Saturday, January 2, 2010

a smörgåsbord

This little bugger was on the wall in my room. Yes, I grabbed my sandal and beat the living daylights out of him :).

Happy New Year! I've been doing my best to catch up on e-mails, facebook, blogposts, etc. before I head back to village because it may be another month or so until I get access to internet again. I recently received an e-mail from my cousin who teaches 7th grade, and he asked if I could share a little bit about daily life here so he could share it with his students. Since I spent a good amount of time typing about a smörgåsbord of things in my daily life, I decided maybe others might be interested as well. There's some more photos down the bottom as well...for those of you that don't like reading :).


To the students...

As for things to pass on to your students...I'm trying to decide what would be best to tell them (I don't want to scare them!). As for my daily activities, I get up every morning to the sound of many women pounding grains of corn and millet using a wooden mortar and pestle. To give you an idea of the size...the pestle (or bat) is larger than a full-sized baseball bat, so it's fairly loud. They begin their grinding between 5:30-6:00AM, so I'm normally up pretty early.

I then take a bucket bath using water fetched from a hand-pump located in the center of my village. The water is mostly transported by women, always balanced on their heads in large buckets. I don't know if you're familiar with how much water weighs, but at 62.4 pounds per cubic foot, these women can handle some serious weight all concentrated on their necks. So, my bucket-bath is taken outside in a small walled area with no roof called a nyegen, and I use a cup to dump water over my head to wash myself.

As for my meals, I eat a corn or millet porridge for breakfast, and then a corn or millet porridge congealed into jello-like patties for both lunch and dinner...everyday. The people of my village cannot afford things like meat and pasta, so it is rare to eat anything other than what I just described. The men go out into the fields, harvest the corn or millet, and then bring it back for their wives to grind and cook.

As for drinks, people drink tea and water. Yes, it's incredibly hot here, and so when you need that nice cold glass of water to cool you down, you put the cup to your lips...and then remember that the water isn't cold, there's nowhere to get ice! :)

In my village there is no electricity (therefore no refrigerator, TV, computers, facebook, youtube, ipods, or even a place to charge an ipod for that matter)...when the sun goes down I operate on moonlight and my flashlight. There is no running no sinks or toilets, and most people just go to the bathroom by squatting in their fields...and no, there's no toilet paper either. Before I drink the pump water I run it through a filter and then put bleach in it to kill any bacteria still living in it.

In addition to no electricity or running water, there are no stores, no bread, no school, no cell phone reception...just people and their fields. Some kids travel to a neighboring village to attend school, while others are kept home to work in the fields or help with household chores. For those that do go to school, they either go by foot (often barefoot), or on bicycles...oftentimes squeezing 3 or 4 kids on one bike...yes, it's possible.

For fun, kids roll up a whole bunch of plastic bags into a ball and kick it around like a soccer ball...and every once in a while a kid will ride his bike with a car battery strapped to it, and bring it to another town that happens to have a solar panel...and he gets it charged up. The next day he'll go and pick it up, bring it back to my village, plug a radio into it, and all the kids will dance the night away to Malian music.

I know I mentioned a car battery, but there are no cars in my village. People travel places on bicycles, and they transport everything else (such as crops from their fields or firewood) using a donkey and a donkey cart.

Ok, I know I'm just rambling now, but that should give them a good idea of what life is like here in rural Mali, West Africa. Just remind them that with all these things, people here are still happy. They love to smile, they love to laugh, and they are a very peaceful people.

Here it is..."Toh"...the food I was talking about that's jelly-like and made out of corn or millet...along with some sauces for dipping. I eat this twice a day, with my hands (yes, there's skill involved). These two dishes are both corn toh, but right now millet is in season so I'm mostly been eating's a much darker color...somewhere between purple and dark brown...depending on who's cooking :).

The village kids in my concession on Tabaski. The girls go from home to home (concession to concession) doing a traditional song and dance and then you either give them small change or candy...kind of like trick-or-treating.

So, I was in my host family's concession and one of the little girls picked up one of the small pestles to imitate what she always sees her mothers (yes she has two) doing grinding grain with a mortar and pestle. Everyone (myself and the Malians) thought it was adorable because I think it was her first time doing it. I snapped a picture and made a joke (in Bambara) about how I was going to send the photo home and tell my family in America that babies do all the work in Mali. My host brother thought it was funny, but then I heard him tell one of my host mother's "Mom, Zan (Owen) is just kidding! He's always kidding!" So yeah, it turned out she thought I was being serious and took offense...whoops :).

Ok, that's a wrap for now. I hope you've all enjoyed getting 3 blog posts in one week's time, don't get used to's just for the holiday! Ha ha. I can't believe it's 2010...and the fact that I've been here for almost 6 months already! Crazy right?!?! As always, thanks for reading and joining me on this journey.


Angela said...

humor your not very travelled friend here...why do they call you Zan?

Howie said...

You killed a scorpion!? As someone who's zodiac is represented by that little bugger I'm offended! Nah, I'm kidding. Its good to see that things are going well for you. Keep the posts coming, Zan. Btw, if you get the chance see if you can find out my African name. I need to get in touch with my roots;-P.

Anonymous said...

Hey Owen,
Happy New Years. I just check out your entire blog, it looks like you had a nice holiday with your fellow mates. The crate and barrel there seems to make great furniture; it goes well with your humble abode. Your family appears to be nice and you get on well with them. I love the picture of the little girl using the mortar and pestle.
Looking at the pictures of the village and people reminds me of my trip to Fiji. I spent 6 days in a third world part of Fiji at Nubelevu village to teach, while others did research on the water. The money we put towards it will hopefully open the health and education center soon. This group (Destination Dreaming) has been going over there for ten years and they are pretty close to their goal, so it’s very exciting. We had awesome living conditions since the program had been running for ten years. We ate what grew wild around them and what they produced. It was a high carb diet with lots of pineapple. The people there were also extremely nice and understanding to the fact, we did not know that much Fijian language, but some of them spoke English, which was great for us.
I really enjoy reading your blog and love what you doing over there. Keep up the good spirits and have a good time.

Marty also says HI!!

Love Ashley and Marty

Owen said...

ANGELA - Soooo,my "Malian" name is currently Zan Sidibe (See-dee-bay), but it used to be Zan Traore (Trah-o-ray). When I first got to Mali, I went and stayed with a host family during my preservice training. When I got to their village, there was a ceremony for the few volunteers who would be living there for the next few months. At this ceremony each family gave their volunteer a Malian name. The name "Zan" means "the second son", which is appropriate because as most all of you know I AM "the second son" in my family back home :). Funny enough, my hostdad already had a few I wasn't actually his new second son anyway.

Then, once training was over and I went to my permanent village (my "site"), I introduced myself as Zan Traore and everyone said "whoa whoa, that's not going to work...we don't like Traore's here, so we'll just change your last name for you" :).

Everyone else in village has the last name of it was a natural switch. As a result, my name is now Zan Sidibe :)

HOWIE - Yeah, I killed the scorpion...I wasn't about to make the attempt to catch it and throw it it more of a chance to zap me.

ASHLEY - Thanks for the comment! Your trip to Fiji sounded awesome...I wish Mali wasn't a landlocked country...I miss the ocean! You plan on heading back there at all? Thanks for keeping in touch and please send my love to your family :).