Monday, March 31, 2008

My AmazingTrip to Mali IV: The Pictures

I have two more days in Mali. I have had two of the most amazing weeks of my life, doing things I never thought I would have the chance to do, learning about people, cultures, and places that I previously knew nothing about. It has been memorable to say the least. Below are some pictures that I've taken that kind of help to sum up the things I've seen, the people I've met, and the experience I've grown from (Joost and Joanna, I am now 5'11 and a half, thank you for asking). ;P

Joost and me walking to the river outside Bamako, Mali. Two studs if I do say so myself.

Joost hanging out while some Malian kids wash in the river. They were all about getting their picture taken. The kids. But mostly Joost.

Me. Hanging out in a river. Taking pictures of myself. Which meant I had ten seconds to press the 'take a picture button', run through the river over algae infested rocks, splash dirty water all over myself, and pose in this dashingly good fashion. Impossible for some. Not for me.

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale... So some new friends and I went on a boat ride around the rivers of Bamako, Mali. It was wonderful. We had cheese and crackers. We had olives. We had wine in a box. We had a beautiful sunset. And we had Vina on bailing duty because 15 minutes into our tour the bottom of the boat started filling up with water. Luckily Vina is a first class bailer and our feet and food stayed dry.

This picture is in honor of Fred Fiedler. The first of the great pointers. I think we would make good hunting dogs. Anyway, while others were doing frivolous things like eating and bailing out water, I fearlessly pointed the course home.

Some fishermen took their skiff out into the river to drop traps Not sure how well fishing with traps works but they must know something I don't here because lots of people were using these small traps. I really liked the gondola style propulsion methods that they use here. Kind of makes you feel a bit more European while avoiding donkey manure and watching people bath, wash their clothes, and use the bathroom in the river.

Desert. Desert. Desert. TIMBUKTU! A view of the mythical city from our twin prop plane. It really was like a specter that appeared out of nowhere. And the landing was by far the craziest that I've ever been a part of. The wind from the Sahara blew our plane everywhichway but where the pilots wanted us to go. Fortunately my bad luck on this trip didn't ebb over onto the landing of the plane.

This summer's hottest fashion craze? Camel skin tents. Cool. Breezy. Relatively portable if you have a live camel nearby to tote it. And blends in quite well with most desert conditions. I'm guessing L.L. Bean could make a fortune by personalizing these bad boys with some initials across the entrance. They were certainly the thing all the hip people had in Timbuktu.

Joanna and me hanging out in one of those amazing camel tents from above. You didn't figure the inside looked like this did you? Me neither. I think this was the upgraded version.

Camel. Check. Turban. Check. New cheesy sunglasses because they were the only ones I could find to replace the pair I broke the night before making an excursion into the desert. Check.
I'm ready to ride!

Ibrahim my fearless guide had an uncanny sense of direction. All I saw was a bunch of sand. Some in dunes. Other times flat. But he led us to our evening camp site with nary a problem. He's good people.

After a two hour long camel ride I sit and watch the giant orb of a sun sink quickly under the desert's dunes while contemplating life. The Sahara outside of Timbuktu is a good place to do that, I think everyone ought to give it a try.

I think I look cute.

Joanna almost knocked with the 'husbands only' door knocker. Luckily she avoided that faux pas and knocked on the 'everyone else may knock here' section of one of the beautiful doors of Timbuktu, Mali.

A weaver sits making his wares in the culture market in Timbuktu. He's still got a way to go though; the yarn from his loom stretching out at least ten meters from where he sits.

A mosque rises above the rooftops as we enter Mopti, Mali. We saw many such mosque's on our travels around Mali. Most were made from mud and sticks but still managed to stretch up to 30 meters into the sky.

Ummm... that looks a lot like an ancient city built out of mud and resting under a 500 foot high escarpment. In fact that is what it is. We have entered Dogon country, Mali.

The Dogon built their houses under the cliffs in the 1400's. During that time the cliff faces were hidden by rain forests and the foliage and hight provided protection from wild animals and invading tribes.

