to travel to the village, Sanankoroba to say goodbye to my host family there, and to give them my Malian cell phone (they don't have one, and it was the one thing my tiny host father asked for). Then I have a week in Paris before returning to NC for a week, and then to Ohio for the summer. I will take the time to do a more thorough final blog post later next week, it is hard to believe the semester is almost over!!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

We are halfway done with our research period, and I will be leaving Mali in just over 3 weeks! In some ways that seems very soon, but, on the other hand, I have so much to do before then! My research topic has changed/expanded a little. I am now looking how local women's organizations can best educate and spread awareness about family planning options. I am still working with the local women's radion station, Radio Guintan, which has a weekly segment devoted specifically to family planning. I will also be returning to Sanankoroba, a local village, on Thursday, and work there for a few days with an organization called PLAN, which utilizes peer education to help spread awareness and acceptance of birth control options, especially amongst young women and maids. And, hopefully, I will also be able to speak with some other women's organizations here in Bamako about what methods of sensibilisation they find most effective. It is not easy to conduct interviews in French, or sometimes stilted Bambara, and I am nervous about getting a 30 page paper out of my research, but, as it is starting to come together it is actually very exciting to be working on a topic that I find very interesting.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

We returned Tuesday from our 10 day Grand Excursion to Segou, Djenne, Mopti and Dogon Country. The highlights of each place are as follows:

Segou: A really nice hotel with air conditioning, hot running water and A SWIMMING POOL!

Djenne: Cool buildings! Djenne is the site of the world's largest standing mud building, the Grand Mosque of Djenne. Everything in Djenne has to be built out of mud, seeing all the houses and buildings together was incredible. On the downside, Djenne is infested with demon children. They look cute at first, but really they are just waiting to attack. Another student, Amanda, and I were nearly killed by them. It started nice enough, we decided to go exploring and ended up in a small alley between houses. About a dozen young boys, all under the age of 10, started asking us for our water bottles or a cadeau (gift. This is common practice, to ask all tourists for presents, so we just laughed and told them to give us gifts instead. Little did we know that these children were actually evil geniuses. They stealthily moved between us, and swiftly identified me as the weaker target. Before I know what hit me, they pounced, and quickly immobolized me. I was too shocked to cry out, but, fortunately, Amanda turned back to see what was holding me up, and she was quickly able to asses the situation. She heroically ran back to save me, and we finally managed to escape by running away, pursued by rocks thrown by these evil little boys. Needless to say, I am not anxious to return to Djenne.

Mopti: A boatride on the Niger-beautiful! Plus we later got to see how the boats are made, which was awesome.

Dogon Country: By far my favorite part of the trip, and, if I weren't from Western NC, I would maybe say les Pays Dogons are the most beautiful place I have ever seen. We went on a long hike one morning, and it was amazing! You could look around and see nothing but stark rock cliffs. But then, if you look a little closer, you realize that they are mud houses built into the cliff walls, and the Dogon people still live in them. Plus, as we huffed and struggled up nearly ninety degree angles to climb the cliffs (and my life flashed before my eyes when I accidently glanced down the 100s of feet that I could fall, we would get passed by lines of women, in flip flops, with babies on their backs and logs of wood on their heads. It was so cool!!

So, now I am only a little sad to be back in Bamako. The traveling was awesome, but I missed my host family, plus, the heat, cramped quarters and excess of group time made a break from other students a good idea (esp. when one of our vans broke down on the second to last day, and we had to fit 18 students plus our academic director and the driver in one, unairconditioned van. We are now beginning our month long research period, expect more frequent updates because I will probably have an excess of free time.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

I know that I promised an entry on Weds, but it is really hard to find the time/motivation to write these things out on a French keyboard, so, I am going to keep this short. We finished our last exams Friday, and leave tomorrow morning for our Grande Excursion. We will be traveling to Segou, Mopti, Dogon Country and Djenne. I am super excited, esp. about Dogon! After we return on April 9 we start our individual research time. I have decided to explore how feminist and political messages are spread through the media, so I will be working with a local radio station, Radio Guintan, who claims to be "The Voice of Women" in Mali. Time is flying by now, just during the past week I have gone to a traditional wedding, dancing with Rastafarians at a club, hiking in the mountains, hunting for peanut butter in the huge outdoor market and to a traditional artisan market. I promise that I will write more after the excursion!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Doing some laundry with my host dad (not really, it was posed)
Me and the ugly baby in Sanankoroba

Claire and I with our tiny host father from the village stay in Sanankoroba
My room!!
My house!!

Me and my youngest sister Mami (age 2)

Me and ms host sister Fatou (age 5)

My awesome hosts brothers Ousmane (age 7) and Papa (age 11)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

We just returned from our village stay yesterday, it was truly an amazing experience, and means that I have just passed the 1/3 mark for my program (10 weeks to go). We were all paired with one other American student (except for our lone boy, who had to rough it alone) and placed with families that seemed more like compounds or small armies. I was with a girl named Claire (or Awa Diarro). We had a wonderful time, and the week really flew by. Lists seem to work best for me, so, here is a list of the best things about the village stay:

Our main host, who Claire and I affectionately nicknamed "our little father," because he was TINY. (We have a picture of the three of us together, we postively dwarf him).

Getting to try Bogolan (mud dye) and Batik (wax dye). My Boulangerie t-shirt is not amazing, but the Batik is pretty cool, I made a giant blue wall hanging with elephants for my dad.

