We visited Kirina on Sunday to see a music school there. I assumed this would mean we’d be bused to the village, see the school, and then make our exit, but we ended up being greeted by most of the village with instruments. They escorted us to various officials’ houses, playing, singing, and dancing all the way. We ended up settling down at one point to meet the elders, and the women and children danced. We also watched another mask dance – specific to this region. He was spectacular, and as we made our way to the school he jumped in front of us and indicated that we should get our picture with him. Cool, no?

The school was really special – they showed us the instrument room where they houses ngonis, djembés, koras, balofones, etc. Then we sat with some chasseurs and watched the kids perform various instruments and dance. The school gives lessons in music, dance, English, and French and is a part of Playing for Change. (Website here: check it out!)

We were joined by a couple who had just donated money to the school. They didn’t speak French, so all our interactions were in English – which was really weird. I’m starting to ease into French, so it feels strange now for me to speak any other language with Malians (save very broken Bambara). Funny side note though, I recently discovered that most Americans who visit Mali don’t speak French. Maybe that was a no-brainer, but it totally shocked me. I cannot imagine trying to navigate such a different and busy and social country without any linguistic connection. I already struggle a bit because a lot of the population doesn’t speak French, and fewer speak English. Considering the fact that the best part of this trip has been forging connections – this news made me sad. At any rate, it’s meant that I’ve been repeatedly mistaken as Italian or French because I speak the language.

The one weird part of the trip was that there was a ton of filming underway. We filmed the elders as we interviewed them in Djoliba, we were interviewed about our experience there, and in Kirina three different men with cameras filmed everything that happened. In some ways, I think this was cool – and it’s neat that they wanted to document the experience. On the other hand, it definitely made me uncomfortable at times. In Mali there is (traditionally) an idea that when you film or photograph someone, you steal their soul. For me, the entire time I was on edge about offending the elders and other villagers. Plus, it got to be a little distracting. I missed out on a bit of the masquerade because guys kept stepping in front of the mask to film him. Worse, when we were being greeted by the elders, one of them put his tripod between us and the man talking to us. And I know some of the elders at Djoliba were disgruntled when a camera equipped with a bright light appeared in front of them and blocked their view of the film. It’s really made me more conscious of how I film, and made me think long and hard about a lot of things. I enjoy film and photography as much as anyone (more than some people probably) and feel it’s important to document my experiences (especially for you guys), but it’s a fine line to walk without becoming distracting or offending others. Something I’ll have to reflect on more in the future.

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We left Friday afternoon for Djoliba. The ride was not very long, although we had to wait at a few places in Bamako before we left. We took the bus, which is my favorite method of transportation. All of us cram in there and end up talking and laughing most of the way to our destination, so it’s a great way to travel. When we arrived, we were greeted by djembe players who escorted us to the center of town. Once there, we met the elders of the village, and after introductions we danced for them. I made a new friend almost instantly with one of the kids hanging around us. Her name was Nantene and we danced together a lot. She LOVED dancing. She dragged me out often and would wait for moments when we would be the sole dancers out there. When we weren’t dancing, I let her sit on my lap and we smiled at each other. As usual, neither my Bambara nor her French were good enough for us to really talk, but we still enjoyed each other’s company. After introductions we made our way to Cherif’s sister’s house…a proper paradise on the edge of the village. It was lovely and surrounded by a beautiful orchard. The food was spectacular – some of the best I had on this trip, and the fruit was out of this world. I love fruit, but never so much as when I’m in the heat. It can be difficult to get the really good stuff in Bamako, however, so this was a real treat. The oranges, were undeniably the best I’ve ever eaten. Florida doesn’t hold a candle to Djoliba, these oranges (or lenburuba in Bambara) were fantastic – so juicy that your hands were soaked and there was always a puddle on the ground after you finished one. It was heaven, and I overate a lot. The meals were always so good that I always ate too much, and then I’d stuff as much fruit as I could fit in my stomach. It wasn’t the healthiest option, but who knows if I’ll ever get stuff that good again.

