Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hello from Bamako!

I’ve been in Bamako for a little over two weeks now, so I think it’s time for an update! I’ve been having a wonderful time so far, and I'm surviving the heat for the most part! It’s been pretty consistently 99-101 degrees every day, but it’s more of a dry heat, so not too overwhelming. And I can’t complain too much because we are heading into the cool season which lasts from November- January.

I’ve been settling in fairly well to the Malian culture. Fortunately, for me it seems very similar to Senegalese culture, and I’ve been able to use some of my old Peace Corps tricks. One thing that I’ve certainly been missing is being able to speak the local language (Bambara). Several times I’ve started asking taxi drivers to take me somewhere or store owners to give me something in Wolof (the language spoken in Senegal), and they’ve just looked at me with confusion. I have met quite a few Senegalese here that do speak Wolof, but it’s definitely not the norm. So, I’ve just signed up for Bambara lessons in a building next to where I work, and I’m hoping that will give me at least a start in the right direction.
Les collines (the hills) of Bamako

Overall, my research has been starting off very well, and I’ve been able to get in touch with most of my contacts. I have been working with a group called GERSDA (Group d’etudes et recherche en sociologie et droit appliqué/Study and research group in sociology and applied law), which is connected to the University of Bamako. The main professor (Dr. Moussa Djiré) that I am supposed to be working with is actually on the Hajj to Mecca right now, but the rest of the group has been very welcoming and accommodating. They have even given me some space in their air conditioned office, so I’ve been going there most weekdays to work and hang out with other students and professors. I’m hoping that my research will really get going when Dr. Djiré gets back in a couple of weeks, but for now I’m happy to ease my way in to the group and the Bamako lifestyle. I’ve also had some good meetings with a few staff members of USAID and some NGOs that are doing natural resource management work in Mali, and hopefully their connections will be helpful in the future.
Fisheman on the Niger River
I’ve also finally settled into an apartment in Bamako- at least for a couple of months. I’m actually staying in an apartment of a previous Fulbright grantee, while she is back in the US for a little while. It’s a very nice place with 2 bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom, and a kitchen. And she is a very good decorator, so it feels very comfortable.  It’s located in an area called Faso-Kanu, which is a mostly residential area with several big residences of wealthy Malians and expats. It’s relatively quiet and very pretty, but it’s located on the right side of the Niger River (which runs through Bamako), and my office and most of the other NGOs are located on the left side of the river, so I’ve been taking a lot of taxis back and forth. I might try to look for a more permanent apartment on the other side of the river, but for now it’s great to feel somewhat settled.                                                                                                                                                 

Vieux Farka Touré in concert
I’ve also managed to see some good music in Mali already! Last Friday Vieux Farka Touré (the son of the famous Malian musician Ali Farka Touré) was playing at the French Cultural Center, and a group of Fulbrighters went to watch him. It was a good concert- kind of bluesy style with several Malian traditional instruments including the ngoni (a small guitar). Several of the other Fulbrighters are studying/teaching music, so I’m hoping they can tap me into more great concerts in the future!

More updates to come soon!

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