Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Un-Necessities of Life

Recently there's been a lot of hub-ub in the news about some cranky old white guy down in Florida named Terry Jones who woke up one morning and thought it would be a good idea to burn Qur'ans as a demonstration of his faith in Christianity. Whereas the 50 or so people that follow this curmudgeon found his proposal to be full of all kinds of good merit, most people around the world were under the impression that this demonstration of paper's ability to burn at 451 degrees Fahrenheit would be better suited if some other feedstock could be substituted as fuel. Generally speaking, when you live in a country that is already in a sticky situation with a group of people professing belief in a religion that makes up about 1/6 of the world's population, it's a good idea to NOT do something that is going to exacerbate those circumstances by lets say... oh... desecrating the written record of all they hold to be true in life and in the realm beyond.

And by the way... where were all the books for that proposed barbecue going to come from? Wouldn't Mr. Jones first have to go out and either buy (more likely) or steal (less likely, being a "true" Christian) a bunch of copies? Wouldn't that mean that by spitting on Islam he would first have to support it by purchasing books that were most likely produced by a business that operates in support of Islam? I find that kind of funny.

Ok. But so what? What are the real implications from all of this for me. Matt. The guy writing this? Here's the "so what":

I'm currently working in a country where Islam is kind of a big deal. I get woken up every morning, not by roosters or my alarm clock, but from the blaring sound of the call to prayer at 4:30 am. If I'm traveling anywhere in late afternoon the bus will undoubtedly stop so people can pray. Daily, people ask me to go to mosque with them and pray. You can't find pork most places. I could say more, but I think you get the idea.

And not only is Mali a Muslim country, but it comes with two varieties of people. The well-behaving ones, and the poorly-behaving ones. Sadly, the poorly behaving ones happen to be men who have started a little boys club called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). They even have secret little club houses up in the Sahara Desert in the northern part of Mali. If you haven't heard of them, they're the guys who have been kidnapping westerners in Niger, Mali, and Mauritania over the past couple of years and bringing them back to the desert to hang out (not a lot of folks in the desert to hang out with typically). And when they're not actively kidnapping people, they're talking about doing so, or being mad at the French for spoiling all their fun after an attempted rescue mission of an abducted Frenchman.

This makes certain parts of Mali a less favorable destination than others for people like me... A white Christian from the US. I consider my neck of the woods (rice field really) to be safe an free of un-do-gooders by the way (don't worry mom). But here's the kicker... there are Americans in lots of other places around the world where the majority of the local population is Muslim and the local sentiment towards people from the US is less than cordial. So... when you're overseas in a place like that, it is not exactly welcome news to hear that folks back home have decided to pick a fight with people you call your neighbors or you local shop keeper or your barber or the guy cooking your food. You're making what is already a difficult situation for a lot of American ex-patriots an even more difficult one.

Alright. Conclusion. In the most politically sensitive way I can think of I'd like to give a shout out to Terry Jones and friends...

Dear Terry,
I find your epiphany to burn a certain religious text to be... unhelpful, not in my best interest, bad for America, silly, petty, stupid. Have a nice day.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Drumming for Tips

I went out to eat in Segou yesterday with all the new Volunteers being placed in the Segou region. After waiting over an hour for our food to arrive, we still didn't have what we ordered, but a band showed up and started playing Malian music. One guy was on a balaphone (like a xylophone), and three others were playing djembes (drums) of different shapes/configurations. After a while the "lead singer" of the band pulled out a plate and started mingling with us in an effort to collect tips (it worked).

It's hard to distinguish because of the poor video quality, but what the guy is doing is actually pretty cool, although subtle. First off, he's playing so fast that the camera can't pair up the sound with the motion of his hands. Second, in the middle of the video he's able to play while balancing the tip plate on his head. Lastly, towards the end of the video he's able to make the djembe produce different sounds even though it looks like he's hitting the djembe the same every time.

Listening and watching to the band was a nice distraction from the fact that it took almost two hours from the time we ordered until we actually got out food. I feel as if there should be a band situated near most things in Mali to make the incredibly long waiting time for most daily tasks seem to pass more quickly.