Monday, February 20, 2012

Le Festival sur le Niger

 The main stage sur le Niger
Confession - this photo was taken at the festival last year and I pulled it off of Google Images. Same look this year.

The biggest music festival of the year in Mali wrapped up yesterday in our very own regional capital, Segou. We spent 4 nights in a row listening to musicans on the banks of the Niger River and catching up with friends who came to town for the show. This year has been a particularly tough year for tourism in Mali, so it was fun to see Segou come alive with people, food stands, outdoor patios, dancing, and a pop up market. The festival draws primarily a Malian crowd and pockets of toubab festival junkie tourists. Unbeatable people watching.

Before coming to Mali people would always tell us that Malian music is world renowned. While I knew next to nothing about Malian music, the festival was a way for us to see all of the big names at once. Our personal best in show award goes to:

Kar Kar
Baba Sissoko
Pape Diouf (of Senegal)
Habib Koite
Sauti Soul (of Kenya)
Nafi Diabate
Cheik Tidiane Seck
Salif Keita

I am sure you can find some of these musicans on You Tube...if we tried to find videos for you the internet files would still be loading by the time the festival gets underway in 2013. For more info -

Naturally at a music festival in West Africa, we ran into a St. Olaf connection. Prior to coming to Mali, we learned about Cherif Keita, a professor from Carleton College who brings students here on a study abroad trimester every other year. Cherif's daughter also happens to work in Admissions at St. Olaf. At a late night performace we ran into Cherif's brother-in-law Oumar who runs a hotel in Segou. Oumar invited us to lunch the next day to meet Cherif, a wealth of knowledge on Mande history and culture and a friendly face who also allowed us to reminice about Northfield. Small world. Cherif has recently published an English version of his book on childhood friend Salif Keita (Outcast to Ambassador: The Musical Odyssey of Salif Keita). Salif Keita is THE most accomplished living musican in Mali and he brought down the house at the festival on Saturday night.

Thanks to our gracious host in Segou, we washed our clothes in a washing maching for the first time in over a year. What a treat. No need for a dryer though, clothes dry in no time when it is 100 degrees outside. I guess "cold season" is over.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The World Map Project - A Peace Corps Classic

When we are not at our "jobs" (Anna at one of four weekly women's savings group meetings and I at our local health clinic), drinking tea with the neighbors, hauling water from the pump down the street, or at our host family's house hanging out, we try to keep busy with other small projects.  One such small project was painting a world map.  One time-honored Peace Corps tradition is to paint a world map in a local public space or school.  After getting permission from the school director, we were given the wall space in the sixth grade classroom to paint ours.

Why a world map?  Other than the fact that we like maps and it was a good way to keep busy for quite a few weekends, it creates a simple educational tool that will stick around in our community for a handful of years.  Education in our town is quite robust compared to nearby villages and towns, but is nothing like what we have in the States.  Most classrooms are spartan cement buildings.  This particular sixth grade classroom holds 74 students, 1 teacher.  Students copy all subject matter by hand from the blackboard into a notebook.  Textbooks and other materials are almost non-existant.    Couple that with most peoples' lack of travel, and you get a limited geography knowledge.  For example, I am frequently asked questions like, "how long is the bus ride to America?" or when gone for a long weekend, "how was your trip home to America?" and even more frequently villagers confuse the United States and France as the same place.

We spent quite a few weekends working on our map.  Like most things here, it ended up taking longer and being harder than planned.  I have to admit that I thought my geography was pretty good before this, and was a little surprised by how little I actually knew.  Here is a quiz for you - Without looking, name the following: one island between the African and South American continents; which countries replaced the former Yugoslavia; where is Azerbaijan; what countries border El Salvador; and which US state is closest to Bermuda.  If you got two of those right you know more than I did.