Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Our Own Personalized "Marching" Ants

November 21, 2000

Being in Africa, I've had to make some adjustments in how I store food, since there are quite an abundance of small ants. You'll see the tiny critters marching merrily along the cupboards, walls, etc., looking for food. They can even get in what I thought was a sealed ziplock bag! Anyway, it is also not uncommon to see the little critters at school. I even saw a couple crawling inside the clear front label of the new iMac computers. Mentioned it to the director, who didn't seem phased. Today, I went to make a change on an iMac and had to tip it to access the bottom. When doing that, I noticed something dark where a clear plastic cover was. Looking closer, I noticed movement - ants and a whole bunch of eggs - they had made a nest in the computer! That took the director's attention. We think the ants may have entered at the tiny holes in the base. Luckily, the space they were in seems quite well sealed (from the main guts of the computer). I checked a couple more computers next to that one and saw nothing. I then took a closer look at the computer I was projecting from - those couple of ants marching up the ethernet cord didn't look so innocent anymore. Sure enough, another nest. The janitors are going to check the rest tonight. Certainly I never thought of this computer dilemma!

Apologies for no photos

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Visit to a Malian Christian Family

November 5, 2000
I was invited to go with a fellow teacher and her family to a Malian Christian family in a village about a half hour away from Bamako.  As you turn off the main paved road (the road from Bamako is actually MUCH better than many of the roads IN the main part of Bamako itself), you start heading down a maze of narrow dirt roads/paths.

The house compounds are quite near each other, clustered amidst a vast area of savannah and some fields. The houses are small, many perhaps only one room. The houses are made of mud bricks. There are no glass windows, but there is a large metal door. Cooking is done outside. There is no electricity, but recently wells have been upgraded- mounded slightly with concrete and secured with a cover. These two factors have helped in reducing the amount of deaths due to children accidentally falling in open wells. Each house has a wall around its border, providing some privacy - and helping the chickens or other animals to stay in the yard. Sometimes there are several homes, inhabited by extended families. 

Next to the house of the family we visited was a small chicken coop, again made out of mud bricks. Also present: an area for trash (sort of a compost heap), a small garden, and a shade tree or two. Most villages of any size have a mosque, however small and humble in appearance. Children could be found throughout the village, rolling a tire with a stick, playing soccer, or riding a bike. As usual, women and girls were more typically found working hard, preparing meals, - gathering food, washing clothes, etc. 

The father of the family recounted his early beginnings in life. Like so many others in Mali, he had to deal with death at an early age. In fact, he never knew his father. Unable to provide for her many children, the mother dispersed her children to live with family members or others of the village. He was sent to live with the village chief. Like many in his village, the family held more traditional, or animist beliefs. A mission church settled in the area, spreading the Gospel in the native language of Bambara. The church also began to teach people how to read and write, a luxury not offered by the village. He took advantage of both, learning to read and write as well as learning more about Christ. The teachings appealed to him. All was well until one of his uncles converted to Islam. This uncle suddenly had no tolerance for Christians whatsoever, including his on nephew. At first the young boy did learn about the Islam religion, but soon realized that Christ was the One. Warned of the possible consequences if he did not recant his religious decision, the young boy held firm. One day he found his few belongings outside the house entryway, a direct message that he was to leave and go on his own - at the age of 10. Even now, the father and his family faces persecution (albeit sometimes subtle). They are the only Christian family in the village. The oldest son went and earned a degree in civil engineering, but can't find a job in that profession- the only jobs available are with the government, and they wouldn't hire a Malian Christian. The father is also without a job, and spends a fair amount of time providing food for his family by planting and harvesting fields of millet and other items. Plowing is done with simple plows and a donkey, but the harvesting is done by hand. Despite their many hardships, this family has extended its hand to people even more needy then they. When a child of a relative lost her parents, they took her in and adopted her. More recently, the family took in a large family (children and a widowed mother) who were homeless. 

