Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Eyes and Ears

Just as I had to adjust to living in Mali, I'm adjusting to living back in America. It's my first time coming back in 1 year and 9 1/2 months and not much has changed. More things have been accumulated and people have grown older, had kids and gained or lost weight, but overall, things are the same, but I've changed. I'm still processing the past two years and I'm processing the now. I think it will be a lot easier for me to share the things the I'm processing now, at the moment, but I will be reflecting on my last month so I can share that with you all soon.

 For now:

This morning, I woke up and listened to the sounds around me. There was the chirping of birds, the humming of the furnace and the refridgerator, the ticking of the clock and that's about it. When I was in Mali, every morning I'd wake up to the sound of kid goats hopping around, chickens clucking and roosters crowing, women beating millet, the radio, people getting water from the well, chatting, babies crying and donkeys braying.

What's the difference? There's much more life in Mali.

I took a walk this morning and made similar observations. Even though I was outside, I mostly heard machines rather than living beings. Where were the people? They were all in boxes. If you want to see other people in this world, you have to go inside these boxes (offices, schools, stores, cars etc.). As I continued walking, I saw a man coming towards me. Finally, "A person not inside of a box!", I thought. However, he had in headphones (no judgement here, because I'm a music freak and need it constantly in my life), and had created his own "box" to keep some distance. And I noticed that as he saw me, his eyes began to dart back and forth, as if he was looking for a place to hide. I think we've all done this. We don't like having to talk to strangers, but what makes us so uncomfortable to do so? In Mali, if you don't greet a stranger, you could be shamed by that person (I've been!). And now that I've been conditioned to speak to people, to show some humanity and I don't feel so awkward encountering someone I don't know.

Another observation I made is that of the two people that I encountered in my quarter-mile radius, elderly, retired, white men. This spoke a lot to me. I am happy to see that everyone goes to their little box to be successful or whatnot. It is a lot better than seeing young people wasting their potential over several glasses of hot tea when it's 115 degrees out, but why is it that Americans look forward to enjoying their lives once they retire? Why not now? There needs to be more of a balance between work and play. And play doesn't necessarily mean fluffing off responsibilities, but play can be used to hone our skills, our talents, contribute to the greater community and just be overall happier. Just think about how many dreams have been snuffed out, just because we want more money so we can buy more stuff? Lame.

As a society, I think we have set some serious limitations on ourselves. That is a much headier chain of thought, I won't go into that (maybe later), but I remember that one thing I tried to understand about Malians is, what is happiness for them? I feel like most of the people I met were generally happy, but with projections of Western Society shoved in their faces, I could tell that the youth are questioning their happiness.........and now, I've gotten completely lost in my thoughts.

So, if you're reading this, just take a moment to think about how you're living or how you want to live your life. We can all make this world a better place if we get out of our boxes and share.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Part of this whole experience has been in search of myself and people trying to categorize me. Well, I guess another name for this is, life. However, as a person of African descent, a part of me has been searching for acceptance in Africa.

Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, in one of the most affluent counties in America, my black peers would tease me, calling me "white" because of where I lived, the way I talked and the music I listened to. Along with that, I would get the occasional stare of people trying to guess what I am. I would often be asked if I was Hawaiin or Asian.

In Mali, it is no different. The other day, a group of girls yelled "hee-hong!" to greet me in Chinese; a man asked me if I was Malaysian (I was thoroughly surprised that he had even heard of Malaysia). Only a few times has someone called me of the Malian ethnicity, Peul; I felt proud of that, although I'm not. What a strange way to feel.

Then again, maybe it wasn't so strange. Why can't I be Peul? I have a caramel complexion, thick curly dark hair, and I like milk (cultural joke). I actually feel the most comfortable around this group. They are less in my face, quiet and more chill than the Bambara. I could fit in with them, but I know it's not me.

