You will see later on that I have many pictures of our visits to Anne's Peace Corps friends. The people in the photos which come next are Anne's closest Malian friends, and they were taken mostly in private compounds. But that's about it--I took almost no pictures of people my sister did not know very well. So, these pictures are representative of my month in Mali, there has been a lot left out.
Anne and I spent an awful lot of time riding on the gidrone. I thought the traffic was pretty light considering that the next paved road was probably more than 500 miles to the north in Algeria. In three or four hours of riding or waiting by the side of the road, we might see four buses, 5 big trucks, and 5 private vehicles. Believe it or not, Mali is one of the top tourist destinations in West Africa, and most of the tourists travel on Anne's gidrone to get the main attractions of Mali just to the northeast of her village: Djenne, Mopti, and the Dogon country. (I don't know how they get to Timbuktu). I guess many of these tourists travel by public bus, because I did not see very many private vehicles. The traffic comes in predictable waves, because travel is by day mainly (the roads are very dark at night) and vehicles usually start from major cities.
Anne's market town, San, is halfway between the larger cities of Segou (to the west) and Mopti (to the east). Every bus that travels this road stops for a break at San, and the one "rice and sauce" restaurant in town has a thriving business.
Since the PCVs have to travel by bike, most of them live in villages which are in biking distance of a major town like San (which has a population of perhaps 30,000--it is said to be the largest town in Mali without electricity), or the PCVs live in villages directly on the gidrone. Anne is farther away from the gidrone or a large town than any other PCV who I visited. It's not that she is in a more rural area, it's just that she's farther from the road. Anne is about 5 km from the gidrone if she bikes to it directly. She usually travels on back roads for longer than that on her way to San, which is 25 km away. I think Tana is one of the nicest villages I saw, because there is not a lot of traffic nearby.
Tana is divided into four quartiers which are about 1 km apart from each other. From the edge of Anne's quartier, you can just see two others. The total population of Tana is 800, but Anne thinks of it as four separate villages, and "her Tana" has about 300 residents. There are two families she visits each day. Click here to see Ma and his pet bird.
Click here to see Ma and his pet bird, Bernie, and "Anne" holding "Boss"
Click here to see Anne doing "susu", and Mamine (with baby on her back)
Click here to see Anne holding Jack, and a friend doing susu.
Click here to see a baby with a dirty face.
Click here to see Anne and the baby with a dirty face.
****Click here to see Sonatta's sons.
*** Click here to see Anne and Mamatou.
Click here to see the two Mamatous
Click here to see Mamatou and his daughters.
Click here to see a GREAT picture of Sonatta.
Click here to see a GREAT picture of the Dugutiki weaving a beehive.
Click here to see Anne's kitchen, with Anne and Michael Jordan.
Click here to see Anne and Michael.
Click here to see a GREAT picture of Anne and Jack on her bed.
Click here to see Anne and Jack on Anne's bed.
Click here to see Anne holding Jack.
Click here to see Bernie playing with Jack.
Click here to see Bernie, Sonatta's brother, and Sonatta's cousin.
Click here to see Sonatta's mother?, Sonatta, and Anne.
Click here to see Sonatta and Anne.
Click here to see Anne and Sonatta's child?
Click here to see Anne and Sonatta's child?
Click here to see Sonatta and Anne at Sonatta's compound.
Click here to see Bernie watching Babu cook toh.
Click here to see Anne with her favorite guard, his wife, and 2 children.
Click here to see Jen Antila, Anne and Vivica
After living in Tana for two weeks, I was very surprised to learn that the track which ran right past Anne's bedroom was the main road that connects N'Goa with the highway and San. There is very little traffic on it. Once a week, when N'Goa has its market, a large truck comes from San with several people sitting on top. It returns after the market, right about sunset. They always stop by Anne's compound, laugh and make a lot of noise, and run to Anne's well and pull water to wash their hands with for prayers. Anne gets very upset because she doesn't know these people, they barge into her yard without asking, and take water without asking or with only a token request for permission as they are pulling it. Anne has asked her Malian family about this, and they tell her that she must give them water and that she has no reason to be upset with them. So now Anne plans to be away from her house at sunset on market days--they will still come in to her yard and take the water, but Anne won't have to watch it.
