Wednesday, August 29, 2007


The photo albums from our trip are finally ready. We consolidated our pictures and videos, waded through the more than 1,800 options, and put together two online albums:

Click HERE to see the LIFE IN KATI album (which includes our 3 weeks volunteering at the Institute for Popular Education, our production of the Malisadio legend, our host family, the wedding we crashed, and weekend trips to Bamako)

Click HERE to see the TRAVELS IN AFRICA: CASABLANCA, DJENNE, AND DOGON album (which includes our one day stop in Casablanca on the plane ride to Mali, and our week long journey at the end of our trip when we visited Djenne and Dogon Country)

Thanks again to everyone who read our blog. Enjoy!
-Sara and Zoe

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Back to America

We made it back to the States, where we are catching up with family and friends, and appreciating long missed foods like salad, fresh fruit, and smoothies. It's great to be back!

I posted photos on my balloon twisting website,, with 5 mini albums of balloons in Mali. You can link directly to the Balloons in Mali page by clicking here. In particular, check out the last 3 mini-albums, which highlight Djenne, Dogon, and our last day in Kati --- all of those have spectacular balloon stories that we missed blogging about, because we didn't have internet access at that time.

We plan to post other photos of our adventures during this last week, as well as favorite photos that didn't make it to the blog. This might take a little while, because we have over 1,800 photos to sort through!

Thank you to everyone who's been following our blog. It seemed a little like we were just writing for our own enjoyment, so it's good to know that there were people actually reading along. I feel lucky to have such wonderful friends, family, and colleagues supporting me. It makes it easy to come home from this crazy adventure in Mali.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Adventures in Djenne and Dogon Country


We're back from our travels and fly back to the States tomorrow! This might be our last blog entry from Mali. We hope you're not too sad.

Our adventure began last Saturday. We started on Bani Bus (the fanciest bus company in Mali) in Bamako and broke down about three hours into our trip. Even though we bought our tickets in advance we got the last seats and had to squish in the back of the bus; so breaking down wasn't that bad because at least we got fresh air. We made friends and played cards in the shade. When we got to Djenne Carrefour we had to hop on an open air truck to Djenne. Did you know that Djenne is a peninsula? We didn't, and suddenly found ourselves on a ferry (because during rainy season, Djenne becomes an island). Zoe took a few steps in the River Bani and hopefully she doesn't have a flesh eating virus. Sara opted for a piggyback. We finally made it to Djenne and stayed at the nicest hotel there. Djenne is famous for its giant mud mosque and Monday market. We enjoyed both, even though it was pouring. For the record, it's not the best idea to travel to a city of mud in Mali during the rainy season, but what can you do?

After the Monday Market in Djenne, we made our way to Dogon Country. Dogon country is absolutely gorgeous. Driving in, it felt like we were looking at pages of a National Geographic magazine, only when we waved out the window, the people waved back. The area is comprised of all these little villages in the countryside. Originally, lots of the villages were built into the cliffs of the escarpment, but now those are abandoned. The villages where people live now are on the plains below the cliffs, and up above on the plateau. The Dogon people mostly practice animist religions, and they live a very traditional lifestyle. Women pounded millet and men went into the brush to hunt. We walked through with our guide, who was Dogon as well, and we got a hands on view of life there. We even got our palms read by a hunter / medicine man who said that Zoe should sacrifice a chicken, and Sara should throw a nut on a path. It was sort of like an African Plythmouth Plantation, only it's real life.
In Dogon, the scenery was spectacular. We've never seen stars so beautiful. The birds were amazing too -- bright orange, red, metallic blue, and lime green. We hiked below, through cliff villages, up the escarpement and along the plateau. Incredible.
We just got back to Bamako and we are writing from an internet cafe at the University. There are lots more stories and photos from our trip to Djenne and Dogon, but those will have to wait until we get home. We can't wait to see you so soon! We fly home on Sunday.

Love and hugs,
Zoe and Sara

Thursday, August 2, 2007

What you missed in the last 24 hours...

Since we last wrote, we had a lot of celebration / closing events for Camp Ciwara. Highlights included...
1. The Prom (i.e. closing party for the Student Teachers from Sikasso), complete with a DJ, a photographer, slow dances, and soda
The Sikasso women dressed to the nines and we wore matching skirts and headscarves from our friend, the tailor (who still hasn't finished all of our dresses -- perhaps it's those zippers...)
Group Photo -- Sikasso Student Teachers, IEP Teachers, Interns, and Tubabus (Americans)
2. Camp Ciwara Graduation Ceremony and Celebration
Sory gets his camp certificate. Even though he is sometimes left alone in rooms while everyone goes outside for a snack, we like that IEP makes a concerted effort to include all types of students. Sory is a valued member of the community, and students take turns wheeling him home after camp.
3. Malisadio Performance (aka Hippo Play)
The legend is set at the junction of two rivers, one white and one blue. Notice the beautiful backdrop and flower garlands made by the students in art class (with our creative vision).
While washing her laundry at the river, a pregnant woman encounters a hippo who promises to befriend her unborn child.
The Traditional Hippo Mask of Mali
All of the Creatures of the River -- fish, frog, crocodile, and snake
The woman has her baby, and her name is Sadio. She becomes best friends with the hippo. Even when nobody wants to marry her because of this friendship, she stays true.