I can tell already that this is going to be one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Our guide, Dra, tells the rest of the group the history of the Dogon while I go off to explore. This was probably my favorite part of the trip, the houses, rocks, and trees providing an excellent playground for a 27 year old boy.

Like these storage rooms which date back to the 800's, before the Dogon people populated this region. Joanna and I had a bit of a tight squeeze to get in, but it was well worth it to see the exasperated looks on all the adults faces.

The children of Dogon country. While we couldn't really communicate with words, holding hands, launching children playfully into the air, and playing football seem to get the message across to my new friends that they are pretty o.k. in my book.

In Dogon country there is stuff to climb EVERYWHERE!!! This tree happened to be in the middle of our trail and merited climbing status.

Me in the tree. Umm... that's it.

Tirelessly trekking through sweltering heat and wind blown sands the adventurers are led on by Dra, our incredible guide to Dogon country.

You can tell I've been working out because I'm holding up a bolder several tons bigger than me. Not everyone can do that. Just letting you know.

One of the many canyons we climbed through trekking through Dogon country. Remarkably beautiful, very tempting to climb everything around me, and a wonderful place to realize that God does good work.

That's a crocodile. And a chicken. Bet you can't guess who won. Our vegetarian companion didn't appreciate that we bought a crocodile it's lunch, but I think we were being generous having asked for nothing in return for a 2000 CFA meal.

The elders of a Dogon village traditionally wear blue with conical hats while the young initiated men of the village approach in their costumes and masks. They performed their traditional mask dance for us in what was a spectacular display of culture, agility, and history.

These two dancers have women masks. They represent the very rare women who are initiated within the tribe. Generally women and children are forbidden from observing the mask ceremony, although when tourists pay for it to be done the women and children may observe the dance but not the sacrifice that takes place beforehand.

The dancer for the sick. His bulging chin is representative of a common illness among the Dogon. He dances so that they may be healed.

The chief priest dancer. This mask represents the one who keeps the masks and costumes in order and thus is the head of all other dancers.

The bird mask went through a series of bowing, stabbing, and hopping motions.

The dancers form columns along with the head chanter, wearing blue, to complete the ceremony of the masks.

Dancers performing on stilts represent the young women of the Dogon. Standing on stilts that were about five feet in hight the dancers proceeded around the circle waving tails in hand.

Several dancers wore masks that reached over 15 feet in hight. The masks represented the pathway to the heavens. During their section of the dance the men bent forward and back to touch the tips of their masks to the ground in front and behind them.

It's hard to see but these masks have an upward Y and a downward Y. The upper part signifies the heavens while the part facing down signifies the earth. The band that connects the two signifies that which connects the heavens and the earth.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

My trip to Mali; Part III; A comedy of errors

"A comedy of errors is dramatic work (often a play) that is light and often humorous or satirical in tone, in which the action usually features a series of comic instances of mistaken identity, and which typically culminates in a happy resolution of the thematic conflict.

A slight variation of the "Comedy of Errors" discipline is Farcical theatre, which revolves around humour caused by the foolish mistakes of unintelligent characters and the chaos that derives from it."

So here I am making another error. I am going to post this as a Comedy of errors post as an optimistic approach to the end of my journey here. Wikipedia has shown me that really this holiday/vacation would probably be a better fit for Farcical theatre. I have written a short song to memorialize this occasion in my life.

On the first day of vacation I really fouled things up...
I got ripped off by a stupid taxi man

On the second day of vacation I really fouled things up...
I lost four hundred dollars after getting ripped off by a taxi man

On the third day of vacation I really fouled things up...
I went on a trip with Polish speakers, lost four hundred dollars, after getting ripped off by a taxi man

On the fourth day of vacation I really fouled things up...
My glasses broke while packing, can't understand Polish, lost four hundred dollars, after getting ripped off by a taxi man

On the fifth day of vacation I really fouled things up...
I broke the lousy car door, no glasses in the desert, can't understand Polish, lost four hundred dollars, after getting ripped off by a taxi man

