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  Topic: My friend in the Corps de la Paix< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  

Posts: 13407
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: April 06 2006,05:15   

A friend of mine is in Mali in the Peace Corps. Every few months she gets to an internet connection and sends us emails about what's going on. The two I just received are particularly interesting, so I thought I'd pass them along, stripped of identifying info. Enjoy.

06 April 2006
Hey guys!

So here I am in Kayes, I’ve been here since last Friday and unfortunately
got stuck here because the train workers decided to go on strike, so it
looks like I’ll be here until Saturday afternoon.  Yesterday I almost popped
a cap in someone’s ass, oh oops, sorry, violent language, I thought it
sounded good anyway (been watching too much Will Ferrell this week.  Wedding
Crashers, a new favorite).

Here’s my story.  Sunday, I called the train station to find out when the
train would be leaving Kayes – Bamako this week (as there is no permanent
schedule).  They said Monday and Wednesday.  Okay, Wednesday sounded good.
So Tuesday I call the train gare again to find out when I can buy my ticket
(as this too is never consistent).  They tell me, “Il y a une petite
situation.” (There’s a small situation.)

“What kind of situation ?”

“Il faut écouter la radio ce soir.” (You’ll need to listen to the radio this

‘But I don’t have a radio, and even if I did, I wouldn’t understand it !
AHHH!’  I thought.

So I asked our guards at the house if they hear anything on the radio about
the train, if they could tell me, that would be awesome.  No problem, as the
radio here is their version of television for Americans.

The next morning I ask Sidi if he heard anything, “grève bé.  train te taa
bi.” (There’s a strike, there’s no train today.)  Awesome, a strike.

So I went out to do my errands for the morning, and got back to the house
around 10.30.  I thought maybe, just to be safe, I should call the train
station.  So I called, “train be bi wa?” (is there a train leaving today?)
“owo, nin allah sonna, train be taa 12.45” (yes, if it’s allah’s will, it
will leave at 12.45)
“n be sais ka n ka billet san sisan?”  (can I buy my ticket now?)
“owo.” (yes)
“aiwa, n be na sisan.” (ok, I’m coming now).

So I haul ass to the gare, when I arrive at around 11am, there were tons of
people everywhere loading.  The ticket window was open, but no one selling.
According to everyone standing around, “a bora.  a be na sisan sisan.”  (he
left, he’s coming right back).  All I’ve gotta say is I’ve been in this
country long enough to know that whenever ‘sisan sisan’ is put into a
sentence to mean right now, it’s actually translated as, “it’ll be awhile.”
So I walk around to try and find the guy, knowing very well this will do no
good, but I’m feeling kind of stressed out because I hadn’t even packed my
bags yet, and ‘inshallah’ the train is leaving in an hour.  So I finally
spot one of the train guards I know pretty well, “Coulibaly, what’s going
on, I’m going to Mahina, but where’s the ticket seller?”

“Oh, the train workers still haven’t signed the contract, so inshallah, the
contract will be signed and the train will leave at 12.45pm.  bari, a ma taa
folo dat! (but, it’s not leaving yet, another way of speaking i’ve learned
to mean :  this train isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.)”

So I go back to the ticket window with a VERY annoyed look on my face and
dripping in sweat, as it was only 111 degrees yesterday.  I had no idea when
the train was leaving, when I could buy a ticket, and all of my stuff was
still at the house, and I’d been standing there for 40 minutes.  I get so
irritated with this inefficiency and waisting of time!  There is a reason
why this country won’t develop anytime soon, there’s no concept of
efficiency and the existence of time.  Like if the ticket seller needs to
leave, have someone else step in and do the job, that might be too
efficient.  Or maybe if he did the job he’s paid to do!  There’s a novel
idea!  Then I thought I would just go back to the house, get my things, then
come back and sit in the 111 degrees until the ticket seller came back and
then until the train left.  But then there’s the possibility I would lose my
chance at getting a first class ticket (as there are only 12 to Mahina),
which means I’d have to sit next to the toilet/door, and I’m not looking to
die anytime soon.  So I reached the breaking point where I was going to pop
a cap in someone’s ass and left.  “Toubab muso, I be taa min?!  a be na
sisan!”  (Hey white girl, where are you going?!  He’ll be right back!”)  F
this s*** is all that I could think.  I was so HOT!

So I got back to the house and explained my angst to Sidi and he advised me
to stay until Saturday because the probability of me sitting at the train
station until night was very high, seeing as the contract hadn’t been signed
yet.  Considering he’s Malian, he’s probably right.  If I took the Saturday
train, I could buy my ticket Friday morning, and the train will probably
only leave around one or two hours late, a much better alternative.  Another
word, ‘inshallah’ (God willing), that I’ve learned not to put much faith in.

