Wednesday, 25 April 2012

 Life in a coup d’teat

I find it quite ironic how my last post was called happy times, and on the same day I published it we were told that there was some trouble in down town Bamako. There were rumours of the minister of defence being killed, so we were not allowed into downtown Bamako and that we should not leave our area. At first it took a while for us to realise the full extent of what was happening around us, thus we carried on with life as normal and we went to a nearby restaurant to eat dinner. Everything seemed normal and people were carrying on with the lives as nothing was happening. On our way back to the apartment me and Jemma went past the Mauritanian shop that was half way between the office and apartment. He was closing the shop and warned us that things were not safe in Bamako, and advised to go home. So we did.
Throughout the night we could hear the gunshots, and this was the fight sign that there was something seriously wrong. Around 3 in the morning we found out that there was a coup, the military had taken over and the president had been overthrown. It seemed very surreal that was a coup taking place around us. We tried looking on the internet and there wasn’t very much information on what was happening as it was so quick. This was the worst part of the whole experience, hearing constant gunshots around us and not knowing what was happening. In the morning Jemma received a message from the office saying that we should not leave the apartment as there was gunfire in the area. After around two hours we were informed that somebody would come and get us form the apartment and to bring an overnight bag as well as our passport and relevant papers in case of an emergency evacuation.
For the next couple of days we were told that we could not leave the office and that there was a national curfew from 6 in the evening until 6 in the morning. So we decided that we would stock up on food and water and other essentials before the curfew started. Throughout the night all we could hear was gunfire and explosions. On Friday night the gunfire was unusually close. We later found out by Rene that the soldiers were in our area and that a hotel opposite our apartment got raided.
Sunday was my birthday. I had a special birthday breakfast coup style; everything was bought from a 5 minute radius from the office. Also the tailors came round to say happy birthday and bring round some fried yam and papay that had promised that would do earlier in the week. After lunch Rene said that it was okay for us to go to the orphanage. Considering we weren’t allowed to do much it turned out to be more eventful than I expected it to be. Also I guess when I am old and grey and all my birthdays have blended together I will still be able to remember my 23rd birthday when I was stuck in a coup.      
On the Monday life seemed to be going  back to normal even though you  could sense the tension around the capital. Everyone was waiting for Tuesday when the coup leaders would state their intentions when they spoke to the public. IS York finally said that they were going to send us home as soon as the borders were opened. We wanted to go home as there wasn’t much we could do in regards to the projects especially UMAV because it was across the bridge, but we would miss everyone and wanted to finish our projects.
Tuesday was back to work, we started doing our monitoring and evaluation forms which at times was a bit annoying as there wasn’t much to evaluate due to the situation. We were all really disappointed that we could not finish our projects. But we carried on with work and Fred our country director even invited us around to his house for dinner. His wife made us a delicious Malian dinner.  On Friday we visited the artisans who were making the parts for the playground. It was amazing to finally see it all coming together, but we knew we wouldn’t be able to see the playground completed. However we were told by the IS Mali staff that they would make sure that the playground would be completed. Furthermore Jemma and Fran’s workshop could not be held but they fortunately made a special needs handbook that would be given out to everyone.
 During our time in Bamako, me and a few of the girls would go to the orphanage to help out. Bibi had told us the situation was getting worse in Mali. And we could see this for ourselves as the banks were running out of money due to the sanctions placed on Mali by ECOWAS, the borders were closed. Mali was no longer the same as it once was, even the streets that were usually so full of life were quite. There were no women selling fruit on the corner, hardly any taxis or cars and a few motorbikes. We wanted to help Bibi out at the orphanage, we knew how much of her life she had dedicated to the children, and it was horrible seeing them in such a situation. Even when we were cooped up in the office we would often think about what was happening in the orphanage. We collected money from friends and family for milk, bottled water and mosquito nets. It took a lot of effort getting money out of the bank and even western union to a lesser extent, as the banks and the union were only open to about mid-day each day. On one particular day we went to a western union that was about a 15 minute walk from the office, we managed to get the money out but the women at the counter said that we should hurry and leave as the army were on their way and that we were foreigners so it wouldn’t be safe for us. After buying out all the baby milk from nearly every alimentation in our area we delivered the milk, water and mosquito nets to Bibi. Rene kindly offered to give us a lift with the stuff. When we entered the orphanage Bibi was so shocked that she started crying. She said that we were sent from God, as she had prayed for help and we turned up. Bibi explained to us that day that she had only had enough milk left for two days, but now thanks to the help from our friends and family she had enough milk for 2 months.  I felt that I could leave Mali now feeling as though I had helped the Orphange in small way. Although Bibi always emphasised that it was the physical help that we offered that meant a lot more to her as she said children needed more than food to grow, they needed love. I feel like the orphanage, as cheesy as it sounds will always be a part of me now for the rest of my life, and I hope that I will stay in touch with them.
After our trip to the orphanage we returned home to pack and get ready for our flight later that night. At 9 o’clock in the evening Papa came to collect us with our luggage in the kat kat. Whilst we were driving to the airport we were all thinking how it felt like yesterday that we came to Mali and how much we would miss it. When we got to the airport the IS staff were waiting for us to say their goodbyes. It was a bittersweet moment leaving them and everyone else we met whilst we were there. We were happy to be leaving due to the situation in the country, but we didn’t want to leave them there. However it was good thing that we had left because on the Monday of returning the borders were closed and there were further sanctions against Mali from ECOWAS. Also things were getting worse in the north, as the rebels had taken over Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao.
Everybody at home keeps asking me if I would ever go back to Mali and the answer is I would love to go back. Mali is such a beautiful country with a deep culture and history I would love to explore other parts of Mali such as the ancient city of Timbuktu, go to Mopti, visit Dogon, and maybe even make it to the desert festival. However what makes Mali an even more beautiful country is the people and the real sense of community. Everyone is so friendly and lovely; they go out of their way to make sure that you are alright. Walking down the street and saying hi to everyone, people even asking about my parents who they have never met. If I did this here in England I would probably get sectioned. I’m really grateful for this experience and would recommend it to anyone who wants to volunteer abroad and is between 18-25.
In addition to this we have been recently informed that the sensory playground has been installed at UMAV, so hopefully one day I’ll get to see it. Until then the pictures have been posted on our facebook page for anybody who like to see it.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


