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Old 04-24-2005, 06:37 AM   #31
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Originally posted by LivLuvAndBootlegMusic
Sula,

No questions here, I just wanted to say how much I respect your work. I met you once in Chicago; you're an awesome person!
Thanks. But really, I'm quite normal. I remember that time in Chi-town. Fun fun fun! Next time hopefully the Irish bar will let us stay even if there are minors in the party. lol.

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lovely answer, thanks

What do you miss the MOST not living in the States?
mm. Cold air. Cream cheese. Being able to drive. Barnes and Noble. Being able to go to a U2 show.

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When do you come home?
Well, that depends on where "home" is. But as far as coming back to the States, it is really up in the air. As I posted in a thread in Goal is Soul, my boyfriend might be able to study in the States, so if that works out, I will probably leave here with him sometime this fall. If not, I might look at staying an extra year. The next few months will tell.

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Originally posted by foray
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".

foray
It's definitely an experience I would recommend to anyone. And it is an interesting observation. There is something very vital and alive about Africa. Something deep and real. It's hard to explain but it opens your eyes to a lot of things and your perceptions of them.

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Originally posted by coemgen
Thanks for your answer. May God bless you and your work.
Thanks. And may God bless you and yours.
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Old 04-24-2005, 06:38 AM   #32
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Originally posted by enggirl
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?
hey! It has been ages! Hope you are well.

I guess "defend" would not be the word I would use. I make no bones about the fact that I am very against many of the things that America and the West in general stands for and is involved in. The war in Iraq, the villification of Islam, and the disgusting abuse of power when it comes to trade, as a few examples. But yes, I suppose I do take on the job of representing the "other" side of America to the outside world and I take it seriously. Mainly because it is something that one would not know simply from observing American foreign policy and general stance towards the world. People are afraid of us now. they want to like Americans but they are bewildered as to how they could possibly vote for someone like Bush. If nothing else, in my exchanges with people I try to defend the good principles that our country used to stand for and may stand for again, and point out that in theory, the US is a democracy and I can voice my differences without fear.

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Originally posted by oktobergirl
Do you get a chance to travel outside of West Africa at all?

cheers,
Julie
So far, money and time have been the obstacles keeping me from travelling as I would like. I'm paid a small stipend and since I live in the capital city, the money goes very fast. Also since I work at something like a "real" job, I can't just pick up and leave whenever I want. However, I am hoping to do some travelling in a few months. If nothing else, now that I have lived here in W. Africa, I will always have a base for the next time I decide to visit.

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Originally posted by Ultraviolet Light
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.)
hullo. The answer would have to be French. And as you guessed, it is obvious that it is a fruit of the colonial era. However, it has served a useful purpose in that it is rather neutral compared to choosing one of many local languages over another local language. One of the things that has become more and more of a problem tho is the fact that in today's world, English is really the lingua franca, and the West African Francophone countries are at a huge disadvantage there.

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Originally posted by ruffian
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.
Thanks. I've enjoyed spilling my random thoughts onto virtual paper. And I salute you for your upcoming project. I admire people who work to fight the AIDS crisis...it's not an easy battle, but one that needs to be fought. Let me know how the trip goes.
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Old 04-24-2005, 11:25 AM   #33
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what a great thread!

thank you for your thoughtful and insightful responses, and for sharing your experiences with us, sula. you sound like a wonderful person, and i have a lot of respect and admiration for the work you do. your story is inspiring.

two more questions for you:

based on your experiences, what is the status of women in mali? are women's rights recognized and respected? are girls encouraged to go to school?

how is the education system structured in mali? is basic education free, and do many children attend?
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Old 04-24-2005, 01:39 PM   #34
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So, I hope that answers your question
Yes it did! Thanks Sula! I think its great that you're living in such a warm, friendly country with so much history to it. And its great to hear how all the ethnic and religious groups get along so well.

