Monday, August 27, 2007

Maybe You Can't Buy Happiness, But Happiness Sure Can Be Sent By Air Mail

Thank You


In case you’re wondering, EZ Cheese completely works as a substitute for cheddar cheese in Skyline. And, I also can’t think of anything luckier than getting to eat Skyline in Mali. Heather and the other volunteers have loved it too. Thank you also for the nice notes and all the great gifts. Including, Jonathan Wolff’s lone sock. That will surely come in handy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

If It’s Wet, And It’s Falling From the Sky, It Might Be Pee

Shortly after I arrived in Africa, my friend Sally (who was in the Peace Corps in Guinea Bissau) wrote me an email and mentioned that the best tasting thing, after spending some time in the African heat, is an ice cold bottle of Fanta.

After reading that, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. And, after about a week in the village, it started to become a small (okay, large) obsession. A soda I never drink in the States was something that I now craved almost as much as air conditioning. If Fanta ever wants to increase their sales, they should put their entire target market into an African village for a week. I can guarantee that sales would skyrocket. I cannot, however, guarantee a good cost/benefit ratio.

Anyway, after about a week in the village, we were finally going into the nearest big town (Bandiagara) to go to the market, stock up on food - and I was going to get my Fanta.

But, that brings me to the subject of Malian transportation. First, here are some things you should know about traveling in Mali.

Things To Know About Malian Transport

- There is no air conditioning on public transport. If you are lucky, a door will be left open or there will be no windows on the vehicle.

- If the driver decides to play music, it will be loud and the speakers will lack anything that resembles bass.

- Livestock rides with people, or in the luggage compartment below the bus, or on the roof. People also ride on the roof - sometimes on top of luggage. Luggage rides with people, or on the roof, or appropriately enough, in the actual luggage compartment (but next to the livestock).

- Buses will stop often and seemingly for no apparent reason.

- There are no bathrooms on the buses. However, when the bus does make a random stop, any area around the bus is fair game for bathroom going.

- And, finally, whatever the maximum vehicle load is, take that number, double it and then throw it completely out the window because you will never be able to imagine how many people and how much stuff Malians will fit into a vehicle. You know those pictures that you sometimes see of a bunch of people filled to the brim of a phone booth trying to break a Guiness World Record or something? Well, picture a bunch of those crammed phone booths driving around Mali with goats and some sacks of grain on top of them and you’ve pretty much got what it’s like to travel here.

Also, while I’m on the topic and dragging this out, one of the most common forms of Malian transport is a little van which looks like it was designed by the same guys who created Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine. Here’s a pic of one and you can decide for yourself.

I Lamely Try to Get Back to My Original Point

Anyway, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve made a serious digression from my original story. If you will recall, I was talking about getting a Fanta and you were getting sleepy and considering clicking over to the streaming webcam of a pitch black room because even that would be more interesting than this. But, I will continue on and if you do switch over to the pitch black room, let me know if anything’s happening over there.

Here I am, on the road to Bandiagara, waiting for the bus. I’m very, very excited to be getting a Fanta.

This is the flatbed truck that took us to Bandiagara. It wasn’t overly packed - maybe about 38 people in the back with almost enough water jugs and sacks of grain for everyone to sit on. They even stopped to put all the live stock (except for the chickens) on the roof. And, that’s where this life lesson begins.

I Finally Get To The Point

If there are goats on the roof of your vehicle and one of them has to pee, and if your arm is hanging outside of the truck, there is a chance you’re going to get peed on. Keep this in mind. And also keep in mind that this was way worse than me spitting on myself in Doolin.

In Bandiagara

The market at Bandiagara. It’s a lot like Findlay Market. Except with more buckets of rotting fish scattered about.


Coming back from getting my Fanta-On, I was rained and hailed on while hanging half-out of a jam packed flat-bed truck.

It was totally worth it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

If It’s Mali, It’s Mandoli

Mandoli is the name of Heather’s village and this is the tagline I came up with for the village in hopes of increasing its tourist activity (current tourist activity – me). So far, it hasn’t caught on like I’d hoped. Perhaps because it’s in English. Or, perhaps because it’s really bad.

Heather has been living here for almost 2.5 years. She loves it and they clearly love her. Mandoli is actually made up of 7 small villages in close proximity to each other – each village is made up of about 100 people.

