Posts Tagged ‘malaria’

I ni sogoma,

As with most circumstances in life, I stumbled my way into a great trip this weekend to le Festival sur le Niger (the Festival on the Niger). And as with most circumstances in my life, this was of way higher quality than what I deserve. In case you aren’t familiar, the Niger river is the major river that flows through Mali, blessing the region with everything a massive river has to offer like hydroelectricity, a transportation highway, and all that delicious fish!

I got to tag along with my father up to Segou this weekend for the 11th annual Festival sur le Niger. The NGO he works with, Population Services International (PSI) is one of the sponsors for this festival so they had a whole team up there running a stand and offering services to festival-goers.

I’ve worked stands at festivals and events before and these guys step it up a notch. PSI is chiefly involved in malaria prevention in Mali, but they also do a great deal of work in reproductive health and maternal and infant mortality. At le Festival that means they’ve not only got the whole spread out on display with mosquito nets, Protector condoms, oral rehydration tablets, infant zinc regimens, and IUDs but they’ve also got teams throughout the festival grounds offering private consultations about any reproductive issue or product and even on-site HIV testing! Dad and I got ours done of course. Have you?

“Zach! Hurry up! You’re going to be late for your HIV test!” – Dad

A few other organizations do some of the same things like handing out condoms and performing skits about health issues. However I don’t think anyone else was offering on-site HIV-testing (with only a 15 minute wait for your results!) and IUD insertions. Boo-yah. To be fair Marie Stopes International (MSI) – another organization my father has spent some time with – did have a post-abortion care centre set up which is definitely solid. Unfortunately abortions are only legal in Mali if absolutely necessary to save the life of the mother (Oh, you mean it will just ruin your life, not end it? Yeah, no.) All the health information was really uplifting to see to be honest. I didn’t see any “safe partying” stands like the festivals I’ve worked and organized, but at least the community’s serious issues are being addressed. I wish more festivals in the United States were as open about promoting healthy lifestyles and options, especially those that don’t directly relate to partying. Burning Man is the only American festival I’ve experienced that even mentioned anything about safe sex and sexual rights, for example. Obviously Mali has a much more dire health situation overall than the United States but misinformation is still just as dangerous. And this illusion that the USA is immune from major epidemics and health issues is still a recent veil of luxury even though many take low disease rates within the States for granted. It’s important to remember that safety in general is an illusion; we’re all just one pandemic away from being thrown back into the dark ages.

Aside from the wealth of health information flying around in Segou, the air this weekend was filled with the best of sounds: music! Much like the others I’ve experienced, the music plays around the clock in Segou. Booming, dynamic drum beats from djembe circles to electronic programs move the crowds like the waves on the shoreline, boosted by vibrant, melodic French and Bambara vocals in the classic African style we all know and love (Lion King, anyone?) and . Bringing it all together, kora and guitar solos tear through the crowds and tie everyone’s ears in knots. All the music has a strong West African feel. This is 21st century African though. Mixed in are some solid electronic beats and keyboards, plus electric strings and amped-up drums. Though I think I heard a sax in there somewhere which is always appreciated. R&B, rap, Jazz and classic blues seem to be the styles of choice. As always, the later the night, the heavier the music. Hoo-rah. The highlight for me may have been when one band brought a whole crowd of rap artists up on stage who proceeded to bounce lines off of each other to the band’s various tunes. I’m quickly becoming a fan of Bambara rap. Bamba-Rap as I’m calling it.

Not to mention I know one of the evening’s two hosts! The same woman, Fifi, organized and hosted the karaoke competition I was featured on in the Fall. Small world haha.

The Festival sur le Niger is set up much like Baltimore’s Starscape festival which has now evolved into Moonrise (Starscape as it was just got too wild to handle I guess. Having been, I completely understand.). The stages are spread out across a beach-esque shoreline. Unlike Starscape that lasts just one night however, le Festival sur le Niger lasts about a week, ending on a Sunday. Perfect for a weekend trip. Plus in Segou the festival spills right onto the town streets outside the venue complete with more unofficial stages and vendor stands. That and the main stage here is actually on the water on a floating stage. The pit (the standing-room only area directly in front of the stage) actually leads right into the shallow banks of the grand Niger river, the cause for quite a refreshing front row experience. Note to first-timers: don’t bring your phone into the pit.

There is a noticeable security presence at the annual festival in Segou, moreso considering the escalation in northern violence since the new year, but it’s not too overwhelming. During the daylight hours the grounds are open to anyone interested in catching some tunes on a side stage or trying out some local cuisine (it’s all about the peanut sauce of course). It’s only in the evening that the exits become checkpoints.

The vendors/merchants are out in full force at the festival. Conflict in the north combined with a new government and now the ebola outbreak has put a dent in the number of European and otherwise international crowds. The same could be said with any Malian industry though. The war in the north alone has beaten down on Mali’s tourist industry pretty hard. So naturally, Europeans and obvious foreigners like myself are really hounded. You’d better put your bargaining face on or you’ll be broke by the time you walk through security. As a relatively young, caucasian, tattooed male I am quite the spectacle to the locals so of course a few people requested pictures with me and a few others professed their love. All in all just another day in the life. 😉 No, I’m definitely still not used to being the exotic one.