Another reason I semi-accepted this group could be that I get tired of sticking out all the time. Every day I've been called, Toubabou. Can you imagine being called "white person" at least 5-times a day for 19-months? What must this be doing to the psyche of one who is descendant of African slaves? (If only my ancestors could hear this.) Anyway, it was just nice to know that some Peul see me like they see themselves.

Now, going back to the aforementioned question, what has being called "white" done to my psyche? Honestly, sometimes I like it, because I'm not being called black. When I first realized that, I wondered if I was self-hating or had become a bit racist, as strange as that sounds. But, then I realized that it had nothing to do with race or color, but I liked being separate from them.

It's a lot more, "me and them" than "we" going on here. Honestly, being called Toubab has kept me from being swallowed up and forgotten in this African abyss. The name reminds both of us of who I am, a stranger. I've found that as important as it is to integrate into this community, I'm glad to be a misfit.

Karamogo (Teacher) Jade

I realize that I haven't talked much about what happens in my class for girls. Class is held every Thursday afternoon, from 3:00-4:00pm. It's a sex education class, where we talk about everything from, "how to deal with pressure to have sex" to "how the immune system fights off sexual diseases".

How do I teach when my Bambara sucks? Well, luckily, there is a lesson book written in English and Bambara and I simply follow along. Plus, I have my translator/mentee, Awa "Gaffou" to help me out. Honestly, without her, we would get nowhere.

The girls in my class seem way more interested in sex, at ages 11, 12 and 13, than I was. But, these girls also have much older boyfriends than typical American girls. These girls want to know how they can have sex without getting pregnant. They want to know if white and black people can make babies together. They think that I have the cure for HIV/AIDS. They think that Toubab men come to Africa to buy and sell African women as slaves and that Toubab women come to find African husbands. And they want to know allllllllll of my business.

The questions that these girls have are great. In the beginning, it was hard to get them to say much, but now they seem to be having fun with it. Even Awa is having fun with it. The class is really interesting and it's fun to see these girls willing to ask us these questions and to laugh about embarrassing things. It's a really good health practice for the girls to feel safe expressing themselves, even to an untrained individual like myself.

I'm really hoping that this will continue once I'm gone.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Egg in the Road

I was taking my daily bike ride, when I saw an egg in the road. It was perfectly whole and I assumed that it fell out of a crate on the back of a moto. But it looked as if someone had just rolled it onto the street. I couldn't believe that it was just sitting there, totally unscathed from the impact of its fall. It was a miracle, an eggy-miracle.

As I passed it, I felt that I should have stopped to grab it, save it from it's bleak future, but I couldn't. And what I don't know is if this decision I made was to keep the miracle going, having faith that it would survive or if I've become completely cynical, thinking that the egg would just have to take it's chances without my help.

This might sound a bit extreme, but as I pedaled further along, I wondered if I was being selfish (I'll explain this seemingly ridiculous statement). I began to think of it as not just an egg, but a thing that needed help before life crushed it.

I had been pedaling for the past 5 km uphill and I was at the last haul, struggling to reach the pinnacle, where I could finally turn around and coast downhill. I didn't want to stop from making my own gain to help the egg. And I figured that whatever would happen, would happen and it wasn't my responsibility. But then, I reached the pinnacle and took a quick break, that was suddenly interrupted by my conscience that told me I didn't have anymore time to waste. I needed to try and save that egg!

As I raced against time, I saw massive 12-wheelers, cars and motos pass me by, drive over the egg, but I still had hope. I know that this was silly, but I didn't care. I wanted, I needed a miracle. I came up to the spot where I'd seen it, but it was gone. I began to think of a group of kids I had passed along the way, perhaps they had picked it up? I didn't see any trace of the egg. No egg shell. No egg yolk. I couldn't believe it. I even made a U-turn to double check, but there was nothing.

