In our last post we discussed the creation of the room for the MOCHE Women. This past week we dedicated most of our time to building cocinas mejoradas or in English, improved cooking stoves, for some women in the co-op. Why would these women want a stove like this? Many women cook over open flames inside their homes, which cause asthma and other respiratory issues. Furthermore, firewood is scarce and expensive. Cocinas mejoradas use less wood, heat more efficiently, and have chimney’s which remove smoke from the home; all adding up to a healthier and more cost-effective way of cooking. These stoves consist of about 40 Adobe bricks, multiple clumps of mud (barro), and about twenty bricks (ladrillos). We contracted a local man, Andres, to help us put together each stove—we made seven. The reason we only made seven stoves is because there was a lot of labor involved—more than I expected. Each Adobe weighed around 40 to 50 pounds and had to be transported from one end of the village to the other. The mud had to be thoroughly mixed with water and placed into multiple buckets to be used by Andres. We all had experience rolling, shoving, and mentally willing the buckets to move, since each bucket weighed as much as we did. Once the mud was mixed and moved to the specified location, we became one with the mud. We slathered the mud on our hands and started laboriously working—or rather, playing—with the mud to cover all of the holes of the cocinas. At the end of the day, our hands, legs and faces were covered in mud—but hey, mud is good for our skin.
Hola! Next week, our group of five students will depart for a 5-week stay in Trujillo, Peru. Our project is a partnership between Emory University’s Nourish Chapter and the MOCHE Project, an organization based in Trujillo that works with rural weaver women, emphasizing business education, sanitation development and infrastructure, and community outreach.
Our participants, Sana, Jing, Kimberly, Brogan, and Kathryn are in the process of finalizing travel plans from Lima to Trujillo, brushing up on their Spanish, and collecting essentials for the trip. We are all very excited to immerse ourselves in a different language, culture, and workspace and to make a meaningful difference through our work with MOCHE!
When we returned to Bamako, we met with the tailor to assess the quality of our sample scrubs order. The sizes matched the sample scrubs that we brought, but it was also very useful to see the fabrics we had chosen in actual scrubs form. Some were surprisingly great as scrubs, while other patterns seemed too “busy” to be solid sellers in the market. While we were finishing up the workshop, we took the time to paint the African Sky logo on one of the walls. It was fun to do, looked great, and we even drew neighborhood crowds to see what we were doing!
Much of our final days were spent with Yacouba’s family. Kristen’s dad had sent a box of various styled scrubs, but also included the game, “Hungry Hungry Hippos!” Hippos are local to Mali, so we aptly renamed the game, “Mali-Mangez Mangez,” and the kids loved it! We each had traditional comples made, got henna tattoos and had our hair braided by the children. After our short visit, I felt like I was actually part of their family…and I can’t wait to go back!
While we were moving east of Bamako, we took a short trip to Dogon country. Dogon country is an area of Mali where the steep cliffs of the Bandiagara escarpment are located. Some Dogon tribes built their houses on the sides of these cliffs (reminiscent of the Native American adobe dwellings of the southwest). Our car ride to the cliffs was an adventure (no paved roads for 3 hours), but the scenery was beautiful!
As we were walking around the cliffs, we saw an old man drawing lines in the sand – he was creating a sand divination. The lines were actually questions with small nuts placed by each question. During the night, the fox would come to answer the questions. If the nuts were gone, the answer was yes.
We stayed in the coolest hotel I’ve ever been in, by the way. Hotel Kambary was made up of small dome shaped pods with mesh windows and leather plugs as “curtains.” We even got to play “Dogon putt-putt” and had to get the golf ball through some amazing courses (such as through one eye of a Dogon mask!). Very eclectic!
Our time in Markala was filled by many gatherings with local leaders and teachers. We began with a well dedication in Welentiguila, across the river from Markala. The well had been funded by an Emory student earlier in the year. When we arrived, we were greeted by hundreds of children chanting “African Sky! Mali!” They led us to the school site, where the well was located and where the celebration would commence. As we settled in, the crowd began to dance and sing to the beat of a rhythmic drum. From the crowd, a creature emerged, led by a fellow villager. As the dance of the gazelle intensified, so to did our adrenaline. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being in the middle of Mali, surrounded by loving and thankful villagers, and having series of masked dancers greet you to the sound of drums and chants. The village presented us with 5 more absolutely amazing masked dancers.
We made our way to the well site, where we each got to pull up a ceremonial bucket of water. This is no easy feet, however! Consider pulling up about 2 gallons of water from the bottom of the well…and then repeating for the rest of your family. This reminded me of an environmental science class that I took in which we were given a similar task. We were given an empty 10 gallon paint bucket and instructed to fill it up at the nearest water source. Sounds easy, right? Nope, we were not allowed to use the sink or any spicket type source. The nearest outdoor source was a small creek on campus, and it took two of us to carry it back to our building! As we saw firsthand, this is an everyday reality for most Malians. You should experiment by filling a bucket up outside and using this method to collect your water throughout the day. You may begin to think twice about how much water you are really using.
Also, while in Markala, we visited a Spiruline production facility. Spiruline is a type of algae that is very nutritious and supports the immune system (you may have seen this supplement in the US as a powder in shops like Smoothie King). The production takes very little space and there may be a possibility for expansion into a future project at village schools.