No matter how little food they have, Malian families always make sure that their guests have plenty to eat. For supper we sat on some benches and a small table, sheltered from the sun by a tin roof upheld by wooden poles - their family worship area. After hand washing, everyone gathered around the large bowls of food - some millet couscous, lentil beans, and some chicken smothered in peanut sauce. The mother began scooping heaping portions of the millet in two bowls. The rest of the food was heaped in the middle of each bowl. Gathering around one of the bowls, each person proceeded to eat by scooping with their right hand, eating the food that was in the area just in front of them. The sauce, when poured over the millet, gave the dry textured food some flavor and moistness. More helpings were provided until everyone had their fill. Just when I thought it was finished, they brought out a watermelon grown locally and began cutting it with a rather dull looking small knife. On top of the tender chicken and tasty sauce, we were presented with a large slice of watermelon to eat! 

Shortly after all had their fill, we packed up to leave. Kind words were exchanged and photos were taken. Soon the sun would set; much needed to be done yet in the available light. Thanking all for their generous hospitality, we left the small village and headed back towards the sprawling village of Bamako. Although I've seen it before, this visit once again reminded me how people can be happy even though they don't have material things. Family and faith held this man and his family together and made it prosper. While he could have easily given up either as a child or as a adult, this man did not give up and held fast to his faith and family. How blessed we are in the US that we are not persecuted for our beliefs - that we are free to believe as we want! And the family's generosity, extending out a hand to the orphaned girl and a homeless family - when they themselves were poor and on hard times! Indeed, there are many things that I and others in a modem society need to work on. We can learn so much from people in poor, developing countries.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Stumbling Upon a Wedding

November 5, 2000
The day started off peaceful enough, but soon emerged to be a day filled with culture. In the morning, I heard some drumming (which is not unusual). First it sounded rather novice, as if someone was simply plunking on the drum. I continued what I was doing in my home, continuing to keep an ear out just in case there were further developments. Later,the drumming sounded more significant and refined, peaking my interest. With a small digital camera in my hand (just in case), I proceeded to start walking towards the nearby-sounding drumming. After the second turn, I heard my name called out. Here it was Wasa, the downstair teacher's housekeeper. It was not the Wasa I was accustomed to seeing though. Instead of the plain purple overlay that she typically wore, Wasa was dressed up in her finest. A dark green dress (West African style) with multicolored ornamental decorations and a U shaped neck was worn. Around her shoulders draped a white veil-like scarf Most impressive was Wasa's head. Each small section of hair was wrapped in glistening black coils, forming a decorative pattern. By the ears the coils also revealed small golden-yellow small balls, about 4 or so cascading down in an ornamental fashion. In her ears were beautiful gold earrings and around her finger was a matching ring. A headwrap from the same fabric as the dress covered a fair amount of her hair. Around the headwrap was a woven band that I had seen before. Instantly, I knew Wasa was involved with a wedding. Wasa invited me to join her at the wedding and asked me if the downstairs teacher was awake. 

I quickly went home to the duplex to get the downstairs teacher and her 4th grade daughter. This time with two cameras, I went back towards the source of the music. Like Wasa, the women were all wearing their finest clothing and jewelry, with the addition of a special hairdo. Underneath the large tent, women began gathering for their portion of a wedding celebration. After we were introduced to several women, Wasa encouraged us to sit down. For the next several hours, I witnessed women celebrating their portion of the wedding celebration under the tent. I will need to find someone who can explain all what occurred, but I will now present my observations. Several other women were also wearing the striped woven band, just as Wasa did. The middle part of the long narrow band which was tied around the forehead revealed the woman's name, carefully woven in capital letters. The bands were golden yellow with another contrasting color such as black, purple, or maroon. 

Two female singers and three male drummers provided the music. I am assuming that the singing was either general wedding music or words specifically directed towards the bride, etc. Women would get off their chairs and join a procession of women, already forming a line towards the music. Typically the "train" would repeat its course and go towards the music a few times before the women once again took their seat. Sometimes a few women would then begin doing the energetic West African dancing. It appeared as if the main drummer's hands and the dancers were talking to each other. Typically one woman danced at a time, before the next woman took her short time in the spotlight. Interspersed throughout the time of celebration that I witnessed were a few women who directed some words towards the crowd. I think they might be part of the griot family, which does the storytelling and recounts memories/events. During this talking, the arm of one of the women wearing the bands would have their arm raised by a neighbor, evidently recognizing that person. There was a lot of socializing occurring, women "sharing" the darling little ones with other women, and even some passing of money to a select few women. Some of that money appeared to be given to the drummers, but I'll have to inquire more. I'm sure a lot of the subtleties (and perhaps the not-so-subtle parts of the ceremony) passed by without my knowledge of what I was seeing or perhaps not seeing it at all.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Halloween in Mali