Are there any historical landmarks around? Where is present-day Timbuktu? Is it where you are?

When you mentioned in your response to enggirl about how America is a democracy and you can voice your opinion, it made me wonder: what is the government like in Mali? Is there any freedom of speech and of the press, and are the people able to voice their opinions about their leaders like you?

Sorry for all the questions. I'm just always curious and fascinated by different countries and cultures.
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Old 04-24-2005, 03:58 PM   #35
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My parents were both born in Kenya and so was my girlfriend. My parents left when a revolution took place there and they came to Canada. Although I was born here in Toronto, I have visited Kenya when I was younger and Africa is truly a beautiful and inspiring continent.

One thing that I have to add to this thread: Bono has done such a tremendous job of raising the general awareness about Africa, not only in regards to the negative aspects (i.e. poverty, disease, things that we should fight), but also in regards to the positive aspects like the sheer beauty, innocence, and genuine nature of the people. You won't find people more warm-hearted than in Africa.
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Old 04-25-2005, 07:40 AM   #36
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Originally posted by dandy
based on your experiences, what is the status of women in mali? are women's rights recognized and respected? are girls encouraged to go to school?

how is the education system structured in mali? is basic education free, and do many children attend?
Women's issues. A subject much talked about in government and yet still much neglected in practice. In theory, women have equal rights and there is a push to get them involved in all levels of society. There is a Ministry of Women and you will find women politicians and bureaucrats in many parts of the government. However, this country is still very traditional. My friends who live in small villages tell me that wife-beating is common and not taken seriously as a problem (or even a crime). Girls are excised (clitoridectomy) and married off rather young. Polygamy is legal and practiced. In divorces, the man tends to get custody of the children after they have passed the age of 5. And in my observation women do the bulk of the real work. Daily they are responsible for gathering firewood, hauling water, washing clothes by hand, pounding millet, buying and selling in the market, tending the children, and serving their husband meals whenever he comes home. You will see women going about their labor in the blazing heat, child strapped on their back, buckets or calabashes balanced on their heads and more things in their hands while men sit under the shady trees and drink tea for hours. It's enough to make me livid sometimes.

So, all that to say, the principle of women's rights is a fledgling one but is growing. What I see is that people don't make the connection between a nice idea on paper and the practical implications of this for home life. Things are changing little by little, but it seems to be confined more to the urban areas rather than the rural. Now this is not to imply that Malian women are a bunch of ninnies. Far from it. They are strong and tough and usually don't hesitate to dish out their opinions. But in a mixed company situation, for example a village meeting, they will stay silent and let the men do the talking. If you get them on their own however, as a group of women, be prepared to not get a word in edgewise.

The question regarding girls education is similar in answer to the first. The government has talked a lot about raising the percentage of girls in school and apparently it is improving. But again, in a rural setting girls will be married young and will be responsible to help their mother out around the house at a young age, so may not have the time to go to school. More than half of the women in Mali are illiterate...I forget the actual statistics but it is very low. This is something the NGOs are working on by providing adult education and literacy classes in local languages in some areas. But it is slow going.

From what I have seen the education system here is really in need of not only improvement, but a complete overhaul. There are far too many pupils per teacher, on average you will find from 80 to 100 students in one classroom. Because of this keeping control is very hard and I have heard horror stories from other volunteers who have gone to schools to do presentations of things like AIDS...of kids jumping in and out of the windows, throwing things at one another, etc. There is also a lack of materials, books, etc.

And beyond that the system itself is the ancient French system which rewards rote learning and discourages creative thinking. You are to repeat what the teacher says and memorize lists. In my view, this is what creates a hierarchical society where no one is brave enough to think for themselves and troubleshoot. For example, at my work, if the boss hasn't spelt something out in black and white, the underlings will be too afraid to find a quick solution to a temporary problem. So nothing happens. For me, education is KEY for this country to develop in the future. An educated society which has the tools and the confidence to think for themselves can create their own initiatives and enterprises.

