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

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Holidays Old and New

Certain times of the years are associated with family. These last few weeks have marked a huge milestone in my time spent here in Mali largely because we’ve entered into one of those time periods, the holiday season. The coming of Thanksgivings has really marked the transformation of San Kaw into a family. Sitting around a table composed of doors, eating native fowl along with the standards of stuffing and mashed potatoes and sharing what we are thankful for solidified my group of new friends into something more. For the next two years these guys are my family. However, another holiday has passed since my last blog post that I spent with my village family.

Tabaski is the largest holiday in the Islamic world and it was evident in the celebration put on in my village. The celebration lasts four day and it’s customs are sort of a fusion of Thanksgivings and Halloween, though the origin is very different. Everyone buys meat or slaughters an animal (in my village mostly goats) and eats a lot of a rare delicacy, meat. I also saw a lot of people making pasta from scratch which is a huge change from toh. Everyone is always eager to share their food, and this day was no different. I decided to walk around a greet people, I left with a plan. I was going to spend half the day in Sobala and the other half in other parts of town. Due to peoples hospitality the plan feel about and I didn’t even get to greet all my friends in Sobala before the sun feel. The first day of the four was filled the consumption of a jaw dropping amount of meat and at least two liters of tea. In addition to all of this, kids wander the streets and trick or treat sans costume. As far as days in site go, Tabaski was pretty awesome. My host family is Christian so they did not host a very large event, but they still took part in the fun that occurred. My host dad wandered around and had tea with many of his Muslim friends, and my uncle bought some meat.

Besides Tabaski I’ve spent a lot of time in the fields harvesting millet. Millet, the main ingredient in toh, is the staple crop for the region. All of the harvesting is done by had with the aim of a small knife and takes a little while to master. My speed has increased quite a bit since I started, but I’m still a lot slower than the guys that have been doing this all their lives. After harvesting gets done I expect things to slow down quite a bit, but I’m leaving for Bamako for training next week so I’m sure if I’ll see the change for a while.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tea Time

Halloween has come and past, November 1st marked the four months time spent here in Mali. This effectively means that I’ve spent a semester here and I’m still learning new things about this place everyday. Whether discovering a new trail that leads to a family that I didn’t know about, or how to properly harvest millet I’m starting to get the hang of this place.

This week marked the beginning of millet harvest, which is the largest and last crop coming out of the field in my village. People are noticeably more busy, but people still take the time to sit down and drink tea.

It would be pretty tough for someone who hasn’t been here to understand the importance of tea in the culture of Mali. Drinking tea is the national past time here, and people take it pretty seriously. Tea brewing ability is a skill that is prized and I am not the only volunteer that has attempted to improve there tea prowess. You might be thinking, “But Jim all you do to make tea is heat up water and put in the tea bag.” However, tea is way more than that here. First, heating up water is not nearly as simple as you would thinking. You have to light some coals and get them rolling. One technique, especially popular with the kids, is to grab the grill/coal holder thing and swing it around very fast with your arm fully extended. If you can’t picture that, YouTube Pete Townsend’s famous windmill strum on the guitar, remove the guitar/pick and replace them with a bucket filled with hot coals and you’ll get the idea. Second, all of the tea is loose leave (if it comes in a tea bag and you say “this is tea” they will look at you weird and tell you it is “Lipton”, not tea). Said tea is shoved into a small tea pot then placed along with the water onto the coals. Next you wait, from what I’ve noticed you pretty much just wing the length of time. Once the tea has brewed long enough you pour it into a second tea pot and add a shot glass or so of sugar to the tea (Malians love sugar). The second tea pot goes on the coals to heat for a while. Then the true skill is displayed. To dissolve the sugar the tea make pours the tea into a shot glass, the further apart the tea pot and the shot glass are from each other the better. You repeat this action a lot and serve the tea in a shot glass. That is the first round. You repeat all of these steps three times. I’m pretty sure the entire population of Mali is addicted to tea.

I'd have pictures, but the internet cafe lady is streaming some tunes and hogging all the bandwidth.