Posted by: kristinej | March 29, 2010

March 29th

I have decided that there are three things that I hate about running in Mali.  The first is the heat.  The second is people staring at me and kids yelling “toubab.”  The third is breathing in the pollution-filled air.  The first two things I have already spent enough time complaining about, but I haven’t really mentioned the third.  Pollution is not a problem I expected coming here (partially because I didn’t realize how much time I would be spending in Bamako), and it didn’t bother me so much in the beginning, but I think that hot season has made it even worse and I find myself looking forward to breathing in the fresh air of the United States and walking on sidewalks that aren’t covered in trash.

The first thing you’ll notice upon arriving in Mali is that there is trash everywhere.  In Bamako you will see garbage cans in some areas, but I found a study that said that only about half of the garbage produced in Bamako is picked up by collection services.  The rest is thrown on the ground or on impromptu garbage piles, and burned.  There is a definitely a culture where throwing trash on the ground, no matter where you are, is totally acceptable.  I was in a training this past week where even in the conference room people threw candy wrappers and empty water sachets on the ground!  Because there really are few places to put your garbage, I too now throw my trash wherever – out the sotrama window, into the sewage gutters, on the pile in the field across from my house.  In Yirimadjo there was a giant pile of garbage right in the market that was cleared a few months ago, but a thin layer of garbage still remains, littering the now-dry creak.  And it still always shocks me a bit to see people digging through the trash.  Things like empty plastic bottles will last literally minutes on the ground or in a trash pile before being picked up for somebody to reuse.  So in that way there is some recycling, and Malians still produce far less waste than Americans because they buy so many fewer pre-packaged goods, but you still see trash everywhere you go.

The air pollution, however, is what really bothers me now.  It’s not as bad in Yirimadjo, but once you’re on the main road with all of the sotramas and hand-me-down taxis, you notice the fumes.  There are no restrictions on fumes for cars here so it’s not rare to see clouds of black smoke pouring out of the tailpipe of a vehicle.  I have started carrying a scarf or bandana to hold over my mouth on the bus when it gets particularly bad.  The other thing that causes air pollution is all the burning garbage, especially since those garbage piles are usually filled with black plastic bags that you get with any purchase.  So, while the air pollution is not as bad early in the morning, I sometimes wonder if the health benefits of running are being canceled out by all of the crap I am breathing in.

The other big form of pollution is the sewage.  So little of the population is served by the sewage system, so run-off is inevitable.  Both in Yirimadjo and in Daoudabougou, where our office is, you’ll find houses with a pipe running out of the wall near the ground, with a black puddle of filth on the ground under it.  It looks gross and smells even worse.  And I hate to think what happens in rainy season when the roads flood and all of that gets mixed together and flows freely.  Not for the first time I find myself really grateful for the infrastructure of the United States.

On a completely unrelated and more positive note, I went to part of a wedding on Thursday.  I had actually not been to one yet, and unfortunately missed the first part because I was at work, but I came in time to see some of the festivities.  The wedding was right next to my house, and the women spent all day preparing food in our compound.  I came home just in time to catch a few photos of them dishing out rice from the largest pots I have ever seen.  It makes me wonder how Malians afford weddings, because the meal alone, which fed probably 100 people, included rice and sauce, bananas, and sodas, and then round two that evening was potatoes.  We all ate together, I made a few new friends, and then we went outside where they were sewing together cloth strips that would apparently be worn as a head wrap by the groom for the first few days of the marriage.  Then the music started and the griots started their screeching and money-collecting.  I stayed awhile and then went into our compound, where I had an interesting conversation about weddings with my host sister.  She was shocked when I said that the bride’s family pays for the wedding in the United States because in Mali it is the husband who is responsible for everything, even the wedding dress.  She asked, “So is it the woman marrying the man, instead of the man marrying the woman, like it is here?”  And I was like, well, they are marrying each other, but the men aren’t usually interested in all of the details that go into the wedding, so it’s the woman who picks the dress, organizes the party, etc.  She was amazed and seemed almost disapproving, which I thought was interesting.

And while we’re talking about weddings, I was in the big market yesterday and the guy I was buying fabric from was trying to set me up with another guy there.  When I said I had a husband in America, he said, “Leave him!  We can go buy kola nuts right now!”  Kola nuts are what are given when people get engaged.  So literally within a couple of minutes and with a few dollars I could have been engaged to a perfect stranger.  Instead I opted for drinking a shot of tea and taking the phone number he wrote down for me.



  1. have you called him yet?

  2. Haha no…pretty sure that piece of paper is already in a trash pile somewhere

  3. Keep holding out. I’m sure you’ll find a good man in America. Heck, you might can charm him into paying for the wedding. Ha!!! robby

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