As for the costs of eduction, I will have to get back to you on that because I don't know. I'll ask my boyfriend tonite.
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Old 04-25-2005, 03:16 PM   #37
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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. [/B]
Thanks so much for your answer! It makes a lot of sense. And I didn't mean to try to downplay the scope of the problems that do exist there (I know some people try to convince themselves that people in these countries don't have it that bad, just so they themselves can sleep better at night...) Do you ever feel that if the media gave Africa more of a chance as a tourist destination (considering it's natural beauty, friendly people, etc), it would really help the people there?

Thanks so much again for doing this thread...I don't mean to sound cheesy, but as a teen who up until now hasn't really known what I want to do with my life, you have really inspired me. I mean it. I have always thought about doing something like this, but now I'm really interested.

So, of course, I've got a few more questions for ya:

This might be a *really* stupid question, but, ummm, you do get paid and everything right?

Also, what types of different positions do you know of that are within the Peace Corps and other similar organisations. Like most kids, I wanted to be a doctor at some point when I was younger, but now I'm sure that's *not* what I want to do with my life. (and they always make it out like you have to be a certified hematologist to even work in Africa.) What kind of qualifications do you need to have to do something like you do?

Thanks.
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Old 04-28-2005, 08:41 AM   #38
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Originally posted by Pearl
Are there any historical landmarks around? Where is present-day Timbuktu? Is it where you are?

When you mentioned in your response to enggirl about how America is a democracy and you can voice your opinion, it made me wonder: what is the government like in Mali? Is there any freedom of speech and of the press, and are the people able to voice their opinions about their leaders like you?
Yes, there are lots of historical things here in Mali! In fact, that is the basis of the tourism here. Not only do we have Timbuktu (and yes, I have been there) but also the medieval city of Djenne with the oldest mudbrick mosque in the world, but also Dogon Country - where a very unique people group, the Dogon, live in small villages around and on the Bandiagara Escarpement still celebrating their traditional festivals, practicing animism, etc. Also, there are several cities known for their colonial architecture (although I guess that is a mixed bag, considering the harm done by the colonial era). And Mali in general is a bit like a blast to the past, if you know what I mean. People still live a very rural life for the most part.

oh and Timbuktu is way up north on the edge of the Sahara desert. About half of Mali's land is the Sahara, but people live in the south because...well, for obvious reasons. It's about a two day drive by road from here in Bamako.

We're also very lucky here in that compared to many other countries in the region, Mali enjoys a large amount of press freedom. There are scores of independent daily newspapers, many of which have as their main thrust political discussion and critique. As far as I've seen, people respect their President but don't feel completely obliged to say only good about him. I've heard complaints and criticisms. There isn't (as far as i know) a secret police waiting to arrest people for saying stuff. The government itself is democratic in principle and seems to be working to decentralize. It's hard because for the most part things get decided and done here in the capital and the people in their villages don't get a lot of say, but that is being changed...slowly. I was here during local elections and it went smoothly and calmly, no rioting or anything. There is of course plenty of corruption. It's everywhere and on every level. But I don't know how you would go about changing that...it's not easy to root out.

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Sorry for all the questions. I'm just always curious and fascinated by different countries and cultures.
Hey, I asked for questions, you provided them. Ask more, as much as you want. It's the reason for the thread.
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Old 04-28-2005, 09:04 AM   #39
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how is the education system structured in mali? is basic education free, and do many children attend?
so, I asked my boyfriend (who is Malian, btw) about this the other day and he said that while primary education is free, you do have to buy books and notebooks and a school uniform. It's about $15 a year per child. Which doesn't sound like much, but can certainly be out of the range for some people. If they have a lot of kids, it is likely that only a few will go to school...the girls will probably stay home and help at the house rather than the parents paying the cost to send them to school. This is of course a problem of perception too...why should I pay to send my kid to school? As in, what is the value in education? If people see a real benefit in having educated children...ie. it translates into jobs, etc. they will probably be more keen to have them attend classes.

