Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Last Post

So, last month I decided to go up north and visit the region of Mali known as Dogon country...and then beyond. The trip was awesome and I really enjoyed my time up there,. We continued past Duentza, the furthest north village with a volunteer in it and then went to Hambori under the allure of elephants and world renowned rock climbing. It was awesome and we did some climbing and saw elephants. I'm sad to leave village and I didn't want to go home, but I was able to stay for another month and get almost all of my pending project stuff finished beforehand. Here's how it all happened:

In late February I had just finished building the last of my improved latrine slabs with concrete and was invited to go up north for a music festival in Bandiagara. As I was leaving my village, I was invited to play in the annual Students vs. Teachers soccer game, which I unwillingly signed on for. Initially I was on the teachers' team, but while walking to the field I was stolen by the students and ended up on their side...which was much more disorganized.
These are the boys I played with (I'm the one in the back middle). We lost 2-0.

There were 3 villages worth of fans at the game, but Kunjahin was my favorite. She kept trying to dance with me even though I was covered in sweat from the game. Also, the short sleeved jean jacket/long skirt combo was pretty awesome.

After the game I rode into Manantali to catch two consecutive days of 10 hour transport to Sevare and then another hour or two to Bandiagara, where the music and cultural festival was being had. The festival was made up of a bunch of different events and all of the surrounding villages showed up in their ceremonial clothes and shot off old rifles that more closely resemble muskets. One of the main events was Malian Wrestling. Which, is borderline Greco-roman, but with less structured rules and what seemed to be heavily bribed referees. One of the matches involved a guy that had to be about 6'6" and 250 pounds with a kid that was maybe 5'10" 150 pounds. Still, it was fun to watch, but difficult to take pictures of but I did my best.

One of the villages close to Bandiagara in a dance circle

My buddy Will with one of his village elders in Bandiagara.

WrestleMania Africa 2011: The top picture shows the ring and the bottom one shows our view from the nose-bleed seats.

The weekend festival was great and we hung out for its entirety, leaving for the cliffs on Monday. We arrived in Djigibombo where another volunteer Andrew lives and stayed at his counterpart's Campement. We got in just before sunset and walked around the next morning before setting off to hike down the cliffs.

Sunset in Djigibombo
Town Shot #1: the architecture out in Dogon country is way different from where I live because there is a ridiculous amount of rocks. Also, they dry their millet, grains, and onions on the roof.
Town Shot #2: grain storage areas and stone fences

I forgot the name for this place but it's where the village elders meet to discuss village politics and stuff like that. The roof is really low to prevent people from standing up during meetings and getting physical. Also, "No Girls Allowed!" That's an indirect translation of the red sign on the right reading: "Interdit aux Femmes."
If you guessed that the guy crouched down in the picture was holding a porcupine head and its quills, you were right.

After taking a quick tour of the town and saying our goodbyes to Andrew's counterpart we started on the 5 or 6 km walk down the cliffs to the village of Kanikombole (pronounced: canny comb olay) where Lindsey lives. The cliffs were pretty steep and so was the main road leading down it. We took the foot path, but before we got off the main road we saw a funny sign.
I think the picture says everything
The beginning of the walk down the cliffs into Kanikombole
Ravine picture
The bottom of the cliffs leading into the town.
One of the locals on a loom making fabric I think

Mud Mosque in Kanikombole

Cliff dwellings in the middle of the cliff you can kinda see them

Closer up
Lindsey and Sara in one of the cliff dwellings closer to the base of the cliff

Me at the doorway...we were told that they were pygmies with wings which is how they could fit through this doorway and fly up to the cliff dwelling that was 50 feet above us.
View of the surrounding area as seen from the cliff dwellings. The coast was clear.

After eating lunch we made our way back to Bandiagara to push on towards Sara's village, Pellini, about 40 km east (I think). It's much smaller than Djigibombo and Kanikombole but still had some pretty great hiking and cliff dwellings with surprises inside.
Ravine outside of Pellini

We found an interesting dwelling about 3km outside of Pellini...
This is what was inside

Grain storage areas in the cliff
Old pieces of broken pottery were scattered around all of the dwellings

After 3 days or so in Pellini we went back into Bandiagara and then to Sevare to meet up with the rest of the climbing group headed to Hambori. The drive to Hambori was pretty rough because the bus was exceptionally hot, but we got in around 3pm and got the word that there were elephants in the vicinity, prompting us to mount up again and ride off to see them before the sun went down. However, there was no guarantee that we would see them so negotiating a price was a big hassle beforehand. Having people in our group that spoke Bambara, French, Dogono, Dogoloso, Fulfulde and Malinke gave us a bit more street credit and we were able to get a decent price for the whole thing.
Le Main de Fatim (The hand of Fatim) marking the entrance to Hambori
Elephants in the distance
Me in an elephant footprint

A dozen or so elephants swampin' around

Group shot 1
The watering hole sans elephants

Elephant related deforestation
Sizing up the first day of climbing

Group shot 2
Me and the Hand of Fatima
Cool rock formation with a big cave in the middle
Me, Nick and Brendan hiking around

Campement we stayed at in the foreground
Hambori Tando (highest point in Mali) in the distance

The last day of climbing wasn't done on the Hand, but on a cube of rock in front of it. It was an enormous slab of rock, but with the Hand in the background it pretty much loses all grandeur.