Right outside of N'Goa was a large area (a half mile across) of terrible land. Almost no weeds grew here, the ground was just covered with small cinder-like rocks. Then we went through some brusse and down a hill. Again, it was only a small hill, but I hadn't seen any kind of elevation for days and it was a wonderful view to us. In the next picture, you can't see much of a view, there wasn't much to see actually, but you can see what the red roads and the low brushy "brusse" was like. Click hereto see Anne on her bike in the brusse near the Bani.
A couple kilometers later we came to a small village. In a field there were about thirty young people of both sexes threshing. The village had a mud mosque, like the one in Tana, but it was out in the open and easier to photograph.
Click here to see the mud mosque.
Also outside the village, there was a large termite mound under a tree. Vivica wanted to take a picture of it--I'm not sure if it's because she doesn't have them in her area, or just that she likes to take pictures. We certainly have lots of termites and termite mounds in our area. The tree is probably a shea tree (pronounced shee), which has a nut that they make shea butter from, which is a fat I saw sold at market in solid blocks, even in the Malian sun. Shea trees look a lot like mango trees, which there also are plenty of. The next picture gives an idea of one kind of common landscape near Tana--dotted with leafy orchard-type trees. Most places actually have more trees than you can see in the photograph. They plant millet everywhere apparently, and in the growing season all this empty space would be filled with 10 foot high millet stalks.
Click here to see Vivica and Bernie standing in front of a termite mound. The mound is right in front of the trunk of the tree.
Soon we got to the river. It was market day at a village across the way, and people were driving cattle across and going over to the other side in long, low, narrow boats like large canoes. We were going to take our bikes across but were too lazy and worried about taking our bikes across. We shouldn't have worried, we saw them taking a donkey and its cart across in a tiny boat.
Click hereto see Bernie and Anne by the Bani river, with the small boats in the distance. I let Anne and Vivica rest and catch up with each other. This was probably the first time they had been alone since their training ended six months earlier. I took my binoculars and went off birdwatching. I saw so many new birds that day: Egyptian Plovers (crocodile birds) These aren't true plovers, but are cute little birds. Also, Grey Herons and Black Headed Herons which I weren't able to distinguish until I found a different bird book in the U.S., a Hammerkop which has a great name and a great head, Cattle Egrets by the cattle that were waiting at the riverbanks, Common Sandpiper, and a bird that took me about 30 minutes and several looks to identify--Yellow Wagtail. I probably had trouble because the illustration in the bird book was in black and white! Spur-winged Plover. But my favorite was the Pied Kingfishers--black and white, hovering, diving for fish, dropping the fish and picking it up again, I could watch them all day. But I went back to the girls and ate my lunch. Click here to see Bernie resting in the shade
While I was resting, Vivica said, "look at those birds hovering by the cows!" There were two bright pink birds with long tails swooping like kites 6 feet of the ground, staying in one place, headed into the wind. Vivica was looking through the binoculars and I was looking it up in my bird book. I was saying aloud, "sometimes perched on the back of cattle..."and Vivica shouted, "look! that's what it's doing now!"
