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Old 04-20-2005, 06:15 AM   #16
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ok, I will try to take these one at a time and appreciate your patience with me as I can't get around to the internet as much as I'd like.

Quote:
Originally posted by tiny dancer
What is a normal day for you?
Hmm. Normal is hard to define. Briefly, my day starts whenever I wake up, usually because the sun is shining in my eyes and it's getting so hot that sleep is not an option (we're in hot season here and no A/C for me). I make some food, often scrambled eggs on a slice of French bread (one of the legacies of French colonial days), shower, get dressed in one of my "work" outfits which are mostly traditional Malian style. This meaning loud, coloured printed fabrics in styles created by my tailor! Generally a straight long skirt and a fitted or loose top. I have been wrapping my hair in a head covering, NOT as one might think to bend to Muslim sensibilities but because I have found that it's actually cooler to not have the sunshine baking directly into your head. And then I go catch a little green public transport into town. They are minibuses from Europe or America, gutted and refitted with benches along the inside walls. They squeeze about 20-25 people into these things. I take this to work which is downtown in the middle of the market, often complete chaos and craziness, people selling and buying, motos zipping around vehicles, pedestrians darting across the streets. My daily work schedule is really flexible. Often I meet with my boss and update him on what I've been doing, ask him for help if I need troubleshooting (ie. get a colleague to do their work as promised). I go to meetings some days. I sit with the secretary and teach her new things on the computer such as how to use Excel and how to organize her files so that she can find documents...or the magical fact that Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V can enact a copy and paste action!

Whenever my work is finished, which varies from day to day, I sometimes decide to run errands, go shopping, etc. I take a similar minibus back to my side of town, buy fresh lettuce, tomatos and onions from the roadside stand outside my house, get my bread from the bakery and then go up the four flights of stairs to my apartment where I have a great view of the city of Bamako. Once inside my house I indulge in much-needed downtime. I listen to the BBC Worldservice for Africa while I putter around the kitchen or I go outside and play with my cat. Then my boyfriend comes over and we have dinner and I help him study English. And that's about it.
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Old 04-20-2005, 06:22 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally posted by coemgen
What do you do and who are you representing? (if anyone.)
I work as a Peace Corps volunteer which means that I am representing the United States of America, I guess. However, one of the things I love about my job is that I get to disabuse people of the notion that all of us Americans are like GW Bush or that we all even like him. This seems to come as a relief to most people. But I digress.

What I DO is really a lot of different things. My job description states that I am a Small Business Development Advisor assigned specifically to the sectors of Artisanat (handcrafts) and tourism. I have two Malian government agencies that I am partnered with and have done different projects with them. For example, most of the work I have done with the Tourism Bureau has been revamping their English publications, re-writing, re-editing them etc. I have done a lot more with the artisan side of things. I work with the government agency responsible for promoting artisanat. I am working on a project to collect and centralize information about the sector, part of it includes making a website, a database, a printed directory of artisans in Mali as well as basic promotional material (which really doesn't yet exist). I'm also in the thick of things right now organizing a festival for artisans. Crossing my fingers that it will go off well.

In addition to the formal projects, I do a lot of one on one training as the need arises. Lots of it in computers but also basic business ideas. Hope that answers the question reasonably well.
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Old 04-20-2005, 06:54 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally posted by MrsSpringsteen
What do you think, now that you've been there for so long, are the biggest misconceptions about Africa? And what do you think can be done to change them?

What are the differences between your expectations before you went there and the way things really are?
Quote:
Originally posted by Axver
How do Western portrayals of Africa - particularly in the media - compare to reality? Is the state of the continent not as dire as it would appear, or is the opposite true and it is worse?[/B]
Biggest misconception...hmm. There seem to be several. I guess the largest is probably the idea that Africa as a whole is a sad, desolate place full of war and disease. Ok, there is disease and in some places there are conflict, but what I have found to be true on the ground is that the people are really amazingly resiliant and have such good attitudes about the whole thing. More than most of us would if faced with the same problems. Africa is blessed with such a tapestry of cultures and a really amazing history. Art and music here are so much a part of daily life. And the sense of the "other", maybe neighborliness is the word...people take time to greet each other and they look out for each other.

All that to say, yes the problems ARE big but they aren't impossible. I feel that one of the problems with Western media is that when you see a piece on Africa, everything is SO foreign and so alien that as a viewer you tend to regard it as something wholly other. Even the fact that "everyone's black!" (oh my!) tends to send the unconscious signal that "ah those natives, they will never change and will always wallow in poverty". I don't know if I am making any sense. It is just an impression I have and I may be off base. But when you are here...when you live here...you wake up one day and realize that you don't see the people as different from you anymore. You don't see color at all! You can even distinguish between different tribal groups by the differences in facial features. That mass of humanity becomes suddenly not a sea of strangers but people you can empathize with and relate to. They are the faces of the people that you work with, play with, eat with...even, in my case, the person you love.

I guess the only real way to change misconceptions is through education. Part of that has to be not always focusing on the negatives (war, AIDS, corruption) but also on the positives that the continent has to offer as well as the success stories. But what I really wish is for more people to come and visit Africa! In the end it is facing the reality of a thing that changes one's perspective.

