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The Loincloth Chronicles, Volume 1 July 17, 2006

Posted by Nima in Uncategorized.
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Yesterday we filmed the first scene of the epic as yet unamed film depicting the history of St.Francois and Pierreville. The last few days I’ve been getting quite nervous about the shoot, not because of the acting or memorization it will require to play the Iroquois Chief (typical line: Iroquois Chief shrugs his shoulders and grunts) but because of the amount of fabric I was anticipating my loincloth to be missing. About a week ago we had a costume fitting during one of our activity days in Nicolet and after being handed my alleged “garment”, I certainly had reason to worry: there was barely a handful of fabric, but this was supposedly all I was scheduled to wear during the many scenes of attacking and kidnapping little French kids.

I wore the cloth on top of my jeans and I was still blushing. I told the costume designer “Even if I was alone in my house, I would still be embarrassed to wear this.” She laughed, but really didn’t seem to realize the gravity of the situation. Me in this costume alone would give the movie an NC-17 rating. Seriously, it was friggin tiny.

Fortunately they heeded my request and alas some pants were tossed under the loincloth, in the process saving the community thousands of dollars worth of treatment to child psychologists.

(Sidenote: While you might think I could pass as a relatively decent Iroquois when we’re in a community of only white people, I should point out that I live a good 3 minute walk from the Odanak Abenaki Indian reserve. Apparently they couldn’t find a single person who was willing to act in a local history film made by a white man, even an openminded one)

The first scene called for me and my Iroquois counterpart (a 14 year old boy with the physique of a 9 year old girl) to attack a French settler, hog tie him up and drag him to the back woods. The first few scenes the settler boy kept laughing when we attacked him, so we kept having to redo the entire long run up and pounce sequence, which I was frankly getting tired of in the 30 degree heat so I decided to really start to drag him a little harder each time until he had nothing left to smile about and well, it was a wrap. Although not before I was slightly injured by the blunt end of my own dagger jamming me next to the eye.

It’s not easy being an Iroquois superstar

Malian Euphoria in Trois-Rivières July 10, 2006

Posted by Nima in Uncategorized.
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Greetings from Pierreville.

The past several weeks me and Ahmadou have been working at Mary Jo’s house (where we live) to prepare the house for renovations so that it can be turned into a community resource centre. Considering the house is over a hundred years old and certainly looks it, preparing to demolish a cabin attached to the house which is barely held up by modly wood planks and filled with a remarkable amount of rescued wood and windows that Mary Jo truly believes may be useful in renovations at some point and that previously the most “handy” thing I’ve ever done in my life is make a laminated plastic key-fob for my grade 8 Design and Technology class, well, it’s been a bit of a challenge. We’ve generally been working full days removing all the excess stuff from the cabin and organizing things around the house in anticipation for Demolition Day; I never before appreciated how heavy anti-fire doors are and how annoying removing rusty nails can be, but me and Ahmadou keep each other motivated by finding ever greater ways to tease each other with the random paraphernalia which we keep finding among the chaos. (recent find: 5 kittens)

While we are part of a larger group of 18 participants, for all but one day of the week we’re working with our respective families in our respective villages and besides from Brianna and Nakany who live in St. Francois on the other (uncool) side of the river, me and Ahmadou generally spend our time together in Pierreville. I’m starting to get used to living so closely with someone else- I’ve never even had a roommate before, but not only do we sleep in the same room but we also work together all day, prepare our meals together, start up random conversations with locals together. While we do have a occasionally have disagreements over things – which I imagine would even happen if I was roomed with another Persian Thornhiller with a predilection for poking – we don’t get upset too easily and Ahmadou has got to be the most smiley person on the face of the Earth.

It’s fun to be able to wake up and have such profound conversations with someone on a wide range of topics and be able to educate each other in ways we never knew we could be educated. The other day we spoke of the African debt crisis; how pointless the cycle of Western countries/ financial institutions lending money to countries which can’t repay them and then subsequently write-off the debts a few years later as a heroic gesture of international development. Ahmadou shared a Malian expression which I think sums up their stance quite well: “When a white man hands you 5 Francs in front of your face, he takes away 25 Francs that you can’t see.”

Despite this inherent distrust of much of the West, Ahmadou is remarkably pro-French. He loves their political system, culture and the development work spearheaded by France and the EU; this despite almost every one of his friends and relatives being virulently anti-French, which I would’ve expected from inhabitants of a former colony. Ahmadou’s late father was among the first Malians to study in France after independence and loved the country (which confuses me since he was deeply Islamic, but anyway) and he thinks perhaps his affection for a country he’s never seen may be a way of staying close to his memory.
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Maybe the highlight so far of the trip was last Thursday when the entire group went to a Amadou et Mariam (aka Absolute Malian Music Superstars) concert in Trois-Rivières. (After spending a month in Pierreville, Trois-Rivières felt like Paris to me). Amadou (not to be confused with my Ahmadou) et Mariam are a blind husband and wife singing duo which are known around the Francophone world for their traditional Malian/funk/blues rhythms and have won a bevy of prizes throughout the years. Of course, before I sound like an international music critique, I should point out I had never heard of them before last week, but all the Malians assured me they were a big deal. I didn’t know what to expect from the music but I was interested to see what a modern version of Malian beats would sound like.

What I got was simply the most electrifying night of music I’ve ever experienced in my life (with due respect to MUZO). From the minute they stepped on to the stage, all the Malians, even the most subdued of them, went absolutely crazy. I’m talking gyrating every ounce of their existence and jumping up and down and screaming at the top of their lungs…and well, it was quite contagious. It turns out Amadou et Mariam do get quite remarkably funky and the amount of energy they provided along with being alongside our Malian buddies having the time of their lives, made it a remarkable experience. Even the Malian supervisor, Tie Koro Coulibally, a 48 year-old bureaucrat from the Ministry of Agriculture was in the front row jumping up and down the entire concert. At one point our entire group held hands while jumping and dancing and singing, and eventually others at the concert joined in until the entire section of several thousand people were connected hand in hand, being moved by the sounds of Bamako and the spirit of some twenty-somethings having the time of our lives.

And then after the concert we managed to talk our way back stage by explaining the program we’re in- and that was truly an amazing sight. Malians meeting their absolute favourite superstars, holding their hands and hugging them and speaking rapid fire Bombara. (Amadou met Ahmadou and said “I think there’s  another Ahmadou for my Mariam tonight”) Seeing how excited they were, thinking how unlikely it is that 9 Malians would be in Trois Rivières for this concert and get to meet their heros the first time most of them have ever been out of their country, realizing what absolute joy can mean – it all didn’t seem real. These types of things don’t happen in the real world, I kept wondering. Frankly even I had to fight back tears thinking about it all, wondering if life can really get any better than this.