Click here to see Vivica looking in the bird book
The tree field is on the gidrone (highway) about 10 km southwest of Tana. The land there looks pretty poor, there are a few tall trees, but it is mostly dry brusse (bush). But this was the only land the men could find available--I guess the better land is all owned by families or villages. The men worked for a couple hours, and then some girls came over from Koro, the nearest village. They brought the best toh I ate the whole time I was in Mali. The grain millet (the main ingredient of birdseed) is the staple in much of Mali, and the most frequently eaten form of it is called toh. It is gray-greenish, served very hot. It is a cooked cereal, but the moisture content is low, and it holds together well. It is like couscous, but the grains are much finer and stick together. It is like grits but the grains are much finer and stick together. It is like cream of wheat in the grain size, but grittier, and much less liquid. It is firm, but not really gluey. Toh is hard to describe. I liked many other cooked millet dishes, but toh was not my favorite. It almost burns your hands (you eat everthing with your right hand) and you dip it in a sauce that is made out of dried okra and baobab leaves. The sauce is green and very slimy. But the sauce at the tree field was great! It was almost black because it had a lot of dried fish in it. It didn't taste much like to fish to me, just nice and salty. I couldn't eat enough of this toh. and then, we each got a small dried fish for dessert. Best lunch I had in Mali.
So Anne made plans with a friend at the tree group to come back in a couple days and visit him. We did on the first day of Ramadan. Our village was not observiing Ramadan yet, but Anne's friend (named Bakare Coulibaly) was, because he had heard it announced on the radio. I think the month of Ramadan begins when two Muslims see the crescent moon just after sunset. That day, some people had heard the news and some had not. So Bakare was fasting, but he had prepared a meal for us--toh, and also spaghetti (which they call macaroni). We talked all day, and had tea, with limes he picked from a tree in his yard. He gave me a letter to mail to the Peace Corps volunteer who was there before Anne. Then he took us to see his mother who lived in another compound in the village.
Click here to see Bakare's mother shelling peanuts, along with Anne in Blue and Bakare in yellow.
I guess I had forgotten, but Anne took horseback riding lessons as a kid. Well, the area around San is the "horse capital" of Mali--you don't see very many horses in other places. Bakare brought out his horse and Anne tried to get on it.
Click here to see Anne on the horse, with Bakare holding it back.
I guess riding a horse is harder when it doesn't have a saddle or stirrups or reins or anything. I don't know, because you'd never get me on the back of one of those things. After Anne had enough, Bakare showed her how it was done.
Click here to see Bakare on the horse, with two of his neighbors.
The gun looks like it belongs in museum. I saw two or three of these, a couple of times guys had them slung over their shoulders as they rode their tiny mopeds at 25 km/hour. I don't know how old they are or what they are used for. When travelling, I shared buses or minibuses with 4 or 5 soldiers total, but they never had guns. These old guns were the only guns I saw in Mali. I don't think I ever saw any police in uniform, or soldiers on duty.
Notice the guy in the hat and blue shirt above. He was not fasting, so he drank tea with Anne and me. We got into a long conversation about the farm animals. It ended with me asking him what color eggs the hens lay. He told us very earnestly the eggs are white on the outside, and on the inside they are white and yellow. The yellow is called "vitamin"!
Part of this was that Ramadan had just started, and Anne chose not to fast this time. I think there was a lot of discussion of the Muslims' holidays and Anne's holidays. But as the day approached, even I could tell that people would come up to Anne and smile and say "Djegana". They would laugh and say we would stay up all night singing and eating pig!
We were committed now. Just to make sure, an old man, Issa, came over to greet us at 8 am Christmas morning. He said, "Fatoumata, I came over here this early to greet you and your brother Mamatou on your holy day. I know you will go to worship all day with your people in Djegana, so I wanted to be sure to catch you first!"
Click here to see Issa and Bernie
So we rode our bikes over to Djegana. It really was not far at all, maybe 6 km away. First we entered one village that was just off the "back way" to San, and Djegana was just a couple kilometers past that. We got to the village at about 10:20. It was bigger than Tana, and there were some cement buildings. Some people led us to a coupound where we left our bikes, and then on to the church. The church looked a lot like a small country church in America--it was just one large room. There were cement slabs as pews. I thnk the church was yellow, made of cement, and there was no steeple. If there were windows they were covered, but I don't think there were any. We snuck in as they were singing and sat at the back. Everyone was turning around to look at us. Anne was very embarrassed of course.