Mandoli welcomed me with great warmth and even gave me a new name – Liaree Arema. Arema is the last name of the entire village, so now when I travel around Mali, people know what region I’m from based on my last name. Anyway, they have made me feel like a part of the village. And, with your permission, I’d love to give you a quick tour.

This is Heather’s kitchen. She is an amazing chef and is like Emeril with her two-burner camp stove.

There is no electricity in the village. Heather is the only house in Mandoli to have a camping stove and she is one of the very few to have a car battery that will power a lamp for a few hours. I asked her if it would also power a video iPod with surround sound speakers but she told me that I was missing the point of village living. I’m still not sure what she meant.

Heather’s dining room and lounge.

This is the shower. It’s oddly refreshing to shower outside - and you’ve always got a great view.

The view from the shower.

The bathroom. Or naygen as it’s called here. I was a little worried about the naygen. One, because it was new form of bathroom going. And, two, because I have the balance of a drunk, one-legged baby. And, since I can’t even walk through a room without careening into various items (the door frame, a table, etc.), the idea of squatting while going to the bathroom was starting to sound like an Olympic event. And, in fact, when I first tried it out, I was like a Weeble Wobble™. But, I’ve since gotten better and now am like a heavier Weeble Wobble™ with a wider base. I’m still wobbling but it’s much less likely that I’m going to roll backwards. Also, I’ve realized that these things are much more sanitary, and therefore, more enjoyable to use than almost any gas station bathroom I’ve ever been in back in the States.

This is the view from Heather’s bathroom. Quite beautiful. Unless someone is in the tree. Then it’s quite disturbing.

If you walk out Heather’s front door and look to the left, this is what you see.

This is Binta. She’s Heather’s neighbor and one of her closest friends. The boy with her is her son. He is named Sali Fu which is one of the greatest names ever. I love saying it. Sali-Fu! You should try it. It’s awesome.

Some women from Heather’s village. They are usually smiling and laughing but Malians take pictures very seriously and more often than not usually look very serious in them.

This is the beginning of the path to the spring. Right around the house in the center of the picture is the only place that I can get cell reception. It’s got a great view but not very comfortable seating.

This is the path up from the spring. The women and children do this several times daily. And, the women usually carry back 3-4 gallon jugs or buckets of water on their head each time. This picture doesn’t really do a great job of capturing it, but it is really steep and watching this is just amazing.

One of Heather’s priorities is to increase the village’s access to water. She has already built a well in the women’s garden and is close to completing a second one. She is also trying to get an old pump restored which would give the village easy access to bacteria-free water.

Some of the younger kids in the village. They are so fun you wouldn’t even believe it.

This is Sali. Her favorite move is to head butt your legs and then immediately hug you. It’s tough love and I totally fall for it.

Got Millet Cream?

The buildings with the pointy roofs are where the Mandoli villagers store their millet. In the three-month rainy season, they need to grow enough millet to last them for the entire year. It’s one of the reasons that global warming is such a concern here. As the growing season shrinks, they won’t have enough crops to feed their families.

Here I am working in the women’s garden – which was one of Heather’s projects. My basic work plan was to plant something and then go sit in the shade for 20-30 minutes. It was actually pretty similar to my process for writing headlines.

When the kids are old enough and considered responsible, but not old enough to work in the fields, (usually 7-9) it is common for them to start herding the family livestock. They usually spend the entire day out in the plains and you won’t see them coming back to village until dusk.

More young herders and an angry looking bull that is seriously giving me the evil eye. Luckily, as you can see, the kids were carrying very small twigs to help stop the bull if things got out of hand.

And, finally, here is a much more fun pic of some of the kids taking a break from herding for a quick dip. It’s hard work, but they do take time to have fun and they are also very proud of their responsibility to help their family.