An interesting aspect of this trip, was that we would be showing a film created in 1962 about Djoliba. Apparently, the Malian government teamed up with the Americans, to create a “Model Village” and chose Djoliba to be the guinea pig. So, they went to the town, built up a lot of western styled houses in a new location, and helped the villagers move there. Now, there are several problems with this project:

1). The new houses, because they were modeled after western homes, were completely unpractical for the Malian family. Malian families are a good deal larger than American ones so the houses were, naturally, too small (usually only three rooms to share between 10-30 people). Parents told us later that they send their kids out of the house and into the world earlier than usual, as they don’t have enough room. Then there’s the fact that the materials they used were completely impractical – in particular, the sheet metal roofs made the houses insufferably hot in the summer (vs the nice terra-cotta with a woodenly roof).

2). They didn’t actually finish the village. Unfortunately, after making a few houses, both governments decided to abandon the project and retreated back to Bamako with all their equipment. The villagers have since built up the village, but it was clearly hard, and they had to rebuild things as the houses by the river were abandoned/destroyed.

Anyways, the Americans made a film about this project, which Cherif translated into Bambara and brought back to the village. We got to see it before we left, and let me tell you, it was interesting. It was mainly propaganda for the American and Malian government, but the shots of them destroying a traditional house as concerned elders looked on broke my heart. The trip was mostly organized around this screening – we went to watch it with the villagers both nights, and the next day toured the village and interviewed elders about their experiences during the project. Both were really enlightening, and I was lucky enough to sit next to an elder during the screening who pointed out himself and his father to me. Overall, the people were really excited by this film, as it allowed them to see past villagers – people they knew – again. Everyone was murmuring excitedly and pointing out people they knew. So that was really cool.

Our trip had a slight sad aspect, however. Apparently the morning we arrived, the wife of the chief drummer died, and the village quickly buried her, so we wouldn’t be exposed to it. It was so sad to think of, and although they paid us every courtesy, I felt bad about intruding at such a bad time. We were told that the festivities were more restrained for our group than usual, but I was fine with that as most of the time I was too full and tired to dance. Nevertheless, dance we did to Nantene’s delight, and a bunch of us girls got farewell kisses from one of the djembé players at the end.

We also ended up meeting some students from an architecture school in Bamako. They had seen the film and came to interview the elders with us. It was really nice to meet some people my own age and these kids were all really cool and interesting. Most were still in University but some were grad students, and they came from all over the world. There were students from Mali, Benin, Niger, Spain, the US, etc. I really enjoyed talking to them and hanging out.

Right, I think that is enough for now! I’ll type up the rest of the trip in another post!

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A Busy Week

Perhaps because of the break last week, or perhaps just because, our week has been CRAZY busy. We’ve had some sort of special meeting or trip everyday. As always, these encounters are both enlightening and exciting, but it was a little frustrating and exhausting for us. For me, I’ve been out until after 7 every night this week, so when I finally make it home, I’m utterly exhausted and crash. Last night was especially bad on that count. Cherif told us we’d be leaving town to go visit…somewhere. None of us were really sure where we were going. The journey was frustrating. Cherif predicted it would only take 40 minutes, so he rented a sotrama for the lot of us. So, 20 of us squeezed in the back of it and we set out. Now, sotrama’s aren’t renowned for their comfort, and we were pushing the maximum capacity. Everyone was squeezed so tightly together that sweating started almost immediately. Then the traffic ended up being really bad, and what was supposed to take less than an hour, ended up taking almost two. Suffice to say people were hot, bothered, dehydrated (in my case), and very frustrated by the time we stopped. The place turned out to be pretty interesting though. It was a large plantation where they grew millet and turn the oil into biodiesel which they sell here. Naturally (pun unintended), this is much more eco-friendly than importing fossil fuels for the cars, and it costs Malians a lot less as well. It was a quick, but interesting tour, led by a very attractive young man who we’ll meet again in Segou. Not that I was just shallowly focusing on physical appearances…it really was interesting, but that was nice too. Certainly made the overwhelming, long drive more worth it.

This week I also visited the tailor a few times. I have to say, of all the people I’ve met here, he’s one of my favorites. It turns out he DOES speak French, so I can go and chat with him and design outfits. All the people who work and hang out there are also nice. One, upon hearing that I sing, insisted that the next time I visit I sing for the lot of them. Moreover, if you go around 3, you get a free cup of tea out of it! Anyways, I visited him several times this week with friends, and we’re quickly becoming buddies, which makes me really happy.

