Tuesday, January 31, 2012

{ Be the change...for my friend, Dra }

Dra, this one is for you :)

This is Dra. He's showing us his cool Karate moves with his red belt!
Dra with his Karate belts - he knows how to pull a move!
Sitting here thinking...
I am so incredibly blessed.
How do I even begin?
Tonight, with one of my new cool Malian friends, Dra, 
I mentioned that I love pictures. 
And he asked to see some of mine...
So, I pull out the iPhoto with 40,000+ pictures (I can't believe i just admitted that...on the www).
And we go through pictures of India, DC, New York, France, England...and so many other places. 
Mountains, snow, skiing pictures, sunset pictures, river rafting, boating, fields of tulips, monkeys, and so many other things that many others will never have the chance to think about, let alone experience. 
My dear friend, Dra, has never seen the mountains or snow.
He sat in awe as I showed him picture after picture...
And then there's me, I've pretty much seen it all. I am very fortunate.
He hasn't even tried pizza.
(Don't worry, I'll buy him one :))
What has our world become?

I will never know the life that billions of others experience each and everyday...waking up at 5 am to start breakfast on some hot coals...cleaning up...maybe going to the morning market to sell a few things...starting lunch and cooking for 2 hours...trying to portion things so everyone gets "enough" food...taking care of babies in between...and so on it continues everyday until nearly 11 pm. 

The Malian women are incredible...they often walk around with a baby strapped around on their backs with something on their head...this women (above) was walking around the market trying to sell some fruit...they are such hard-workers and incredible women.

I will never have to experience extreme poverty and hunger. I will never have to wonder how to pay for the next meal or sacrifice my food for my children. I will never be without a home. I will always have more than one pair of shoes to wear. I will always have a laptop, something that has become a modern-day "necessity." 

Why did I get to be so lucky? What about my friend, Dra? Or my sweet other mommy in India, Laxmi? Or the destitute widows begging on the streets in the holy cities of India? Why was I put where I am? 

Can I make a difference? 

"Young people often ask us how they can help address issues like sex trafficking or international poverty. Our first recommendation to them is to get out and see the world. If you can't do that, it's great to raise money and attention at home. But to tackle an issue effectively, you need to understand it-and it's impossible to understand an issue by simple reading about it. You need to see it firsthand, even live in its midst." -Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Well, slowly, but surely, I'm beginning to understand.
I'll never fully understand international poverty...I was not born and raised in the slums. I did not have to work, instead of go to school, to make enough money just to eat food for the day. No, I'm just a very blessed American-born woman, who wants to make a difference.
Sure, I've experienced some hardship. But after the things I have seen, 
it always seems so bleak in comparison. My troubles are always so trite. 

As we looked at pictures, he kept saying how incredibly different Mali is...and how it's such a dirty country. He then said to me "Do you think that if Yeah becomes President, he could really change my country?"
My heart went out to him and his people...
"Yes, I do...petite à petite."

Yeah will be the change-maker for these people and for my dear friend, Dra. He will bring education and opportunity to these people.

I love to travel...but honestly, I knew it was never about me. 
I want to be a change-maker...
I need to make a difference...
I want to change lives...
I want to empower others everywhere...
I want others to feel the same happiness and joy that I have experienced in my life.
Can I be the change? 

"Be the change you want to see in the world." 
-Mahatma Ghandi

Just maybe, I can become humble myself enough to be the change I want to be.
Dra, I'll be the change...if only for you and others like you.
You inspired me.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

{ Anisokoma, mon amie }

In Bamanakan, or Bambara, "Anisokoma" means good morning!
Greetings are very important in Malian culture...but I'll speak more on that later.
Each morning, the sun says hello as it peaks above the horizon. 
I tip toe out of my room at about 6:45, with my yoga mat in hand, just in time to catch the morning sunrise, 
I put a pot of water on the gas stove, 
and sip some tea as I do some yoga and even run a few laps around the roof...
What a better way to start the day than with a greeting from Mr. Sun? 
I love it.
And if you know me, you know I looooove anything to do with my sun. 
I love Mali!

Friday, January 27, 2012

{ La vie au Mali }

Here are a few of my favorite photos from my first few days in Mali...what an adventure. I love it here and I am already creating a little day-to-day routine. 