A man came back and handed Anne a hymnnal and me a Bible written in French. The hymnal was in Bambara, and Anne tried to sing along. This was really the only singing I heard while I was in Mali. I liked it a lot, but can't begin to describe it--they weren't western hymns. Actually, I have forgotten what these first songs were like--the whole congregation were singing together. The form of the service seemed to follow the traditional pattern, and we had come in just after the bible readings. I think the pastor then read from the Gospel, and then they sang a tune that I knew--it was "Auld Lang Syne" (sp?)--the New Years song. I think this was a normal song that they sung ever week, like we might sing the Lord's Prayer each week.
About this time they passed the plate, and Anne was mortified to realize that she had brought no maney whatsoever with her. Here we are the rich tubabs (white people) and we don't even drop a coin into the plate. If that wasn't enough, we were dressed in oour nastiest clothes. I was wearing a dark tshirt, but Anne was wearing a very dirty and stained tanktop. Everyone was wearing there best clothes of course, many of the women were dressed in elaborate multipiece outfits made out of the same printed cloth, with writing in Bambara and French celebrating the All-Mali Women's Evangelical Society. The cloth was decorated with bible verses and doves and crosses. (It's common to see clothes made out of cloth printed to comemmorate an event--such as the West African Guinea Worm Eradication Campaign, or 25 Years of Increased Grain Harvests!).
We had been admiring the ladies' dresses, but we had not noticed that we were both siting on the right side of the church, where there were only ladies! All the men were on the left. We asked if I should move, but they said no. Still, we were embarrassed, but that was nothing compared to a couple minutes later when they brought in two chairs and directed us to sit up in the front of the congregation, right next to the preacher! I thought they did it so that people would stop turning around to look at us.
Then a number of choirs got up to sing. There was a a guy with hand drums, and microphones and a loudspeaker which wasn't really necessary, but I think they had another speaker broadcasting the music outside. There were about 6 women in each choir, and they sang some very nice call-and-response type songs. One involved some complicated hand clapping. Another was in French, and I swear the lead singer was way off-key, but what do I know.
The singers had been standing right in front of us, so we were shielded from the congregation's eyes. Once the last group sat down, my contact lens chose to pop out, I couldn't put it in with all those people watching (there were probably about 80 people there, it was pretty full. We were the only whites.) I got to look at the members now, as they stood up to give their testimony. Anne told me later that they were thanking God for their blessings in the past year, and talking about their struggles. There was one man who looked like he could be the Sunday school director--he was dressed very nicely, with glasses (which were very rare) and a gray jacket and tie--he looked like Malcolm X or a Black Muslim in his dress. The other men were dressed more plainly, the pastor was wearing a blue smock that looked like surgical scrubs. Then the man who had ushered us up to the front stood up and said the following, according to Anne's translation: "I would like to introduce the members to two friends from Tana. Fatoumata Coulibaly has been working in Tana for more than six months and we have been waiting all this time to see her at our church. Today she has brought her brother Mamatou who is visiting from America. Our friends in Tana told us that they would come to worship with us today. We knew that they were coming, we didn't know what time they would get here, and we are happy that they are finally here. We hope that Fatoumata will join us in Djegana every week from now on!"
Anne was mortified, but I thought it was nice. Anne embarrasses easily. It seems that they knew we were coming becuase there had been a funeral in Djegana within the past few days, and people from Tana came to pay their respects. Mamine, who is married to one of the Dougoutiki's sons, comes from Djegana and her mother still lives there. Before Anne got too embarrassed, the preacher started in on his sermon. It lasted a good long time. I read in my Bible because I didn't know Bambara. It's amazing how easy it is to understand the Bible even in French! I guess it is because you already know what happens.