So, that’s my tour. It was probably longer than it should have been. But, I hope it gives you a little idea of what village life is like.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

I Arrive in the Land Where Civilization Began and Finally Start to Get My Tan Back

I apologize now for these posts. I have a feeling they are going to be rambling and disjointed. Now, you may be wondering how this is different from any of my previous posts. I don't have a good answer for you. But, as I sit here, I'm realizing that my pictures and my notes and my thoughts are all over the place. So, I'll take a stab at capturing a bit of my trip so far and I'll thank you again, as always, for taking the time to read a bit about it.
Upon arriving to Bamako, my friend Heather (, who is a Peace Corps volunteer, met me at the airport. We spent the next day in Bamako, and then travelled to Segou where we spent a couple of days and then moved on to Sevare for a night. And then on to her village, which is called Mandoli and is near a town named Bandiagara.
Mali is beautiful and the people have been incredibly welcoming, friendly and gracious. Mali is also very, very hot. I mean almost Cincinnati hot.
Here are some photos of the trip to her village.

This is Segou. And, gives a pretty good idea of what a larger town in Mali looks like. Except, in your imagination, you should probably add a bunch of motor scooters, some donkeys and a goat or two. Actually, maybe this isn't a good representation of a Malian town.

This is the Niger River. As you can see, some people like to fish on it. I prefer to drink a beer next to it. To each their own.

These vases were beatiful. Unfortunately, my shopping advisors were not around to help me pick one out. Cherlyn, Errica, Court, Cathy, Theresa, Carey - we're going to have to come back here so I can get a vase.

This from the window of the bus on the way to Sevare. The bus was incredibly hot, as no public transport has air conditioning. People were sitting everywhere including in the aisles. The driver was blasting music and I was kind of tired. But, the view made me forget everything. It looked like a beautiful, constantly changing picture. Or, like a really cool screensaver.

While in Segou, we visited a craftsman co-op. Here, artisans are making traditional Dogon cloths. The dye is actually made by boiling the bark of a tree and the ink they are using is a special kind of mud found by the Niger.

It’s rainy season here. Which wreaks some serious havoc. Two main roads have been washed out. And, even regular roads have some pretty impassible puddles.

While in Segou, we went out to listen to some music. It was really great. One, because the music and instruments were so fun and interesting (they have a xylophone that is made out of gourds) and two, because it was so similar to going out in an Irish pub.
It was the same feeling in a completely different setting.

The bus station in Segou. If you’re wondering, the chickens tied by their feet to the handlebars of that motorcycle were still alive. And not very happy.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Im In Africa. More To Come.
(If you can stand any more.)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I reveal the main reason, apart, of course, from the wedding, that I came to Ireland.

So, after all of that talk about Supermarket Meals, let’s take a moment to talk about Supervalue Meals. One of Ireland’s best-kept secrets is called Supermac’s. It’s the Irish version of McDonald’s and it’s delicious. Kevin has a theory that Irish meat and potatoes taste better because the animals and plants are raised (or grown) more organically and with better quality feed. (Basically, their feed is all the grass I’ve taken so many pictures of.) I can’t speak to his theory but I can tell you that the Mighty Mac™ is delicious! I had Supermac’s the only other time I was in Ireland and I never forgot it. So, I was pretty excited when I made it back to Ireland and got to have it again.

Before and after my incredible (and arguably cultural) Mighty Mac™ experience, I spent most of today running errands (including getting even another shot for Africa), while also trying to get a little taste of Dublin. Here, in pics, is a little bit of that day and of Dublin.

The Mighty Mac™ talks a little smack about the Big Mac™. As for me, I just don’t know why anyone would want to compare the two. It’s like trying to compare McDonald’s and Burger King. They’re both amazing – just in their own special ways.

Designwise, the Supermac bathroom has nothing on the French airport bathrooms. However, they could still hold the record for best sink. With these, all you do is put your hands in them. Then, soap automatically squirts on them. Then warm water comes out for about 20 seconds. Then, an air drier comes on. You don’t have to move a muscle. Or, better yet, touch a thing.

I pretend to study so I can blend in at Trinity College. If you’re curious, I’m pretending to study Economics.

Dublin is quite beautiful. Until it rains. And then it is quite wet.

If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering why this majestic spire is cutting through the city. And, if you find out, will you let me know?

In Ireland, elevators that go to underground levels use negative numbers. So, if you’re on the ground floor and you go up 1, it’s 1. And, if you go down a floor to the parking garage, it’s –1. This makes much more sense to me when compared to the American system where you have memorize a complex combination of colors, numbers and, occasionally, fruits. In Ireland, you might be on Parking Level –3. But, in the US you would be on Parking Level ‘Yellow 2D Lime.’