Flying out of SLC, watching the sunset over the Great Salt Lake - incredible.
Flying out of Paris, I could see the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe :)
Flying over the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. 
Flying over the Sahara desert...waves and waves of endless sand. This is probably the closest I will ever get. 
Landing in Bamako...it looks much different than flying into any American or European city I've been to.
The small Bamako-Senou airport

I stole this photo from a friend.
Two of my favorite guys here in Mali - Sibiri and Dra. I get to work with these two on a daily basis. Sibiri speaks French and is very patient with me. Dra speaks French, English, and Bambara...he's nice to have around and so sweet.
This is Kyle and I, campaign interns, with Sibiri. First day on the job!
Another one of our co-workers.
We spent one day driving an hour out to the village of Ouelessebougou, where Future President Yeah Samake is currently the mayor. It was fun to meet Yeah's family and to see more of village life. 

The drive out to the village
The mayor's office in Ouelessebougou. 
This is Mayor Samake's 2nd Attendant...it was fun to meet these guys.
The current Mali President - ATT. 
Secretaries at the Mayor's office.

The PACP (Parti pour l'Action Civique et Patriotique) Headquarters...and this is the building I live in.
My first CFA's (Central African Franc). I love international currency. 
Buying fruit from a street vendor.  
Look how cute these girls are. Marissa, Yeah's wife, gave the girl some CFA and walked away...she was shocked. It was nearly a day's wages.
The Samake's kitchen...outside this little room is where their cook, Mari, makes the food on a bed of coals. Much different from a typical American kitchen, eh?
Some sweet old women on the street - they wanted me to take their photo!
This morning, we visited our local market. I was expecting it to be very similar to a local market in India but...'tis not so. It was very different. 

The fish market "poissonerie" - we watched them handling the fish in open air.
The Samkes adorable daughter, Carmen. Love this little girl. She's so cute!
The chicken sector of the market...lots and lots of chickens. We watched a man tie the legs of a chicken and chop off the head. Right next to me. Interesting.
Cutting up the chicken, cooking it, etc. Can you see very well?
The market...the roof is a very thin layer of straw, sometimes with tires to hold it down. 
The Butcher...I was fascinated. Carcasses hanging in the open air...no big deal.

{ Waka Waka! This time for Mali, Africa! }

I have so many things to share!

Mali is the second poorest country in the world (ranked closely with many other African nations). About 90% of the population is Muslim. The literacy rate is about 47% and unemployment rate is above 30%. The average age is 16 years old. Their leading exports are cotton, iron-ore, and gold. Geographically, they are 65% desert.

Kind of some cool stuff I've learned...there are so many different tribes/orgins/ethnicities here in Mali. I had the most fascinating discussion with one of my co-workers and fellow Samake supports the other day...in french :) The Bambara people make up the majority of Mali - they are the agriculture and farming people...then there's the Fula (or Peul, in French) people - they are the cow, sheep, ranching kind of people...Then there are the Bozo people - they are the fishermen along the Niger river...and lastly, the Dogon people - they live in the plateau region of Mali, their homes built up in the cliffs, and they are known for agriculture as well but they are also very religious and artistic. So, there you have it, the main ethnicities of Malians.

Mali has a strong democracy, with a relatively strong constitution, similar to that of France's, implemented in 1992, but they have stagnated and need a strong leader. Right now, a lot of the people love their current leader, ATT - Amadou Toumani Touré. But he isn't running for reelection (he can't - he's done his 2 terms) and the people desperately need change. They need education.

The Malian people generally make $1.25 a day...often less, sometimes closer to $1.50. The average net income for a person is US $680 a year. Can you even imagine? We squeal if we don't get $8 AN HOUR. The average Malian family is about 5 kids (sometimes more like 2-3 in the younger generations) in the city and about 10 kids in the village. That gets expensive! So, even if both parents are working, they make about $60 a month...And food isn't much cheaper here...in fact, not at all. In India, rice was expensive...but here, it's even more expensive. It costs about $50 for a large bag of rice that would maybe last a month. And another $50 or so for a months worth of oil. And the costs just keep coming...chicken here is rather expensive - about $5 for a chicken - so it's a delicacy even for the families more well-off.

