Posted by: kristinej | November 26, 2009

November 26th

It’s been one of the busier weeks here in Mali.  Last Friday we went to see Toumani Diabate and the Symmetric Orchestra.  Toumani plays the traditional Malian instrument the kora, and has toured several times in Europe and the United States.  The concert was kind of expensive, so the crowd was about half white people and half Malians, but it was a really fun atmosphere because it was almost all standing room, and they left the front area open and people would go up and have dance-offs.  The orchestra, which was probably 15 people and included singers, bongo drums, electric guitars, and other traditional instruments, was very energetic and by the end the whole crowd was dancing and clapping along with the music.  At one point the griot of the group, like those that I said sing at weddings and baptisms, came on stage clutching about 5 100 American dollar bills and started praising people in the crowd.  Two women from the audience then came up to the stage and started throwing (the Malian equivalent of) $5, $10, and $20 bills at the musicians.  I was kind of hoping a few would drift my way, but alas, no luck.

Saturday was Anjali’s goodbye dinner at her host family’s house.  Several Project Muso staff came out, as well as members of her host mom’s extended family, and there were lots of kids running around and wanting their picture taken.  Before eating, we gathered around and gave goodbyes in the way that they do here: a third party talks on behalf of the person saying goodbye, so Fatim, our microfinance coordinator, talked on behalf of Nana, Anjali’s host mom, and then Becky translated for us.  Then Anjali responded by telling Fatim the things that she wanted to say to Nana.  In addition to having a third party speak for each person, it is also typical that each person will ask forgiveness for anything that they may have done wrong or that may have annoyed the other person, and then the person says that they are forgiven.

Sunday morning the remaining four of us volunteers left for Sikasso, where we would be celebrating an early Thanksgiving with the Peace Corps.  Since Sikasso is the second largest city in Mali, the road between there and Bamako is entirely paved, and there are charter buses running all day.  We decided to try a new company that we had heard was really nice, and we were very pleasantly surprised to find ourselves on a fairly new charter bus with air conditioning and tvs (although the tvs were more of a curse than a blessing since they played ridiculous African sitcoms and bad music videos the whole way there).  The best part of all, though, was that as the digital clock at the front of the bus turned from 6:59 to 7:00, the engine started and we pulled out, no pushing involved.  We were shocked.  The ride was great and we arrived in Sikasso at around 1 and spent the afternoon helping make the 20 apple and pumpkin pies for Monday’s feast.  At night we enjoyed our hotel room, which also had air conditioning and nice bathrooms with a toilet and shower.  I was pretty much in heaven.

Monday Becky and I went for our own “Turkey Trot” through the fields outside of Sikasso, then we all headed down to the market to go fabric shopping.  Sikasso has a lot of this hand-woven cotton fabric that they make into strips, dye, and then sew together into really pretty and colorful cloths.  I also bought a souvenir sling shot, which I decided would be useful for chasing away the annoying kids who drift into our new office’s compound yelling “tubabu!”  That evening we had our big Thanksgiving dinner, which was indeed big: there were over 50 of us, and they had killed 5 turkeys for the occasion.  Our fantastic meal also included stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, gravy, and those 20 apple and pumpkin pies.  It was definitely a much more authentic Thanksgiving meal than I ever thought I would get in Mali!  Our evening ended with a group of us sitting around playing the guitar and harmonica and singing made up songs about schistosomiasis and dysentery…only in Mali.

Now that we’re back in Bamako, it’s time to get ready for Tabasci, which is on Saturday and is the biggest holiday of the year here.  The tailors are working 24/7 to make everyone’s outfits (I luckily had mine made a few weeks ago) and vehicles carrying loads of sheep to people’s homes are seen everywhere.  I was surprised to find not one but three new, but very temporary, family members in our compound when I got home yesterday, though apparently two are for other families.  I need to find out when they actually kill the sheep, so that I can make myself scarce.  I also plan to try to avoid eating any strange sheep body parts, as I heard that one of the volunteers last year was persuaded by her host family to try sheep testicles, only to find out that no one actually eats that part of the animal.

Pictures coming tomorrow, n’shallah.

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