Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wijila and a lesson

What more could I want? A patient Sonrai woman (Zubba) helping with my culinary skills and teaching me health-related vocabulary the whole day! Sweet!

The meeting I had this morning with the Health & Hygiene Committee was surprisingly non-Malian. They were there on-time, we got to business without the requisite gossipping, and out in 15 minutes! They will all start the extensive survey to find 150 families to manage our garbage cans. Met up with my teammate and we went to market to get wijila fixins. The spice guy and ladies waiting to buy were impressed with my "deydey" skills. But I had a cheat sheet Zubba gave me.

I enjoy the snacks I get alongside the women too. They prepared this dried-then-re-hydrated tuber (not manioc, not yam) with spices. Yum. We talked a lot about puberty and girls dealing with periods here. A subject I had never learned the vocab for with male tutors, and was very thankful for Zubba's help. I need all this information for my health curriculum I am teaching beginning in the Fall. But wow, the horror stories she was telling. Girls who double and triple shorts under their wrap skirt for 3 or 4 days never changing them...only to smell and walk funny; girls getting cut up from dried matter on poorly tied cloth; and mothers or older sisters who seem to have forgotten how it was for them and don't help out! We also had the birds-and-the-bees chat in Sonrai. Lots of good vocab and even ways to explain things while being culturally sensitive. You don't have intercourse you have a "meeting with a man." They aren't days of high-fertility but the "mean days" (mean as in not nice). To help me out Zubba even produced her copy books from 1986-87 when she was in the 9th grade. Amazing. I really hope she gets better once she has her baby and can go back to Health School. She would make such a great health worker!

Once we started making the wijila, my basin got a bit dirty. In fact, evidently it is a faux pas to wear such nice clothing while cooking. Sheesh, I thought the Sonrai valued looking nice at all occasions! I was touched that though I am constantly called too skinny and weak, when we were kneading the dough the women saw I actually have a bit of umph. Yay. This round of wijila-making I learned some details on spice preparation I hadn't learned in Sala or with my host-family here. Like the redder the tomato powder the better (black means they roasted the dried tomato too long); you pound the kabe (I am sad I don't know the translation for this, I think I won't be able to find it stateside!) to remove the black powder that comes off and only use the white powder and mossy leaves remaining. Soaking the date-paste makes it easier to incorporate. Pounding the garlic makes the flavor come out. And one can leave out the peppers if desired.

Rain forced the wijila making operation inside--at least now Oumar and Bebe couldn't trampled our formed dough. The sauce turned out a bit salty--but other than that it was delicious!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Nearly defeated

At my own game! I played Scrabble with Dr. Diarra and he nearly beat me! I guess I can't dumb it down too much, even when we play in English. Course, he clearly knows Scrabble and said he had played in French many a time. I mean, he knew how to make 3 and 4 words a turn AND how to attach well--like turning "you" into "your" and "how" into "show". Next time I'm gonna get my Scrabble on!

Monday, July 23, 2007

DJ on the Radio

My second or third time doing this went much smoother. I feel more confident without a script even and just focusing on a dialogue with the "animateur." Today M. Haidara and I talked about the health of pregnant women. I was amused how he would just answer his cell phone during the show. Our main message was for women to come to the hospital for deliveries. But we covered everything from the signs of eclampsia to nutritious food, from birth spacing to birth certificates. And of course M. Haidara made a political comment of how Malian President ATT has helped pregnant women to by making C-sections subsidized. Even the transport to get a C-section case to the hospital is free. We talked about the difficulties in convincing people to trust the educated staff of the hospital. Tradition is good, but here are people given to you by the Grace of God to serve your community and ensure healthy babies and mothers. I also liked his analogy of how pregnancy is like 'a women who is asked by her husband to fetch water. She doesn't know if she'll get water until she has made the journey to the river and back; and she doesn't know if there will be a lion waiting to attack along the way--but if she communicates with her husband and understands the risks in going to the river, it is more like she will return with water and all in one piece." Here, without ultrasound and amniotic fluid testing, etc. they don't know about lurking lions; but it is amazing with what diagnoses I've seen made correctly just based on experience and intuition. Plus, you have to believe nature wants the baby to be born in good health too. Went to Bebe's for dinner after the show; they get branched electricity from the cell tower, meaning we got to watch a ridiculous Qing-dynasty kung-fu movie. I miss Chinese. Helped my host-sister with her English when I got home. Even just basic sounds and letters need work. I hope I can help her enough to be able to pass her bacc!!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Discovering cultural universals