For myself, I think that before I came here I was perhaps better prepared than some (having spent 13 years in Indonesia, another so-called 3rd world country) but it was still a big adjustment. I had a lot of irrational fear and didn't know what to expect from Africans themselves. Well, the fear melted away after just a few days of being here and as far as the people go, I think I have expressed myself above. I guess I also had a lot of big ideas and hopes and now I am more realistic. That doesn't mean I don't believe that change is possible and that aid is necessary, if anything I believe even more strongly that those of us who are so blessed have a responsibility to look after our brother, but I also see how complex the task is and I get headaches thinking about how to make inroads. In the end I can only try to do my little part.
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Old 04-20-2005, 07:33 AM   #19
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lovely answer, thanks

What do you miss the MOST not living in the States?
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Old 04-20-2005, 07:40 AM   #20
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When do you come home?
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Old 04-20-2005, 10:38 AM   #21
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My other Malaysian friend visited Africa as a teenager and rates it as one of the best experiences of her life. She is an artist and said, "I didn't really learn what Beauty was until I went to Africa".

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Old 04-20-2005, 11:41 AM   #22
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Thanks for your answer. May God bless you and your work.
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Old 04-20-2005, 03:33 PM   #23
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Hi Sula! Long time no talk to...
My question is: Do you sometimes feel that you have to defend Americans (or people from other countries/continents) to Africans? That you have to be a sort of representative for those of us who don't agree with our government? Do you accept this "responsibility" or does it feel like a burden?
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Old 04-20-2005, 03:44 PM   #24
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Thanks for your insight. I look forward to hearing more about your experiences!

Do you get a chance to travel outside of West Africa at all?

cheers,
Julie
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Old 04-21-2005, 01:06 PM   #25
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Hi Sula!
Is there any one (non-English) language you can point to as "unifying" in the general West African region, similar to Swahili in East Africa? And if so, do you know how this language came to be seen as "unifying?" (I guess if you say French that question pretty much answers itself.)
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Old 04-21-2005, 01:44 PM   #26
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Sulawesigirl, I've enjoyed reading this thread! I'm a cultural anthropologist and many of my colleagues work in Africa. I'll likely be in Zambia in July consulting on a project there, and 2 of my students are in South Africa for the semester studying/volunteering on projects related to migration/HIV and AIDS orphans. Thanks so much for sharing your insights and experiences.
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Old 04-24-2005, 05:52 AM   #27
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Quote:
Originally posted by Pearl
What do West Africans think of America?
I remember reading about Brad Pitt visiting Ethiopia and he said he met people who had never heard of the US. Is this true with some West Africans?

Where you live, how many ethnic groups, languages spoken, and religious groups are there? Do they get along well?
Alright, back again, sorry for the long lagtime in response, but as you can guess, i don't have internet at my house.

West Africans seem to regard Americans (as a people, not the country) as friendly and open. I feel that this is mainly in contrast to the French who are seen as reserved and aloof. Whenever I speak Bambara (local language) people often guess me as an American rather than French because as they say, French people don't bother to learn the local languages because they already have the national language down pat.

Of course there are plenty of misconceptions about the US and Americans. People seem to think that if they could go to America, all their problems would be solved and they would have a lot of money. I don't know how many times I have tried to explain that although they "might" be able to learn the language and find a job, everything costs more money AND unlike here, if you are hungry or need a place to sleep, you are on your own. Here, someone would take care of you, a distant uncle, relation or whatever. You can always eat in Mali. People invite you to share their meals if you happen to walk by them while they are eating, and they mean it.

Regarding ethnic and religious groups. Mali is very very rich in ethnic harmony. It is one of the countries in Africa with the most prestigious history (which I can't go into all the details here but will try to sum up). Its the home of great empires such as Ghana, Mali, Songhai and Bambara. Back when we Europeans were still in the dark ages, Timbuktu was a center of gold and salt trade across the Trans-Saharan routes and a beehive of academic activity. There were scholars and libraries and all kinds of "life of the mind" going on here in Africa. And the area was rich in the profits that its geographic position afforded it, benefitting from the trade routes that had to pass through on their way to the Mediterranean and eventually Europe. It was when the Europeans began their incursions into what is now Ghana, Cote D'Ivoire, etc. and no longer were dependent on the overland trade routes, that this area began to lose it's prosperity.

Of course there was the colonial mad dash to divide up the African pie amongst the European powers. France ended up with the big chunk called the Sudan, which really enclosed modern day Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Niger, and others. Colonial rulers drew up the boundaries to create new nations, which in many ways means that the diverse ethnic groups were artificially bound together and some separated by the borders. This is the cause of many of the conflicts here in W. Africa, at least...it is one of the roots.

Anyways, in Mali we are lucky that there has been for centuries a tradition of tolerance and ethnic harmony. Each of the major ethnic groups has had it's heyday, so to speak, so they all have a sense of pride. We have what is called the "cousinage" or "joking cousins", which is a system of social cohesion. Different last names (or ethnic groups) will be connected with others and they are called "cousins". When you meet someone with a cousin last name, you both joke and tease each other, trade insults goodnaturedly, etc. It's something that helps de-fuse what might otherwise turn into rivalry and Malians are very proud of their national unity.