I’m glad I’ve been practicing my French (and Bambara!). I’m starting to be able to have basic (though admittedly rough) conversations with people on my own. Next year I’ll be more ready. The music at the Festival sur le Niger is a mix of French and Bambara with the occasional sprinkle of English. The most English I saw was on a “party tips” billboard aimed at international visitors. I appreciated that. It listed several important aspects and customs relating to Malian and Islamic culture. Apparently for example dresses traditionally mean you are married, greetings are quite important, and shorts are generally reserved for children… but no way was I wearing pants out there. Call me a child. Hey though, at least it’s the cold season.

All in all being with one of the sponsors got me the royal treatment this weekend in Segou. Seats in the good chairs and free entry are great, but we also got set up in one of the nicer hotels just a couple blocks from the venue. And not only is there electricity all night long if you want but wi-fi too! Africa is already so much different from when I first actually remember visiting in 2002, not to mention what my parents describe from the 80s! The whole set-up in Segou is quite impressive actually. Maybe next year I’ll see you there! The rooms are nice with working toilets and air conditioning and great local foods plentifully line the streets. Breakfast was even included with out hotel stay. Well, except for the omelet.

Onward and upward,
Z

Hey there!  Welcome all yee weary travellers to my blog!  Come!  Sit!  Enjoy a pint of me fine ale and let us shoot the shit for a while.  I’ll admit up front this is my first run at the world of blogging, but I suppose it’s all the rage these days so, you know, carpe diem and such.

So here’s my deal.  My name’s Zach.  In a nutshell, I am an absurd word nerd with a bachelors in English and obsessions with music and mayhem.  I grew up in Maryland (Murdaland), just outside of Washington DC.  I wasn’t born in Maryland, but I’ve spent the last two decades there and I am ready to leave.  Thankfully for my lucky ass though, I actually have a way out!  Although some might call me crazy…  See, come September 1st I will once again place my tray tables in an upright position behind the seat in front of me, and hop across the pond to Bamako, Mali where I have the pleasure of laying my head to rest for the foreseeable future.  West Africa.  With all its lions and ebola and wars, oh my!

Why Africa, you ask?  Well… why not?!  It is the true motherland after all.  Anyone who has grown up studying Euro-centric maps may not see the point in stepping even one foot into the “heart of darkness,” but in reality Africa is everyone’s first home.  Imagine raw natural beauty as far as the eye can see.  Imagine giants roaming, without any hint of a cage.  Africa is the Wild – with a capital ‘W.’  To most television enthusiasts it’s the dark spot on the map that reads, “here there be monsters.” But in reality its landscapes, it’s people, and it’s cultures are nothing less than unimaginably beautiful.  Raw beauty at its finest, Africa is Nature.

The African continent itself is way more expansive than any Euro-centric maps make it out to seem.  Most do not realize, but Russia, China, and the USA could all fit within Africa side – by – side.  Nor do most doctors realize that Hippocrates studied medicine and learned of disease while studying in Egypt, or Kemet, as it was called.  Greece begot modern medicine, but Africa begot Greek medicine.  You see, there are no such thing as “third-world” countries.  Contrary to popular belief, the African continent is not covered in barbarians and beasts.  The concept itself is laughable, to assume any one country, and its people exist in some other, inherently lesser world than we, the mighty industrialized few.  As if the ability to produce carbon monoxide and nuclear weapons at a revolutionary rate marks the pinnacle of civility.

No, there are no first-world or third-world countries.  Some draw the line at industrialized and unindustrialized countries, but I see it differently.  In today’s world of guns, germs, and steel, the answer is clear.  There are countries that are oppressed, and there are countries that oppress.  I truly urge anyone reading to honestly consider of which you are a part.

Of course those with imperialistic histories, who, fueled by the blood of the poor have colonized the world are sure to give “aid” to these “struggling” countries, but it’s actually more along the lines of a bully helping the small kid off the bus so he can take his lunch money later.  That’s not to say there are no good people working in the dark corners of the world, but the French, the Dutch, the Americans – we, the oppressors – are all deeply invested in these African countries because LOOK AT ALL THOSE DIAMONDS!!!!  No, seriously though; oil, diamonds, gold… major imperialstic nations have long colonized and utilized African land and resources to export back home, bleeding the richest continent on the planet dry.  These days, the coltan, or tantalite in our smartphones are the blood diamonds of the 21st century.  Rebels and coups are financed to ensure steady extraction to the western world.  So why go to Africa?  Because it is the world’s biggest playground; the real Wild West.  And it needs all the help it can get.

I fell in love with the dark continent through my parents.  My parents met, married, and lived in Africa for almost 20 years.  My father met my mother in the Peace Corps while my mother was visiting her sister doing the same.  Africa is my family.  My brother’s first language was French, though he remembers little now.  My sister was born in South Africa.  The motherland has left its undeniable and inescapable mark on my family.  Now, my father has once again descended back, this time to Bamako, Mali to help fight Malaria, and I’m just crazy enough to go with him.  Me, with my love of poetry, obscenety, and heavy metal.  As Kevin Hart says, I can’t tell you what’s about to happen.  All I can say is, it’s about – to go – down.

So that’s all for now folks.  See you on the front lines.

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Onward and upward.
– Z

 

P.s.  Here are some videos from one of my old bands, Be All My Sins Remembered (aka Failure in the Flesh).