I have lost all motivation for this blog as I only have two weeks left and I want to spend my time enjoying Mali rather than blogging. SOOOOOOOOOOO much happened recently I can’t even keep up no more, but I’ll try and make this blog as detailed as possible.
It is getting HOTTER and HOTTER and HOTTER. It is now a cool 40 degrees on most days. We are all either about to take a shower, showering or just getting out of the shower. The electricity is cutting off more regularly due to the fact that more people are using their fans. Last night the electricity cut off in the middle of the night, so there was no fan, I ended up showering three times and lying in a pool of sweat on my bed. I now know what Papa (our driver) meant when I told him that Mali was too hot in February, he replied by laughing and simply said ‘if you think Mali is hot, now wait till March and April you will cry then’.  IS are not going to send another group of volunteers till after the hot season, which after living through the beginning of the hot season makes a lot of sense, as they won’t even have time to acclimatise before the hot season starts they will be thrown straight into it.
Sensory Area - The sensory playground is now starting to come together FINALLY! The artisans are now currently making the different parts of the playground. Although it is bittersweet as we are no longer having a sensory garden as there are not enough funds available in the budget for it. However the charity Right to Play who have been really complimentary about the whole sensory area project have signed a contract, and a partnership has now been created. This means that they will build the sensory garden at a later date, most likely when we have left. Even though it is upsetting that we will not see the sensory area fully finished, it is good to know that our hard work will pay off eventually.
Chalk day- Felicity’s chalk day was a success, loads of people turned up and the refreshments were delicious. The guests even got little chalk presents. The pictures are on our facebook page so feel free to look at them, along with pictures from the English and art and craft lessons.
Sightsavers - yesterday we went to a village called Tien Fala that was an hour outside of Bamako, to see one of Sightsavers projects there. Sightsavers helped this particular build a community garden for the blind people of Tien Fala. They also built a well to help to sustain the garden with Water Aid. The villagers told us how important the garden was to the family as it helped to generate extra income. The plot of land is kept in the family even if the blind person dies and the family take care of it.
A group of us have been volunteering at an orphanage in our spare time. The women who set up the orphanage is called Bibi. She is a really inspirational women, Bibi hasn’t had a day off in over 20 years. She struggles everyday to meet the basic needs of the children and tries her best to make sure that they never go without. The children are all so cute and have that amazing baby smell. I’ve actually fallen in love with one the baby girls called Adina- I want to take her back to England with me! There are around 25 babies in the orphanage, with around 1 new addition every week or so.  The room is really hot and there are two babies per cot.  Some of us are looking into getting mosquito nets for the orphanage as only the really small and vulnerable babies have them, and the others are covered in mosquito bites as they don’t have any nets.
I have always been told I looked Malian, but it’s like I suddenly look more Malian, as people are now randomly shouting Fula moussa (Fulani women) as I walk down the street. I didn’t know what it meant at first I thought people were just being either over-friendly or rude. I asked the IS staff and they explained it to me. The chalk guy at UMAV refuses to call me by name and just refers to me as Fula moussa, which the IS staff find so funny that they have started to do it now as well. The other ethnic group that I sometimes get confused with is the Toureqs. When we went to the artisan market a man started to follow us around the market because he decided that I was a Toureq and thought that I was just refusing to say it. The situation was then fuelled by Felicity and Bridie who told the man that I was indeed a Toureq from Timbuktu in a bid to get lower prices, and it worked!
As we now have 2 weeks and half left in Mali, we have started a bucket list of things to do before we leave. This includes a home stay, a boat ride on the river, museum and national park, kayaking and camel ride (which is looking more and more unlikely). Hopefully we will go on the river boat ride on Sunday for my birthday.
We have also been going to different restaurants in Bamako, and for those of you who know I’m obsessed with food, will appreciate how happy this makes me. Me and Rachel now have 3 questions constantly on our minds, when are we eating? Where are we eating? And what are we eating? At first we tried going to different restaurants from the Brandt guide book however after going to two different restaurants that were in the cheap and cheerful section of the guidebook. We have realised that the cheap and cheerful really isn’t cheap. La savannah and a Vietnamese restaurant were both pretty much the most expensive restaurants that we have been to in Bamako bar the Ethiopian restaurant. La savannah was really nice as it has live music most nights, on the particular night we went there, there was guy a with a really high pitched voice, we thought it was a women till we looked at him! The toilets are pretty good for Bamako standards it even has a full length mirror. The Ethiopian restaurant is called Abyssinia and is in quarter de flevre. It was probably one the best food I’ve had in Mali so far, but it made me miss home cooking a lot. We have also found a restaurant called Broadway it does really good waffles, burritos and ice cream milkshakes. Rayan in hippodrome has the best sharwarmas in Mali, the garlic mayo sauce although rather anti-social tastes amazing and is well worth the garlic burps for the next couple of hours.
That’s all for now but ill post soon before the end of the trip. Take care!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Siby and Festival Sur Le Niger