My biggest source of busy-ness this week, however, has been the quest for kora lessons. I thought for a long time that learning the kora could be really cool. I play the harp, and the kora is kinda like the harp’s great great great African grandfather. It’s even called the African harp. Thus, I’ve always thought it could be interesting to return to the origins of my instrument. Not to mention a kora is a much cheaper and more portable instrument than the harp. Anyway, actually getting the lessons and instrument has proven to be much more of an ordeal than I thought. I talked to Cherif about it, then didn’t hear anything for weeks. In the end a friend reminded him of it and he called someone. Next thing I knew, I was supposed to call and set up an appointment. Everything was a-go. So, I plucked up my courage, and dialed the number he gave me. The guy who picked up (it turns out) was NOT the guy who was supposed to teach me…it was his nephew. After a confusing conversation, I finally talked to the instructor, who agreed to give me lessons and told me to make an appointment with his nephew. We settled on Thursday. Unfortunately, as you recall, I was unable to leave on Thursday and was obliged to cancel my lesson.

After a few days, we settled that I would have a lesson on Tuesday afternoon. Unfortunately, when Tuesday came, it turned out Abdama (my instructor’s nephew who was supposed to pick me up) had forgotten how to get to my house. I ran all around the house and up and down the neighborhood, trying to find SOMEONE to give him directions…no such luck. So, we settled that we would meet at the CCF (French cultural center). So I ran out and found a taxi driver to take me there. That turned out to be a weird ride. He was nice enough, chatted with me, invited me to share his lunch, etc. He also asked me to marry him, though, so after I definitively refused (told him I couldn’t till after my studies and that I had a fiancé) it was kinda awkward. I then had to wait on the corner of the CCF for a while. It wasn’t awful, I chatted with a nice guy who was sitting nearby and watched a lot of hippy toubabous come and go. It was a bit stressful though and I was happy when Abdama finally arrived. Abdama, it turns out, is in his third year at the university. We are about the same age and got along really well, talking about music, school, travel, etc. When we got to his house, he showed me into the courtyard where we’d have the lesson. This was the busiest courtyard I’ve visited – private lessons would be impossible. One corner had a tv around which men gathered to watch football and the news, the other was occupied by women cooking and doing laundry, and another houses a horse in its stall. So everyone was busy.

Abdama showed me the room where they kept koras and kora parts (they make the instrument themselves) and introduced me to the guy I’d be buying a kora from. He was nice, but freaked me out when he named an astronomical price. It was still less than most instruments in the US though, so maybe it was fair? Anyways, we discussed and I told them I’d think about it and get back to them soon.

As we waited for Abdama’s uncle, he took a kora and played a piece for me. He told me that you typically learn a piece, and then improvise, adding in parts. At one point he even played some chords to imitate a harp for me – it was really cool. Then he passed the instrument to me. Of course I had no idea what to do with it, but he showed me how my fingers should rest and let me play around with it.

In the end, my instructor never showed up. Apparently his wife was sick and they were at the hospital. I was forgiving, but a little frustrated and troubled. I mean, I’m ok with Africa time, and don’t really count on things running according to scheduled times, but I do expect them to happen on scheduled days. Combine that with the price of a kora and I began to wonder if lessons were worth it. So, I talked to Cherif the next morning, and things started to make sense. First of all, it turned out these guys doubled the price of the kora, so it really was too high (as I suspected). He was also disappointed by the fact that I still hadn’t met my teacher, so right then and there, he called a friend and arranged for us to meet after dance class. This guy is going to make my kora, and is offering it for a good price. I will also get to be present when he builds it, which I think is SUPER cool. I feel like I will respect and love the instrument so much more after that experience. Moreover, he’s giving me lessons! I am scheduled to have one this morning! And I know he will be a great teacher as he already started with me on Wednesday. As we waited for Cherif, he played me a piece which he said was pretty easy. After he finished he said, “Il faut voir,” – you need to see it, and passed the kora to me. He then proceeded to show me different strings, told me what notes they were and which other strings corresponded. Then he taught me the accompaniment, and seemed pleased with my playing.