October 31, 2000
Mainly for the ex-pats and other families working in Mali, the American Embassy and our school hosted a Halloween trick-or-treat. Homes of expats and around the Badalabougou area volunteered to be a place where the children could stop for treats. The school was the starting point and also had candy. I decided to go and help out at the school, partly because I knew they would need help and also because I have not gone to one of the 2 "supermarche" stores in well over a month. 

Kids (mostly those who attended our school) began descending on the school entryway, accompanied mostly by their parent(s) and sometimes by a driver. A few used commercially-made costumes, but many had more creative, individually (perhaps by one of the local tailors) made costumes. Or, they simply improvised with the clothing or materials they had at home. Of course there were quite a few witches, some ghouls and vampires, and a few dressed up as cats or dinosaurs in full costume. Some had makeup on as well. Children were carrying the plastic pumpkin containers or plastic bags It was quite the sight - all the kids in costumes walking through the terra-cotta dirt road - past the goats eating leaves or grass, and past the local people. 

For the locals who don't even understand the whole concept behind Halloween and trick-or-treating, you can imagine why they had looks of either puzzlement, surprise, and perhaps more. Why, when you really think about it, would any sweet child suddenly wear plastic fangs in their mouth, garish makeup, and a dark costume. As I began handing out candy, I noticed the local children. Some were playing soccer (they have to be careful where they are playing, for if they hit the ball too far in two directions, the ball could land in the open sewer) and others were either standing around, playing with the handmade toys, or helping at a local produce stand. Knowing that they probably haven't had candy in quite a while (and certainly not Halloween candy), I brought the bowl closer to a few. At my urging they each took a piece. Well, word soon spread, and I was giving a way quite a bit of the candy. You should have seen their faces though - it was if they were given a precious gift! 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Walking Past the Voodoo Market

September 2000
On the way to the Artisan's Market in Bamako, we walked past a street-side display of wares known as the Voodoo Market. Here, sellers had skulls, fur, skins, porcupine quills, and other items on display. Superstition is very much a part of Malian culture and many people still adhere to animist beliefs. Apologies for not getting a better picture, but this was a quick "hip" shot.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Homes in Bamako, Mali

September 2000
Thought I'd share a few things about how homes are situated here in Bamako. In contrast to many cities that I've visited, I have not seen the "rich" areas and the "poor" areas. For example, when I went to Mexico City, there were some areas especially outside the city that were "squatter" settlements. All the homes there were basically lean-to's created with scraps. Then in other parts of the city, there were lavish homes - almost in an island onto itself. 

In Mali, by contrast, you will find a nice house next to a small poor one here. Take for example our duplex. Right across the street is a cement home - small to medium size. There are no glass windows or doors; goats, chickens and other animals run around and do what they please; children there are clothed either with american hand-me-down's or sometimes with only a pair of underwear - or less. A few houses down again is a large home (several stories). Ambassadors live right next to poor houses; they may have open sewer gutters right in front of their homes. In a way, I kind of like it - I get a much better idea of how the common people live and don't feel so separated. Although, I would rather not have the open sewer in front of my house :-* Most of the larger homes are constructed out of cement mixed with sand. Workers create the bricks right in front of the construction. Work seems slow, I think in part to the midday heat. In the villages, the homes may be built out of mud bricks. The roof may be thatched. Some are single one-room round huts, while others are built around a courtyard. I'll have to say, most of the common homes here are nothing of beauty - the home does not seem to be one's castle here.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Artwork for Sale

On my website http://www.melissaenderle.com/artwork-for-sale.html I have posted some of my artworks that I'd love to sell. Some depict rural Wisconsin scenes (including that of the farmer) and others are related to my travel. Framed ones are indicated. Prices are very reasonable. Shipping is extra.
Contact Melissa via email if interested.