Because Dublin is growing at such an incredible rate, the traffic situation has gotten incredibly bad.

Quick, when you’re about to cross the street, which way do you look first?
After two weeks, I finally got used to looking right instead of left. I have a feeling this is going to cause me some trouble when I get back to the US.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Why I Should Have Paid More Attention in Economics Class. At Least I Think This Concerns Economics. I'm Not Exactly Sure Because, As Mentioned Above, I Was Clearly Not Paying Enough Attention

Here I am enjoying a supermarket meal. As you'd guess, a supermarket meal consists of items you can buy at your local grocery and consume shortly after in whatever scenic location (or bus bench) you would like. In this case, and in most cases, my supermarket meals consist of bread, yogurt, apples, and cheese (sadly, no Velveeta - but I find The Laughing Cow to be a fine substitute).
The nice part is that it's usually a healthy meal, and, after a thorough hand-scrubbing with sani-wipes there's no need for utensils, as you can use the bread as a spoon. It's fun to eat like a kid again. Or, at least, to eat like you're out of clean dishes again.
But, even with all of those great features, the best part of the supermarket meal is that they're inexpensive. This is especially important as I learn about this thing they call the exchange rate.
Right now the dollar is as weak as it has ever been compared to the Euro. Which means two things. First, a can of Coke in Ireland costs roughly $38 and second, financially I've clearly chosen the worst time possible to travel around the world.
While I may have exaggerated a bit about the Coke cost, the point remains. For a real example, a pint of beer is about 5 euro. That's $7.50 And, that's for a regular beer in a very small village pub.
Also of note, a pack of cigarettes costs $10. But that's in part due to high cigarette taxes leveraged by the government. Also, instead of finely worded messages from the Surgeon General, cigarette packs here have a large band around the bottom with simple and direct messages such as SMOKING KILLS in big black letters. Or,
In Ireland, even the cigarette boxes take a stand.
People still smoke though, of course.
I might have started myself to try to be cool. Except that the cost of 2 cigarettes is roughly equivalent to my weekly food budget. And that, in a way, brings me back to my original point.
This traveling business is expensive. All of the books I read about travel said you should cut what you pack in half and double your money. It looks like I should have listened to them. Or, at least, listened better in Economics class.

At least I have my supermarket meals (and my love of processed cheese and supermarket french bread) to help get me through. I only wish they sold the UDF Bomb burrito at Irish supermarkets. Then everything would be perfect.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Cincinnati University - Making News Around the World

I was reading the Irish Metro paper and came across this little article. Cincinnati gets a shout-out. And, that is awesome.

I Go Back to Abbeyleix and Learn A Little About Irish Politics. But, I'm Going to Talk About Pool.

I headed back to Abbeyleix before going to Dublin, and I must say that it felt great to walk into a pub and be greeted by name. And, to go out with people that you know. I can't stress enough how Kevin's wonderful family and friends have really taken me in like family.

After a quick bite in the pub, we went next door to another pub to play some pool. Or, I should say, I went next door to watch some pool. Irish pool is much different than American pool. The balls and pockets are smaller and there are no stripes and solids. Instead, there are two different solid colors, a black ball, and a smaller white ball. Maybe the smaller pockets force you to be a better shot but I've never seen pool played like that before. It was like watching ESPN. In duotone. Impressive.

I also learned a great deal about Irish politics. While that was even more interesting than the pool, it's also a lot harder to capture here.

Friday, August 03, 2007

I Go to a Mini Mardi Gras. Er, I Mean Galway

I headed to Galway after Doolin. Little did I know that there was a large horse race going on and it is a holiday weekend in Ireland. Galway was beautiful but it was packed. It reminded me a little of Mardi Gras. Without the flashing. And, with more Irish music. That night I went out with a couple of Irish lads (that's the lingo) and had an interesting, and crowded hostel experience that I'll try to tell you about later. In the meantime, here's a quick Galway pic.

And a couple more pics of Ireland from my travels.

I'm not saying these are good photos. It's just that every 4 feet in Ireland, you come across another photo opportunity. I think the easiest job here must be 'Postcard Maker' because all you'd have to do is set up shop, open up your back door, take a picture and go in and start printing. You'd only really have to worry about keeping enough green ink on hand.

Conversely, I think one of the hardest jobs would be trying to keep up with all the lawn mowing.