A Travellerspoint blog


Last days in Mali

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Hi everybody,

We made it back to Bamako after 2 weeks back in the bush with the Brydens, Joe, and Dr. DeVore. All in all, we had a really great time in Nana Kenieba and the other villages. We hope to be back next summer, or maybe even sooner..! During the past couple weeks we've done many things. We wrapped up our mosquito net program by visiting all of the villages again and checking to see if they'd sold their nets. 2 villages, Nana Kenieba and Saguele, required 2 followup visits to get them motivated to sell, but as of now, the women have sold all 20 nets in each village! So the program was a success. The next step is collecting the buyers' payments every week and eventually they will generate enough money to buy more nets in Bamako. It's all in their hands now; it will be interesting to see if the program has continued on our next trip over.

Another highlight was accompanying Dr. DeVore on a few medical cases. Mariel learned a lot about asking the right questions to patients in order to make a correct diagnosis. He even did a surgery on our friend and host, Kany Diarra (who Mariel is named after). She had an infected, swollen thumb and DeVore cut out the infection, which was quite deep, and stitched her back up. For one reason or another, Mariel had a near-fainting experience while holding the flashlight during surgery which we chalked up to being a friend of Kany's. In any case, she recovered quickly and most assuredly does not have a phobia of blood or other bodily fluids. There were a couple more interesting cases: a little girl with a staph infection on the skin all over her body, an abcess on the eyebrow of a young girl, a lady with a dangerously swollen and infected hand, and a woman who found out she was pregnant unexpectedly were among them.

We also traveled to a village called Sandama, which is up in the mountains near Nana Kenieba. It has big redwood trees and is very interesting because it's a village that Medicine for Mali hasn't worked in yet (they are planning to install a water system soon though). It was very obvious that MFM hasn't been there, though. The water supply is just plain gross, we looked in one of the wells and pulled out water that was off-color and opalescent, as if it had oil on top. The children were in general in much worse shape. We saw a girl teetering around on stick legs with a swollen belly who was truly the poster child for malnutrition. Hopefully this village's health will improve drastically once their water system is improved and they receive some health education; these things have done wonders in the other villages.

Another interesting couple of experiences happened when the whole village came to our compound with a group of drummers to play for us and dance. People predictably pulled us in to dance in the middle of the circle one by one, and we all took our turns trying to make our American bodies move to African beats. We many not have succeeded in that, but we definitely had a lot of fun, and the Malians got a good laugh out of it. You can see some pictures of us dancing on the webshots page, which there should be a link to in the last entry.

We have many stories, plus there is plenty to tell that seems mundane to us now. For example, it is common for children under the age of 10 to drive donkey carts alone for miles, even the nurse's children wear witch doctor snake charms, and hissing is a sound that means children are calling you. We really internalized a lot; for example, in the restaurant where we sit now writing this, a waiter is named Moussa and his name keeps being called, and every time, Ben looks up - Moussa is his Malian name. We responded to Kany and Moussa for 6 weeks, so it feels pretty natural now. We made a lot of friends in Nana Kenieba and learned more than we can say. The experience certainly confirmed to us that working as physicians in places like this is really what we want to do for the rest of our lives.

As for the rest of our trip, we will be leaving Bamako tomorrow night, or Monday morning at 2:30am, rather. We land in Casablanca, then make our way to Marrakesh and spend a night there. On the 8th of August, we fly from there to Barcelona, then we have 8 days there before making our way to Madrid and flying out of there on Aug 16. We fly back to Casablanca on that trip, then the next day fly to JFK in New York. After taxi-ing to La Guardia and making a few connections, we arrive in the Quad Cities on August 18. For the information of anybody interested in coming, Ben's big White Coat ceremony is on Friday the 24th of August. This is the induction to the medical profession where the entering class receives their official white coats and takes the Hippocratic Oath. School starts up shortly after, and our lives will be crazy yet again.

So that's all for now, see everyone soon!