We all know the story "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." Well, so do the kids in my host family. I just had to laugh tonight as we were waiting for dinner the boy in charge of herding kept telling the octogenarian of a grandmother there was a hyena in the pen (of course there wasn't). She'd get up wielding a stick and run into the pen only to come back out again and scold him for his trickery. This went on for an hour. Finally the older nephew living with us told the boy-herder to stop scaring him with stories of vicious hyenas. He was also giving the boy a tough time about his size, calling him "kilowatt". Everyone has to have someone to pick on...the kid picks on the helpless grandmother; older children use younger as whipping-boys. And I think that is why more than once I witness small children beating up on animals.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Like my phone, I am without charge. Tired.

I finished writing the survey to ask the school girls and get a sense of their knowledge before we start the program; now I have to track down all their families to conduct the survey.

I spent lunch with Adiza now in her husband's home but it was somewhat awkward--after a few handfuls he got up saying he was full and that we women wanted our time to chat anyway. "Men and women aren't the same you know." He says as he leaves the room. Really? Wow. I had no idea!!

Back at the hospital, I waited. And waited. In fact I would say I could add "waiting" as a honed skill onto my resume. Finally my project guys showed up and we could have our meeting. Usually I use this time to work on language, but the maternity ladies were speaking Bambara on account of our Sage Femme being from the south. As much as I wanted to get incredibly frustrated at the two project coordinators, I swallowed my pride (question: what does pride taste like?) and though one was totally silent AGAIN as the other went off complaining and bragging about his skill set, I too just went for passive acceptance.

At least some women made me feel better as I left the hospital asking me about the many motos parked outside the gate. "Is one of these yours?" An older lady asked. "No, I don't have a moto, only my own two feet." I replied. Much to their amusement. I got a few, "Eh, she speaks Sonrai!"s and then got laughter as I went off on motos saying the drivers have no brains and they'll kill us all with their recklessness.

I was thankful for Bebe's "kangb'izey" (lit "children of the hand" though any gift tends to be "child of the ----, whatever place or thing you are coming from be it a trip, the market, your house). It ended up being my dinner. I am feeling the distance from the harvest and still the lack of good grazing grass despite rains having come: all we have is salty rice now. And tonight if it weren't for these two mangoes and fish from Bebe, all I would have eaten would have been mushy millet porridge. My host-sister and I split the gift from Bebe, and then some of the kids got our leftovers. One even pounded the skin and bones from the fish until he could stomach it. And my mango skins got eaten too. I was ashamed that when I awoke to my windows banging open and shut because of a dust storm approaching, I was hungry. How were they sleeping through the night?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Back to work

A beautiful slow rain known as "handiiri fin" in Sonrai--a Seattle rain, one that starts in the morning and clears up by noon--has it's own word!

I tried to find a laundry lady who lives by the river, but she had to move her tent (she is of the fisherman class) and was no where to be found. I've decided doing my laundry is just a waste of time. And hey, lots of my co-workers have someone do theirs too, so I don't feel too patronne-y about it.

