Posted by: kristinej | November 18, 2009

November 18th

It’s been a busy few days here.  Last Friday Cailey and I went to Koulikoro, a town about an hour and a half outside of Bamako, to visit the facilitator training going on there.  The facilitators and facilitatrices are the teachers, essentially, but we don’t use the word “teacher” because it has a connotation associated with formal education, and we want our participants to feel that the teachers are there to learn too and to engage in a dialogue, not just to tell the participants what to do.  The training, which lasts almost a month, is the last major step before the launch of our classes sometime next month.  We sent 16 men and women to participate in the training, and will ultimately choose 14 to lead the 14 centers in Yirimadjo.

Koulikoro is located right on the Niger, and while still a city, it has a more small town feel.  Cailey and I both loved it immediately and before we went to the training we walked down to the river to take some pictures and look at the fishing boats.  The training was held at the Welcome Center, which has dorm rooms for the participants and larger conference rooms for the sessions.  The rooms were pretty humble by American standards- notes were written out on paper taped to an overturned table- but they did have electricity and therefore overhead fans, which is all you can really ask for. The participants were divided into two groups, so we visited both rooms and observed the sessions.  Even though most of it was in Bambara, we had some translation, and even without it, it was interesting to see the interactions and how the classes were carried out.  The participants had already been there for 2 weeks, so they were well into the Tostan curriculum, which focuses on human rights, and were now each getting a chance to lead practice sessions for the other participants.

In the first session that we went to they talked about the characteristics of a good democracy and gave examples of a good democracy and examples of a bad democracy.  They also talked about how to create associations that are democratic and functional.  It was interesting to see an open dialogue between men and women and to see our women, all of whom went through our education program to learn literacy and basic health and small business skills, talking comfortably and intelligently about human rights.  It’s certainly not a topic that these women with would have learned in their few years of formal schooling.  One of our participants told us that the formation had changed her life and that she had learned so much already.  It’s good to hear that because we can be sure that these facilitators will carry that enthusiasm into their classes and hopefully the 700+ participants will be just as affected.

The second session that we went to was about different forms of violence against women and children, and brought up sensitive issues such as female genital cutting and other cultural practices that exist here, such as putting two little marks on the either side of women’s eyes.  We also discussed if there needed to be special mechanisms to protect men against certain forms of violence.  In discussing different forms of violence against women, some of the participants got a little carried away, with one person suggesting that if a husband was impotent and didn’t let his wife divorce him, that was a form of violence against her.  Everyone had a good laugh about that.

After the sessions finished for the day we met up with a Peace Corps volunteer who lives in Koulikoro and had offered to let us spend the night with her.  We went out to a little bar on the river where we sat and talked for awhile before getting street food for dinner and heading home.  The biggest thing that makes traveling in Mali hard is the issue of mosquito nets.  Lindsay luckily had extras, but even so it took quite  awhile to figure out where to hang one of them and then we had to set up the bug tent for the other person and in the morning you have to take everything down again, so it’s not like a sleepover in the US where you can throw a pillow on the couch and be set for the night.

After attending another session in the morning we went to the bus station where they have small “taxis” back to Bamako.  On the way to Koulikoro we had taken a normal sotrama like we take around the city, which wasn’t too bad since we got good seats and weren’t crammed in the corner.  On the way back, though, the option was these old white station wagons.  There were a couple parked near where we were waiting (there’s no schedule – you just leave when the vehicle fills up) that Cailey commented looked like they may not make it to Bamako.  Lindsay replied that they didn’t look too bad, but pointed to another across the parking lot that looked like it belonged in a junkyard and said that she would be more worried if we were taking that one.  And of course, when the time came to get in our vehicle, the driver led us to that one, and all nine of us piled in.  I thought I would be clever and hang back and ask for the front seat, trying to avoid being smushed in the back, but of course I should have known that I wouldn’t be the only person in the front seat, and so ended up just as crammed as the others and in addition had to spend the whole time trying to keep my knee away from the gear shift.  Luckily, after another check under the hood during which I’m pretty sure I saw the driver put his mouth on some greasy part of the engine, we rolled (literally) out of the parking lot and made it back to Bamako without any problems.

Next week one of our volunteers, Anjali, and her boyfriend Ryan who has been in the Peace Corps here for over 3 years now, are going back to the US, so Saturday night we had a going away party.  Its theme was “dress like Ryan” which meant wear really colorful baggy shorts and a white t-shirt.  I had been wanting to get some running shorts made anyway, so I took some leftover fabric and had it made into pretty cute and very comfortable capris.  Then last night we had a potluck, and as these potlucks always go, there was quite an assortment of food.  Basically, people always try to make American dishes with the ingredients available here, so we had the usual salad in a bucket, mashed potatoes, peanut butter cookies, watermelon, homemade potato chips, etc.  Then there’s always one or two people who decide to share something they have from the US, which is always the best part, and last night it was boxed funfetti cake, which was delicious of course.

This weekend we’re going to a concert by famous Malian musician Toumani Diabate, which should be really good.  To get the tickets we had to go to the French Cultural Center in Bamako, where they are currently having a photo exhibit on albinos in Mali.  The issue of albinos in Africa is an interesting one, because they obviously stick out much more than in the US or in European countries.  In Mali I don’t think that they are ostracized too much, but I have read articles about other countries where there is actually an illicit trade in albino body parts because which doctors have claimed that they have special magical and curative powers.  In addition to that danger, the pigmentation of albino’s skin makes them extremely vulnerable to skin cancer, and I think that they have a much lower life expectancy than the normal black population.  A good article about albinos in East Africa:|wbml-aol|dl7|link3|

On another note, I have two more “You know you’ve been in Mali too long when…”:

– you see someone wearing shorts that show their knees and you think “Scandalous!  You need to cover yourself up!”

-you and your friends have a rousing conversation about the different varieties of ice cubes available in the US, and you all actually start salivating at the thought of eating your favorite kind (crushed, small cubes, big cubes, etc).



  1. I saw a special on albinos in Africa and it was really interesting. They talked about all that you mentioned and followed a family with several albino girls. As I said interesting but disturbing .

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