I'm Jim Cave, I'm in Mali and these are my notes

I'm Jim Cave, I'm in Mali and these are my notes

Sunday, August 29, 2010


It’s been a while since my last post, but I’ll try to do a few while I’m here at Tubani so (yes it’s two words) this time. There are now 80 of us trying to use the same crappy household modem so I can’t promise anything.

There has been a lot that has happened in the last few weeks and I’ll try to break it all down in somewhat chronological order. As of last episode the protagonist of this story, me, had just found out the village he is going to stay at for the next two years. Since that time I have spent a week at site, finished the first section of my language training and am now finishing training before I swear in. To put it shortly, homestay is done. Or as one would say in Bambara, Stag abana!

Firstly, I’ll give my impression of site. I’m in a small village outside of San in the Segou region. I know that means absolutely nothing to most of you, so I’ll give you a brief description. If I were to give you a topographical map of San, then I’d hand you a blank sheet of paper. The place is incredibly flat and is no where near as lush as Niamana. I’ve traded cliffs and an pretty amazing variety of vegetation for brush, a lot of cool trees and a astounding amount of horses (there are hardly any horses in the rest of Mali, but for some reason they are everywhere in San). When you put this together with the relatively plentiful amount of booze due to the large Christian population, the brothels and the large herds of cattle it feels like I live in the wild wild west of Mali.

The Stag house in San is awesome. Many PCV think that it is the best PCV house in Mali, and I’m pretty impressed myself. We have the largest library in Peace Corps Mali and a cistern that functions as a sort of “cold” tub. To top it all off the other trainees moving into the house are a really good group.

My village is about 25K away from San (an easy bike ride) and is pretty intimate. A giant Bao Bao tree is right outside my compound and the tree is home to around twenty giant cranes. Immediately out of my front door is a mammoth place for me to put a garden. Two other solid additions to the location are ducks and pigs. I’m the third volunteer at my site and the girl (http://jenniferinmali.blogspot.com/ ) I’m replacing is doing a third year in Bamako with my buddy Fletcher (info below).

I might make another post on homestay, but I’ll sum it up briefly. It’s the fasting month here, and ironically that means that I ate like a freaking king. Once night falls people go nuts and consume a great, great deal of food very quickly. I did not fast, but enjoy the feasting anyways. I’ve passed my language test, and discounting disaster should swear in on Friday.

PST Friends of note (I have many friends here, but a few warrant a mention. We are pretty much family at this point)

Anderson- By partner in time at all times here in Mali. I think we may make an odd pair, but we are a pair none that less. Back in Montana if I had the labor statistics on number of people doing a given profession opera singer would be a laughably small number. Anderson is an opera singer and is now for some reason in Africa hanging out with me a lot. Whether kicking it at the local hostel, climbing cliffs or watching an episode of Life at 1AM in the library after a night at the Trash Pile; Anderson has been by my side. During homestay we were living at rival dugu tiki houses. However, I think Anderson’s heavenly voice, and my charming good looks may have brought peace to the two families.

Fletcher- Born in Paris, went to boarding school and college in Portland. Awesome. Nuff said

Ryan- Those that know me well may know that I tend to have a lot of friends named Ryan. It should come as no surprise then that I have a good friend named Ryan here in Mali, but Ryan is different. It’s a girl! She is awesome and a fellow Poli Theory enthusiast.

Yet again the only time I can do this is at around 1am, so I’m not going to bother editing it very much.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Hanging with the Lions of Niamana

I’m leaving pretty early in the morning so this is going to be a shot post, but I’ll do my best to recount a pretty important last few weeks.
I’ve continued to live with the Diarras, and have learned a lot from them. My host mother is an amazing women that has helped me more than I can possibly describe. She will sit and listen to my terrible Bambara with great interest, and correct my pronunciation. Though her I’ve learned quite a bit about gender relations here in Mali. For instance, my host mother runs a stand at the market in Bamako (she can sling a lot of veggies) and is well respected in the community. Many important elder men come to pay her respects and in an family meeting I sat in she spoke with authority. Everyone knows she is very intelligent, very strong and knows how to manage. However, if a man (someone married) comes into the room she will give up her seat, and sit on the floor. It is not as bad as it sounds since people sit on the floor here all the time, but it is still a sign of submission. Women here can make a lot of money (their husbands have no control over) and have equal civil rights. Traditional values and roles still have women as a lesser position (largely for religious reasons), and that is the reality here. In Bambara, Diarra means lion, and if I have met a lion during my stay in Niamana it is certainly my host mother.

One of my host dads (it’s a strange situation) is the Imam at the local mosque (think of the priest or pastor). Last week he asked me if I wanted to go with him, at first I was going to say no, but then I reflected on the decision and decided I had nothing to lose. Last week was the first, and probably the last, time I’ll attend mosque. The place was packed as my crew rolled up in our Mercedes (I’m not joking I roll around Mali in a Mercedes) and step out into a mass of people. The mosque was literally overflowing with people sitting on the ground outside of the mosque. As one can imagine a honky rolling up to the mosque with the leader of the church drew a lot of looks, but no one got up. I was led into the Mosque proper where room was made for me and the service began. It was good to see my host dad in action, tending to his flock, and I was pretty impressed. First he read from the Quran in Arabic, but after he explained the passage to the people in Bambara (this is blasted all over town via loud speaker). Shortly after nuts were handed out in the service was over after about twenty minutes. People stay around, chatted and ate beans/goat out of communal bowls. All in all it was a good experience, but I do not want people to think I’m Muslim (for a number of reasons). Consequently, I don’t plan on making a habit out of attendance.

My language is progressing, and I’m pretty much at the level I need to be by the end of training. However, my Bambara is still worse than my four year old brother’s (he is awesome). Additionally, the little kids are now less annoying (though they still love them high fives).

Now for news that is hot off the press! I found out where I’m going to live for the nest two years! Though I can not mention specifics (policy) I’m in the Segou region and will be the third volunteer at my site. I think I’m going to be working with existing farmers associations and getting a millet grinder running. The town has around 2000 people and they are mostly farmers and herders. However, I have yet to go to site so I still have a lot of questions, but some of those should be answered in a blog post a week from now. Why you may ask? Because, I’m going there tomorrow morning! I have also met my Malian counterpart (partner), and he is pretty awesome. I haven’t asked him if I can write about him yet so I’ll leave it at that.

I’ve been think a lot a philosophy/ political theory lately (I have a lot of time to think about stuff). When I get more computer time expect a longish theory paper. Sorry if this is full of errors, I’m rather tired and don’t have time to proofread.