Ben and mariel

Posted by vagabundos 09:06 Archived in Mali Comments (0)

Our New Plans for the weeks ahead

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We thought we'd check in one last time before heading back to Nana Kenieba tomorrow morning. Steve DeVore, the Brydens, and Joe Dunlay arrive tonight in Bamako, and we'll all leave together in the morning.

Today we changed our travel itinerary for the way back a little. We still return to Moline, Illinois on August 18 but before we get there, we'll be in Spain for a week. We'll fly from Bamako to Casablanca, Morocco on Aug 7, then make our way to Marrakesh and spend the afternoon there before flying off to Barcelona, Spain. Our flight back to Casablanca is on Aug 16 from Madrid. We plan to spend the week checking out Gaudi's awesome art in Barcelona, eating good food, and camping on the beach - woo! This all means we will be leaving Nana Kenieba slightly earlier than planned, on August 6. We are confident we will return in the near future, though - possibly next summer - so it won't be too sad.

That's all for now, we'll be writing again in a couple weeks!

Mariel and Ben

Posted by vagabundos 11:51 Archived in Mali Comments (0)


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Hi everybody,

Today we are busy running around Bamako... well, not literally. We rode a sotroma, which is very similar to our South American transportation of the colectivo: both are fast-moving brightly colored vans that have amazing amounts of people cramped in and a man who hangs on the side, hustling up other passengers, no matter how full it is. They're not usual tourist transport, which is of course why we like them. Between the villages and larger towns like Siby and Bamako, we ride similar vehicles. These are a lot shabbier, though, and generally hold a lot more people and items. Here is a picture of the sotroma we took from Nana Kenieba to Siby last week:
This picture was taken at about the 3rd village we went through, so a lot more stuff was piled on the top and back before the ride was over. The vans like this in town look similar, but all are bright green.

After our ride to the center of town, we got off in the middle of the market. We saw a whole lot of things, but sadly could not find the fetish stalls, our apologies to those of you who asked for dried sheep heads. We did find a lot of nice fabrics. The local fabric is called waxcloth, and the nicer it is, the waxier it is. The really expensive stuff looks and feels a lot like plastic and has brilliant tie dyed and batik designs. Mariel opted for the cheaper variety of waxcloth, which feels like regular cotton. We'll go to a tailor by where we are staying and have him make a dress later today. We've gone to this tailor before, the last time we were in Bamako. He made a fancy skirt, top, and hat for Mariel, a button-up shirt for Ben, and a wrap skirt called a pagne for Mariel. In the photos you'll see later, it's the red and yellow skirt Mariel is wearing. The pagne is standard everyday wear for Malian women. It can be anywhere from ankle-length to just below the knee, but that's pretty edgy. Mid-calf is the most comfortable, but truthfully Mariel has had a hard time understanding why these long, hot things are worn. They also have a bad habit of sticking to sweaty legs and whipping around your ankles but I'm used to it now.

This picture comes from one of the villages that we visited during the mosquito net program. Ben decided to help out some girls with their hoeing. Everything is done like this, with small, hand held hoes that are made with a hammer and fire by the village blacksmith. We bought a man and woman version in Nana Kenieba for one dollar each. They are very well made, with carved wooden handles and thick iron.

Lastly, here's a picture of a typical village. You can see a bunch of nuts on the ground, these are karite nuts. On the karite tree, they have a fleshy avocado-like fruit around them, which is very nutritious. After that part's eaten, they dry the nuts inside and then roast and smash them. The end product is a butter, cream, soap or oil known to Westerners as shea butter. It makes a really rich nice soap.

We have lots more photos, but they're slow to upload on here. Check out a bunch more here: http://community.webshots.com/album/559952487LbSMJA

Mariel and Ben

Posted by vagabundos 07:35 Archived in Mali Comments (0)

Mariel and Ben's Big Day in the City

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Hello again!