Here in Mali, there are many different language groups, but the dominant language is Bambara. Off the top of my head I could list Songhai, Fula, Dogon, Bobo, Bozo, Senoufo, Tamasheq, and Soninke as a few of the other major ones. Most of the people are Muslim, but it is not the national religion and people are very tolerant of each other. We celebrate both Muslim and Christian holidays...last month was Easter, last week was Mohamed's birthday, etc.

So, I hope that answers your question.
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Old 04-24-2005, 05:57 AM   #28
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Quote:
Originally posted by Axver
And on a different note: what is Internet access like there?
Well, obviously I am online now, so at least it exists. In actuality, internet access is growing and spreading. For now, it is very widespread here in the capital city, where I live, in the form of internet cafes. Not a lot of people can afford to have a private line at home because just to have the telephone line is a large cost and you pay for the time online as if it was a phone call (very expensive) in addition to the fees for dial-up. However, there are a few companies providing broadband, which is expensive but getting cheaper every day, and of course, faster.

In the outside areas, you will find net cafes in most of the major cities (even in Timbuktu) and in a FEW of the smaller towns. It really depends. some aid agencies have done projects to try to get wireless internet out to more rural areas, but it is not very wide-spread. And of course in a place where half the population isn't even literate, let alone computer-literate, you have to think of ways to make the technology useful for them.

All in all though, I have a lot more access than I imagined I would have when I signed up to come here.
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Old 04-24-2005, 06:08 AM   #29
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Quote:
Originally posted by dandy
if memory serves me correctly, you're working with the PeaceCorps--has it been a positive experience for you?

if there was one thing you'd like the world to know about Africa, what would it be?
1. Yes, I am and yes it has been. (see above response)

2. Africans are people too! No really, it sounds simple, but I feel that this point is missed by many. They're like us. They want a better life for their kids, they want to live and love and work and laugh just like any of us. It's just that they have a lot more obstacles preventing them from getting to a lot of things we take for granted (clean water, basic health and sanitation, electricity, education, jobs).

Quote:
Originally posted by VertigoGal
Does the media coverage of Africa portray Africans as too desperate/sad? what I mean is, do you find Africans, despite their obstacles, to be relatively normal people who like to joke around and have a good time? from what I see on the news, Africa is a place where everyone's always sad and desperate.

also, as a true hero (and you are), does Bono bug ya?
I do think the media coverage of Africa tends to be over-negative. Granted, there are many negative things to talk about, but when it comes down to it, it is as I said above. These are regular people. They do laugh and joke and have a good time. They aren't sitting around every minute crying about the fact that they are poor. Not to mean that it doesn't bother them, it does. Especially when they live in countries where there is a rich elite and a poor majority and not much in between. But when you're poor, you still have to get on with your life and if you spent every waking moment moping around, it wouldn't be much of a life. People make do with what they have, often in amazing and innovative ways. You should see how long they can keep old junker cars running here! talk about ingenuity.

I don't see myself as a hero, btw, far from it. In fact, although I am happy about the few small things I have been able to do here, I am constantly aware that I could do more, could work harder, could be more understanding, could learn the language better, coulda, woulda, shoulda. But at the end of the day, you have to tell yourself that you are trying and that you can save the world by yourself.

And Bono doesn't bug me. He does inspire me.
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Old 04-24-2005, 06:36 AM   #30
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Quote:
Originally posted by foray
How is it different/same from your childhood home, sulawesi?

foray
Different in that the people are African, not Asian. They are a bit more outgoing. Also the food in Asia is a million times better. I like Mali, but I will not lie, on the whole the food is awful. Mainly because when you live close to the desert, you don't have a lot of raw materials to work with.

Also, where I live is what is known as a Sahelian climate. It is dry and hot. In Sulawesi I was in the rainforest, in the mountains where it got cold at night and everything was soooo green. I do miss the green.

Quote:
Originally posted by Anthony
Do your parents approve of the work you do? Do they approve of you?

Ant.
My parents tell me that they do approve of what I am doing. I think that they may be a little baffled as to why I would do this instead of go into mission work, but then again, they seem to understand that I have to make my own way in the world. So far, they approve of me...but when I send that letter, things may change.

Quote:
Originally posted by Jamila
sulawesigirl14, you may be one of the few posters here who is currently living in Africa, but there are others here who have lived in Africa and who currently have major ties to the Continent.

Plus, each area of Africa is different in perspective and lifestyle, so your experience is unique, but not necessarily comprehensive of the entire African experience.
hmm. I was quite sure I pointed this out myself at the beginning. In any case, if you feel it needs repeating, so be it.

Quote:
Originally posted by sulawesigirl4
Like the title says. I think (although I am not positive) that I might be the only active poster who is living in Africa.
...
Keep in mind that I am living in only one part of a continent that covers thousands of miles, ethnic groups, languages etc. so my responses will be biased towards West Africa.
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