On the sixth day of vacation I really fouled things up...
I soon ran out of money, broke the lousy car door, can't see in the desert, still can't understand Polish, lost four hundred dollars, after getting ripped off by a taxi man

On the seventh day of vacation I really fouled things up...
I slept in a car park, ain't got no money, broke the lousy car door, sand in my eyes in the desert, why can't they speak English, lost four hundred dollars, after getting ripped off by a taxi man

On the eighth day of vacation I really fouled things up...
Walked in on my friend in a towel, slept in a car park, not one single cent, broke the lousy car door, may be permanently blind, what the heck are they saying, lost four hundred dollars, after getting ripped off by a taxi man

On the ninth day of vacation I really fouled things up...
Got my back stuck in the car door, my friend has turned bright red, slept in a car park, no money left for anything, broke the lousy car door, cannot see to type this, Polish sounds like English backwards, lost four hundred dollars, after getting ripped off by a taxi man

On the tenth day of vacation I really fouled things up...
Hit a guy while closing the car door, got my back stuck in the car door, barging in on my friend in a towel, slept in a car park, begging beggars for a handout, broke the lousy car door, sand still in my eyeballs, who speaks Polish anyways, lost four hundred dollars, after getting ripped off by a taxi man

On the eleventh day of vacation I really fouled things up...
Bruised my head on a street shop, guys got a mark on his head now, great big whelt on my back, my friends towel is pink, slept by a Toyota, sold my body for a mango, broke the lousy car door, who breaks their glasses before going to the desert, I've lost all love for Poland, where is my four hundred, after getting ripped off by a taxi man

On the twelfth day of vacation I really fouled things up...
I forgot I don't speak French, bruise now on my noggin, matches the guy who I hit with the door, goes nicely with the whelt on my back, wake up so I don't get run over, five hours from home with no money, broke the lousy car door, next time pack more glasses, the world should all speak English, four hundred left on the plane, after getting ripped off by the taxi man

Thank you...thank you very much.

Just to let you know that pretty much sums up a lot of my trip. However I could have written and equally cheesy and horrible song about the amazing things that I have seen this trip. I road a camel (which isn't a cute animal by the way) into the Sahara desert. I practiced yoga on a sand dune as the sun dipped below the horizon and the wind blew my now shaggy beard in a very calming and wa filled way. I was able to spend easter morning watching the same sun rise up over the sand dunes and took a moment to give thanks for the amazingness of that moment. I have an amazing friend who hardly knows me but lent me some money so that I wouldn't be stuck by myself floating down a river in a country where I don't know the language, directions, or much of anything else. I was able to play a game of football in a dried up bay with a bunch of kids and not break anything, while making a few decent plays and not getting shown up too badly. I went to Dogon country where the villages of the Dogon remain from 800 years ago and the villages of other "little people" remain from the 800's. I was able to crawl through houses that haven't been lived in for hundred's of years. I saw a masked ritual dance performed by the initiated men of a small village in the heart of Dogon and learned about how their history still permeates their current lifestyles. I walked along a river in Segou, which was absolutely beautiful with lush green gardens, lot's of people washing, and hand thrown pottery shops adjacent to the blue sparkling waters of the Niger.

And, though I didn't really talk much, due to my new friends love of the Polish language, or the guides knowledge of only the French language, I had a really good time. It was a very change my globe of comfort type of trip. I had to be very reliant on others, I couldn't be a leader, and that is a position I don't do often and got a bit frustrated with this week. But I've learned a bit, grown a bit, and when asked why I am happy so often was able to respond with, "Why not, I always try to be happy!" Why live life focussed on the Farcical theatre that could be overwhelming? I'd rather live a comedy of errors. Where I mess up all the time but hope that, through the hard times, everything will turn out alright in the end.

Friday, March 21, 2008

My amazing trip to Mali: Part duex

I've been in Bamako, Mali for a few days now and rather than chronicling everything that has happened to me, as much as I know you'd like to read every detail, I've decided to hit the major points.

