Posted by: kristinej | April 13, 2010

April 13th

I now have only 3 months left here in Mali, and inevitably mixed feelings about that.  I find myself dreaming about a comfy bed, American food, and air conditioning, but it’s still too far away for me to get too excited about that.  It will pass quickly though, I know.  Anyway, I did want to point out that Becky, through whom I get my mail, will be leaving Mali on July 1st, so if you were planning to send me any mail before I leave, I would recommend sending it before May 1st so that I will (God willing) get it before she leaves.

Last weekend we had our first rainfall since late October or early November.  I could tell it was coming because a) my weather widget said that the high for the next day was going to drop to only 93 degrees (chilly!) and b) the winds started picking up in the evening.  I still slept on the roof and got in a good four hours before we heard thunder, the wind started whipping, and we came running downstairs just before the rain hit.  The power immediately went out, which meant I was stuck trying to sleep in my 110-degree room with no fan.  After a fitful night of sleep, and a liter of sweat later, I was pleasantly surprised to come out of my room in the morning to a light drizzle and a refreshing temperature that my body hasn’t felt in weeks, since whenever my last brief foray into air conditioning was.  It felt like new life was being breathed into the landscape, which is dry, dusty, and brown after months without a drop of rain.  The general consensus was that this was just a “mango rain,” as the actual rainy season won’t start until the end of May at the earliest. But anyway, it gives hope that it is indeed on the way!

There are any number of things about Mali that show that it is a poor country, but one that I’ve been thinking about more recently is the presence of beggars.  I don’t think that it’s an overwhelming presence, but being in the capital city it is definitely there.  I tend to group the beggars into 3 groups in my mind: young boys called Talibes, women with children, and disabled people.

You can’t take a ride on the sotrama without having one or more young boys, dressed in raggy clothes and carrying coffee tins, approach the bus singing some sort of song and begging for money.  These are “Talibes,” or Koranic students who follow a Koranic teacher and traditionally beg as a way of submitting to God.  Sometimes I have shared a sotrama with a large group of them, heading out to a certain location to beg for the day.  They are usually skinny, dirty, barefoot, and wearing raggy clothes.  While it definitely pulls at your heart strings to see young boys spending their days on the street like that, I never give them money because I suppose that it will just go back to their teacher, who may or may not take good care of his students.  I have, however, seen Malians give them small change.

There are certain spots around the city where I always see women begging, always accompanied by their children, who are often twins.  Apparently in Mali if you have twins it is good luck and you are supposed to earn money by begging, and so you often see women sitting on the side of the road with two young children in matching clothes.  I suspect that some women try dressing up two children in the same clothing to pose as twins, but most seem legit.  I have seen Malians give money to women with twins who aren’t even begging, but just getting on the bus to go somewhere.

Lastly, there are an incredible number of people with body deformities here in Mali.  I imagine this is due to a combination of factors – poor nutrition during pregnancy, young pregnancies, poor pre- and post-natal care,  lack of surgical procedures for birth defects, and a lack of medical care available after accidents.  It’s not rare to see a crippled person dragging himself along the ground by his hands, or positioned on a board with wheels that he pushes along.  You see people with their feet curled under, or one leg longer than the other so that they walk with a noticeable limp.  The most unpleasant, perhaps, is people who have huge boils on their face or neck, sometimes the size of a softball or even larger.  It’s hard not to cringe, but Malians seem to take it in stride, and I have noticed that except for helping these people out when needed, they don’t treat them any differently or stare in the way that Americans are apt to do.  This is certainly not to say that all of these people are beggars – I would say that most aren’t – but you do often see blind men holding change cans, being led by young children, or crippled people sitting on a blanket in the market or near a bus stop.

In other news, I got a new fancy outfit made for wedding and baptisms, which a) was finished the same day I brought in the fabric and b) fit perfectly the first time I tried it on.  Shocking!  My host sister, who is quite the fashionista, was a big fan, and everyone agreed that I have become a true Malian muso (woman).

One last story:  the other day by host brother, who is 14, said to me, “Fatoumata, I was really upset today.”  I asked him why and he said that his girlfriend, who’s 13, just got engaged.  I said that was really sad and asked him if he said he was going to cry and he said, “No, I will find someone else, that’s life.”  But apparently the man that this girl has been promised to is 20 years old and is her first cousin!  In Bambara they call this “balimafuru” which means sibling marriage, and he said that it happens fairly often here, which surprised me though maybe it shouldn’t have.  I told him that “chez moi” (where I’m from) that’s illegal!



  1. Kris, Nice outfit. Lots of sadness there. It’s amazing that they don’t see it quite like we Americans would. We should probably learn from that.
    Can’t wait to see you. Robby

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