Friday, January 28, 2011

Oh, Malila...

After my marathon trip to get from Colorado to Bamako, I didn’t really leave my hotel room until it was time for lunch. Wandering down the street to The Relax, I sat down at a table in their outdoor patio. Moments after sitting down, I glanced up to see two old friends walking in. Casey and Steven had lived in Segou for about 6 months(?) until December 2007 before moving back to the States. I could hardly believe my eyes when they came walking up – with only one day in the capital – I had the chance to go to the same restaurant at the same time! Incredible. I still can’t believe it. They are back in Mali for two weeks to print some books they created for adult literacy that are being printed in Bambara, the dominant local language. Small world indeed.

After taking care of a few random tasks in Bamako namely getting my money changed and a short meeting with SNV (Dutch version of USAID I am working with), I went to bed early before my long journey up to Pays Dogon. Originally I was getting a ride from the Peace Corps as far as Segou where I’d planned to spend a few nights. However, because I had been delayed back in the states, I had to go the full distance to Bandiagara that day. It felt really strange going through Segou and not stopping to say hello – so many people I haven’t seen in over two years! I’m eager to get back down and am hoping I can make it for the Festival sur le Niger the first week of February (looks highly likely). After getting up at 5:30am, I finally arrived about 7:15pm and that’s making good time on the bus. A PCV I’m going to work with met me at the bus and we had a good chat before I went, completely exhausted, to my bed where I soundly slept for the next 12 hours.

My apartment is coming along and I now have a bed, mattress, plastic mat and a borrowed “butt-floss” chair… hoping to get better sitting items this week. Internet is not nearly as good as I had hoped and Skype so far looks unlikely as the speed just isn’t fast enough to support a call. However, if you want to call me, my phone number is posted on my facebook profile – just remember to add the country code (223) and that I’m on the same time as London (5 hrs from DC/7 from Colorado). I should have internet most days of the week but this is still Africa – the internet was down for over two weeks because Bandiagara doesn’t officially have service yet and everyone was piggybacking off someone that worked for the provider. He was selling connections on the side and he left town for a while without paying the bill. Thus, the entire town had no internet. What does exist is fairly slow too, I can’t really download/upload pictures or attachments. Also having trouble with my yahoo mail but that seems to be better now. If you want to send me anything,  please send them to:

Yuri Horowitz, RPCV
Corps de la Paix
BP 19 Bandiagara
Mali, West Africa

Work is getting off to a good start too – first week of introductions and meetings and then catching up on things now that internet is back. I’ll update more on this next post as I’m still getting my feet under me. Since yesterday, I drove through Bandiagara, Pelini, Kinde, Melo, Some, Borko, Doentza, Sevare, etc. and am looking forward to Sangha, YougouPiri, Djigibombo, Kani-Kombole, Ouo, etc… love the names of towns out here. 

It is good to be back in Mali – something about having the red African earth beneath my feet again – it’s hard to describe but essentially Mali will always be a second home for me. Of course, I could do without the little kids screaming toubab! toubabo!, donne moi un cadeau/bic/ton vello/etc in their shrill voices and remembering to eat slowly so as not to break my teeth on the inevitable bits of dust and sand… I’m adjusting to the African pace of life little by little.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

So... I’m here. Again. In Mali. Yep, I came back and what a long trip it’s been to get here.

After multiple changes, I was finally scheduled to leave on Sunday, the 9th of January. Not finished packing as of the morning of my 4:30pm flight, I was scurrying around my house finishing up when I got the call from United at 1:45pm finally canceling my flight. It had been dumping snow all day and, knowing my flight was bound to be cancelled, all I could think about was being out on the mountain for one last day of snowboarding before I leave. It was just late enough that since I’d already put all my gear away I didn’t really have time to get out. Re-booked for the same flights the next day, I finished up so I would have time on Monday before my flight. A blue-bird sky and over a foot of fresh powder greeted me as I caught the first chair at Snowmass where I did a few runs, including the Wall, before heading over to highlands to hike the bowl. A great last day in Aspen and my last run of the season was nothing but fresh turns through untouched powder and narrow glades. Quite the contrast to the next 7 months I am to spend in Mali, West Africa.

Of course, it wasn’t that easy and my flight from Colorado was delayed again – this time, I ended up missing my connection and had to stay the night in Chicago. Luckily, the airline put me up at the airport Hilton, which was nice since I had a 6am flight the next day! After some meetings in Washington D.C. going over project details, meeting my future co-workers (albeit remote as they would be from me in Mali, “co” is a relative term), I met up with Isabelle and Tim who’d been in Peace Corps with me in Mali for a quick drink. Just after nightfall, I headed off to the airport once again in a blizzard.

This time, I almost didn’t even make it to the airport. Just as we were getting near the airport, the taxi driver turned off the freeway early into a construction zone. Not heeding my calls to stop and go back, the road narrowed and narrowed and he didn’t stop until it had narrowed so much that the front left tire was hanging about 4 feet off the unfinished highway to our side. Now a raging blizzard, I got out to direct him as he attempted to reverse the couple hundred yards back towards the highway. After five minutes and about five feet later, I reached in the driver’s side window and had him control the speed while I steered us back the barely car-wide road. With about 6 inches total to spare, it was a balance between not scrapping his car against the concrete dividers on the passenger side and not letting the wheels fall off the four foot drop – all while walking the tightrope of asphalt next to the car, squinting into the dumping snow and trying not to fall myself. Averaging barely half a mile an hour, almost 20 minutes later we were back on our way and I arrived with just enough time to make my flight to Paris.

It was quite the experience flying back into Mali for the first time since leaving two and a half years earlier. Mind you, I only flew into Mali that one and only time when I arrived in August 2006 (I didn’t get on another plane until September 2008 when I flew out of Accra, Ghana). It was amazing how the Malian passengers, who had so calmly boarded the flight in Paris, all of a sudden switched back into African transport mode. I was seated about 10 rows from the back of the aircraft and, once we landed and everyone had stood up, these two Malians started squeezing past a few passengers until they got stuck since by then everyone had stood up to gather their things, get their bags down, etc. So what next? They started yelling for people to move and get going so they can get off the plane. Why were people just standing there?! This persisted for the next 10 minutes until the ramp was finally wheeled along and the door opened. Never mind you, almost 2 hours later when I finally had my bags, they still were waiting for theirs to come off the conveyor belt… Yes, I was back in Africa.

Where I've Been...