On the way to the hospital many people greeted me as "way hiiji" or "wedding girl" cause of my henna. I got frustrated at the hospital because in the month I was gone many many new stagiares came who don't know me. I got a lot of "Who is this Anasara who knows Sonrai?" So I just started saying, "And who are you?" I mean seriously, I am probably older than most considering DEF+3 (9th grade education with three years at the health-worker school). Yet there is no initial respect. Even with the more seasoned staff, no matter how close I feel we may get, I still am an outsider. And it is easy to get discouraged when Bebe didn't do baby weighings the whole time I was gone. The worst past is that the women who came this morning asked me where I had gone. They said they came but no one was here. This is how we lose people. Bebe claims there is no interest at the hospital to help her out--but this morning two nurses, a stagiare, and a matronne all helped me out off and on. I am thinking of doing a training to get people energized. It is difficult when people who help don't know how to use the scale or put the charts in the wrong order or can't find makes women frustrated and not want to come back. Plus, the Gao representative from the regional bureau came down to review our program and declared it insufficient. We need our own room dedicated to nutrition and another re-hab room so mothers understand how to make the milk and porridge and can stay at the hospital until their baby is better.

I passed out the stuffed animals to the maternity staff for their kids and a few for babies who were just born. As much as I wanted to use them as incentives for mothers who frequent the baby weighings, it would get problematic when the toys ran out. And some kids are frightened by the somewhat lifelike cats! Bebe made a girl cry with the frog and Diarra tricked Denbele with the panther holding it as if he had come in from hunting...from afar, Denbele thought it was real! Ah, fun and games...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Here comes the bride!

Well, okay, so in Malian weddings she doesn't really come or go anywhere. She sits under a white sheet for three days until the husband's cousins and brothers come get her to take her to her husband where she then sits in his house for 7 days until finally they present themselves as a couple, sign the marriage certificate at the Mayor's and enjoy their new life together.

My good friend and co-worker Adiza got married this past weekend. She had very little to do with the festivities however. It was like we were partying for her, and M. Maiga her new hubbie, but with neither present at the festivities. At first we, the close friends of the bride, sat with her and got henna done on our hands and feet and got our hair done. They wanted to "install" a "koyra boro hiiri" headpiece for me, but I declined. And when I say install, I mean install. A large leather strap is attached to a headband which has a woven crest on top and is braided into the hair. Then strips of beaded bands are also braided in. Two clumps of dried dung are attached near the ears and other large yellow and red beads are woven in on top. Side tassles attached, other metal coins and cowries tied onto leather train. If you can't picture it yet, voici my co-worker Bebe:

The women who did my henna were very interested in the Anasara who speaks Sonrai and has lived in Mali almost a year. It was hard to be around so many people who didn't know me (Adiza's parents are in Gao, that was where the first part of the ceremony took place). The griot walked in while I was cat napping, but I still heard her say "What's this Anasara doing here?" And then she proceeded to make fun of Cisse's. How droll.

All day I enjoyed the conversations the women had: how to please your husband, who of their neighbors is a witch, how to find a good calabash...and because I was reading the Red Tent at the time, I was reminded of that community of women. More and more ladies piled into the salon, probably 30 in all, in their finest basin "completes" and soon it was time for lunch. I ate with Adiza, though she was still under her sheet.

After resting and waiting for the sun to drop lower in the sky, the women all washed and changed into white basin. Adiza stayed under her sheet. The takamba dance party began with an old griot MCing and a male band, but the guests were all women. Of course, lots of neighboring men came to watch us dancing. Still, bride nor groom participates. I danced with the Ansongo folk, the women of "La Sante" and with Mariams. The griot guy even raised my arm a few times (how you declare someone can dance) but I left early--too early to get my boisson! Gasp!

I brought Adiza her gift of new sheets the next day and got the boisson they set aside for me. Today we chatted mostly about beauty products. A woman came to bless Adiza and give her perfumes and traditional medicines. Bebe, laughing, gave me a little bottle of aphrodisiac. She says, "You put it here, here, here and here a ben. It's done." Ha. The last thing I need is more Malian men pursuing me! Ack! In fact, some of the male nurses and doctors came up from Ansongo to greet Adiza. "Major" noticed the little bottle near my purse and gave me a hard time about it.

