Saturday, June 24, 2017

Kicking off Year 2 in Bamako

It's official, I'm on the downswing of my time in Bamako! My tour here is two years and March was my halfway point. Although my exact departure date won't be solidified until much closer to March 2018, it feels good to be on the downward slope.

Things in Bamako haven't been so great. Perhaps you've seen the news, or maybe not: there was an attack on a "resort" area called Le Campement, or Kangaba, where several westerners and Malians were killed. Just another senseless attack, for terror's sake alone. I've been to Le Campement a couple of times and was looking forward to going again sometime soon.

It's funny, it's so easy to say (and think, and feel), "One can't live in fear, you just have to keep on doing what you're doing." It's not true. It is possible to live in fear. You just start to decide what you're willing to risk: go to the very popular-with-westerners restaurant? Hmm. The other resort-y place in town? Uhm. Grocery shopping at the market primarily frequented by westerners? Er. It's a terrible way to think, in trade-offs and hesitancy, but it's a real way to live.

The past month has been a tough one: we lost a member of our community, the attack at Le Campement, continuing security threats, plus all the usual work stressors and projects, and let's just toss on the State Departement hiring freeze and budget cuts, which are starting to have their effects. It's not an easy environment to live in, all around.

So how do we cope, here in Bamako? Primarily, by taking care of each other. The people here are incredible and I find myself depending on the goodness of my friends and colleagues more and more. I usually feel like I'm the one trying to provide lots of support, but here it's the reverse: I'm receiving it, all the time. From "I'm thinking of you, how's it going?" text messages to office walk-ins just to shoot the breeze, from get-togethers at friends' houses to sporadic phone calls to check in and say hi... the community here is real and it is strong.

Another way of coping is making flash decisions, and one month ago I did just that: after years of hemming and hawing, wishing it were the right time and place, I finally followed in my Grandma Nancy's footsteps and said "The time is now!" And I adopted a puppy the next day.

Jacques is just about three months old now and he's a handful: of cuteness, frustration, love and energy. He's a Malian mutt, a mix of Malian dog (technically called Azawakh) and an unknown father. There's no telling how big he'll get, but for now he's little and adorable. We're working on potty training, and crate training, and sit-lay down-come-hush training. Also on training ME, because it's a lot of work being a dog owner!

Without the support of friends here, I probably couldn't handle having Jacques on top of everything else. Luckily, the dog-loving community here is strong and very supportive, so I think we'll make it! Pictures to follow...

--Z

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Vacations: 3 Different Trips

In March, I took a road trip to Burkina Faso with six friends and it was a wonderful, relaxing, interesting couple of days. When I returned to Bamako and downloaded the pictures, there were many other photos from my R&R as well. So, now you get to see pictures from my Nov/Dec trip AND from Burkina Faso! And, from my April R&R in Italy!

First, USA R&R. I spent a few weeks at my parents' house in Durham, NC. My Minnesota grandmother flew down and we got to spend a lovely week together, catching up and enjoying chilly Durham. My brother and his wife came for Thanksgiving so I had time with them as well. And most importantly, I got time with my fantastic mom and dad, who are my biggest fans and my favorite people in the world. And so I present to you, R&R 2016 pictures:


My grandma Nancy watching the birds in my parents' back yard. 

The neighborhood bamboo grove that my father's "Bambusero" group has made visitor-friendly.

Pretty house with a pretty tree in Parkwood.

Dad and Joe. 

Proud dad at the red hydrant grove. 

Bamboo groves are so pretty.

Off to visit the goat farm!

Hungry goats.

This guy loved my grandma... and her cane! He stuck by her like a faithful pet, begging to be patted and head-scratching on her cane. 

Silly kids!

By goats!

Smiley mom on the hill!

Thanksgiving with my awesome family.

---

Next up is my recent trip to Burkina Faso! A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked if I'd like to join a group planning a road trip across the Mali-Burkina Faso border, and after dithering and procrastinating, I finally decided to do it. To give you an idea, this isn't a trip that is taken lightly: the security situation in Mali is such that travel farther than 50 kilometers out of town, or any trip overnight, has to be approved by our regional security office. For our trip, we had to provide details: what route would we take, what communication devices would we have, where would sleep, what tourist sites would we visit. We were also given locator devices to take with us. 

Luckily, this meant a very well-planned trip, and off we went directly after work on Friday! We took two cars and motored to the border. There were five stops to make, though I couldn't tell you what was done at each. We showed our passports a couple of times, the vehicle owners presented their "carte grise" or registration cards, and paid the various "peage" or tools. We chatted with the border police, who were various shades of stern, jovial, or disinterested. 

On the way to Burkina, we stopped for a quick road-side picnic.

Banfora Hotel

Asha at Domes de Fabedougou 
Domes de Fabedougou


Cascades de Karfiguéla

Cascades de Karfiguéla

Water pipes

Yes, we went to McDonald... no golden arches but the burger was delish!

Lake Tangrela, where it is sometimes possible to see hippos. Not the evening we went, however.

Ladies selling baskets.

Ready to take a hike!
Our little adventure group.


Size.

Artistic photography in cool landscapes.

Our guide managed to take us places just before the hordes of school-kids... we were
on our way out of the hiking area, thank goodness.

Giant baobob. We went inside and learned its history. 

Cashew tree fruit!

Start of our walk through the historic area of Bobo Dioulasso.

Narrow alleyways.

Fish stew, anyone?

Water collection.

A little musical interlude. 

The Bobo Dioulasso mosque. 

Inside the mosque.

---

And last but not least, here are a few pictures from my Italian R&R. Friends of my parents decided to spend a year in Italy, renting apartments in different parts of the country to explore different regions.


View from uphill on Todi.

Assisi view.
Mom & pop, the Italian travelers!

Mom enjoying the view. 

Dad being a humble beggar... with a view!
Orvieto's fabulous church.
Views from Orvieto.
Taking a break.

The hilltop town of Civita di Bagnoregio.

Pretty archway in Perugia. 

Lovely courtyard of a B&B. 
Sardinia: hiking to get a peek of a gorge.
Sardinia beach from above.
A nuraghe, ruin of a people who inhabited Sardinia in the tenth century or so.
Pops of red.
Penant on a hilltop with a grand view.