Below are just a few of the pieces found on the website.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Music of Mali

Hunter  Harp Griot
Color Pencil by Melissa Enderle
Music is an integral part of the people. You'd be hard pressed to not find — music occurring somewhere in your surroundings - whether it be a drum, or simply a small radio. What I have noticed is that African music and dancing is not what it initially appears to be - it is not just random beats of a drum or movements. Rather, there are many complex rhythms occurring simultaneously. The dancer, who is trained and is knowledgeable of the many different dance movements, will pick up on a rhythm of the instrumentalists and begin the appropriate or fitting dance steps. The dancing requires precision, endurance, a sense of rhythm, and aerobic ability. Drums vary in size and shape. They are typically played in ensembles - many people playing at the same time. At the artisan market, I saw people smoothing the top of a skin (leather) for a drum head - with the bottom of a glass coke bottle! 

I will have to admit, though, that my favorite instrument is the kora. Historically the instrument played by the griots, the kora has 21 strings and is one of the most sophisticated instruments in sub-Saharan Africa. I is a cross between a lute and a harp, with the look more resembling the lute. The main part of the instrument is made of a gourd with leather stretched over the top. The player plucks the strings, with the instrument held upright. It's simply amazing to see how fast notes can be played by using one's thumbs! I do have a picture of a kora player on my zing website. Anyway, the instrument has such a beautiful sound - much like a harp but unique onto itself. I went to a restaurant on Saturday and the kora player had me in a melodic trance. The music was delicate and yet powerful. A common theme and melody was replayed often, with slight variations. The music (he was also singing) told of things such as the great combination of hope, love, and trust. He was so into his music - it just flowed from his fingers. I am seriously looking into learning to play the kora. I did learn to play the kora, along with another teacher while living in Mali. Our teacher, Djelimady Sissoko, was very patient as we learned the fingerings, how to tune (sort of), the accompanying parts, and main melodies of the songs. All music was improvisational and had no written music.

Another stringed instrument is the ngoni which looks a little like a boat-shaped narrow lute. While in Senegal, I also heard some beautiful flute playing - reed flutes that is. Gosh, they were doing acrobatics while playing! The other instrument that I have seen quite often is the balafon - a type of wooden xylophone with keys (15-19) made of hardwood suspended over a row of gourds which amplifies the sounds. Wooden mallets are used to strike the keys. 

Music is ingrained in the very blood of Malians. Whether it is playing, singing, dancing, or simply enjoying the music, the tunes of this West African country reverberate throughout the day. All of the weddings and other special functions I attended had live musicians. 
Now having taught in five countries and having collected music from around the world, I still have to say that Malian music is some of my favorite. 

Some Mali music you might want to find CD's of: Oumou Sangare and Rokia Traoré (female singers of Mali), Salif Keita (male singer),  Ali Farka Toure (acoustic guitars), Salif Keita; For Kora, the popular players are Toumani Diabaté (video above), Ballaké Sissoko (brother of my kora teacher), and Mamadou Diabaté; Tuareg music by Tinariwen.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Children in Mali

October 29, 2000
As I was eating supper tonight on my porch, I could easily hear the children (boys) playing soccer in the lot next door. Despite a few obstacles such as large rocks and cinder blocks, the boys had found a good place to play the national sport. A much better location than playing on a street, where an inaccurate kick might send the ball down the open sewers on either side of the streets!

Anyway, I thought I'd write about the children in Mali. Children here begin working at a very early age, whether it is caring for their younger siblings, household chores, or even physical labor. It is quite common to see young girls carrying their youngest sibling, strapped to their back with a wide strip of cloth. Even the youngest children begin practicing the amazing (to me) feat of balancing everything on their heads. First they may steady the load with their hand, but soon carry it with ease. Young girls also begin helping with household chores, such as doing the wash by hand, pounding the millet to make flour, etc. Like their mothers, the girls seem to work longer hours than the male counterparts. Boys also do physical labor that would not be even thought of in the US. But, especially in cases where a parent has died, the children are expected to carry the load.

Children are typically quite inquisitive. Being light skinned and a redhead, I must stick out like a beacon of light. Many simply want to come up to you and gently shake your hand, and say Bonjour. If I am taking photos, they want their photo taken. Luckily I have my digital camcorder, which enables me to take pictures that they can immediately see. For some, it is perhaps the first time they have seen a picture of themselves. Often times then, they coax their older siblings or mother to look at the photos, and perhaps even have a photo taken of them as well. Like the adults though, the children seem very gentle. I have not observed arguing or fighting - or even disagreements.

