Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Bou bous are taking me by storm. Woman and men stroll around in such colourful and beautiful hand made outfits known as boubous! For woman, they usually consist of a skirt and matching top made from the same material that hug their figures. However, the material is fairly think and with them being tightly fitted – I don’t know how they stand the heat, but everyone does! I have been visiting the tailor of course of a regular basis – they love us in there. They are Ghanaian and so speak English very well. I’m sure they are loving our business also but we are getting local rates for clothes which is next to nothing!
We went to Segou for the weekend because there was the annual Festival on the Niger River taking place. We were very interested to see what a Malian music festival would be like. The journey there was our first hurdle to tackle. Segou is about 3hours drive away and it wasn’t possible to book travel. Instead, we were told to be at a certain petrol station for 2pm. By the time we set off in our promised bus, it was 4pm. We’d had plenty of offers mind at the petrol station for lifts to Segou from passing locals but though. It felt like the whole of Bamako made a trip to Segou for this festival! We just so happened to take the same mini bus as a band performing at the festival – which obviously excited us all! They were from Senegal and we very nice to us, inviting us to their after party and offering us oranges and carrots! The bus was your average mini bus but managed to fit about 25 of us in and with people in the aisles it was hard to get out. However, there were always plenty of people selling food and drink at the windows when we stopped so we only needed to exit when we needed the toilet and this was a case of climbing out of the windows and jumping. The 3hour journey took us 5hours and I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much!
It was all worth it though because the festival was amazing. We watched performers such as Salif Keita, Habib Koite and Sauti Soul who are apparently big Malian and Kenyan artists and after watching them I can see why. The festival was on the river Niger which all the locals seem to use to wash their clothes and their selves! There were lots of Tuaregs at the festival – the people of the ethnic group from the north of Mali who wear long robes and head scarfs covering nearly the whole of their face. In Segou, we stayed with a host family instead of a hotel in order to save money and it was a wonderful experience. There were eight of us girls who stayed with Awa and her family of three lovely children for approximately £4 per night. We slept outside under mosquito nets and had refreshing bucket shower over the hole in the floor toilet. It sounds horrific but it was actually lovely, we didn’t need anything more. Segou was a nice place, just as dusty and smelly but less cars and bustle in comparison to Bamako. Instead they had moto-taxis and heaps of donkeys!
We met two Americans at the festival who had just completed a rally from London to Timbuktu in a 1989 New York Ambulance! When we found this out, we became determined to get a ride back to Bamako in this Ambulance and we succeeded! The two guys, Mike and Steve were more than happy to give us a lift back so long as we made a donation to the Charity they are donating the Ambulance to here in Mali now they have completed the rally. We obliged and rode the five hour journey back to Bamako in the ambulance. It was very fun and we thoroughly enjoyed getting the hammock out inside and dangling our feet out the back doors! We were also invited to the handover ceremony of the ambulance to their chosen charity which just so happened to be the Salif Kaita foundation! (one of the performers from the festival) so we were all able to meet him a few days after seeing him on stage. He was very nice and even invited us to his private island which made us all jump and squeal as soon as he turned his back! The ambulance will be used as a mobile clinic to treat people with albinism, leprosy and other skin conditions. The ambulance will treat 5000 people per year, and save 1000 lives.

One thing that I still find funny is the lack of shops selling fruit and veg here. There is plenty of it and instead of shops, woman seem to carry big bowls of one particular item on their head and you kind of just buy it when you see it! Street stalls of lettuce and tomatoes are dotted everywhere too.
All the projects are going well but a bit slow – we have all come to terms with this now though and accepted that things just run slower here. My chalk event is in motion and I am in the process of inviting everyone personally. The sensory garden and playground is also going well. After shopping and pricing up we estimate both to be built for about £150 which is great and well in our budget. We are also proving ourselves as fairly good English teachers. We have discovered how best to work with the blind students – lots of dynamic activities instead of blackboard stuff. For example, we designed a game of blind-folded directions. One student was blindfolded and another gave directions such as right, left, straight-on etc in order to navigate them from one object to another in our open-air mud hut classroom! Using the blindfold – it meant both blind and sighted children could play.
On Valentine’s Day we came up with a game of Secret Valentine which was just like secret santa. We had to do nice things for our valentine during the day but they’re not supposed to know who their ‘admirer’ was. It was a lot of fun!
We have sampled the Malian nightlife on a few occasions now and the clubs are very different to Western clubs playing a mixture of African and western music. We are always the only white people in the club which usually proves a novelty for the locals. A Friday night a few weeks ago came to an amusing end when we finished off in a bar by our dance studio full of male dancers showing off their moves which was hilarious when one gave a full on performance to us! Apparently homosexuality doesn’t exist in Mali and is especially not tolerated but we did question whether we were in fact in a gay bar when three men dressed as cow boys seemed to be giving a private performance to some others. Some feminine practices seem to be the norm here for men for example; it’s common for male friends to hold hands in the street. We also went to a Bob Marley tribute night last week at a local outdoor venue which was very good with an excellent turnout from the expat community!
playing drums with children at AMALDENE

