C’est la Vie

Posted: September 22, 2014 in Burning Man, daily life, HHH, hiking, the market
Tags: , , , , , ,

Hello people of the internet!  I hope this message reaches you through all the tubes.

This was a pretty eventful week for me!  I realized I’m starting to know at least enough French to get the gist of basic ideas.  This is a big step for someone who is usually obsessed with effective communication.  To help I enrolled in a beginner’s french course at the French Institute in Bamako.  It’s not too intense, only four hours a week actually.  Having only been to the first class so far though, I can already tell it’s going to help.  There are only a few other students in the class and the teacher seems like a really friendly guy.  He is Malian and seems pretty open about himself so he includes a lot about Malian life in his lesson, which I appreciate.  Aziz is his name, which I hear means ‘precious’ in Arabic.  He told me he is left-handed for example!  He noticed I was writing with my left hand but sitting in a right-handed chair.  You know, the ones with the little writing surface built in to either arm.  Usually a classroom either has none attached to the left arm or one.  A few of the larger lecture halls at the University of Maryland had an entire column of seats with left-handed writing surfaces attached, bless their souls.  Talking to my teacher about being left-handed in either culture was extremely enlightening.  You see he is naturally left-handed, but ever since he was a child he was made to write with his right.  Whenever he tried writing with his left hand as a child he would be smacked or hit, and ridiculed for being dirty.  He says he was told if he continued to write with his left hand, he would go to Hell.  As a result he is now essentially ambidextrous, though his handwriting is considerably better with his right.  In his words, I am lucky I was not born in Mali.  Maybe when I die and come back I will be.

One of the other students in my class introduced me to the Bamako chapter of an international group of hikers called the Hash House Harriers.  They organize weekly walks/runs around most major international cities, offering a way for people to meet others and exercise a little.  Though the best part of this group is that after each run everybody gets a beer.  Now that’s my kind of exercise.  I’ve actually run into one other chapter of this group in College Park, Maryland!  I had the pleasure of attending one of their parties at some friends’ house whose landlord hosted.  They seemed like a pretty odd bunch, so of course I must learn more.  Plus I hear there is a chapter that attends Burning Man each year as well!  They call themselves the Black Rock City Hash House Harriers (BRCH3).  That’s definitely one thing I’ll have to check out the next time I go.  It makes total sense actually.  One of the distinctive qualities of Hashers appears to coincide with a Burning Man policy known as “radical inclusion.”  The concept seems simple but it’s actually pretty unheard of.  Basically, anyone can join!  At any event you may have to contribute a few bucks (or in my case francs) for the beer if you want any but besides that they welcome anyone interested in going for a walk.  Even though most people I saw were speaking only French to each other, I already met a few cool people I could actually understand so I’ll definitely go back.  I’ll have to post pictures of my hikes.  This week’s trail was about six kilometers up this gorgeous hill.  The hill looked jagged almost, with big red rock formations coming up out of the tall grass littered with the odd purple flowers.  Occasionally our trail crossed through a small “neighborhood” of only a couple homes, all either hand-made or created from the unfinished ruins of various construction sites.  Many construction projects for office buildings and homes have been cut short for various reasons throughout the city, so while the skeletons of buildings stand unused, people occupy the empty space until the projects start up again.  I am excited to hike with these people.  I am excited to explore the city as well!  There’s so much to see here.  I am excited.

I went back into the market this week.  This time I stuck with Edmond while he got all the soaps, oils, vegetables and meat for the week.  What a trip!  The whole market seems like it centers around this one old building.  An old abandoned, one-story (but with a high roof) church of some kind has turned into the literal meat market, where every piece of sweet, sweet animal is cut, weighed, and sold from its own small counter.  The place is seriously brutal.  In the middle of the room are rows and rows of mopeds, with meat counters along each wall.  All the interesting stuff was by the entrances to the building.  Liver, stomach, heart, pigs feet, you name it.  Everything was laid out in its own little display.  I saw more flies in that one building than I think I’ve ever seen.  Not a rubber glove in sight.  Kids ran around offering to help carry bags for a few francs.  This is where we got our cuts of beef, pork chops, and kidney, which my father loves.  I was and still am amazed.  Surrounding the building in a network of alleyways and streets are the vegetable stands, ran strictly by women and their daughters.  This is where we negotiated for our green beans, lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes and other random goodies.  It fascinates me how segregated by gender the different vendors were.  The women dealt with vegetables while the men exclusively dealt with meat and electronics.  The younger boys begged for coins or offered their services as bag carriers, while the older boys walked the street selling random assortments of belts, hats, bags, and what seemed like everything else you could ask for.  It’s interesting how gender roles play themselves out.  Everyone looked genuinely surprised to see me there.  Like I said before, most people fortunate enough to shop in the usual supermarkets stay out of the street markets.  Of course, the giant clown face on my leg was quite a riot to a few people as well.  All in all it was an extremely eye-opening week.  I wonder where next week will take me.  That’s all for now.  Be well internet!

Onward and upward.


  1. Mom says:

    Love your blogs Zach. The description of the meat market is perfect. Every organ having it’s place on the table. LOL!! Remember your black stone when you go hiking. And don’t forget your swiss army knife!


  2. Julieto Junio says:

    Hey Bro, Hashing is awesome (there are US chapters also!) I’ve gone to a few runs with the Columbia crew. “Drinkers with a running problem” they say. More importantly, glad to hear you’re having fun out there!


  3. Aunt Reesa says:

    In Fada n Gourma the butchers would whack the table with their machete to get the flies off the meat so we could examine it for a microsecond. When I think of that now I get grossed out! Always bought the tenderloin so I wouldn’t have to pressure cook it to make it edible. Sounds like a great adventure, keep up the blog.


  4. Armel says:

    Hahaha. That is awesome Zach. Mama Africa is s different / authentic. I love the line about your tattoo. Why so serious?!?!?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s