Our day helping the village women work. We got to wash cloths, bathe babies and pound millet (I was apparently very lacking at this last thing, whenever I would start all of the women would start to exclaim "oh no, Jamila is too tired, someone else take over," even though I really wasn't tired, I'm just not strong.

The crazy woman who thought that the funniest thing ever was to try to get Claire and I to nurse her baby, which consisted of poking us in the boobs for awhile, and then laughing hysterically for 15 minutes (this is after she offered to give it to us to take back to the US. We refused, if were going to kidnap a baby, it will at least be cuter).

The dance that the village women organized for us. Aka laugh at how little rythme American girls have). And, as the least capable dancer of 18 girls whose attempts where already laughable, I was quite a hoot.

Realizing how happy I was to return to my Bamako family, whom I have been with for nearly a month aleady. It was especially nice when my host mom told me that my little siblings asked when I was getting back everday, little Fatou, the five year old, apparently felt very strongly that the needed to "go get Jamila." They even waited to celebrate my oldest brother's eleventh birthday until Saturday, so that I could be there. This meant the I got to see the preparations from a live bird through a killing (my brothers thought it was hilarious to chase me with bloody feathers and claws), through the thorough frying of everything.

Now I am getting back into the swing of life in Bamako, though we only have three more weeks of classes, followed byour two week grand excursion and then ending with 5 weeks of research. Unfortunately, I am a little sick at the moment, and am being forced into a clinic visit tomorrow to check for Malaria. The worst part (other than projectile vomiting all over my family's house), is that I missed my Sunday run with Papa, my newly eleven year old brother, an event that always makes me miss Jesse alot (though it's nice that I can keep up with Papa). Anyway, I will try to write at least once more before the Grand Excursion in April, and sorry for any spelling mistakes, I blame the French keyboard/ my potential Malaria.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Best Things about Mali so far:

Ice cream when it is over 100 degrees outside

My brothers' obsession with Celine Dion (nothing is funnier than watching a group of 7-11 year old boys belt out "My Heart Will Go On," or hearing them try to explain why her lyrics speak to them).

The fact that in response to the traditionnal Bambara greeting I ni Wula (you and the day) women respond Nse (my power) while men answer Nba (my mom).

The fact that I am asked by at least ten guys everyday if they can come "cosie" with me (which means to chat).

My new obsession with the soap opera De Coeur Au Peche (a Brazillian show dubbed over in French which I watch with the maid, who only speaks Bambara).

The speed at which Malians are able to greet each other (despite the fact that it is necessary to ask after the health of everyone in each others' family, down to the second cousin of their third wive's daughter's former neighbor).

How everyone here, upon discovering that I'm American rather than French (as soon as I open my mouth), likes to inform me that they "speak English small-small."

How somehow everyone within a three mile radius of my house knows my name, and likes to scream it, at the top of their lungs about 100 times whenever I walk by, but then gets flustered when I look at them.

How, on the rare occassion that I see another white person, my immediate reaction is "what is that Toubabou (Bambara for French/white person) doing here?"

Realizing that my Bambara teacher's motto "no worry, no hurry" applies to pretty much every aspect of my life.

Discussing Barack Obama and "Madame Clinton" with my host dad.

How all the neighborhood kids know when I go to my stop to wait for my ride to school, and enjoy nothing better than to shout "bonne soir" ("good night," despite the fact that it's 7am) at me for up to 30 minutes.

The concept of "circulinear time" (aka how if I am supposed to meet a Malian at 8, they'll show up at 10, with 4 of their friends, and we won't get to our destination until 1, because they'll know 4 people along the way, and they really need to buy some soap.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I finally figured out how to update my blog on these archaic computers with French keyboards!! I will try to upload some photos next week, I don't want to do too much too fast. I am in the middle of my second week of classes here, they are going pretty well, the French is getting a little more manageable everyday. My host family is awesome, especially my brothers Papa and Ousmane who are 11 and 7. I think that we are starting to get more used to each other after a slightly rocky start (I shorted out their electricity, accidently walked out of Bamako (the city) and got kicked out of the communal plate during the first week). I spent last night at the house of another girl from my program, it is nice to have a little break from the family, as much as I like them.

Tomorrow (Friday), we are going to a concert featuring the rap group that my Bambara teacher manages, it should be pretty exciting. Then, Saturday, we are going to Bamako's library and to the tailor to get some real African clothes. We have classes next week, and then we begin our weeklong rural homestay, which should definitely be an adventure. My host family doesn't have plumbing or a refrigerator or anything, but I think that after the village it will seem pretty comfortable. I am running out of time on the computer, but I will definitely write more next week, and hopefully add some photos as well!


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I leave on February 2 (a little over a week) to begin my semester in Mali. I will be studying Gender and Development through the School of International Training. For the most part we will be living in Bamako (the capital city) with host families, though we will be doing some traveling, including to Timbuktu, so, the name isn't a total lie. At the moment, after having been home for way too long, I am pretty anxious to start the trip.

I will have an email list, but, I will try to update this blog as mu
ch as possible as well (hopefully with pictures). It will all depend upon how available the internet is. Until then, I will be packing and trying to remember French.

If anyone should get the urge to send me a letter, post
card, package or anything else American, my address is:

Risa Griffin

/o Modibo Coulibaly
World Learning/S
chool for International Training
BPE 2953
Bamako, Mali

I have been warned that the mail system is pretty unreliable, but, efforts would be greatly appre