The little cube
Me climbing the crack route on the cube

We ended our second day of climbing and our trip with a camp fire made of all the sparse twigs we found in the desert surroundings and roasted marshmallows.
Me and the mallow

One last parting shot of the Hand

So, that marks the end of my service. The north of Mali has the most incredible landscape and animals in all of the country. I'm not excited to be home in the states, but with the added time given to me to finish my projects I feel confident that I've left my village with the know-how to maintain the projects I did and hopefully inspire them to be even more motivated with the next volunteer. Currently I am back at my parents house for another week or two and no longer in the ungodly heat of West African hot season.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

November, December, New Years 2011 & Festival Sur le Niger

I'm sorry for the long delay in updating this but I've been lazy. However, I've been taking lots of pictures so hopefully this should be a good chance to catch up on what it looks like here during cold season, which is just a relative title. Also, this is just mainly going to be pictures and quick descriptions. I don't have much time and I'll just let the pictures do the talking. I hope you like them.

In November I met up with some friends and went out to Siby, which is a small town outside of Bamako with a lot of awesome rock formations that make for perfect climbing. We went out there with a French friend from up north and got a guide to take us to some of the cooler more difficult climbs and had a blast. Thanks Mom and Dad for bringing out the gear, that was a great Christmas present, and it's getting lots of use.
The climbers: Nick, Artur, Sara, Me and Owen
Getting my belay on, I'm really only good as an anchor
More climbing, but not so steep
To the top.
Me on the top of the arch overlooking the Siby valley
Then in December I went on a hike up into the cliffs surrounding the lake in Manantali and got some good shots of the scenery around the area I live. The hiking was a little tough, but there was a well made path leading up to the fields, at which point bushwhacking was necessary, but completely worth it for the views.

The road leading up to the top of the Manantali cliffs

The trail was littered with monkey corpses (2 shown here) to ward off genies from destroying the crops of the local farmers...or something like that, I feel a lot was lost in translation.
Gap between rocks showing the lake, though the visibility was bad.

The perfect spot for cliff jumping if I could only find a way to get down to that whiter rock...and if I were allowed to swim.
The view of the ridge surrounding the lake

Now onto New Years: we spent some time in Bamako at a friend's house and shot off lots of fireworks. It was quite a good time.

It all started out with sparklers...

Then came the grand finale.

I'm almost positive that no one got hurt during this little shindig, but I was the one taking the pictures so clearly it couldn't have been my fault if anything did end up happening. Also, surprisingly, the house didn't burn down either.

The day after the new years party we were hanging out in the quarter of town where there just so happens to be an amusement park. Intrigued by the concept of its existence in Mali, we mustered the courage to go inside and found that there were absolutely no rules which lead to a fantastic new years day. Here's some pictures from that:
The ticket office, each ride was about 40 cents.
(Tri, Sara, Me, Dina, Jessica, and Gloria)
Bumper Cars
Swings in their tame state
Swings getting warmed up (me in the blue shirt)
This video was not sped up, it was just really scary fast (I hope it works, because it was not working for me earlier).

Tea Cups, if they were actually operational I would have thrown up.

During the middle of January I spent a lot of time at site trying to finish my project and find a solution to the current well problem I'm having. We have decided to wait until hot season to finish it so the water table will drop and we won't have to pull out so much water before we get to the digging surface. The women's association is already getting excited about starting their large scale garden and saving seeds. I finished all the latrine slabs and am working up the confidence to attempt the 2 meter wide well cover. I'm just worried about the shear weight of it and moving it around. It's going to be a difficult maneuver and probably take all the manpower in the village which may be tough to get together when the weather heats up.


Every February in Segou (about 4 hours east of Bamako) there is a big Malian music festival called Festival Sur le Niger and although I hate the Malian music they constantly play on repeat in the busses while going between cities, the musicians that were featured in the festival were incredible. The stage is a floating platform on the Niger river which creates a really cool setting for the entire show with lights reflecting off the water and the shiny fabric worn by the performers. It started on the 1st of February and lasted through the 6th. There were a lot of volunteers there from all over West Africa and it was fun to hang out and meet them. Most days consisted of waking up late, showing up to the beer tents, watching music on the beach and getting mixed up in random drum circles in between.

Me getting into the local attire with a turban. It was also surprisingly cold out, so it helped a lot.
Late night stage
Jembe lesson with Kante
Earlier on in the night stage

That's about all I've got for now, but later this month I'm planning a trip up to the northern part of the country, Inshallah. I have to complete my well project before I'm going to let myself leave my village. Life is going well and I'm still enjoying being here, though the transport problems I've been having recently about getting out of Kita and back to Manantali have been bumming me out. I hope all is well back in The States and with any luck I'll be back in about 7 or 8 months.