This experience was truly wonderful for me. I missed my music class, and learning a new instrument is always exciting. Moreover, learning from such a patient and excellent teacher is great, and after the headache I had on Tuesday, I started to feel really good about learning this instrument. So, although it took a while to get started, I am so excited to learn kora, and hopefully bring one home with me.

We leave for Djoliba this weekend! I am sure I will have LOTS to say when we get back, from what I’ve heard, this is going to be a great visit with a really interesting twist. But that’s enough for now! Don’t want to spoil the surprise!

Bon weekend!


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Cold Snap

You’ve all probably seen the news and are experiencing wacky weather of your own. Thus, I’m sure you know that people are dying of the cold in Russia and you probably even know that Algeria got snow the other day. But I’m going to take a wild guess and say you probably haven’t heard about the funky weather here.

I know what you’re thinking, “Really? A post about the weather? Of all the things?” But honestly guys, it’s been crazy here. Starting Monday it’s been COLD. By which I mean it’s been maybe 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s cold for here though and therefore cold for us now. (Minnesota may kill me…) It’s been cold, overcast and windy. All the wind kicks up all the dirt that lies around too, so everything is hazy and dusty. It even (briefly/lightly) RAINED on Monday night. So not normal. Yep folks, I think we’re really proving here that climate change is just a theory created to encourage strife and fill scientists’ bank accounts.

Anyways, it’s been strange, though I have guiltily enjoyed the break from Bamako’s oppressive heat. If this keeps up, we could have a comfortable drive to Djoliba! Also, it’s amusing to see everyone bundled up in jackets against the cold.

Apparently, the news has hit Bamako that white people don’t feel cold. Ever. On my sotrama the prontike was amazed that I was comfortable without a jacket. Emilia was also told by a little boy that she was a very “brave and strong woman” because she didn’t get cold. He continued that he thought he’d probably die in the cold, the snow would kill him. So, plus of being a toubabou, you will survive in lower temperatures. I think anyone from Bamako would too, so long as they have a good coat, but I’ll take credit where it’s given.

In other news, Mali just lost their match against “Les éléphants” de Côte d’Ivoire. Unfortunate, but predictable, the Ivoirians are total beasts on the field, and the Malians were all conserving their strength for later games with their European teams. Honestly, everyone was very pleasantly surprised that they made it this far, and all the supporters interviewed on the news said that they were proud of the players who “played well,” and did their best. They will play Ghana to determine 3rd and 4th place, as Côte d’Ivoire tries it’s luck with Zambia. Luckily both the games will be on Sunday, so I’ll get to see the final CAN matches. I’ll be kinda sad when it’s over. It’s been fun, a good conversation starter, and the source of a lot of dynamism in my house.

I think I’ll have to get a Seydou Keita sticker before things settle down…just for fun. I mean…we are from the same clan, and he’s definitely made of awesome.

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Midterm Evaluations

I would be lying if I didn’t say that the last week was hard. It really tried me and I was MORE than ready to talk to my mom when we finally got the chance. I was feeling really homesick, although that’s pretty common for this point in the term (as my wise mother pointed out). As I’ve already mentioned, I have trouble staying in the same place for long. If I were at Carleton, I’d be having the same problem. I never feel crummy enough to leave, I’m always happy to be where I am, but I do begin to think fondly of my next destination. This is both helped and hurt by talking to mom. Helped, in that she knows me well enough to talk me back into shape. Hurt, because usually she is my next destination, and I want to head home more than ever.

I think the other tricky thing, is that I have to start making plans for next year. I’ve never been good at the whole long-term planning thing, and looking at all these classes, housing, internships, summer job offers, major requirements, and future study abroad options is probably starting to freak me out. Scratch the probably. I can’t complain much, I have tons of help from faculty and friends at home, so things haven’t gotten too stressful. But it definitely doesn’t improve my mood. And, once you combine it with daily fears about getting lost, sick, or overwhelmed, it compounds into a lot of stress.