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Originally posted by VertigoGal
Do you ever feel that if the media gave Africa more of a chance as a tourist destination (considering it's natural beauty, friendly people, etc), it would really help the people there?
Yes! Think about it...for every *responsible* tourist, money is being put into the local economy. They stay at hotels, eat at restaurants, hire chauffeurs and guides, buy handcraft souvenirs, buy gas for their rental car or pay bus fare...just to name a few things. Now, the only trick is making sure that money goes back into the local economy and not just into the pockets of rich foreigners who own the hotels and restaurants. But people who come to backpack in Dogon Country, for example, stay in small villages, usually pay a family to let them sleep on their roof and eat food with them. That is one way to be a responsible tourist. Others are to do your homework and travel with a local travel agency or stay at locally owned places when possible. To shop in the local markets and buy fruits and veggies, for example. And above all, a visit to Africa gives you a wider view on the world and will most likely change your life in some way or another. You get to meet people and they become "real" so that when you watch the news forever after, you will look at it in a different light. You can go back to the States and start educating others.

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Originally posted by VertigoGal
Thanks so much again for doing this thread...I don't mean to sound cheesy, but as a teen who up until now hasn't really known what I want to do with my life, you have really inspired me. I mean it. I have always thought about doing something like this, but now I'm really interested.

So, of course, I've got a few more questions for ya:

This might be a *really* stupid question, but, ummm, you do get paid and everything right?

Also, what types of different positions do you know of that are within the Peace Corps and other similar organisations. Like most kids, I wanted to be a doctor at some point when I was younger, but now I'm sure that's *not* what I want to do with my life. (and they always make it out like you have to be a certified hematologist to even work in Africa.) What kind of qualifications do you need to have to do something like you do?
Hey, it's not cheesy! I know how you feel, because I felt and still feel that way. Believe me, when I tell people that Bono inspired me to join Peace Corps and go to Africa...THAT'S cheesy. But in another way, it's totally valid. Everyone has influences on their life. And those influences, no matter how small, can have great effects.

A quick primer on Peace Corps...yes, you get paid. Not a ton, but you get a stipend based on where you live and how much it costs to live there. In theory we get paid on the same level as the people we are living around, but in actuality we get more...mainly because no matter how "integrated" you are, you still have some needs for creature comforts or the occasional outting to a restaurant. In any case, I have never been completely broke, although I have had to limit my spending. To join Peace Corps, you generally have to have a college degree. Doesn't have to be anything special, any degree usually works. But it will depend on what program (what kind of job) you are put into. There are different sectors such as Health, Education, Small Enterprise Development, AIDS education, Water Sanitation, Forestry, Agricultre, Natural Resource Management, and probably more I don't know of. Even if you haven't got experience in these, you generally receive enough training to let you do work here. Much of the experience is more about learning the language, the culture, becoming part of a community, etc.

There are LOADS of NGOs working in Africa...we have so many here in Mali, I couldn't even begin to start listing them. I don't know what kinds of requirements they have for finding work, as it depends from agency to agency, but what I have seen is that they usually want SOME background experience in development work. This is where doing Peace Corps can come in handy as a foot in the door. Or doing an internship with USAID or other groups.

