Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year from Bamako!

Amadou and Mariam on New Year's Eve

What a fun New Year’s Eve celebration it was! The Bamakoise certainly like to party (there were still fireworks going off at 10 the next morning) so, I tried my best to fit into the culture by celebrating the New Year with Amadou and Mariam (a very popular Malian music group - as a side note both Amadou and Mariam are blind). While this was certainly more of a high class Bamakoise celebration (the hotel where the concert was located even had a red carpet and photographer as you came in the door), it was still fun to experience. We were served dinner, sat almost directly in front of the stage, and Amadou and Mariam definitely lived up to my expectations. It was a great way to start off the New Year in Mali!

Amadou on the guitar!
In addition to a wonderful New Year’s celebration, I also had a nice Christmas in Bamako! Apparently Christmas Eve (or the 24th as it’s called here) is also a big night to celebrate (even in mostly Muslim Mali). I was caught a little by surprise when at 11pm on Christmas eve a DJ dance party started it the building next to mine. It was certainly festive! Then, Christmas day I celebrated with a great group of Americans and friends at a neighbor’s house. We managed to mix lots of cultures by eating mishwi (Malian roasted sheep), scalloped potatoes, and bouche de noel…and, we even sang some Christmas carols in various languages.

Christmas celebration with friends
Besides celebrating, I’ve also been making some progress on my research with the expected bumps in the road. The professor that I was supposed to be working with in Bamako finally made it back from all of his trips, and he has been very helpful and welcoming! I’m really enjoying getting to know him and his family, and I’m starting to become a regular in his house for meals (fortunately he doesn’t live that far from my apartment). He even took me for a quick field trip to his farm last week! Anyway, I’ve greatly appreciated his insights and help with finding contacts and reformulating some of my research questions. With the recent attacks in northern Mali I’ve been forced to rethink some of my research sites, which has been frustrating, but also expected. I knew coming into this experience that my initial plan was probably going to change some based on the circumstances I encountered on the ground, so I’m trying to remain optimistic and patient. Hopefully in the next month I’ll be able to visit several interesting local conventions in the Koulikoro and Sikasso regions and then really start my interviews in the field after that.

Group d'Etude et de Recherche en Sociologie et Droit Appliqué (GERSDA) -
where I work in Bamako
Me at the Natural Resources Management
and Land Tenure Conference in Bamako
In the meantime I’ve been talking to lots of people here in Bamako (NGO workers, government officials, scholars, etc.), and I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of the issues surrounding local conventions, especially as they play out at the national level.  Several weeks ago I even had the opportunity to attend a regional conference on natural resources management and land tenure with experts from Mali, Burkina and Senegal. It was quite the experience!  I was definitely the youngest person there, but I tried to take it all in and make as many contacts as I could. I was able to follow most of the discussions, even though I was wishing my technical French vocabulary was stronger (especially in regards to land registration procedures and laws). In discussions with the students and professors at the research center I’ve been working at, I’ve come to realize that there is a big difference between being able to converse fluently in a practical setting versus an academic setting. My French is definitely more of a practical French and I’m finding more and more that I don’t have the vocabulary I need to discuss more abstract and theoretical concepts. But everyday I’m learning new words and hopefully by the end of my time in Mali, I’ll have a much stronger vocabulary. I’m also progressing some with my Bambara language learning. It’s been slower than I would have liked, but I think I’m finally getting the hang of the grammar, and I can now understand parts of conversations. Learning another new language is definitely a  time-consuming and  sometimes frustrating process, but I try to keep reminding myself of all of the benefits of being able to speak a local language (at least at a basic level).  I hope for more progress in both French and Bambara in the New Year!

I think that’s the update for now! Hope 2012 is starting off well for all of you! 

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