We drank doonu, which is pounded millet mixed with spices and sour milk. Nothing too remarkable happened today--I think the whole wedding ceremony is time for the bride to rest before she begins a long life of hard work with little appreciation.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Taking my time

After getting back in-country the week of July 4th, doing medical tests because I am at my mid-service (AHH!), partying with staff and PCVs American-style (with real ketchup for the burgers and everything!), I am finally on a bus back to site. I guess it took so long to re-adjust cause getting some parental lovin' and perks of more-developed country life made it all the harder to come to Mali.

I saw my Nigerian friend on the bus as well as the school director, who didn't greet me. I am so Malian now, haha, demanding greetings from people I know! I gave the Bambi stickers away to two kids who gave up their seat for me (who therefore spent the two hours on top of coolers full of ice). I don't think they knew what to do with the stickers despite my demo. And the mother complained of headaches and fever and wanted "kinin" (how they pronounce "quinine" and basically the word for every medicine). At least they are predictable...

I got off the bus and immediately the bus guys and other townsfolk said this friend or that friend liked me, if I am single, where my husband was...oi! I literally screamed "I don't like anybody!" And stormed off. Some welcome home...I swallowed my pride and still bought the bus manager tea and sugar--guaranteeing a seat on any bus ride back to Gao.

The kids came running to help me with my bags. The family was double-greeting, I think they thought I wasn't coming back! I especially like how Nangey, one of the elder women, grabbed my hand and held my shoulder and really asked how my parents were. So often the greetings sound so insincere because they repetitive and said in a drone...but this time, she really meant it. All the worries I had about being back melted away. They really do care about me here.

But Mali really wanted to remind me I was back: as I fell asleep on the roof a blister beetle exploded under me. I washed the acid off and took antihistamine to cover my bases, but my God, it stung!

Thursday, July 5, 2007


I photographed my host-brother Abba in the family's cattle corral. He has a way with animals; he is seemingly fluent in chicken or sheep or bull, clicking away to subdue the animals. This young bull hardly put up a fight, his mom on the other hand grazed the cheek of my older host-brother with her horns!

The story of Abba intrigues me. My host-father's mother (our "kaagaa" or "grandmother") went to Mecca on her Hadj (in fact she has been three times). The most recent time she came back with Abba. He had been orphaned, left in Mecca at the age of 4. A few years ago, his birth-mother comes to town looking for him. She is Sudanese. Evidently he refused to go with her, and is essentially considered one of La Famille Cisse.

I appreciate the intensity with which Abba gazes at the beholder.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Moseying across the Maghreb

11 days in Tunisia and Morocco with my parents was a wonderful vacation, allowing me to relax, enjoy history, the sights and new cultures, and catch up with news from home. Plus play loads of Scrabble (final score 8-4, Mom winning) and get a good dose of hugs.

We started in Tunisia where we visited Tunis, the Hammamet coastline (loving the whiff of Jasmine in the air, the national flower), Sousse with its old Medina and souks (young Tunisians were playing local music from their Motorola phone sitting atop the tower of the Rabat), El Jem and its Roman Colosseum (321 AD), Monastir and Tunisia's revolutionary Habib Bourguiba's mausoleum, Gabes and its palmeraie, the island of Jerba where a synagogue was built in Nebuchadnezzar's time and where Ulysses stopped in the Odyssey, Matmata and the troglodyte homes, Douz for a camel ride into the Sahara, Tozeur for the waterfalls and Star Wars site (plus on the way we followed part of the path used in the Paris-Dakar rally), Nefta for winding old-town streets and more palms, Roman temples at Sufe Tula, the 4th holiest site in Islam (Kairouan Mosque), and Carthage. My favorite parts were jumping into the Mediterranean with all my clothes on cause the tour hadn't scheduled beach time, eating the original "fig newton," eating olives produced by 2000 year old trees, and guides. The one at the waterfalls taught us "I love you" in Arabic and called us gazelles or gazellinas as we clambered through the rocky landscape. The one at Bourguiba's mausoleum would say "gold leaf. touch. sit take photo. upstairs, take photo. box (the tomb), 7 tons. very heavy. guard, take photo." And the one at Carthage kept saying the Phonecians would sacrifice babies (as he drew his finger across his neck) while the Romans were civilized and sacrificed animals. Pleasant.