The story ends, and of course, there is dancing for all! (It just so happens that Koumba, the girl who plays Sadio, is the best dancer in all of Kati. She leads the boys, who are begrudgingly participating so that they can get their balloon hats.)

4. Celebrating Our Successes
During our evening stroll, we felt pretty cool because we kept running into people we know. For example, our "brother" Moise came by on a motorcycle and pretended he was going to throw a live chicken at us. Zoe screamed. She would like to point out that we had chicken for dinner. Perhaps this one, or the one in a cage in the kitchen (where the car is parked at night).
Anyway, we're feeling really good about our work, and the community feels really caring and cohesive. We also ran into Koumba on our way home, who said that her mother wanted to see us. So, off we went to see her family. We walked through her backyard first, where they had many turkeys, a dog, kittens, and three donkeys. Then we sat awkwardly in the living room (or maybe kitchen?) while her mother asked us to bring Koumba to the U.S. Eventually, we had to dance for them, because those Malians love to see white girls dance. Also, Koumba is quite a dance teacher and she is responsible for many of our new moves.

Koumba and her family and us (thanks to self-timer)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Once a year, the family at Maria's house has hamburgers -- on Debbie's birthday. Today was the day! They set up stations in the courtyard, each of the kids with a different condiment. Pictured here is Sebastian with the ketchup station. Sita, who is one of our master cooks (and mother of Boi, Christiane, Maria, and Catherine) partakes in some ketchup. Around a big table, the other kids waited with onions, tomatoes, and all the necessary hamburger goodies. It was quite an event.

Now, we are headed to Mississippi (one of the classroom areas at the school - don't ask) for a big fete with the Sikasso women. It is their last night, and we promised them dancing. Hopefully, Mr. Sogodogo will be able to work the stereo system. One can only hope.

Tomorrow there will be lots of balloons for Mali Sadio (our hippo ballet) - stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

African Queens

It’s official. We are now African Queens. Ok, well, not exactly, but we are getting closer:

Step One: We got Malian names, though they’ve finally figured out how to pronounce our real names. One of the teachers deemed Zoe as Ami Sisoko (after his wife) and Sara as Ayshata Diarra (after his mom, and Maria, our “mom”).

Step Two: We got our hair braided. It was a bit more successful with Sara’s hair, but Zoe’s curls confused the three young coiffeurs, and she almost cried because of the pulling.

Step Three: We got our new clothes from the tailor, and they sort of fit. The tailor also introduced us to our first experience with Malian espresso tea, which is really strong, really sweet, and poured from high heights into tiny cups.

Step Four: We have new dance moves. Our students have taught us to groove African style, with a hint of Shakira. After choreographed hippo moves, we all hit the dance floor and boogied.

Note: We just had a power outage. They look at us funny when we use our flashlights here. So, perhaps we aren't quite African queens yet.

Monday, July 30, 2007

What We See and Hear Every Day

Every day we hear the Muslim call to prayer several times, but overall we don't see a lot of people who stop and actually pray at these times. There is a competing Koranic camp next door.

There are piles of rocks that we pass on our way to school. We're not sure what they are there for, but they seem to be good for drying laundry.

Maria, our wonderful host, relaxing after a long day.

We are surrounded by beautiful children all day. This is Fatumata, showing off her henna, which is common on women's feet, but not so much for kids.

Our beds and shared mosquito net, like a little tent.

Next to Zoe's bed, we have a little space where we are storing our flowers until the big show.

Every day we see piles of trash, in contrast to the beauty of Kati's lush greenery (thanks to all the rain we've been getting).

Sunday, July 29, 2007

"Luxury" Weekend in Bamako

We spent the weekend with Emma in Bamako, and were lucky to be able to stay at the home of a friend of a friend, Jeff. We also got to walk his lovely dog, Maggie. Zoe would like it to be known that she even held the leash (even though she isn't known to be a dog lover).

Saturday morning began with a ride into Bamako on a soutreman crammed with 20 adults and 4 babies. We braved the artensana market, which was exhausting, but fun. We bought student gifts and other fun goodies (see photo to the right of the stand where Sara did some quality purchasing). One of the best things about this market is that the artists are working right there, stretching hides for leather or heating silver on a fire.

Next, we met the guards and maid at the house, and made arrangements to get the key. We had lunch at a touristy place, where we ate our pizza (delicious) outside until the flies got into Zoe's Jus de Pamplemouse. Very sad.
After, we went to The Azar Libre - a Western grocery store!!!! We stocked up on pringles, nuts, guava juice, and even ice cream. We returned to Jeff's to read, nap, and walk Maggie. That night we ventured to a guidebook recommended music club that turned out empty. So, we ate at Restaurant Fast Food Paradis, and came back for bed.