I continued downhill, where I caught up with the kids. I stopped to ask if they had seen the egg in the road and if they had picked it up. They had seen it, but they didn't pick it up. I had to ask why, because it seemed strange for a kid not to have. I would have. They said, they didn't for no particular reason. I was kinda disappointed that they hadn't grabbed it. Maybe they didn't for the same reason I didn't, without giving it as much deep/crazy thought as I had, probably.

With that, I'll never know what happened to the egg. But I do know that I was the only one that would've saved it.


The power of words has been tested since the beginning of time. God said, "Let there be light" and there was light. We can speak many things into existence. I admit, I'm not the best at using words, but when they are used properly, one can do powerful things. Names are also words, and these too have great meaning.

In many ways, our names define us. For example, my name is Jade, which is defined as a precious green stone or gem (other definitions, I'm forgetting at the moment). When others define me, they say that I'm pretty reliable, I don't waver easily, I tend to stay calm when others are shaken up. I'm also reliable, sometimes stubborn (or a jerk, depending on who you talk to), and wise (because rocks are old and if they were animate, they would be wise) like a rock. And some would also say that I'm cool as a cuucumber, which is green :) I think that the name, Jade, suits me well.

Knowing the meaning of my American name got me curious to know what people are calling me in Mali, when they call out Djeneba. I haven't find out much, except that it's derived from Zenab, the name of the prophet Mohammed's daughter. I can only assume that she was a good woman, considering every other woman in Mali has this name. And when I think of all of the Djeneba's I know, I like them all.

Some other names that I've found the definitions for are Abdoulaye, Moussa, Aminata. Abdoulaye means "Servant of God," and when I think of my friends named so, I can honestly say that they are helpful and kind people. Moussa is the arabic name for Moses. Moussa was a leader, strong, wise, reliable and someone liked by the people. When I think about Moussa, the pharmacist in my family, I can say that this fits him perfectly, hence he is called as such. Next is Aminata, this was the name of prophet Mohammed's mother. In the Koran, it says that a son should kiss his mother many times more than his father. I can only imagine that Mohammed was thinking of his own mother when he wrote this, so it must be a good name.

There are a couple more names that I know, but I'll spare the reader. The point I'm trying to make is that names are important and we should all know what we're being called out to be. What is out Manifesto Destin. It's really cool, at least when I think about it.

Public Humiliation

Sometimes, I work with an English teacher named, Genevieve. She is one of the cruelest, frightening, most hilarious teacher I've ever met. She can cut you down with one look from that lazy eye of hers, oh my gosh!

Today, she called out a girl whose hair was sticking out. She told her to make sure she got her hair done by tomorrow because she can't look at that. I busted out laughing!

The other day, she called out this boy for wearing dirty clothes in her classroom. She chewed him out for a good solid 5 minutes, using impressive grammaticaly correct Frambra. I couldn't help snickering a bit. She was saying things like, "Don't you ever come in class looking like a dirt-child! Don't you know I'm with foreigners all the time? They come and they take photos and you expect me to be pictured with you, bastard-child? When you go home you need to take soap and water and scrub until your hands hurt, you hear me?" She went on and on like this, and that poor boy began to cry, so then she chewed him out for that!

All the kids found this pretty amusing as that poor boy started to tear. I did feel bad for the kid, but I started to look at this situation from a cultural stance. Teachers are actually more of a parent to these kids than their actual parents.

I think I mentioned before how kids are really left to fend for themselves. It's a harsh world, and they need to learn how to survive it. All day long, these kids are running all over village with their friends or doing chores at home or in the fields. Parents and kids don't even eat together, so when do they ever get parented? In school.

In school is where kids learn the morals of society, in an actual class called "Morale." The teachers spend a lot more time with the kids than the parents do. So, I can see how Genevieve has the relationship that she has with her students.

In this culture, it's important to look good in public. Clothes must be clean and unwrinkled (I don't always fall in this category) and so Genevieve felt the need to instruct her students in this way, as a mother-figure. And when I look from that point-of-view, I only see tough love and I like tough love. But man, I would hate to be her student.