Sorry for not posting in a while I have been quite busy I promise.  There has been so much going on and to be honest it would take me forever to try and explain everything, but I’ll try my best anyways.
English lessons have finally started they are going a lot better than the first lesson which went really badly. But after planning our lessons down to the last second they have turned out really fun for both us and the students at UMAV. We have been trying to get creative with the activities so that blind and partially sighted children could make the most of the lessons, by playing games such as shopkeeper and direction games where the children are blindfolded.
The project proposals for the garden and playground are finally finished and we should start building them pretty soon. It’s all very exciting! Me and Bridie even went plant shopping to get some estimates for the garden; the plants seem to be a reasonable price, so we afford to make it look really good. We also went to the Parc National Du Mali; the first thing that came into mind was how green it was compared to Bamako and the rest of Mali especially. We went to the national park as inspiration for our sensory area, as there is a playground for young children there as well. However when we tried to test out the swings the security guard came running telling us that we were too big. I was quite upset as I was secretly looking forward to the swings. Whilst we were there we saw miniature buildings of the famous mosques in Djenne and Timbuktu, which probably the closest I will get to Djenne and Timbuktu thanks to the red zone.
After the trip to Parc National Du Mali, there was a leaving dinner for the group from the Children’s Society (Fran’s group) as it was there last day in Mali. I can’t believe how quickly three weeks went. The dinner was at Rene’s, the food was amazing, there were three women cooking the food for everyone. Ended up being one of the best meals I’ve had here in Mali.
Fun and life in general
Apart from working really hard we have also been on two trips outside of Bamako. Firstly we went to Siby; it is a forty minute car ride from Bamako. All the staff from IS came with us so it was a big IS Mali trip. We stayed in mud huts in hotel that was apparently really close to Zinedine Zidane house. On the first day (Saturday) we visited the Siby Saturday market that is meant to be popular that even people from Bamako go there to buy things from the Saturday market. That probably explains why it was full of people, and there was barely space to walk two steps without stopping. After the market, we got in our 4x4’s or (KatKat in French) and made our way up the mountain to get to the waterfall. After an hour in the KatKat in the scorching mid day heat we finally arrived; instantly making it worth the trip as it was so beautiful. We stayed there lazing about on rocks for the rest of the afternoon.
On Sunday morning we had an African drumming lesson and bought some Shea butter that is now renamed miracle butter by Meagan. The weather here in Mali is really dry, making our skin dry as well. But now thanks to this miracle butter sold by the women of Siby we all have smooth soft skin, plus the proceeds go to a good cause. Hence everyone’s a winner! Afterwards back up the mountain to see some beautiful rock formations. We had got there a bit late resulting in us having less time there, nevertheless it was amazing and I got some really good photos.  As soon as it started to get dark we made our way back to home to Bamako. All in all it was a really relaxing trip.