Today, we did more shopping at another market, and went to the fanciest hotel in Bamako, to use their pool. Despite the rain, we had a great time. Now it's back to work for Hippo Play preparations.

View of a bank in Bamako, on the Niger River

Metal Worker at the Artesania Market

Lizard -- they're everywhere!

Zoe with our friend Maggie

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Teacher Training... and Fun

Some photos of our work with the student teachers of Sikasso:

A game we made to demonstrate the importance of social outcomes and teaching habits of mind
Ba Koniba -- Head Teacher

The Women of Sikasso See Balloons for the First Time

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Scenes from Around Town

The Arcade

Potentially rabid dog

Kati Mission (another neighborhood nearby)

The Soccer Field

Cow herd in front of the school entrance

The Big Day!

Today was the big day - Djennaba's Wedding! This morning, it poured, and we were worried, but it cleared up. We didn't meet Djennaba until this afternoon, but we brought her balloon flowers (in Malian colors) and a wedding card in English, French, and Bambara. Right before we left, Maria told us that Sunday is actually the gift giving day, but she thought we could get away with bringing the flowers today anyway.

The rain was so strong today - here it is shooting off the slide.

Before the Fete - These are the fanciest clothes that we brought,
and our outfits at the tailor aren't ready yet!

The Bridal Party (we think)

The Bride

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Our Evening Stroll

Today was so lovely---highlights included a fabulous session with the Sikasso women, washing our delicates with little Maria and Christiane, and a walk to a new quarter with Baboi.

We love the Sikasso women and had so much fun with them as we debriefed their small group work with the campers. We modeled a protocol for classroom discussions and they loved it! At the end we all sang and danced to the Hippo song. We’re planning a fete for next week after the Hippo play!

When we came home we decided it was time to wash our undies and socks. These are done by hand n a bucket. We didn’t really know what we were dong, but were instructed by Mara (age 5) and Christiane (age 7). Christiane beamed after every clean sock. Our delicates are now hanging in the trees in the courtyard.

After our laundry, we took a walk with Baboi and helped him practice his English. We learned that he was first in his 10th grade class this year. We’re very proud. We walked to a new quarter of Kati. We'll put up photos of town soon!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wedding Guests

It is almost impossible to describe our incredible day yesterday, but we’ll try. First of all, it was gorgeous, cool during the day and in the evening the moon was out and it was almost full.

In the morning we began teaching another successful session with the women from Sikasso. We discussed group work and they responded quite well except for one woman who when asked to demonstrate what poor group work might look like was busy texting on her cell phone. At first we thought this might be part of her skit, but no, she really wanted the whole class to wait for her while she finished her message in class. We were not so impressed. After school we had incredible naps and then headed back to camp for the afternoon session. This time Sara was in sports and I made paper flowers with the campers. We have bunches of these tissue paper flowers and will tie them around the poles of our outdoor stage to decorate for our Hippo Play. During the second art group, Sara and I worked together to design leaves with the students. They used funky scissors to cut out their leaves and then wrote a message about the environment on one side. We’re gong to paste all the leaves together and create giant trees for the set for the Hippo play. It should also be noted, that on the way from sports to art, Sara was walking with Maria who slipped on cow dung and skidded down the path to the school. Pauvre Maria -- but she was indeed a good sport. After camp, we walked home with Christane and another camper who was bullying her. Christane is one of the family kids and therefore like our sister. Sara chastised the bully in French and a random woman on the corner started translating in Bambara. Oh Mali!

When we came home, we heard drums nearby and followed them. Two houses down there was a huge circle of women and children and incredible arms flapping, legs twisting booty shaking African dance. We stood on the sidelines for a second and then were offered chairs. We watched in awe as energy burst from this circle and soon we were invited to dance with the women. A little embarrassed at first, we joined their circle and danced (we decided it was like the hora). Then they wanted us to do a duet in front of the drummers, so we wriggled and shook for our neighbors, and we’re certain they will be talking about the dancing tubabu (white women) for weeks.

After the dance, we introduced ourselves to the elders, beautiful women who led the circle n song and dance and passed out bonbons. We thanked them and learned that it was a pre-weddng party for Djenneba (t’s unclear who Djenneba is). The actual wedding will begin on Thursday at 10 and we’re invited (so is the whole village, but we felt special). They seemed so happy to have us there and we met the griot or storyteller/singer who sang a beautiful song about Sara’s name (we have no idea what she was singing, but t was beautiful).

Then we walked through town, picked up lollipops and sparkling apple and grapefruit juice for snacks and watched the sunset.

After dinner we heard more music, but this time hp hop. We followed the loud speakers a few houses over and watched another dance get started. Immediately, we got chars n the VIP section with the wedding party. Our family kids soon found us and sat by our feet. With hundreds of other people, we watched the bridesmaids prance around and them groomsmen lip synch to American rap. Finally we were invited to join the wedding party in the center of the circle and danced for all of Kati. We’re not sure how many people were there, but Sara thinks close to 1,000.

We can’t wait for the wedding on Thursday. Maybe there will be another party tonight.

Love and hugs!

The wonderful wedding women!