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.