This entry is basically a sample platter of wonderfulness. Now that the hype is over… here’s what’s been happening lately.
Disclaimer: Almost everything in this entry is meant to be read with a sarcastic tone. I’m not complaining. Just pointing out some of the things I find amusing about my present situation. Please read and enjoy. Don’t be offended, and don’t think I’m insulting anyone. I’m not. This is just how things are.
Life in the Village
I’ve just completed my first ten days at site as an official Volunteer. That time was spent doing a number of wonderful things. These included celebrating the end of Ramadan (finally I can drink tea with everyone in the afternoon again!), going to a baby naming ceremony (denkundi), seeing a funeral procession for a dead baby, taking casual walks through my village, seeing my counterpart’s rice fields, visiting the giant women’s garden, seeing the school, looking down a number of wells, and going to the main local market.
The end of Ramadan celebrations were not exactly what I expected. I was anticipating some giant feast with clowns on stilts and Ferris Wheels and the whole nine yards. Instead, for three days in a row everyone even remotely related to my village host family all gathered together in the morning and had a huge meal. Not a feast. Just a lot of food. A cow was slaughtered for the occasion, which doesn’t happen very often.
On the third day the meal was finished off with café. I say café and not coffee because you simply can’t call it that. Café is instant coffee with sweetened condensed milk, but it’s probably about 60% hot water, 5% instant coffee, and 60% sweetened condensed milk. No, the math doesn’t work here, but that’s convenient since neither does the idea of “coffee”.
The baby naming ceremony was kind of neat. Denkundi (den-koon-dee) literally means “give a baby it’s head”. Traditionally, a newborn is not given a name for several days or weeks. When the time comes, a special ceremony is held in the morning where everyone gathers and an elderly person (usually a woman) announces the baby’s name (chosen by one of the parents). Later in the day there is usually a small meal for all those invited to the celebration.
Fortunately enough, I was invited to the meal and got to witness my very first goat slaughtering. It was kind of ironic actually. I discovered a new phenomenon in the process. I call it the “my, that’s a nice looking goat” phenomenon. It seems that every time I go somewhere and notice a goat tied up by itself I end up thinking to myself, “my, that’s a nice goat over there…”. Shortly after I have this thought the goat in question is usually led away to become my next meal.
What A Nice Goat
For those of you interested, I am now going to describe the goat slaughtering process. You can skip ahead if you don’t like this kind of thing, but I think it’s good to know where your food comes from.
Step 1: Have one person lay the goat down and hold the legs. Have a second person hold the mouth closed to keep the goat from bleating and…Slit the throat… and do it like you mean it. Make sure you get all the way through the wind pipe and start tickling the spine with the serrated edge of your knife. Pull the head back and let the animal bleed out.
Step 2: Let the goat bleed out for several minutes. During this time you can go have tea, munch on some peanuts, and chat with friends. Don’t worry about the twitching legs of your now semi-decapitated goat… he’s not going anywhere.
Step 3: With the goat resting on the ground, legs up in the air… Make incisions around each of the goat’s ankles and then make incisions from the ankles along the inside of each leg. Bring these incisions together on the underbelly of the goat. Now start peeling back the skin.
Step 4: When you can’t peel the skin back any more with the goat lying on the ground, get a piece of rope and hang the goat off a tree branch by its hind legs. This way you can get the rest of the skin off without getting the flesh dirty.
Step 5: Make an incision from the anus along the underbelly all the way to the middle of the chest. Remove internal organs and put them in a bucket to be cooked later on.
Step 6: Start removing flesh from the body. The meatier parts are along the rear legs and lower abdomen. When you can’t cut meat off the skeleton with ease anymore, take what’s left of the body off the tree, lay it on an old piece of corrugated tin, and begin dividing up the rest.
Step 7: Put everything into one pot and cook for several hours.
Step 8: Consume with caution. Not only are there chunks of pure meat in the pot, but there are also bonier parts… like sections of spine or chunks of leg. It’s best to take a “nibble” approach when eating goat with your rice and sauce.
I found out a few days ago that my village has had five Volunteers in the past. The first guy came in 1983 and apparently was fantastic. I was never told what he did for the community, only that he was great and they had a huge feast when he left. The second guy came in 1990 and only stayed for a year. Apparently he stayed in his house all the time and at the 12 month mark went to
I’ve been talking with my counterpart and the dugutigi about what kind of work they want me to do in the next two years. Already, they have stated that they want me to help make improvements to the women’s garden and get a new well dug at the school. Essentially this means I know what I’ll be doing for the next two years already… I just need to do some research on the best way to move forward and then start finding ways to bring money into the community for building materials.
What is this women’s garden I’ve made mention of several times already? Very simple. It’s a giant garden that is run exclusively by women in the community. When I say giant, I mean that it’s a piece of land well over the size of a football field that is divided up into small plots about 7 or 8 yards long by 3 or 4 yards wide. The women can grow whatever they want in their individual plot and can do whatever they want with the produce. They can use it to feed their own family, or try to sell what they grow at the market to make some additional money for the family. It’s a great way to help empower women by generating income that goes directly to each woman… not her husband.
I got to sit in on a joint meeting between my village and the one neighboring who shares our school. They were discussing, among other things, when school would start for the year and also took care of some administrative issues relating to the school. Apparently some people had to get some things off their chests because about an hour and a half into our three plus hour meeting things started to get a little out of control. The meeting went from being very calm, where people raised their hands and waited to speak… to everyone yelling at everyone, people getting up out of their seats and walking around, people restraining each other. Lots of angry faces. Fingers were wagged… and wagged some more.
It was funny though. During the time of outburst and anger, no one ever set foot on the mats that the village eldgers and dugutigis were sitting on. They yelled at them, but there was still a boundary that they wouldn’t cross. At one point during the commotion, my dugutigi got a call on his cell phone, literally got up, walked off to the side of a bunch of shouting people, and had a brief conversation. When finished, he went back to his place, laid down, and proceeded to let people yell at him for a while longer. I’d be lying if I said that I understood what was going on, but at the same time I definitely could tell that the way everyone was acting was completely normal and that when the meeting was over everyone would instantly be friends again as if nothing had ever happened… and sure enough, that’s exactly how it turned out.
Running of the Ba(s)
Every evening at dusk I hang out with a bunch of guys at the butiki (shop) nearest my house. We lounge around on chairs under large trees, drink tea, and chat about whatever. This butiki is located along one of the main roads in town and at dusk all the young boys are busy bringing their herds of animals back in from the fields. This produces something I like to refer to as the “Running of the Bas” (“baa-z”), which is not all that different from the Running of the Bulls in
The word for goat in Bambara is “ba”, which is ironic because that’s the sound they make. At dusk every night hundreds of bas are herded past the spot where I drink tea and it’s always hilarious to watch. Animals running everywhere, then stopping to pee and poo in the middle of the road. Motorcycles getting caught up in the fray. Boys chasing after with sticks swinging and voices yelling. Who needs American Idol when you could have this every night for 10 minutes…