- The evil taxi driver was waiting for me outside my hotel even though I left an hour earlier than I had told him. I basically told him to bugger off when he approached me to offer to take me to the airport for only "5,000 CFA's". I jumped in another cab and made a quick get-a-way and hope not to see him when I pass back through on my home.

- I am an IDIOT! I realized after I found out that I left my journal and a couple hundred dollars on the airplane! Doh! I've decided not to dwell and my amazing parents have hooked me up with a bit of a loan so that I can still go up to Timbuktu. Thanks mom and dad!

- I hung out at the American International School of Bamako and had a really good time seeing friends that I met in Ghana last October, seeing the middle school students do amazing monologues, and jotting down lots of ideas to take back to the American International School of Freetown.

- Last night some friends whom I'm staying with took me out with them to dinner and to hear a band play. The food was good although when you see Tortillas Espania on a French menu, it doesn't have anything to do with flat bread, onions, tomatoes, and meat; but rather an omelet with potatoes. The band was great too. There was this little kid, couldn't have been more than eleven, that was KILLIN' the drums. I was inspired and whispered to my friend that this is one of those moments that could easily become a regret later. I wanted to play with the band. And so I walked up, sat beside the guy playing the congos, he looked at me, he got up without a word as the song played and I sat in, jamming with the band in front of the 20 some-odd people who were there to listen. It was AWESOME! I had a really good time. Still need a bit of practice but didn't make an utter fool of myself. I'll be posting pictures from the trip later this week and this will definitely be a bloggable picture.

- This morning Joost, the guy I'm staying with, and I went on a tour of Bamako. We went and got the money my parents hooked me up with so I could buy my airplane ticket to TIMBUKTU, then went to the markets where some guy wanted to sell me a bar of gold. After which we went hiking through this grass plainsland down to a river. It was beautiful. After which we had lunch at this Italian place with some of the best Spaghetti Cabanara that I've had in I don't know how long.
Which brings us to now, when I'll tell what I'm hoping will happen over the next week rather than telling what has already happened. That way when nothing goes according to plan later I'll be able to say that at least my psuedo plan sounded good.

- In a few minutes we're going on a boat ride around the rivers of Bamako.
- Tonight the circus is in town and we're definitely hitting that up.
- Tomorrow morning at 7 we fly off to Timbuktu, where we will get our passports stamped, to prove to all you doubters, go on a tour of Timbuktu, ride camels into the dessert, eat lamb while watching the sun set, wake up to the sunrise, ride back to Timbuktu where my friends will get on a plane to Mopti while I get on a boat on Monday morning that will take me down the Niger river to Mopti. I'll jump on a motorbike to go to Dogon country, hang out there for a couple days, and head back to Bamako next weekend.

So, that's the plan. We'll see how that works out. My motto this week is Hakunna Matata, so even when things don't quite go according to plan I will live a worry free life.

I hope...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My amazing trip to Mali: The beginning

So, I'm sitting in my friends apartment in Bamoko, Mali, reflecting on the journey that has brought me to this spot. It all started when... (cue Wayne and Garth flashback

I woke up Monday morning extremely excited about my forthcoming trip to Mali. I had my bag packed, and needed to run a few errands before going to the ferry terminal. Basically all I had to do was get downtown, cash my check so that I could pick up my plane tickets, go get my tickets, go pick up my passport from the Malian consulate, go pick up my bags, and get to the ferry terminal in time to catch the 11:00 ferry, so that I could then check in by 2:30 and get on the plane at 4:00. No worries!

So, I go downtown and cash my check after checking the internet for 30 minutes while waiting for the bank to open, even got to buy a new bookbag and pair of sunglasses on the way. On schedule.

Went to get my plane tickets from my friend, the travel agent. He asks if I can come back in the afternoon because he doesn't have them yet. I inform him that will be hard because I'm supposed to be leaving that afternoon. He calls the people who have my tickets. They tell him my flight is canceled. I ask him to check again. He does and the flight is back on, but he still doesn't have my tickets. He asks if I can come back in an hour to get them. I say I need them now so I can go to the ferry. Eventually we worked out that I would go to the people who had them because it was on my way. Behind schedule.

