August 23, 2011

I Occasionally Like To Make Lists: Reasons I Won't Miss Mali

So after a long, long summer abroad, I'm officially back stateside.

I spent a few days in NY before coming up to Cambridge to spend a week with my family before heading back down to move into my new place, SIPA orientation (which I'm apparently volunteering for), and the beginning of classes.

I have to say, as much as I miss all the wonderful people I met when I was in Mali, it's good to be back in a place with the comforts of modern living. I was almost shocked when there was a thunderstorm the other day and all the lights didn't go out! Magic!

But there are still some things I miss about that crazy landlocked country in West Africa.

So I thought I'd throw together a quick list of reasons I won't miss about Mali. Don't worry, reasons I will miss Mali are coming soon.

Reasons I Won't Miss Mali

1. The garbage. It's literally everywhere. When it rains it mixes with the water and makes disgusting black death puddles which I accidentally stepped in more than once. Ew. Everything smells like garbage. Hot, wet garbage. Burning garbage.

2. People spitting. Apparently it's perfectly normal to just spit when you have too much saliva or something in your mouth you'd like not to be there anymore. It doesn't matter if people are indoors or outdoors or if they're about to spit on someone. They just spit wherever, whenever. I narrowly missed being spit on dozens of times.

3. Taxis honking. It didn't matter if you were walking in the same or the opposite direction, if you were walking into a store, or far away from the road; if you were white, and you were walking (and especially if you were a woman), any taxi that went by honked at you--often multiple times--to see if you needed a ride. As if people were incapable of sticking their hand out and flagging down a taxi when they needed one. Ask anyone I was with, by the end of two months, I was ready to go to blows with half of the taxi drivers in Bamako.

4. The lack of asphalt/sidewalks/traffics laws. I mean, this is pretty self-explanatory, but the complete lack of any sense of order or infrastructure with regard to traffic and transportation made Bamako a difficult city to navigate. It had the traffic of any city with over three million inhabitants, without any of the necessary urban structure and planning. The lack of asphalt meant that the streets were paved with dust when it didn't rain, and mud when it did. The lack of sidewalks (and the prevalence of curbside open sewers) meant that any urban promenade was a game of chicken with oncoming traffic (with the loser ending up ankle-deep in sewage). And the lack of traffic laws meant that people essentially did whatever the hell they wanted, whenever the hell they wanted.

5. The blackouts. Every time there was a monsoon or a lightning storm, and sometimes even when there wasn't, we would get blackouts. And we didn't even have a generator, which meant that when the power was gone, it was gone. No lights, no fans, no AC, and no internet. This was manageable during the day, when I could still see, and could go somewhere if I got bored. But in the evenings, when we were stuck in the dark (often while trying to upload photos), and at night, when the fans and AC died and we were stuck under our breeze-less mosquito nets in 40 C degree weather, it was awful.

6. The feeling of sweat dripping down my scalp. Enough said.

7. The questionable meat/dairy. Needless to say, I was inadvertently vegan for lots of the time I was there. Sure, at restaurants I would order meat. But there was no milk that wasn't long conservation (ew), or powdered (ew), and the supermarket meat tasted... Malian. Like grass fed beef, but when the grass is growing out of piles of garbage and the cows are grazing it along the sides of the road, breathing in exhaust fumes and narrowly missing being hit by cars and scooters. I think that level of stress in an animal's life can be tasted in the food.

8. The ridiculous landlocked prices. So lacking access to the ocean, Mali doesn't have any ports, and therefore everything has to be trucked or airlifted in. This meant that while you could by a mango at the market for 100 CFA (about 25 cents), a bar of chocolate or a wedge of cheese would run you about 3500 CFA (like $7.50 USD). A jar of nutella was 6000 CFA (or about $12.00 USD). I mean, lots of the prices were comparable to Manhattan's Westside Market, whose prices factor in rent in Manhattan and the disposable income of New Yorkers. It was ridiculous.

9. The dust/mud/disgusting black death puddles. I know I've referred to each of these separately, but the walking conditions in Mali deserve their own number. Every time I left the house it was like playing Russian Roulette with my feet. Is it mud? Is it dust? It is just a pile of plastic bags or is it a 6 inch deep puddle of black death? Even with my rubber shoes (great for Africa, bad for fashion), walking anywhere was a challenge.

10. Malian Time. Ah, Malian time. This is actually the one thing I sort of got used to, but only after about a month. Everything on Malian time happens about one and a half hours after it's supposed to. Without fail. And the work day is from about 10am to 3pm. Nothing happens after 3pm, it's too hot. At the beginning, when I was still on New York time, and expecting things to happen with efficiency (ha), it was unbearable when people showed up over an hour after when they said they would. But after a while, I got used to it. I started showing up at work half an hour late, and I would still be the first one there. I actually would manage to fit in going for a run between the time people said they would show up and when they actually did. It was almost like being given the gift of time. Except at the end of the day when it was always like three hours later than I thought.

Stay tuned for reasons I will miss Mali!

1 comment:

Hannah said...

I enjoyed following all of your Mali posts! I lived on the other side of that beautiful continent for a semester in college and my 10 "why I won't miss" match yours almost exactly!

Glad you've made it back safe and sound :)