30 November 2011

closed butterfly

butterfly01mali. double the size of texas.

butterfly02how does one describe the shape of mali?

butterfly03it has quite an awkward shape. until you stumbled upon the perfect description in a book you’ve now misplaced.

butterfly04a butterfly with closed wings – un papillion fermé.

mali and butterflies. from this point on, the two will be inseparable for you.

butterfly05just like you and sunsets.

butterfly06your eyes savor those few minutes when the sky has that certain shade of pink.

and in this specific spot, the backdrop of what you assume is a termite mound.

butterfly07but you aren’t sure. as usual, you’re filled with niningali about the things around you. questions.

butterfly08you decide to watch another sunrise. but you wake up too early and become terrified of the dark and overgrown path.

the imagination runs wild. you know there are no lions or snakes – but still you turn back.

butterfly09you decide to walk to a field where the grass has been cut to watch the sunrise.

as light slowly fills the sky, your fear fades away.

butterfly10and you decide to give the overgrown path a second try.

butterfly11you push your way through the tall grass.

butterfly12then the ah moment arrives.

you find yourself standing on the banks of the baji niger. the niger river.

butterfly13a river in textbooks. a river in history. a river in maps.

a river you are in front of.

butterfly15how many dreams are you living in?

butterfly14the red balloon makes an appearance.

butterfly16your eyes are fixed east.

in bambara, koron.

butterfly17the tile, or sun, performs as usual.

you as well – you think, reflect, and ponder about all the moments that happen seemingly slow and fast at the same time.

butterfly18time moves here in a way it’s never moved before for you.

butterfly19you haven’t quite decided how it works.


butterfly21more sunsets and sunrises are needed before you can figure it out.

butterfly22which is not going to be a problem at all for the next two years.

time, regardless of whether it moves quickly or slowly, is the one thing you will have plenty of.

25 November 2011

culturally adjusting

IMG_7814orange roads, green trees, blue skies – these are the colors of your new life.

mali01at first you might go through some culture shock – such as waking up to a ram being slaughtered right outside your bedroom.

mali14you might also think the place is dirty.

mali22but you also think its beautiful.

mali19you’re adjusting – one bucket bath at a time.

mali03the nights are spent tucked in to avoid mosquitos, lizards, roaches, scorpions, spiders, or anything else that might want to crawl into bed with you.

IMG_7945these first few months are being spent in a village so you can become culturally adjusted.

mali16mornings begin with breakfast being heated over hot coals and sunlight sifting through dusty air.

mali17learning bambara is the priority at the moment. all day, every day.

mali15elearning about seeds.

mali18collecting them. drying them. saving them. activating them.

mali15of course then planting them.

mali14ahopefully, watching them grow.

mali13while also watching yourself and your fellow volunteers grow.

IMG_7933just like seeds – you’re currently living in a malian village to acclimate you to mali and learn the language and culture before being transplanted to your permanent site where you will be for the next two years.

mali24the goal is not to be culturally integrated. to do so would be to abandon your values as well as yourself in order to fit in with your new culture.

mali10hto be adjusted means to be aware of the differences between your own culture and of your host culture and to find the balance between them.

mali20every day, you see something new, and every day, you ponder more and more about your own values while living in another.

mali12the days are as rhythmic as the pounding of corn and millet.

mali11the pounding continues with the dancing of feet and arms.

mali02your new life can also be summarized by six items.

insect repellent – avoiding malaria

bucket – so you can go to the pump and get drinking water.

bleach – to kill off anything bad in your water

solar lamp – so you can study at night

headlamp – so you can walk at night

toilet paper – because you aren’t ready to wipe the malian way

essential items to help you adjust.

mali04one item you’ve loved in every place you’ve ever visited or lived: the bicycle.

IMG_7846what other method lets you explore with the wind in your face and your mind free to roam?

IMG_7875eight hours of bambara a day. that leaves just a small precious amount of daylight to be savored before the night settles in.

mali21it could be spent playing uka.

creek01but what you really love to do is yala yala.

the bambara word for walk around.

mali15awith your fellow trainees, this is what you do. a direction is picked, a path is followed, and the legs find a nice place to rest.

creek02you can be found sitting at the bank of a small creek.

IMG_7852or enjoying the shade underneath the mango trees.

mali09or exploring the rice/millet/corn fields.

mali05wherever you end up, the discussions are always on.

mali05cyou’re thankful to have good company.

mali23you’re slightly worried about the isolation you’ll go through later, but for now you don’t waste a moment exchanging thoughts.

mali09ahere, just a one minute walk from your temporary new home, you can do what you love most.

mali06the tilebin. the sun falling.

mali07the only thing you need.

mali08the only thing you want.

mali10its what calms you and prepares you for the next day.

donni donni. little by little. petit a petit.