I go next door to the Malian consulate to pick up my passport with it's new stamp. An old lady eating rice tells me the consular is sick and asks if I can come back in the afternoon. I politely insist that I can't because I'm supposed to leave in an hour and can we get it now. She goes and gets the key and we go get my passport. Still slightly behind schedule.

The okada (motor bike) driver takes me to my house where I get my suitcase and ready myself to ride around town on the back of a motor bike with a suitcase on my head. He scoffs and shows me how to put it between us. Only slightly behind schedule.

Our ride to town was uneventful except the suitcase causes me to lean WAY back on the bike, which is an ab workout that I'm going to write to Men's Health about (Sandra, there is nothing wrong with Men's Health, it is not a sleazy magazine!).

We get to the other travel agents who have my tickets. I ask them for my tickets and they tell me they need to print them out and that it will take about 15 minutes. I am definitely behind schedule now.

The okada driver then takes me on one of the scariest rides of my life through some CRAZY narrow streets with a pack of other okadas dodging in and around traffic, people, dogs, and waterdrains. We get to the ferry terminal at 11:30. The ferry is not there.

I buy my ticket, the ferry comes at 1:00, a friend of mine gives me a lift to the airport, and I then sit around and wait for my delayed flight to Dakar, Senegal until 6:00. Part one of the journey is done, we have left Freetown!

Landing in Dakar was no problem. It was actually really impressive from the air. It was night by the time we got there and there was light EVERYWHERE! Freetown is still working on getting light to people but Dakar has apparently no problems with that.

I get my luggage, no problem. Change some money, no problem. Go outside to get a taxi to one of the cheap guesthouses I looked up early and run into a problem. The taxi drivers in francophonic Senegal speak...French. I knew that was going to be the case but hoped that if I told them the name of a familiar hotel it would all work out. It didn't. Then I was surrounded by a bunch of guys who tried to "help" me with my suitcase. I wouldn't let go and kept insisting to the one who spoke English that I was fine and asked that they leave my suitcase alone. (I kept switching into Krio, like that would help) They kept shooing the taxi drivers off before I could talk to them and insisted that they had an "airport taxi", which looked just like all the other taxi's that would take me to my guesthouse. Finally one of their friends shows up in a taxi and they get me into the taxi. The guy who was supposed to be throwing my suitcase in the back followed the suitcase and told the driver to take me to a guesthouse. (I assume he also said, this guy is a sucker who doesn't speak French and we should take him for as much as we can) On the way I ask how much the taxi is going to cost and when the driver doesn't respond I use hand gestures and the guy in the back to help get my point across. The driver responds with 20,000 CFA's, which is about 50.00 US. I laugh at him and tell him no that I'll pay 1,000 CFA's which is closer to 2.50 US. They don't respond at this time. They take me all over the place, I get frustrated and point to 8 different places I could stay and they keep insisting they know the guesthouse I mentioned earlier. Finally we arrive at the place and the driver says he'll take 10,000 CFA's since we're "friends". I go up to 5,000. He says it's not enough and won't leave. I go in to talk to the guy at the guesthouse who tells me it'll cost 30,000 CFA's to stay there. He then shows me a room that has someone else's stuff in it. I'm not so excited about staying here and certainly don't think it's worth that much money.

Then the only guy I've met to this point who speaks any English says he knows of another place. I tell him I'm not paying any more money for cabs. He says not to worry about it and gets the same cab driver from earlier (who I eventually paid 8,000 CFA's (20.00 US!!!!)) to take me on a long circuitous route that I later find out lands us 200 meters from where we just left. I wind up staying at this place and English speaking guy brings my bag up to my room. Then he tells me he wants money for the help he's given me. I wind up giving him 2,000 CFA's because he did help me out, at which time he tells me he'll see me in the morning.

End of Day 1

Friday, March 7, 2008

My great week of new stuff

What an amazing week! Lot's of fun stuff has happened this week so I just wanted to pass along the good news!