Another school site that we visited was located on the river. The river is a vibrant community gathering place for not only fishing, but bathing and washing. Here, we not only saw the men and women race their dug out boats, but we actually partook in a race! The boats are very long, carved out pieces of wood, that are tied together in some areas. The river is not that deep, so you have the option of using paddles or long sticks to help you along. While we were here, we were also presented with a large gift of fish, and we proceeded to eat of meal of beans, tomatoes, onions, rice, fish and sauce.
Since we were staying with a new family in Markala, we also received new togomas, and spent the afternoon meeting and spending time with their families. A major realization that occured during this trip to Mali, was that development work is more than just projects. You can send in all the money in the world, but if you don’t take the time to create relationships, then the project may not last after you leave. I saw myself struggling with this concept while I was there. In America, we live in a 9 to 5 world where we’re obsessed with “getting things done.” We also have to realize that the obsession is fueled by the fact that most amenities and conveniences are handed to us. We drive to the grocery store and grab the lettuce off the shelf, rather than worrying about growing it ourself or walking a few miles to the market. So, don’t feel as though you haven’t achieved a lot if your project takes longer than expected. You’re not working with the same resources you might be used to, so you have to think outside of the box and channel your creativity. The time you spend building relationships will help it sustain itself in the future.
Our final stop in Markala was visiting with Jigiya. Jigiya is a support group for the disabled, which helps to reintroduce them into a working society by providing start up resources for the creation of small shops and businesses. African Sky has had a successful relationship with Jigiya, and the members presented us with breathtaking performances. Even those who had trouble walking would dance on their hands! It was utterly amazing.
Before departing Dissan, we took a tour of the village and school complex. The village would like to add a middle school to the two primary school houses that they already have. A middle school would not only keep older students in the village during planting and harvest time, but would be a magnet for students from other villages (a potential economy boost for Dissan).
We left as we came, but our stay was not long enough for me. I loved leaving the hustle and bustle of the city. We traveled by bus for twelve hours to Markala, stopping frequently in roadside towns, and teaching ourselves card games to keep busy. It was amazing to see how the ecology changed over such a short distance. Once in Markala, we stayed at the home of Tamba Traore, a regional director for African Sky.
We woke up very early to give the scrubs fabric and sizes to the tailor, and then headed to Dissan. Bus schedules in Mali are only a “suggestion” and really depend on how many people have bought tickets. As we piled onto the old Greyhound bus (not air-conditioned and the windows don’t open, mind you) so did everyone else, their items for sale, large pales, and even animals (I was gaping at the man in front of me who had two live chickens in his hands – I think we were equally startled by each other, since it’s quite normal to bring your goats/chickens with you on the bus).
We hopped off the bus in a nondescript roadside village to wait for our “rides” into Dissan. After a few minutes, several mopeds drove up out of the sandy savanna. We hopped onto the back of the mopeds and rode off on unpaved trails, past small villages, past fields being planted, until we came across Dissan. I could already feel that it was significantly cooler here and I could actually breath in the non-polluted air! Yacouba’s older brother, Brahman, greeted us upon our arrival and would act as our host during our stay.
As we relaxed with the family, we were constantly asked to move into the shade as the sun moved, in politeness, since they didn’t want us to be burned. The children began to gather, but unlike the neighborhood children in Bamako, the Dissan kids were much more hesitant to speak. As we ate dried peanuts (a staple crop here), two elders taught us greetings, with much amusement. We ate a wonderful dinner of spaghetti and chicken at Brahman’s complex and headed in as it began to rain. Even though night was falling, villagers headed back to the fields in the rain, since it was critical planting time with wet soil.
Today was a slow day since some of us weren’t feeling well (heat and culture shock mix). For lunch, we met with a current third year Peace Corps worker to discuss a project idea he wanted to pitch to Dr. Lacy. His project is unconventional, but effective. His idea is to collect human urine and use it as a fertilizer. Urine is sterile (given that the owner is healthy) and contains lots of nutrients. He has devised a system to collect and disperse the samples throughout small garden plots.
We started the day at Yacouba’s, and the girls got to cook! We sliced onions, pestled peppercorns, peeled carrots and peppers, and made a mixture of pestled parsley and spices. With the addition of beef and fish, we left the concoction to work down into a red sauce. While we waited, the neighborhood children taught us phrases in Bamanankan and French, and we taught English in return. It’s amazing how much you can communicate, even without a common language.
We gathered the sewing machines and dropped them off at the workshop. We set the machines on the tables and took pictures to be created into a “how-to” guide for fitting the machines into the table (just in case, but it will probably not be needed since this is the standard machine and table type that they use in Mali).
Our bags finally arrived today! After freshening up, we traveled to Yacouba’s for our naming ceremony. In Mali, visitors are named after an important family member, after which you both become togomas (namesakes) to each other. Our names were as follows:
Michael – Abu Sangare (eldest brother of Yacouba)
Kristen – Matu Traore (named after Yacouba’s brother’s wife)
Katherine – Abi Samake (named after Yacouba’s wife)
With our new names, we soon commenced in the traditional joking between persons of certain last names. The Malian culture is very light-hearted, and the jokes even provide strangers with a sense of connection. As is customary with any visit, we proceeded with three cups of tea. The first cup consisted of straight green tea, the second: half tea/half sugar, and the third was a very sweet sugary mixture. The cups were passed to visitors first, then to family and elders. An interesting twist to the process was that the tea was poured from a very high position, creating a thick foam at the top (a skilled tea maker can create lots and lots of foam). As you drank your tea, however, you left as much froth for the next person as possible.