And this is why I cannot wait for my vacation to the developed world later
this month, countries with trains that are clean and efficient and run
according to a schedule (a concept Malians are still trying to work on, who
needs a schedule anyway?  let’s be honest!;)  Customer service, pah!  People
who do their job?!  Does that really matter in this age of globalization?
Of course not!  Oh wait….I’ve been here too long!  But I’m still happy and
kickin it live!

oh, and with all these complaints about hot season, there is one good thing
that comes out of it -- mango season!  mangoes are EVERYWHERE!  there are
more than can be eaten and it costs about .25 for four, it's a beautiful


06 April 2006

About two weeks ago, I had been in Bafoulabé for the day working at the
clinic, I had gotten back to village around 4pm feeling very hot and
dehydrated (quick story of the brilliance of big money NGO’s that work in
developing nations:  Bafoulabé is located on the river where already a large
part of its population drinks untreated river water infested with schistose.
There are a good number of pumps in Bafoulabé that are used.  Recently,
there has been a German NGO sweeping through the region of Kayes putting in
robinet systems (water spigots to be used by the community) in many small
towns in an effort to provide clean water and improve the lives of women who
are hauling water from the river or pumping it from the pump, faire enough.
However, in doing this, they are breaking all of the pre-existing pumps that
work just fine because they charge 10 CFA for each use of the water spigot.
With a pump, that provides competition for the robinet.  So these people are
already poor as it is, so this NGO is brilliant enough to take away a FREE
source of clean drinking water, putting in a more efficient clean source of
water and charging for it.  Apparently they forgot that river water is free,
and Malians are okay with drinking it, especially if they don’t have money
to pay for a bucket of clean water.  Brilliant!  In addition to this,
they’ve already broken all of the pumps before the spigot system has been
completed, so everyone is drinking dirty river water or well water.  And now
I’m forced to pay a ridiculous price for bottle water, and being hot season,
I blow through water like it ain’t no thang.  These big money NGO’s need to
reassess their work plans because they can really F things up.)

As I was saying, I had just gotten back and had gotten water (from my FREE
pump).  I had only my pagne wrapped around me as I was hot and getting ready
to bathe.  While pouring water from bucket to bucket and filling things and
cleaning things I suddenly heard the ever familiar sound of Ami screaming in
fear of the brutal blows coming from the hand of her husband, Issa.  Usually
Fanta is around to break it up soon enough, but it wasn’t stopping and the
screams kept getting louder and the blows sounded harder and harder as I
just stood there pouring my water.  I always take care in staying out of
village politics and affairs just to keep the peace, but this time something
in me snapped.  I feel I’ve lived here long enough now and I know what’s
okay to get involved in, and what’s not.  I also know what’s appropriate and
what isn’t.  I started walking to Issa’s house, past the dugutigi (chief of
the village and my host dad, he’s worthless in situations as such), my blood
and adrenaline starting to pump, I started shaking in anger.  The dugutigi
told me to go home and go back to what I was doing, Issa’s just like this
and he’ll always be like this.  I just walked past him with a big fat
‘whatever’ in my head.  A couple of other people had walked over to help
break it up, when I got to Issa’s house, he was just sitting there staring
straight forward, as his wife (who is also six months pregnant) laid in the
back wailing from the blows he had just landed on her.  At this site, I just
let lose and laid into him.  It’s been 17 months I’ve had to listen to him
beat his wives so I said to him, “Issa!  What are you doing?!  She is
pregnant!  You already killed your first child by her, are you wanting to
kill your second, because that’s exactly what you’re going to accomplish if
you continue hitting her that way!  I have lived here for 17 months now
listening to you beat your wives and I’m not going to live here any longer
listening to it and staying quiet.  So as long as I live here, I will not
tolerate it.  The next time I hear one of your wives screaming from your
beatings, I’m packing my bags and leaving.”  I started walking away, not
even realizing how badly I was shaking in anger, and when I looked up, I had
drawn a crowd, everyone just stood there, their mouths dropped open as they
have never seen me so angry before.  They told me to calm down, “I am calm!”
I kept saying.  Then I don’t really remember at this point, but I went
back to Issa’s and yelled at him some more.  He finally replied to me
telling me she had been insulting him.  I told him he was insulting her by
beating her.  He should understand that, being the intellectual he is (as
he’s the school director), there will always be rebellion against
oppression, look at the history of Mali, its people were oppressed by the
French, they rebelled, and won back their independence.  It’s the same with
a woman.

Then I felt like I let it all out.  I yelled at the dugutigi for allowing
this to go on in his village and that if I hear that one more time, I will
no longer live here (of course that is an empty promise, but I decided to
pull my white status card on this one, because he’s expendable and I’m not.
They would rather lose him than me.)

Then I finally decided to bathe, but I was so angry, I didn’t even want to.
So I threw my clothes on, and marched to Sané’s house.  Just to get my point
across, I told her the same thing, “Sané, women are not dogs, I know that
for a man to beat his wife is normal in this country, but there’s this thing
called basic human rights that everyone is born with, no matter what culture
one is born into.  I’m not going to put up with this anymore.  Issa needs to
stop this.”  So Sané made me go to Issa to talk to him.  In the end, Issa
promised he would not hit Ami again while she is pregnant.  Ass hole!
(excuse the foul language).  So I responded, “I don’t care if she’s pregnant
or not, she does not deserve to be treated like a dog, and I will not listen
to it anymore.”  And that was the end of it.