This weekend we went to Festival Sur Le Niger which is by the river in Segou. The festival is one of the biggest festivals in Mali, after festival of the desert. We set off at 1.30 as the coach was meant to arrive at 2 but true to Mali time the coach didn’t come till 4 in the afternoon so we spent 2 hours and a half trying to find shade in the mid day heat. Once the coach had arrived it drove off with just me and Rachel and the bags. When I asked where it was taking us, the driver replied to get petrol, which left both me and Rachel a bit confused to say the least as the coach picked us up from petrol station. Once the driver got his petrol we made our way back to the other petrol station, the others got on and off to Segou we went. On the coach there was band that was going to play at the Segou festival from Sweden and Senegal. We got talking to them and found out how they travelled from Sweden to Senegal by car in 3 weeks. The musicians from the band also taught me and Rachel how to play on the kora. Once the coach ride we got to Hotel Savannah where we met our guide who had organised for us to stay with a local family. We ended up staying with a woman named Awo Coulibaly and her 3 children. Awo took us to a small restaurant that was a five minute walk from her house. The food was cheap and cheerful; however as soon as I left the restaurant I started heaving and within 5 minutes of leaving the restaurant I had thrown up the contents of my dinner on a side street in Segou. When we got to Awo’s there wasn’t enough space for all of us , as her house was only 2 rooms. Thus 4 people slept outside with mosquito nets and a really thin mattresses and the rest of us slept on mattresses inside. It was surprisingly comfortable or maybe it was just because I very tired, either way I had a good night sleep.
On Saturday Morning, we got up nice around 9 and made it to the meeting point for 10 to get our wrists bands for the festival. From there was a bus to take everyone to the festival. Mamadou, Awo’s oldest and only son accompanied to us the festival as his mother said he would help get to and from the festival. During the day of the festival there were traditional performances and smaller groups performing. There were also a lot of artisan and material shops. We met a Tamashek guy called Moussa, who probably ended up loving us due to the amount of stuff we bought off him. We saw him again later on in the day and he was telling us all about Mali. There were a lot of Tamashek at the festival all telling us about Timbuktu and how amazing it is. Another Tamashek called Mohamed Abbass, who had been sent by his family to sell jewellery at the festival because he was the oldest boy. Mohammed also told us about the Toureq headscarf and the different ways of wearing the scarf depending on the weather.
As the sun started to set the bigger musicians took the centre stage including Rokia Traore, Habib Koite (the I Pod Guy) and Salif Keita. Rokia Traore even sang some Bob Marley, Habib Koite sang I Ka Barra – the song that comes on the I Pod for free. But Salif Keita was the best by far; he really got the crowd going everyone rose to their feet as soon as he came on stage. Although Salif is 62 years old he had so much energy when he was dancing.
Whilst Salif was performing Rachel, Felicity and Jemma met some American guys who were doing a rally from London to Bamako so they could donate an ambulance to the Salif Keita foundation. The trip was meant to take 3 weeks but ended up taking 10 weeks; the Ambulance broke down in Mauritania for 4 weeks. The girls got a ride back to Bamako with them on the ambulance and they invited us to their ceremony where they were handing over the ambulance. On Sunday morning we all made our way back to Bamako, after an incredible weekend.
Today we went to the ceremony to hand over the ambulance and MET SALIF KEITA. When we introduced ourselves he ended up inviting us to his PRIVATE ISLAND. OH YEAH WE ARE MEETING THE PRESIDENT ON SUNDAY--- cannot wait.
If you have made it this far I hope you enjoyed reading about our travels in Mali (well limited travel as we are not allowed to about three quarters of the country). As you can probably tell I’m a little bitter about the red zone situation, but the bits we have been to so far have been amazing. I just need to find a camel so I can go on a camel ride and my time here in Mali will be complete. 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Security Problems