On top of that, they have to pay for education. Well, for ages 7-16 it's free - but not really. Families still have to pay for the cost of supplies and transportation And it's not mandatory. So, if you can save money each month by not sending your kids to school and instead sending them to work, then you might even be able to buy some extra rice. Well, it costs about $1 a month to send a child to school after age 16. If you have 3 kids at that age, and 5 others kids still going but for "free" that's probably about $10 a month...money that the people generally don't have. Therefore, why would you become educated? It's hard to see the long-term benefits when you may have to starve in order to attend school, which doesn't earn you money to feed your hungry belly. Only 61% of children enroll in Primary School (ages 7-13) but only 36% of those that enroll actually finish Primary School. And then only 15% actually enroll in Secondary School (ages 13-19 - 20% males, 10% females)...we couldn't find a number for how many actually finish.

And even to take this a little further, dental hygiene is nearly nonexistent here. Especially for the village families...if you have 10 kids and have to buy them all toothbrushes and toothpaste (which is about $2 a tube which would last maybe 2 weeks?) then, there goes another $5 or so a month! How would the people eat? Starve to brush your teeth? No, that doesn't make sense either. So, here in Mali, some people will chew on a type of tree bark to kind of clean their teeth. In India, the people would chew on neem leaves to kind of clean their teeth and supposedly make their breath smell better.

Interesting, right?

It all starts to make sense...

Now, what can you do to change the lives of these people? How can you help? Maybe help them to elect a President who will require education? Promote a leader who will make a way to pay for the families, even subsidize the families, to send their children to school? Campaigns are costly...I'm proud to be working for Monsieur Yeah Samake, the future President of Mali. He is the change that Mali...no, Africa...needs to move towards a new phase of development, and a better future for the lives of millions of children.

Stay tuned for some PICTURES! And get ready to learn some Bambara!!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

{ AFRICA - where one can laugh freely }


Sorry for my lack of presence in the blogosphere the last month...I got home from India, and had to run a hundred miles an hour to be ready to leave for Mali, Africa exactly a month later...

I arrived here in Bamako, Mali on January 22.

It's incredible. I'm exhausted - probably from my welcome headache as I continue to speak, think, and breathe French. And, I am picking up some Bambara, aka Bamanankan, the language of the Bambara people. It is the mother tongue for the majority of Malians. I'm just going to say a few things for now. I promise I will write more (with pictures) tomorrow! I have learned so much already!!!

For now, I'll share a little tidbit I shared with my family from my first day here. Tuesday, I took my first very COLD shower - I haven't had one of those for over a month! But, it will get very hot (I'm talking 41 degrees celsius, about 110 degrees Fahrenheit) here in about March and then it won't be so bad. It's kind of a fun morning adventure ;) We then traveled to Yeah's home village of Ouelessebougou, where he is currently the Mayor. That was my first little interaction with some of the more rural, village Malians. They are so kind. And they laugh...at everything. And you know how laughter really is the best medicine? Well, I think that's how they really get by. They love to laugh and make jokes. If I take anything from Malian culture, I want to laugh more...and not just chuckle. I want a more frequent, hearty, radiating laugh. My favorite jokes are those about their different last names and call them names - like donkey or, my personal favorite, bean-eater. They think bean-eater is funny because they know that beans make you fart...and that makes them laugh. And when I can understand, I laugh along with them (I realize I've only been here two days but we've made quite a few jokes in the office already...haha). I've been here two days and I've never laughed so much in two days time.

My first morning here, I did yoga on the rooftop of our building and watching the sunrise...incroyable!!! Then, I watched all of the school children playing their early morning soccer games. It may not be quite as comfortable as America, but I know that I will love and treasure every second here. Did I mention the people are my favorite? I quickly grow to love each person I meet.

That's it for now. This experience isn't about me. Sure, I have no doubt that it will change my life forever...but this is about the future. The future of Malians. The future of Africa. A future which includes a little less poverty and hunger and a little more education...

Monsieur Le Président, YEAH SAMAKE. 
He's the man.

Do me a favor? Visit this blog: http://firstladymali2012.com/. This blog is maintained by Yeah's sweet wife, Marissa. You can see Yeah's deep-rooted desire to truly make a difference. He is an incredible person.

And go visit our campaign website at http://samake2012.com/

"Yeah is the answer that many in Mali have dreamed. This year let’s make it our year and may a new day be born in Mali as the elections happen on April 29th 2012. Spread the word if you can. We need all the financial support we can get. This is not a one man journey. You have the opportunity to affect a country’s future. Are you in?"

If you can spare a few dollars, the campaign could use the funding. It will change the future of Mali. 

Je soutien à Yeah Samake!!!