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Et la Famille? Et les Affaires? Kow ka ŋi? Let’s Take this Thing Off the Tracks

The wall decorations in my gf’s childhood room in the village of Fana, Mali

A directionless post has been a long time coming. And now, with my brain T’ed off on 3 Malian teas (think diabetes), I will write one.

1. It will be numbered, though. I developed a strain of OCD when I taught middle school. During a workshop, a mentor teacher explained how he feigned OCD as a management technique. He had 3 rules in his classroom, 2 conventional ones and the third: his books had to be at complete right angles at all times. Teaching (especially middle school kids) is psychological warfare. If you convince your kids that a disorganized bookshelf is grounds for punishment, somewhere in their head they will start thinking “holy shit, this guy is crazy. He’s giving us a detention because one book is crooked? What kind of meltdown will he have if I don’t do my homework?” I saw the merit in this and tried it myself.

I created a filing system for turning in/collecting papers (my 2nd year; my 1st year was lost sometime during the 3rd week of school when the principal brought Mary O. to my class for her first day, because she had just been kicked out of her previous school for fighting, and she threw Elton into a wall 30 seconds after I shook her hand because he was looking at her). All the papers had to be perfectly aligned and the collection table had a very specific organization. The mentor teacher was right. It works. If you are consistent about it. Anyway, I soon found myself methodically organizing my desk, straightening chairs and tables, and generally behaving in a way I never had before. Several years on and my OCD still lurks. I don’t wash my hands 300 times a day, though. In fact, my OCD has been regretfully absent from matters of personal hygiene. It’s all about organization of physical space. So yeah, this post will be numbered.

2. I’m thinking about starting a tumblr with photos of taxi interiors from Bamako. Good idea?

Piglets in Fana

3. I’m going to Abidjan tomorrow and we are officially launching our business. The restaurant is still unnamed. Some possibilities: (1) Chez Faty (2) Deux Ivoriens et un Toubab (3) Faty’s Chicken Shack (4) Maison de Caiman — this last one is out of the running; it was eliminated when everyone voted down my idea for a crocodile concept restaurant. David cooks delicious crocodile steaks. I was a vegan once. My 6 months of veganism were broken by my first trip to West Africa in 2005.

4. I love twitter. It’s how I find out what’s going on with Senegal’s elections (follow #Sunu2012). It’s how I learn new and interesting things. It’s also how I meet exceptionally cool people. Like Howard French who I met in Bamako last June. Like Captain Yaw who I met last fall (see my post on that here and look out for more on howtodrawcamels.com once Mali’s internet can upload all the videos). Like Jodi Ettenberg who was the very first person I met through twitter and who was just profiled in the NYT! Like Boukary Konate who recently went up the Niger river on a pinasse teaching internet literacy in village schools.

5. Speaking of Boukary, I recently caught up with him at Mother Language Day this past week. Eddie, the director of Rising Voices was also in town and we had a nice chat about the future of Boukary’s work. Last year, I interviewed him (and drew camels with him) here, but for a brief lowdown, Boukary is the webmaster at the Malian education ministry, but in his spare time he promotes Bambara literacy (Mali’s unofficial official language), teaches internet literacy and installs mobile internet labs with a battery, laptop, solar panel, and 3G usb key, in villages around Segou.

Yaya Coulibaly lives in one of these villages. After Boukary’s installation, Yaya can tweet the latest news from his village and then Boukary will report it on his blog in Bambara and French. What’s more Yaya can start a public conversation on twitter in which other people in other villages around Segou can also join. The next step has been to bring the internet into the classroom. The most immediate benefit of this, I think, is that it will let kids step outside an education system that is still very much in the French colonial model. Boukary is shaking things up a bit and I have no doubt that it will lead to at least some of these students dreaming big.

Cattle waiting patiently to cross the Niger River near Segou

6. If you’ve never known the peace that is the Niger River, you need to find yourself a pinasse.

7. Did I ever post this video of Marta dancing to coupe-decale? She was one of many wild children at the Yas family guesthouse in Accra, Ghana.

The crowd at Festival sur le Niger getting ready for Rokia Traore.

The stage is in the river. You can get your feet wet if you’d like.

8. My quest for Bambara fluency is a long way off, but I am now conversational. I am happy about this. The best feeling when you are learning a language comes when you lose sight of your progress and all of a sudden find yourself putting the pieces together without thinking about it.

9. Armed conflict is awful. On blogs and social media, there are many westerners glorifying MNLA, the Tuareg rebel group that began actively fighting the Malian military in January. They have a polished spokesman in Paris and they certainly say all the right things. But the conflict is complicated (and awful) and it’s hard to brand one side as righteous. They started a war that few people in northern Mali wanted. However inept, malicious, or AQIM-complicit the Malian government is and/or was, the MNLA cannot claim popular support for the fighting that they started. It’s possible that they don’t even have a majority support among Tamashek, and that’s to say nothing of the Peul and Sonrai populations that are much larger. Meanwhile, the Malian army recently fired on a Tuareg camp that was mostly women and children (11 injured, one girl dead). Close to 130,000 are now refugees or internally displaced. This is what happens. It is incredibly sad and frustrating and you just have the feeling that nothing good is going to come from this conflict.

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{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Dave J. Pesci February 26, 2012, 2:04 pm

    Well, my vote is for Phil’s Chicken Shack, but since that isn’t an option, I vote for Faty’s Chicken Shack.

    • Katrina February 27, 2012, 9:27 am

      I agree. I must admit, some of my fondness for that name may come from memories of Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles (Los Angeles), Harold’s Chicken Shack (Chicago), or even the Chicken Shack radio show on WMSE (Milwaukee). In any case, I think it’s clear that naming the establishment “Faty’s Chicken Shack”, you would be joining the ranks of greatness. Carry on and huzzah!

      • phil March 1, 2012, 10:16 pm

        This is my vote as well!!!

  • Marlys February 27, 2012, 2:49 am

    hahahaha, great entertaining post! Particularly on a Monday morning with my first cup of coffee. Good luck with your restaurant business

    • phil March 1, 2012, 10:14 pm

      Thanks, Marlys :)

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures February 27, 2012, 9:59 am

    Good luck with your business! And congrats on become conversational. That’s a huge accomplishment!!!

    • phil March 1, 2012, 10:14 pm

      Thanks, Andi!

  • Lisa | LLWorldTour February 27, 2012, 6:23 pm

    Mmm…are you sending bloggers down for a trip to Faty’s? 😉 Congrats and good luck.

    • phil March 1, 2012, 10:14 pm

      That will happen in year two 😉

  • Melanie Chamberlain (@grlwithgumption) February 28, 2012, 7:50 pm

    You should absolutely start a tumblr with photos of taxi interiors in Bamako—as long as you included a post dedicated just to Madonna decals.

    • phil March 1, 2012, 10:15 pm

      Haha, will do, Melanie :) There could be a whole site for che decals.

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