Posted by: kristinej | August 27, 2009

August 27th

Ramadan started on Saturday, and since Mali is a mostly Muslim country, much of the population has been fasting. As a result, I’ve gotten lots of questions about why I’m not fasting, and I’ve found that sometimes saying that I’m Christian is not a good enough response. I’m thinking about trying it for one day, though I am not going to go quite as far as they go and not drink anything. Considering how much I sweat, I don’t think that would be a good idea! Not everyone fasts – children don’t have to and pregnant women generally don’t, but those who do will get up at 4 in the morning to eat a lot, rice or spaghetti or something like that, and then go back to bed for a little while before starting the day. They then break the fast at 6:45 PM. Each family does it a bit differently, but basically they have all 3 meals of the day at once! My family starts with moni, which is the millet porridge, and then has something like bread dipped in sauce or potatoes. Then at 8:00 or 8:30 they will have rice with sauce, which is what they would usually have for lunch. Luckily I have managed to convince my family that since I am not fasting during the day, I don’t need to have all three meals at night too!

Despite the fact that Mali is 90% Muslim, there are a number of practicing Christians as well, including a couple of our Community Health Workers. They go to a small church in Yirimadjo, and I have gone a few times now. It’s a small one-room building without electricity, that you would never know was a church from the outside. Inside they have a cloth with crosses on it hanging behind a small altar, and the rest of the room is filled with wooden benches. A 10-12 member choir and three bongo drum players sit on the left, and the rest of the congregation squeezes in on the other benches. The service is comprised of a lot of music, which has been fun to hear. Some of the singing is a bit shrill, but it’s very energetic and the bongo drums are really fun. Then different people will come up and read scriptures, both in French and Bambara, and then someone gives a short sermon of some sort in Bambara. After more singing and the offering, anyone who is visiting for the first time is asked to stand up and introduce themselves. Announcements for the coming week are given, and then there’s more singing before the service ends. So it’s not all that different from an American church, though it’s hard not being able to understand a lot of it. There is a French cathedral in Bamako and apparently a church that has English services on Sunday evenings, but since it takes over an hour to get there, and I’m not entirely sure where it is, I haven’t been there yet but would like to go at some point.

This past Sunday a few of the Tony Blair Fellows came with me to church, and then in the afternoon we had a group discussion with local religious leaders and then with members of Project Muso’s team who talked about there faith. Since both Muslim and Christian leaders are highly respected in their communities, they are well placed to support our Project and to encourage community members to see their Community Health Worker if they are sick. The Imams (Muslim leaders) that came to our session talked about the role they had played in dispelling false beliefs about the program to their religious communities. They greatly praised Project Muso for the work that it’s done, saying that we had even helped members of their own family seek care. Members of the Christian community described how they had brought sick patients to the community health center and supported them throughout their treatment.

After talking with the religious leaders, we had a panel discussion with members of our diverse staff, including myself. We each talked about our faith and how it inspired the work that we are doing here in Mali. Our staff is composed of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and it was both interesting and inspiring to hear the similarities in everything that we were saying. When I gave my little talk, I said everything first in English and then in French for the benefit of the Malians, which was good practice for me. I talked about how service and faith had always been integrated for me, largely because of ASP, and then I sited a Bible passage that talks about how all believers should give up what they have for those in need, and in that way no one will be needy but everyone will have their needs met. I also said that given the number of passages about healing people or helping the poor, I couldn’t imagine being a Christian without serving others in at least some small way.

One of our Christian community health workers talked about learning the story of the good Samaritan as a child, and always wondering how she would be able to live that out in her own life. We she became a CHW she realized that this was her chance to be a good Samaritan and she couldn’t imagine, now, not being a CHW. Another Muslim CHW said that she was on her own Jihad, not to kill people (the word Jihad usually has a negative connotation), but to heal people. To end the session, we talked about how Project Muso was not an interfaith team by design, but that aspect of our organization may make us more affective since we are so tolerant and understanding of each other’s faiths, and because we all have that deeper inspiration that keeps us going.



  1. Kris – what an inspiring story! I love reading and hearing about all your experiences. Especially falling into a sewage pit, a story I happen to be able to sort of relate to, thanks to ASP. Much love from the midwest. Hattie

  2. Kristine, …and yet there is bitterness in the world. This just goes to show how all faiths have one thing in common. Helping others! Amazing stories. If we coould only pass this along to all, so they could see the good. Thank you! Robby

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