the directions lesson

drying clothes by the river

sleeping arrangments

the host mother -Awa

the new york ambulance

Monday, 13 February 2012

Each one of us has managed to have had a mini disaster now! Jemma has fallen into an open sewer in the dark. She has also acquired a very strange Togolese stalker who often turns up at our house un-invited! Poor Rachel has visited the hospital on 7 occasions now due to various illnesses. It seems the private clinic loves to invite her back for check-ups especially as they make a killing from our insurance on every visit! Two of the volunteers have been verrrrrrry sick now from a food-related catastrophe! So far so good for my stomach though– touch wood! I have had a memorable encounter with a cockroach! The daddy of all cockroaches landed on my bare skin somehow just as I walked into the bathroom for a shower! My immediate reaction to drop my towel, scream at the top of my voice while beating myself vigorously to get it off me. Still panicking and screaming I subsequently ran into the next room where I made Rachel check over my entire body whilst still jumping around and squirming. Rachel and I are now much closer after this experience!
Work is going well-ish. I feel like I am making progress on my Chalk project for the blind school and union, UMAV. The plan is to organise a marketing and sales event for the chalk and invite some ministers of education and NGO directors that deal with education and children. International service has some great contacts for me to exploit and corner. Some of the other projects don’t seem to be moving as fast as we thought they might. For example we want to build a playground and sensory garden for the blind children but there is so many hidden factors to think about such as goats! UMAV have a lot of goats wondering around the site that will probably end up making a lunch out of the garden so we need to think about getting around that!
Last week I visited the special education specialist at AMALDENE (a school for disabled children) on a few occasions. He takes children out of class to work one-to-one with them on developmental activities such as jigsaws, bead threading and sorting. He says they try to enable the child to catch-up with peers, and if they reach a level where they can study, they will go to class; otherwise they will attend vocational workshops such as textiles and woodwork. He would like more information on how we assess and support children with special educational needs in the UK which Jemma will be working on. Both this school and the blind school have no electricity. It’s crazy to see the schools running normally. They have no need for computers, lighting etc but when you desperately need the toilet you do witness the need for a small amount of electricity for them to have running water. The sanitation and toilet facilities are horrendous but with running water they wouldn’t be half as bad. They have had access to electricity in the past but can’t pay the bills anymore so we are going to try and organise some solar panel project with the help of the Chinese embassy.
A few of us have also been teaching English for the last few weeks. It’s nothing like the English I classes I have taught before – we were given no guidance because they don’t really have a curriculum. We decided the class of 70 children, some of which are blind was too difficult to face as one so we have split the class into 4 smaller groups for tutor-type sessions. Teaching blind children is really tricky though – we have appealed to their touch so in the food and drink lesson we brought in loads of fruit and foods for them to touch and taste. It’s so amazing to see them writing in brail and then reading it back to us in English!
I received a very shocked email from my mum the other day after she opened the Bournemouth Echo and found me in it! This also shocked me as I wasn’t exactly aware of it either! I wrote to the echo last week on the off chance they might want the story and for a bit of promotion. The news desk was interested and I sent some photos too but they never confirmed anything was being written so it was a pleasant surprise!
There have been some demonstrations in Bamako because of the on-going fighting in the North of the country where rebel groups dominate. The vast Sahel region is used as a highway for transporting weapons, people and the likes. The North wants to be a separate independent country from the South. These disturbances have lasted several years, and are the primary reason we can’t travel to the north of Mali where the tourist areas such as Dogon Country, Djenne and Timbuktu are, due to Foreign and Commonwealth Office restrictions. It’s a real shame because it’s these places we all really want to visit!
Last weekend we all went to Siby, a small village about an hour outside of Bamako that not in the red zone. It was the perfect place to go in order to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The accommodation was simple and traditional, small round mud huts with 3 beds and mosquito nets. The showers were outdoors with no roofs so you could look up and see the moon. There were some beautiful waterfalls in the area which was a lovely place to spend a few hours and cool off in the 30+ heat. We also had an African drumming lesson and walked up to some beautiful rock formations that had carved out a natural archway at the top of a cliff. The view was breath-taking- miles of flat, sparse landscape, dotted with trees, several rock formations, and an occasional mud-hut.
Yet another material-buying mission took place on Saturday. All us volunteers headed to the market and were greeted by many a seller including ‘Moosa Goodprice’ as one artisan called himself whilst trying to persuade us to buy his gift boxes. The choice of material on offer is so vast that the whole experience turns into a frenzy of panic buying and bartering! We all ended up spending about an hour at one material shop deliberating and stressing out about what material to get, how much to pay and how much of it to buy. It really is a girl’s worst nightmare! In the end we all came away with about 3 lots of material and didn’t really like any of them so swapped between ourselves!
Round and round the garden with one of the blind girls

kids at AMALDENE

our mud huts

waterfall lagoon from the top

Rachel, Hibak and Fatime

Cleaner at the school

the girls posing on rocks at waterfall

drumming lesson