It’s hard, it’s been a hard few weeks, but none of us can say that they haven’t been without value or (arguably) the most awesome in our lives. Not necessarily always the best moments of our lives, but I think pretty much every moment has been awe inspiring. And, at the same time that I can go on about how hard the trip has been, that would be counterproductive, unfair, and (in reality), dishonest. I was talking to a friend the other day – a future international relations major – and as we were discussing Mali’s telecommunications I told her I wished she was here to see all these things and draw research/conclusions I would never think of. Anyways, she told me that she thought she would have trouble adjusting. This reminded me of my initial thoughts as I prepared for my grand voyage. The truth is, as I packed my suitcase, I had no idea what to expect, and so I expected the worst. I’m ashamed to say, that part of me really didn’t believe it when people told me that I’d be able to buy (almost) anything here, and I think I expected Bamako to be WAY less developed than it is, and my house to be far less accommodating. I could not have been more wrong. You can find almost anything here. Some things (like chocolate) are more expensive, but you can find it! Bamako is bustling and filled with plenty of high end venues, and my house is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen…ever. To get to the point, Mali surprised me in the best of ways, and while some things have (undeniably) been hard, the vast majority of my experience has been pleasant. So, while adjusting has been a challenge it was not half as bad as I thought it would be.

The fact is, I get into slumps. My family kinda has a thing for self-loathing and indecision, and I’m really good at both of them. I also, however know their cure. Movement and action. And believe me, this past weekend they’ve worked their magic. First, there’s just the fact that I got myself to and from Point Sud alone. That made me happy. Then there were all the people. The people (as you’ve probably already sensed from this blog) are really what make this country one of the best I’ve visited. They make every day an adventure.

I had my best sotrama experience on Saturday night, coming home from Point Sud. The prontike packed us in like sardines – we were WAY over capacity even for Bamako standards, and I was predicting people would be grumpy and cramped. Quite the contrary. Women laughed as they squeezed onto others’ laps or the floor, then everyone began clapping their hands and singing, and one of them told me to clap and dance as well. It was so fun, and we laughed our way to our destinations. As I got off, they all smiled and said goodbye and I felt so happy. Where else does a group of strangers squeezed so tight they can hardly breath decide to sing and dance and laugh together? Today’s experience was just as positive. After being high-fived by at least 5 little kids on the way to the highway, I climbed on a sotrama with a prontike who knew me. A football match was on, so the streets were especially quiet. Mali miraculously made it into the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations, so everyone was gathered around the televisions waiting to see what would happen. Anyway, after I exited the sotrama, I ran into a little old woman who took my hand, ran through the Bambara greetings with me, and invited me to dinner. Sweet no? The old women here are the BEST. My favorite lives on the same street as Point Sud. I had a similar experience with her, only she and I are both Keitas. When she found that out she was INCREDIBLY excited and made sure not to forget my name. Anyways, as I walked back there was a shout from one of the windows: “Mali a gagné!” The joy in the street was magnificent to behold and I wish you could have heard the roar that went up gradually as the city saw the last minutes of the the game. The match finished on our tv within seconds of my arrival. Ada caught me up in a hug, squealing and clapping, and Fanta was on her feet dancing from joy.

Such are the moments when I truly love Mali. Moments of independence, empowerment, and connection. Granted, these are the moments that make any experience worthwhile, but having them in country as overwhelming as Mali is a special treat. There are still things I miss (skim milk for one – whoever meets me at the airport, bring me ice cold skim milk and I’ll love you forever), and there are still things that are hard (like getting to know my family despite the fact that they work all week and I’m often gone on the weekend). But, I’m starting to truly understand what a good friend of mine meant when he said that “Africa gets under your skin, and you miss it all the time when you’re away.” Moreover, I’m beginning to comprehend what all the past Mali participants meant when they said this would change us, that it would take time to get adjusted, that there would be moments you’d hate, but that every moment counts towards one of the most influential and incredible experiences we can get at Carleton.

So, all in all, I’m still happy to be hear, and I can’t wait for our last five weeks. I can only hope that they are full of equally rich, challenging, fun, scary, interesting, intense, exhausting, difficult and poignant moments that I can relate in due course to you.

❤ Farima

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My Blogspot

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More info…

Mom just sent me a link to this guy’s blog and he seems to have more info and a better grasp of the situation than I did. Note also, that his blog title is brilliant and that he too recommends Habib Koité! Anyways, he goes on at length in his latest post about the situation in the north and the protests here in Bamako. Enjoy!

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