"Neighborhood Children" Color Pencil
by Melissa Enderle
Appearance-wise, the children vary. Some don't wear any clothes (mostly the youngest ones). Many are wearing western hand-me-downs. Some of the clothes are clean and quite good yet, while other times the clothing is very dirty or torn. Sometimes the clothing is Malian style and is hand-made. Adults tend to be the ones wearing the hand-made clothing though. Belly-buttons are quite interesting here. Most are the "outy" variety, with many sticking WAY out - perhaps 2 inches or so. While you don't see any fat children here, I really haven't seen any children who are gaunt-thinI have heard that many families only eat one meal a day though.You can find boys with tomato cans begging along the roads for money. Often times it is a requirement for their studies in the Koran. There is not much to be found in the line of pre-made toys. You may see boys playing with homemade toys, such as a plastic spool-like thing with wire, allowing the spool to roll as a wheel. Tires are a popular toy, with a stick guiding the tire as it rolls.I've also seen some creative toy cars or similar items made entirely from junk. I haven't seen girls playing much though. I have heard that female circumcision is still practiced in Mali. Hopefully that will change - soon I pray.

Overall, the children seem happy. Even despite the need to work hard at a young age, children, like their adult counterparts, continue to be optimistic and very pleasant to be around.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Transportation in Bamako

August 30, 2000

Traveling in Bamako is definitely a unique experience. The levels of technology and who/what you meet while on the road are fascinating. In just my short walk to the school, I encounter many different things. There are a few paved roads in Bamako, but most, especially the side streets, are red dirt. They contain potholes or gullies which are created or enhanced by the intense rain that is occurring this time of year. The potholes fill up with rain, making huge malaria mud puddles that both pedestrians and motorists work very hard to avoid. If the hole is too big to avoid, sometimes tires and junk is thrown into the pit, reducing the depth and perhaps making it possible to drive over. Walking on foot is much less bumpy than by vehicle, but then you have to deal with the dust, mud, and vehicle exhaust. 

The most common vehicles here are bicycles and mopeds. They seem to be the easiest to maneuver through traffic, around potholes, donkeys, or whatever is in the way. If it's a car or truck, it's definitely a
4WD. Good shocks and ability to sustain the conditions of the roads are a must. Public transportation includes either a yellow taxi or bright green converted Peugot 504 and 505s. Those green bachés are very cheap, and deservedly so. The drivers erratically make themselves through the traffic, are filled to the brim with people, and often don't even have a door. The people don't seem to mind. Many are entertained by passengers who drum away on their djembe, or they begin singing and clapping. Expats tend to have a SUV-style vehicle and most have hired drivers. While air conditioning is not always present, an extra tire is a must. Changing tires alongside the road is a very common occurrence. 

Regardless of what type of transport locals take, they can often be seen with animals (dead or alive), produce, or goods piled on top of the vehicle or clutched in the hands of the two-wheeled driver. This makes the roads a bit more "colorful" but not always for the feint of heart.

Monday, July 08, 2013

A Bit of Mali

Beaded Dogon Woman - Oil
by Melissa Enderle
One of my projects this summer involved going through and scanning photos I had taken while living in Mali, West Africa. During the time I had taught there (2000-2002), I did not have a digital camera. So glad that changed, as I have taken a LOT of photos since then! Some of the photos made it into the Shutterfly book I made on Mali, just as I had created for Tunisia, Serbia, India, and my travels in Myanmar and Cambodia.

My time in Mali was also before I began blogging. Only those who were part of my email distribution list received my writings. Reading through some of them, I felt that perhaps a wider audience might be interested in some of my observations and discoveries while teaching and traveling in this poor, but fascinating country.

Stay tuned for more!

Friday, July 05, 2013

Djiguibambo Village, Dogon area

Having just scanned some photos I took in Mali prior to owning a digital camera, I thought I'd share some. Above is a scene from the Djiguibambo Village in the Dogon region of Mali, West Africa. While living in Mali, I traveled to "Pays Dogon" twice. During each trip, we visited different areas and villages. Here we see some granaries and homes within the village, along with the prominent baobab tree.