I felt kind of like a drama queen, but I feel that I’ve kept quiet for far
too long.  I think this is a topic that needs to have attention drawn to it,
because it is not acceptable, I don’t care what the norms of ones culture
may be, because a human being beating another human being is never
acceptable in any circumstance.

Then the plot thickened two days later.  There have been terrible brush
fires almost everyday around my village, and on this day in particular,
there had been an especially bad one.  Everyone had been fighting the fire
starting at 2pm, in the heat of the day, (and when I say fighting, I mean
the men get branches and beat the fire up close as the women pump water and
carry it on their heads three kilometres and dump it.  Could you imagine?)
By the late afternoon, they thought they had the fire under control.  Then
around 10pm, the orange glow of the fire was lighting up the sky, as we all
stood at the top of the small hill, looking down.  The men had a meeting and
decided the fire was not out and the youth needed to go out to continue
fighting it.  The fire was not going out, and around 11.30pm, the griot
rounded the village calling out everyone had to go and pump water and fight
the fire.  By this time, the fire was probably less than a kilometre away,
and I went and started packing my bags as everyone was fighting the fire –
what a team player I am!  I was so scared!  Finally, at midnight, they got
the fire out.  phew!  I was sitting with Fanta and the dugutigi talking and
I heard Ami’s voice at Issa’s house.  (Because for two days she left back to
her parents house, on the other side of village).  I asked Fanta if Ami had
come back, she shrugged her shoulders in an ‘I guess so’ look.

The next morning, Fanta and I were eating our porridge, and she says, “I did
not sleep at all last night.  Issa came and woke me up in the middle of the
night because Ami’s foot was cut and he wanted me to clean it.”

I looked at her confused, “how did Ami’s foot get cut in the middle of the

She shrugged her shoulders and whispered to me, “Issa did it because she
refused to have sex with him last night, so he hit her, took a razor from
his razor and cut her foot.”

“What the F!  That is sick and inhumane!  Only crazy people do things like
that!”  She agreed.

The day following I saw the giant slash on Ami’s foot, I asked her how she
cut it, and she said there was a razor on the ground she stepped on.

Now I don’t even care anymore, Issa is crazy.  Men in this country cannot go
more than 24 hrs without sex, it’s no exaggeration, they say all the time,
“if my wife cannot satisfy me sexually, like if I want to have sex four
times in one day and she does not agree, she should only expect me to go on
the side to fulfill my need that she is unable to.”  I’ll fulfill your need,
with a knife in my hand.  Oh, that was violent again, sorry, can’t answer
violence with violence.  They’re pigs!  There’s a reason why AIDS and STD’s
are a problem in Africa, because this is the mentality.

Stephen Elliott

Posts: 1776
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: April 06 2006,05:51   

Quite fascinating stories.

Womens equality with men is a rare thing in the World. I worked for the UN for a short time. Every African male I knew considered that a man has a right to hit his wife.

These was not nasty people by the way. They just have a completely different view on things.

In Afghanistan women get even less rights. North Pakistan also.

I also saw that the UN (the ultimate big-money NGO) does some counter-productive things. One example is the UN agencies paying a huge amount (for the area) of money to rent property. So much, that the owners left Afghanistan (Germany being the preffered destination) and that money went with them.

So money that was officialy being spent on Afghanistan was actually emigrating to the west.


Posts: 846
Joined: April 2005

(Permalink) Posted: April 06 2006,10:47   

I get so
irritated with this inefficiency and waisting of time!  There is a reason
why this country won’t develop anytime soon, there’s no concept of
efficiency and the existence of time.

LOL.  does your friend do much traveling?

Pretty much de rigeur for most out of the way places I've visited.

The travails detailed in the second letter serve as a good reminder that the problems we talk about here are as nothing compared to most of the rest of the world.


Posts: 13407
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: April 06 2006,11:09   

She's traveled extensively, but only to modern countries.


The travails detailed in the second letter serve as a good reminder that the problems we talk about here are as nothing compared to most of the rest of the world.
Yeah, and believe me, I have letters from her I wouldn't post here. Long, detailed stories about people attempting to enlist her help in clitorectomies and such. When she first got there, her letters had some equivocation. She kind of put up with a lot of stuff if it was part of the culture. But lately, I'm seeing that attitude break down.


Posts: 846
Joined: April 2005

(Permalink) Posted: April 06 2006,11:18   

I hate to say it, but it looks to me like it's time for her to take a break.

I trust she realizes that she isn't invulnerable, and that she isn't going to change an entire culture without some serious support, right?

Based on her second letter, it sounds like she actually made progress in getting the folks in that village to at least give some thought to the beating issue.  I'd call that at least a minor victory and be willing to retreat and come back later.

I would have hated to be in Rwanda during the mass genocides.  Would have been an extremely hard thing to watch and not try to do something about.

  4 replies since April 06 2006,05:15 < Next Oldest | Next Newest >  


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