Anyways, I hope that helps answer a bit of the question. Feel free to ask for clarification if I was too vague.
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Old 04-28-2005, 12:22 PM   #40
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What happened to my posts in this thread....I know I asked questions
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Old 04-28-2005, 04:14 PM   #41
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So is there someway to sponsor the cost of a child to go to school for a year and know our money is properly allocated?
$15.00 sounds pretty affordable.
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Old 04-29-2005, 05:55 AM   #42
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What happened to my posts in this thread....I know I asked questions
Hmm. That is one question I am afraid I can't answer. Can you remember what they were and ask again?
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Old 04-29-2005, 06:39 AM   #43
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So is there someway to sponsor the cost of a child to go to school for a year and know our money is properly allocated?
$15.00 sounds pretty affordable.
Hmm, it is a good question. The main problem I can see is that it would be hard to know that the money was being spent correctly. If you give a poor farmer cash and tell him to spend it on his kids school books, he'll tell you yes but there won't be anyway to keep him to it. However, there might be some NGOs that specialize in aiding poor communities with education, ie. helping build schools, subsidizing student costs, giving scholarships to secondary school students, etc. I imagine that if the books and materials were already purchased and then given out, at least that way you could be sure that the money was being used for real needs. I'll ask around and see what I find out.
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Old 04-29-2005, 08:21 AM   #44
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Originally posted by sulawesigirl4


Hmm. That is one question I am afraid I can't answer. Can you remember what they were and ask again?
InI also aksed some questions.. but maybe they´re too personal for the Inet? Well anyway we have to email again Best Regards to your boyfriend!
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Old 05-03-2005, 09:27 AM   #45
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I also aksed some questions.. but maybe they´re too personal for the Inet? Well anyway we have to email again Best Regards to your boyfriend!
no no! it was just such a lot of questions that I felt overwhelmed and told myself I would come back to it when I had more time. I couldn't forget you, my old buddy.

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Originally posted by whenhiphopdrovethebigcars
For how long do you plan to extend your stay ?
Well, it depends on how things go with my boyfriend's potential scholarship. If he can go to the States this fall, I will go with him to help him in his first year of school. After that, we'll see where things go. If he doesn't go, I will see about staying on an extra year, maybe.

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So my map says that there is a train line from Dakar to Bamako (via Bafoulabé and Kita). Later, one could continue to Burkina Faso, there are two streets, one via Bougoun/ Sikasso, the other via Ségou (while we´re at it, should one also see places like San and Mopti?). Both streets then continue to Bobo-Dioulasso in Burkina Faso, and it seems there is a train line from there to Ouagadougou. From Ouagadougou, there seems to be a street to Tamale (Ghana) and Kumasi (probably interesting because Kumasi is an old capital) and then go to Accra (Ghana) per train. Another possibility seems to be Ouagadougou-BoboD-bouake-Abidjan per train, and then continue from Abidjan to Accra via Kumasi.. probably a route more interesting...
Ok, there is a train line from Dakar to Bamako. It's pretty crappy and it takes at least a day if not more, there are a lot of thieves, etc. But, it works (most of the time). To go to Burkina, as you said, there are two major roads. I would recommend the one going through Segou so that you could catch some tourist sites of Mali. You might even be able to detour to Dogon Country from there and then go back to Mopti. You then take the train via Bobo to Ouaga. Don't go to Cote D'Ivoire (Abidjan)...too many potential problems with the on-again-off-again war. Take the bus directly through Kumasi to Accra. Hang out on the beaches of Ghana.

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In your estimated opinion, is it possible to go through Africa´s large countries per bus and train, do backpackers use them, or would you rather try to find a plane Dakar-Bamako-Ouagadougou-Abidjan-Accra??

Now, from Accra one could continue to go to Togo (Lomé), probably also Nigeria (Lagos), but questionable because of political tension.

Then I would go to East Africa per plane (probably Accra to Addis Abeba), and see Ethiopia. And then see Kenya, esp. Nairobi and Mombasa, probably some national parks.

Are there any African plane lines with special cheap tarriffs in Africa? Or is the price of the African airlines the same?
Plenty of hard-core travellers go by land around Africa. You just need a lot of patience and willingness to rough it. And have a lot of time to kill. Personally, I would probably take a plane from West to East Africa. There are frequent flights to Addis. Check out Ethiopian Airlines and Air Senegal. Also try Point Afrique, a French charter company that flies to some African destinations. Good luck!
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