We are spending the day in Bamako being tourists. This morning we visited the National Museum, which was surprisingly nice and had air conditioning - also very nice. There were displays of Malian archaeology, art, and textiles. At the museum cafe we ate our first sandwich in a month, which was glorious. Then we petted some adorable puppies that were lounging in the scale models of the famous Djenne mud mosque outside the museum. We've now made our way to the embassies and nightclubs part of town, called Hippodrome. We've located what may be the fastest internet in all of Mali, but we didn't bring the cable for transferring photos. Rest assured that we know our way back and have enough free time that there really will be photos soon.

In Bamako, we are staying at the house we did before - Fanta's house. Her house is always full of visitors from somewhere and this time we've met a guy our age who goes to college in Toronto and is from Senegal. He speaks flawless English and is fun to talk to. The house is a refuge from the heat and action of the city.

Tomorrow we plan to head back into the city and wander around the large market at its core. They are supposed to have anything and everything there, from dresses to milk to car parts to dried monkey heads, the latter being part of the fetish market. There's some info herehttp://community.iexplore.com/planning/journalEntryActivity.asp?journalID=52267&entryID=53888&n=Artinasat+and+Fetish+Market for you to check out. Put in your requests for souvenir sheep brains and powdered snake teeth now!

That's all for now, more news and photos tomorrow!

Mariel and Ben

Posted by vagabundos 08:39 Archived in Mali Comments (0)

Back from the bush

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Hi everybody

We arrived in Bamako this afternoon following a long-ish ride in an ancient van down bumpy, muddy roads. It takes about 5 hours to get to Nana Kenieba by this mode of transport; we know someone in NK who says he can get here in 45 minutes by motorcycle, but we're suspicious of that. We've come here to get back to the internet for a bit and maybe look at some museums. Our work in NK is on pause right now because we have to wait. We have to wait to start the vaccination program until the next dose is due, which is next week, and we have to wait before we can go check up on our mosquito net program in order to let it get started. This program is what we spent the 1st couple weeks doing. We traveled around by motorcycle to 6 villages including NK. While there, we gave a general health education program, then trained 5 female volunteers from each village to treat mosquito nets with an insecticide. They then decided on a price to sell these for, so that as many people as possible could buy them. This was a little more than the cost. The idea is that from the 1st 20 nets which were donated they will make enough profit to buy 22 more, and plus 2 every time. We just have to go make sure everything is going smoothly. The vaccination program entails visiting 6 or 7 surrounding villages and helping the nurse of NK, Moussa, to vaccinate children. Since it takes quite awhile to travel to these places, this is a 5-day operation. Ben is getting very good at motorcycling because of all this traveling by moto on terrible roads. We haven't fallen off yet.

In the time when we aren't doing programs like these or surveys of villagers, Mariel usually follows Moussa around doing medical stuff, and Ben intensely studies Bambara. He's getting very good at it; Mariel has down the greetings only. She utilizes the translator more as Ben perfects his French and Bambara. In following the nurse, Mariel has helped examine, treat, and operate on many people in Nana Kenieba. Because of this and our reputation of helping people out as far as money for prescriptions when needed, people are starting to bring their injuries and sicknesses to Mariel. While most of the time they're told this is a health center matter, she's been trying out her clinical skills on some small infected wounds, pink eye, and an ear infection. There is one boy named Djibiril who is particularly interesting. His sister took me to this one and a half year old smiley baby and showed me a big, infected-looking lump under his arm. I brought him to the health center ASAP and he's been coming in every day since to get it cleaned and examined. It's being treated as an infection so far. His parents are gushing with thanks; his mother said that up until about 3 days ago she thought he was going to die, but now she knows he will be fine. It's an emotional place because there is so much poverty, and people die from things that could be easily treated with ample supplies, medicines, and interest. We're doing our best to help out when we can. As a result of all this clinical stuff Mariel has been doing and a birth she (almost) witnessed early in the trip, she has been asking questions and going to prenatal consultations with plans to write her senior honors thesis on rural childbirth, or something along those lines. But there are ,mlany possibilities.

So that's what we've been up to. We'll write again before heading to NK again SUnday.

Ben and Mariel

Posted by vagabundos 09:25 Archived in Mali Comments (0)

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