In Morocco, we basically saw all the Imperial cities. Starting in Casablanca, though all we saw was the waves of the Atlantic crashing a shore as we got transported from the airport to the tour bus, we made our way first to Rabat, the capital. Along the rode we saw parts of the "tin towns" of Casa, the slums. Almost 2 million living there without water, sewers, and sporadic electricity. Then, in grave contrast we pull up to the King's palace, which he doesn't really use. Why can't they turn that into a university? And why can't the royal family use some of their wealth to build housing for Casa's squatters? Alas... We continued on to the late King's tomb, on a plaza where I was accosted by a woman offering Henna. She literally grabbed my arm are started squeezing out the dye!! We had no money yet (one I forgot to change my CFA into Euro or something internationally accepted and two there hadn't been time for a bank stop yet), and I couldn't pay her despite her quickly finishing my hand. It was incredibly poor, and faded quickly. Toured our first Moroccan Medina and checked into our very ornate hotel. After the capital we went onto Meknes to see the mausoleum of the first Arab sultan here. A town nearby is his holy city, non-Muslims aren't allowed to set foot in it. But five trips to the city for Muslims is equivalent to one trip to Mecca. The Roman ruins at Volubilis were the most impressive we've seen, complete with mosaics in situ. Sad part is, as soon as they were unearthed, they've begun to fade. The whole excavation was well done with reconstructed arches and lettering, and whole city streets intact. Fes ended up being my favorite. We had a great local guide who gave more personal stories at the sites. We toured the souk and the heart of the medina while stopping at local craftsman's stores: the bronze work carved with a tiny hammer and needle to achieve the detail (the craftsman we observed made the doors on the King's palace), the rug makers who charmed us with hospitality and mint tea (we found out the women making the rugs only get $0.50 an hour, but at least it is a job! One weaver even let me tie on 6 knots or so), cactus silk weavers (they spin the silk down the narrow streets and dye everything naturally), and the tannery. Wow. They use 1200 year-old practice to tan the hides. The young men working there have shorted life spans because of the limestone mixture they use to treat the skins--we actually saw a guy climb into the big tumbler to remove hides. It was interesting to see the natural dyes: green from mint, yellow from saffron, red from poppies, blue from indigo or cobalt, and black from mascara. We went out of the city a bit to see the ceramic workshop, where again young men had not-so-great working conditions drying olive pits and skins in the sun for fuel, stoking the fires which produced very black smoke, throwing and painting the pieces, and carving tiles for mosaics. We saw the Switzerland of Morocco, Ifrane, which produces the cedar wood used in traditional Andalusian architecture. Marrakech included a tour of the medina (not as impressive as the one in Fes) and an evening excursion to the plaza Djemma el-Fna, where for the price of my ONE campaign bracelet given to the vendor, Dad and I got free mint tea. Plus we saw snake charmers, dancers and performers while people-watching--it was great that at night the square was full of locals enjoying the entertainment. The Majorelle garden was beautiful. The French artist was fond of cactus and Berber wares. Our last night we were taken out to the suburbs (passing two McDonald's on the way!!) where quite frankly, Morocco embarrassed itself. Here was a show specifically tailored to tourists, and the horsemen weren't very skilled, the dancers off beat and not in line, the belly dancer not even able to belly dance, and most young participants looking completely disinterested. And the food was mass produced. At least the fruit was fresh, a fact we found to be true all over the country. Back in Casablanca I had to say goodbye to the parents again, tear! But enjoyed my day seeing the Art-deco style of the buildings and the world's 3rd largest Mosque with the world's tallest minaret built by the last King of Morocco.

We laughed at Dad trying to use his 30-yr old French (or was that 300 yr old?? Hehe. Habibi!)

Tough to readjust to a not-so-developed country and have only a little bit of home only to start my 15 month countdown to the end...


All tales, opinions, and attitudes are those Joanna has experienced and subsequently composed. This Blog does not reflect the ideas or policies of the U.S. Peace Corps, its employees and volunteers, at large.