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Adieu Québec and the Malian sun beckons September 3, 2006

Posted by Nima in Uncategorized.
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Tuesday we fly Montréal-Paris- Bamako and I find it almost impossible to believe we’re already here. Our time in Québec has been a whirlwind, which I must say far surpassed my original expectations.

Ahmadou’s initiation to Canadian cuisine

             

I was hardly looking forward to it as much as I was heading to Mali. I thought I already had a good sense of Québecois from the summer I spent in Montréal, but now I see it in a completely different light. I lived two very unique and interesting family experiences with Marie Joceline and Guylaine and Sébastian, but I’m glad things worked out as they did. Guylaine and Seb were tremendous to us this last month, and I learned a great deal about farming, the importance/challenges of organic production, and young, hip life around farming villages, which I never thought could exist.

I’ll never look at food the same way; not simply because of the work process of producing it, but the environmental and social impacts of a domestic food supply. I’ll save my organic rant for another day but here are some quick stats: 50% of all antibiotics sold in Canada are given to animals. The European Union banned the import of Canadian meat long before mad cow disease, because of the excessive hormones we use in conventional production.

After seeing the costs and effort and care put into raising animals in a humane, natural fashion which doesn’t harm the environment, I think organic meat is well worth the relatively slim premium.

Overall in Québec, through the concerts, social gatherings, music, movies, legends and recipes I’ve experienced, I certainly understand Québec’s unique identity much better: That some Quebeckers will never accept being part of a larger Canada that doesn’t understand them (and we largely don’t, believe me), but that most prefer to continue existing as an all-but independent entity that protect cultural traditions but still part of the grander compromise of Canada, leaving sovereignty aside. (for now) Certainly an eye-opening experience: I  never imagined I could forge such close bonds with separatists, and they thought the same about us “Canadians.“

Yet another chapter of the loincloth chronicles (look for it on DVD)     Guylaine gives tour of the farm to the group

As for Mali, it’s certainly the most anticipated trip I’ve ever had: When else as a primer for a journey do you have a roommate from your destination country for 3 months? We really have little idea what awaits us besides the fact we’ll be spending a week in the capital of Bamako before heading to our traditional village, Nossumbougu, 60 km from Bamako. We’ve been told to expect rustic surrounding: no running water or electricity, barely any paved roads, and the like. All I know is I have barely slept all week. (including at all tonight…last night)  

That excited.

And I just realized I never introduced each one of the Malians, which I think is important for the stories to come: Besides Abu and Ahmadou, there`s Mahmoud, who at times alternates between looking like a young boy and a middle aged man, listens to Bob Marley daily, has the most acerbic wit and general crowd pleasing, class-clown tendencies, and has also picked up some English too (Favourite line: “You are very beautiful“) Boubacar is the most serious of the gang, a practicing Muslim who always deeply probes guest speakers Mike Wallace like, (the Malians need to write a report on their internship) but yet he can still be very silly and is also the most intense soccer player possible.

Agnés is a very warm hearted and smiley Catholic girl and Ahmadou tells me she can be counted on to tell the dirtiest jokes this side of the Sahara. Assitan is the other practising Muslim, by my account is the most mature and strong-willed of the Malian girls: she was rather sick at one point but after many trips to the hospital turned out to be fine physically, suffering from “fatigue“ or possibly an extreme culture shock, but is fine now.

Nakany is a nutty girl from Bamako and she has yet to recover from the fact she’s been sleeping in a Winnebago all summer (although I did tell her there were many wolves in St. Francois with an affinity for African girls). Tata is our official dance instructor and promises to show us the ropes on Bamako’s night scene. And Youma is the silliest of the girls, is in love with Québecois singer Garou, and her biggest dream is to be able to ‘marry someone for love,’ not too frequent an occurrence in Mali according to her.

All have siblings and extended family members living abroad, many without their spouses or children, working hard, Western jobs to send money back home in hopes to one day be joined by their loved ones.

Almost every one of the Malians, if given the right opportunity, would like to leave Mali for good: So poor is the job market even for the most educated of students, they all dream of a better life abroad earning Euros and Dollars. (Although none so far has been interested in just declaring refugee status right now and staying…but we’ll see what happens at the airport)

 Ahmadou says at one point he simply gave up on going to school: he saw his older siblings study remarkably hard, earn their Master’s degrees, only to sit at home for years looking for work. He just didn’t see the point of putting all that effort so that he could get back to the same place; but eventually he found the courage to go back, to continue the struggle for a comfortable life.

Comfort and security are concepts far from the realities of average Malian life, at least according to statistics (because for now that’s all I have): The country is one of the five least developed in the world, the average salary in some regions is well below the UN threshold of ‘extreme poverty’ or a $1 a day, infestations of crickets threaten the food supply and international subsidies on cotton have depressed returns of their primary crop.

Although, on paper there are quite a few positive signs: One of the leading gold producers in Africa, a democratically elected government for the last 15 years, recipient of international aid from around the world ($70 million per year from Canada alone) one of the freest, most independent medias in Africa, largely self sufficient in food production and one of the lowest AIDS rates in the region.

Yet, despite all of this, still one of the poorest countries in the world. How does this add up?

Check back with me by New Year’s.

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Comments»

1. jess - September 4, 2006

have a safe trip, nima!
ask a million billion questions, and bring us back the answers.

2. Ari - September 5, 2006

Nima, enjoy yourself in Africa. Please start a newspaper while you’re there and abuse your staff like you did at York. Best of luck, and try not to get malaria.

Ari

3. Parn - September 5, 2006

Nina loved seeing your acting debut on the Internet – you probably could hear her cries of “mais c’est fou!” all the way to Bamako…we all miss you…and are looking forward to the African updates.

Parn

4. Adrienne - September 7, 2006

Wonderful update. I look forward to hearing about your adventures in Mali.

I’m so sorry that I missed you the other day (what bad luck, eh?). I promise I’ll send you an update of what’s going on.

hugs

5. Jacky - October 6, 2006

Hello Nima,

Wow, so that’s where you are these days, unever cease to amaze me. Looks like a lot of fun! Good luck and look forward to your next update.


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