Finally, about noon, the service was over, and we greeted everyone and Anne took a picture of all the ladies in front of the church. We walked over with our friend to a gwa (shaded area) over near where we left our bikes. They started talking about eating pigs, but Anne came up with some excuse about why we had to leave immediately. They escorted us to the edge of the village (which people always do as you leave). Djegana is large, 1500 people maybe, so the Christians are a small part of its population. A young man walking by asked us where we were from, and Anne said Chicago. He said "Oh, Chicago Bulls!" Then he asked Anne what this word he kept hearing, "Chicago Bulls" meant. She explained that it was a sports team, like a soccer team. He thanked her. I guess some places are relatively free from American cultural dominance. See (when I get finished writing it) Sonatta's father's comments on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.
Click here to see Bernie with two of the Christians in Djegana, after the serice. The one who knew of Anne is on the right.
We got back home to Tana and it was time for our Christmas feast! Anne had been planning this for a long time, and even told our mother to pack some Stove Top Stuffing. We also planned to make some Jiffy cornbread, some mashed sweet potatoes, and some chocolate cookies for dessert. But the highlight of our meal would be squash soup. Toh, the staple dish of this part of Mali, is really not so bad. It is just a plain starch, like rice or mashed potatoes. The problem is that our village was so poor that they didn't have any good sauce to put on the toh, and we often ate it with the raw and slimy tasty bright green baobab leaf/okra sauce. Anne and I went to the market in San before I first saw Tana, and we bought some squash. The outside of the squash was smooth and white, like a large honeydew melon, but the flesh was bright orange like a pumpkin. Sonatta made a sauce out of this squash that was so good. Anne and I liked it so much that we bought some more later and Anne cooked it for lunch one day as an excellent squash soup (the village was fasting because of Ramadan). So Anne made soup, and I did the baking.
First I had to find some firewood. When I heard Anne was going to Mali to plant trees, I pictured a barren near-desert, like I had seen on an earlier trip to Eritrea. But there were trees everywhere, more than in central Illinois or southern California. But since the only fuel they used was firewood, the trees could disappear very quickly if they chopped down the nearest trees for fuel. Anne said the villagers had a complicated scheme about where they could get firewood from. I went to pick up sticks in the fields closest to our compound. In ten minutes or so I had all the wood I could carry, just small sticks on the ground from baobabs or acacias. I was surprised I could find so much wood so close to the village, especially since there weren't very many trees. I knew I didn't need much wood because this was Mali, not the midwest of the USA where I was once a Boy Scout. I now live in California, where the Boy Scouts probably wonder why firebuilding is even worth mentioning in the Scout handbook, all you have to do is touch a match to some sticks and you have a fire. In Chicago and Michigan, you can find a lot of wood, but it's always wet and always had to burn. In Mali in the dry season, there is no problem starting a fire, and it burns hot. It just takes a few sticks to cook dinner, and most Malians cook on a stove of three rocks with the pot sitting on top, and the sticks pushed in between two of the rocks. This is supposed to be a very inefficent use of the wood with much heat loss, and there are many projects to build things like more efficient mud stoves.
I cooked the cornbread and it came out perfect in Anne's little oven made out of an oil drum. Anne had inherited an double shell "insulated" pan from her predecessor. Dramine had repaired the stove it with fresh stick supports and mud. The cookies were beautiful too. I made them with a Duncan Hines mix, powered eggs, and little foil packets of liquid margarine bought in San. The kids gathered around as I was cooking and they told me that one kind of wood wasn't good to burn. Anne's squash soup was superb, but we had a lot of food. The sweet potatoes were just too much food. They are called sweet potatoes, but they looked like white potatoes and weren't very sweet. We poured some salt on them and gave them to the kids sitting outside. I felt strange plopping down a pot of food in front of the kids to eat with their hands sitting on the ground, but that's how they eat all of their food and they didn't see anything wrong with it. When we came back the pot was empty.
Click here to see the boys eating the potatoes.
Click here to see the boys eating the potatoes.
We then went to greet our friends and share some of our hoiday food. Everyone loved the cornbread, and I think they liked the "gateaux" (cookies) too. We discovered that Zoumane had broken up our three cookie bars into 15 or so pieces, so that all the adults and children would get an equal taste. This is what they do when they have meat or fish at a meal--it is cut into small pieces, and a man carefully divides it into equal piles of maybe 6 small pieces of two or three ounces total. It's very impressive to watch this.
