It’s Always Freakin Hot in Mali…..


I think that I’ve been pretty good about letting everyone know what I go through everyday here in Mali.  Over the past several months I’ve felt like a yo-yo being pulled every which way since I arrived.  From the moment I stepped out of Bamako International to the moment I stepped into my current house I haven’t felt like I could settle down.  It’s only after being here for a week that I’ve been able to develop some sort of daily routine and feel like I’m at home.  Subsequently my stomach has calmed down and the diarrhea that’s plagued me throughout training has finally subsided which makes me believe my diarrhea was more a product of my stress than anything I ate.

Every day I wake up around 7.  I’ve had a ceiling fan installed so I’m able to sleep without sweating to death.  After I get up I realize that I won’t be able to wash up because in my area they turn off the water from 7-10 every morning (I think it’s to conserve water).  I brush my teeth using water from my filter and go out to greet my host family who live next door.  By this time my guard, Brahma, has already left.  He’s half an hour late everyday but he’s always gone by 7 o’clock on the dot.  Sometimes I’ll grab breakfast with them but lately since I’ve been going into town later I usually eat a Clif bar before I ride my bike into town.  I’ll leave for town around 9.  My bike ride into town is quite pleasant.  This time of day it’s not very hot and lately there’s been a nice breeze.  The road is quite bumpy so I have to maneuver a lot to get into town.  However, there are some spectacular views of the mountain on my way in.  Also, on the way to town there are usually a bunch of random kids I don’t know who scream “Tubabu” at me.  It annoys the crap out of me so to remedy this situation I’ve decided to use my iPod and just block them out completely.  It works so far.  I’ll usually just wave to the adults.  Then I arrive at my first service, Si Nafa.

On one of my first days in town I got stuck in a meeting for Si Nafa that lasted the entire day.  Since then I’ve learned better.  I usually come in for a little bit and talk.  Si Nafa is located in a large concession right in the market.  Usually a bunch of women are sitting under a hangar doing each other’s hair.  I say hello and sit around for an hour chatting with the ladies.  Around 11 I’ll head to the mobile caisse.  The mobile caisse is located in the president’s workplace and the president happens to be a blacksmith.  His name is Jules Mangoro.  Around this time my homologue, El Haji Kamissoko, will have finished his collections for the day so will join us for some tea and to discuss the mobile caisse.  We talk for about an hour before we break for lunch.  For lunch I usually eat in town.  There are very few restaurants in town and the only good one I’ve eaten at is this place called “Chez Issou” located in the market.  I usually eat this dish called zame which is fried rice with steamed veggies.  It’s pretty tasty, especially with the hot sauce.  I’ll usually wash it down with a Fanta.  All in all it’ll be about a dollar for the entire meal, which is expensive but what the hell, it’s not like I smoke or anything.  After lunch I’ll usually head over to my homologue’s friend’s place.

My homologue lives in a suburb outside the market.  My town is structured very similarly to Philadelphia in that the town center is very small but the town is vast because it just expands forever.  El Haji’s friend lives up the street from him.  There I’ll spend 1 or 2 hours to drink 2 “shots” of tea.  I say shot of tea because tea is prepared much differently here than what I’m used to back in the States.  Back in the US I would boil some water, put some loose leaf tea leaves into my french press and steep for anywhere from 2-7 minutes depending on whether it was white, green, or black tea leaves.  Here all they drink is green tea which has been imported from China.  Although there are different brands it’s all essentially the same.  Tea is sold in small single serving packets of lease leaf tea leaves.  Malians have two small tea pots called “barada.”  You fill one of the tea pots with the tea leaves and water then put it directly onto some charcoal.  You let the tea steep for upwards of 15 minutes then pour into the other teapot.  Add copious amounts of sugar, then pour out into the two shot glasses.  Pour the tea back into the teapot and again into the shot glasses until the sugar is dissolved and the appropriate amount of sugar has been added to taste.  The tea should be enough to serve up to six “shots” of tea.  This process is repeated until everyone has been served three cups/shots of tea.  IMHO the second cup of tea is the best as the first cup usually comes out way too bitter no matter how much sugar you add.  The problem with this method is they use too little water, too much water, and steep the tea for much too long.  Instead of getting three cups of tea from a single serving of tea leaves you end up probably one cup of tea if that.  Since it’s steeped for so long (it’s more like brewing the tea) the tea has no choice but to turn bitter.  Subsequently Malians add a boatload of sugar so the end product is this syrupy, bitter concoction that doesn’t preserve any of the flavor of the green tea leaves.  It’s kind of like eating corn here.  Malians take the corn, husk it, and grill it directly on the charcoal, rotating as necessary.  You know it’s ready when it becomes this yellowy, black, ashy thing.  For Americans you might ask why people don’t just steam the corn instead.  Although some Malians also boil the corn since the corn they grow here is different from the corn we have back in the States it tastes much better grilled.  The tea is much the same way in that it may not necessarily be prepared the way we prefer it, but the Malians make it work.

After I’ve had my tea I ride my bike back home.  By this time it’s usually not too hot but all those hills that helped me on my way into town become my worst enemy going back.  When I get back I’ll try to wash up and then head over to play with my tereke (friend), Malim, and the rest of the gang until dinner.  Sometimes after dinner I’ll watch Champions League soccer with my host dad because they have satellite TV.  I’ll head back to my place around 9 where I have to fend off frogs, rats, and cockroaches invading my personal space before trying to fall asleep so I can do it all over again.

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