- I found out that I'm going to go to Mali for two weeks. I had previously planned on only being able to go for one week. Then I talked with my friend Charlie who suggested I stay two and just call in sick for the second week. Taking part of her advice and tweeking it I instead went to my school director and proposed to her that during my first week I check out the American International School of Bamako, making notes and taking pictures, so that I can come back and do a workshop on the things the school is doing that we might learn from. Then the second week I could go to Timbuktu with my friend and be back at school on the 31st of March. She took a couple days to think about it and let me know on Wednesday that it's a go! I think I jumped out of my seat with excitement when she gave me the thumbs up. I'm really excited about this trip!

- I bought a bike yesterday. It's a twelve speed no-name refurbished bike. I payed about $66 US for it. Then I went and road down the beach on my new old bike. I haven't ridden in years. Far too long for someone who loves to ride. It was great to get back on the road. I was pretty psyched. On Sunday I'm going to ride to school to see how long it takes and whether I'm ready to face the eternal uphills that I would have to ride to get to school. This is something I've thought about doing since I came back in August. I'm glad I finally went for it and got the bike. I'll put a picture of my two-wheeled phenome bike soon.

- I've started a new morning routine. My old routine went something like this:
6:20 Alarm goes off, snooze
6:30 Alarm goes off, snooze
6:40 Alarm goes off, crawl out of bed
6:40-7:00 Quick shower, put on clothes, leave
(I'd brush my teeth at school, just so you don't think I left that vital part of most people's morning routines out of mine)

My new routine goes like this.
5:50 Alarm goes off, snooze
6:00 Alarm goes off, wake up, call my friend Cami to make sure she's also awake.
6:05-6:30 Read some scripture, pray, practice praise songs, journal about what I read the praise songs and the journaling aren't everyday but the reading and praying are)
6:30-6:40 Push ups, sit-ups, other excercise stuff
6:40-7:00 Quick shower, put on clothes, brush my teeth (which I do at home now), leave

I am loving my new routine. It takes away a good 40 minutes of sleep but the impact on my outlook for the day is drastically different. I've had scripture and prayer in mind as I start my day which then follows me throughout the day. I've worked out my body, waking me up and giving me extra energy to face the day. And since Cami and I are calling each other to make sure the other one is awake it's not something I can skimp on. I really am excited about the changes in my life that are happening because of this. The only thing that might change is that if I decide I do want to start riding to school in the mornings on my NEW BIKE then I'll start waking up earlier.

So yay for this week!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

So I've realized that my time here in Sierra Leone is starting to wind down. There have been a plethora of amazing experiences here. Some I have been fortunate enough to capture on film (except noone uses film anymore). Here are some of my favorites from the past 20 months.

(From left to right)
Some of the boys that lived on the street that I lived on my first year here. A makeshift street school, holding children of all ages and abilities. Me, hanging out in a tree, looking remarkably like my father did twenty years ago. Best friends holding hands on our school's walk-a-thon at the beach.
(From Left to Right)
A pair of girls who would run up to greet me everyday as I walked home from school, their looks brought smiles and heartache at the same time. My kids, silly, serious, full of laughs and tears, I love them even when they stick their tongue out at me. Pulling in the fishing nets is never an easy task.

(From left to right)
A young man in Kabala watched over me while I took a nap on a log in the woods. A young man holds his sister while watching the apotodem play at Charlotte falls. Taking a moment to pose inbetween jumping in the waves and chasing friends at Burra Beach. An old wheel makes a good toy on the dusty streets of Kabala.

(From left to right)
Hiding amidst the kasava plants on our trip to a local farm. A young man waits for his cue at a schools musical theatre program in Godrich. It's tough playing on the sand and as the sun dips into the sea these two players talked for a few minutes about playing overseas and their upbringing in Salone. This boy expressed his enthusiasm for life with a song and dance in the streets of Cocklebay.

(From left to right)
My favorite little girl who lived on my street, she was always excited to see me and was full of excitement about life. Taking a moment to reflect on our climb up one of the mountains surrounding Kabala. Another young man from my street, he loved kicking a tennis ball around the street.