We went over to see Sonatta at her compound which is at the end of the far side of Tana. Anne gave her a cookie and was shocked that she hid it so she wouldn't have to share it--but then Sonatta is a free spirit.
Babu, Diakiti Dia's wife, came over with some of her family to our compound. She liked the cornbread, but didn't like the soup very much (none of the Malians did really). She was polite and ate some though. Our mother sent a small foldable Christmas tree and battery powered lights with me as you can see in these pictures.
Click here to see Babu, Anne and Fenke
Click here to see Babu, "Boss", Anne, Sofiettu and Fenke
Click here to see Fenke on a mat
Koutiala seems like a bigger town than San, but it's probably smaller. There are three roads which come together in the center of town. There's a bridge near this intersection, some sturdy looking buildings, the bus station, and the market all in a small area. There's always a lot of traffic going through the center of town, and the roads are lined with tall trees and houses. This makes it look a lot nicer than San, and busier and bigger too. Plus, Koutiala has electricity, which San does not.
Click here to see Anne and Alex, in the Koutiala stage house I think.
Click here to see Anne and Bernie, in the Koutiala stage house I think.
The Koutiala stage house was a lot more pleasant than the Segou one. Part of that was that there were fewer people there. There was a large yard with several trees, and an outside shower and nyegen. There was one large house with a few large rooms. There was a phone too--in the "bathroom". There was no plumbing or fixtures in this room, but it did have a mirror and looked like it should be a bathroom. There were some smaller buildings in the concession. One of these held the kitchen, and they made cookies and sandwiches with some of the food Anne brought. Anne made me go out and get bread--she told me to say "Buru be?" I was tired, but Anne and her friends went out dancing.
Click here to see Kris Olson, Alex Core, Quincy Jones, and Anne at the Koutiala stage house.
Kris and her friend Cheryl really like to swim. Kris, Cheryl, Alex, Anne and I got on our bikes and rode to the other side of town to a hotel which had an outdoor pool. Alex was worried about swimming because of her ear. The water was cool, and it was the late in the afternoon, it was a little cold for me, although it was nice to get out of the dust. I saw some birds here. The hotel has these little round "huts" that are individual rooms all around it. It all looks relatively modern, but I didn't go in any of them. Right across the road there is a cotton factory or something. Koutiala also has a "tubab store" at a gas station, which I don't think San has.
Alex was worried about going back to her village because there had been some unrest in recent days. Her village is also by a large cotton factory, and there was some tension involving workers and the locals and her host in the village was scared for his life and the soldiers were called out and some people were shot to death. Fortunately she wasn't there at the time.
Click here to see our fish being cut up.
Click here to see Anne carrying her bags, and Alex.
Click here to see Alex washing her dishes at her house.
Click here to see Delphine, Alex and Anne in their dresses.
Click here to see the New Year's Party. Vivica is in the center in blue. Jemana is in front with her arm around someone.
Click here to see Bernie on Chad's roof.
Click here to see Anne and Blythe.
Click here to see Brett, Blythe and Bernie.
Click here to see Bernie resting while waiting for a ride out of Fatoma.
Click here to see Anne and Brooke waiting.
Click here to see Blythe and Brett waiting.
Click here to see Blythe, Bernie, and Brooke in the pirogue.
Click here to see Blythe, Brooke, Bernie and Brett in the Pirogue.
Click here to see Anne and Blythe in the pirogue.
Click here to see Anne relaxing in the boat.
Click here to see the cattle.
Click here to see Anne on the camel.
Click here to see Brett, Blythe, Brooke and Anne getting back in the boat.
Click here to see Anne passing the time while the bus is stopped.
Click here to see Candy and John Donovan.
Click here to see Steph Harris and another woman planting a tree.