Greetings from West Africa!
Thought I'd write a few notes to keep you up to date on what's up in
Coming from Wisconsin, weather continues to be of interest to me. The
temperature continues to climb, reaching near 100° in the shade and much
hotter in the sun. I put my thermometer outside on my porch last night at
5pm, and it was 99° on the shady part and quickly climbed to 110° on the
sunny side! Temperatures are not much better in my upstairs apartment, which
can exceed 97°. Thank goodness for fans and air conditioners - and also
generators, which keep these electric lifesavers running during the frequent
power outages! The humidity is also climbing, a rather typical occurrence
prior to the rainy season which starts in June. Last night the wind kicked
up. Here, ANY wind seems to be meaningful, so I got up, closed the windows
and unplugged all electrical cords. It was like a sauna in the living room!
The power went out several times during the night, with the air con
appearing to gasp. Luckily it continued to perform its duty, enabling me to
sleep in comfort. In the morning, the air was slightly cooler, but quite
humid. All the terracotta dirt roads had transformed into mud and puddles.
No one would need to spray the dirt road in front of their house today in
order to keep the dust down!
One of the things I look forward to is shopping, either with my eyes or
with my wallet. As I am preparing to leave, looking for small items is much
more attractive. If you want to use up money in a hurry, it's quite easy
buying beads. It truly is a feast for the eyes - beads ranging from over
2,000 years old to ones only a few years old - all right before your eyes.
As I feel the smoothness of the worn bead between my fingers, I can't help
but be fascinated, wondering who owned and wore this bead before me.
Besides, it's much more fun buying beads than going to one of the two city
grocery stores and buying stuff like laundry detergent or powdered milk!
Mali is in the process of electing a new president. The first round of
voting occurred a week ago, with 25 Malian men putting their name in the
running. Like many African countries, Mali has a high illiteracy rate,
especially among women, who often have to leave school at an early age to
tend to family matters. Each voter was given a packet of baseball
trading-card size papers of each of the 25 candidates. Each paper had the
candidate's name and photo on it, along with a symbol and political party
(if applicable) represented. Just the person's last name and manner of dress
(traditional vs. Western) could tell a lot about a person. Voters took the
paper for the person he/she wanted to vote for, put it in the supplied
envelope, and then placed the envelope into the clear box with a slot on
top. Since no candidate won more than 50% of the vote, the upcoming final
election between the top two candidates will occur shortly. It will be
between a man who helped overthrow an oppressive dictatorial regime about 10
years ago (which led to the peaceful democratic reign by the current
president), and a man who believes that Mali should become more Islamic,
essentially upsetting the relative religious tolerance and women's rights.
Ah yes, school is winding down. Now that Spring Break has passed, things
will fly by fast. Many families will be moving on to other posts or back to
their home countries, altering the close-knit formations of the small
classes. Several teachers are also preparing to leave, moving on to other
international schools or back to their home countries. It's a joy observing
students and teachers applying the skills and techniques I helped instill in
them. Having eager, motivated learners helps so much, as does having small
class sizes. The school is looking for land, hoping to build a modern
facility that will fully serve students from PreK through grade 12. Such a
facility would help the school attract and retain students, who previously
have had to leave to complete their high school education.
I spent my Spring Break here in Bamako. Much of my time was spent doing
artwork, completing two color pencil drawings and one watercolor
commissioned painting. Since then I have completed several other art pieces.
Having someone do the cooking and cleaning sure makes a difference! Like
other teachers who are leaving, I have piled many of my belongings in my
spare bedroom, ready for the shipping estimate and shipping at the end of
the month. It's amazing how bare the walls and house looks without the
sculptures, wall hangings, etc.! I continue to practice the kora, read lots,
watch DVD's with other teachers on my Titanium G4 laptop, and swim. It's
amazing what one can get done without the presence of a TV! I will be
leaving Mali on June 15th, one day after school ends. I will spend the
summer in Wisconsin before heading off to Tunis, Tunisia (North Africa) mid
A beautiful picture
One morning as I was walking to school, a mother proudly passed by with
her children. Balanced on her head was some clothing in a container,
presumably to be washed in the Niger River. A young child was strapped to
her back, tied on with a piece of cloth the same pattern as the mother's
pagné. The other child, perhaps around 4 or 5 years old, walking slightly
behind, gently held on to her mother's hand. In her free small hand was an
old piece of rope, to which a cardboard box was tugged behind. That little
girl pulled that old cardboard box as if it was the best and most beautiful
toy. Oh, I wish I had a camera built-in, able to be snapped in the wink of
an eye. What wonderful sites I could capture!