Ini Wula (Good Afernoon)

Hope all is well. The last 2- 3 days have been really packed so i thought id blog again.

On Wednesday, me and Felicity went to UMAV again with group of young people from the U.K. with learning disabilities (aka Fran’s Group) to record more of their stay here in Bamako. They taught another English lesson, where even more interesting questions were asked by both groups. They even sang London’s burning for the class after the teacher requested an English song. The class responded by singing a Malian song as a thanks. After the English lesson we took part in goal ball (Dodge-ball but for blind people) it was really fun and amazing to see how it had been adapted for blind children. At Lunchtime we joined the dinner ladies in serving the children rice and peanut sauce. The children usually come into the canteen and sit down, whilst the partially sighted children help the dinner ladies in giving out the food. They tend to tap the children on the shoulder to indicate that their food is on the table. Overall it was a really enjoyable morning, and I much preferred it to be in a French meeting.

Today, I went back to Amaldene to observe the departments that I had not yet seen. I went the Psychology which I thought was probably the one that I found the most interesting alongside occupational therapy. The teacher who is only 24 was very busy whilst we there, he saw 2 different girls one which was Autistic and another who was epileptic. As well as a mother who wanted to know what conclusion he came to on the assessment he carried out on her son on Monday (which is evaluation day). Whilst in the psychology department, it became apparent how dangerous child birth can be for the mother and child especially in developing countries. At Amaldene I have come across a lot of children who have a range of learning difficulties because of problems faced during childbirth, namely the child not crying at birth.

The security situation in Mali especially in northern Mali has turned for the worse. The Tuareq fighters that fought alongside Gaddafi want independence from the south. They are now heavily armed and have taken over 3 cities in the north. The wives and families of the soldiers that were killed during the fighting have started demonstrating in Bamako, and apparently these demonstrations are turning violent. Tuareq families in Bamako are reportedly being targeted (and some of the staff have told me, I look tuareq GREAT).  We have been advised by the British Foreign Office not to go into certain areas of Bamako mainly the city centre. Hopefully everything will be okay soon. Also this weekend we are visiting Siby where the waterfalls are, so that should be really fun and I’m looking forward to it. 

Tuesday, 31 January 2012


Deux Semaine Au  Mali Mali
I Ni Su – Good Evening in Bambara
Week two in Mali has been filled with funny stories from volunteers falling in the sewers to going to getting lost on Sutrama.
Team YMCM have finally started work at our two operational organisations UMAV and Amaldene, and they have both been incredibly humbling experiences.  Also cohort 2 has finally arrived in Mali and Fran has been showing her team around Bamako. At UMAV we have been given the go ahead to build a sensory playground and garden for their students who are either blind or partially sighted. The sensory playground and garden is to give the children at UMAV a safe environment to play that will also help to them explore the surrounding using their others senses. We are all really excited about these two projects and are currently in the planning section for both projects. Today, I and Bridie went to record cohort 2 teaching children English at UMAV. They seemed really into the lessons and so did the other children. They exchanged questions about the differences in England and Mali. For example the weather, the population in England which is apparently around 70 million and 6 million in Mali, even though Mali is absolutely massive compared to Britain.
At Amaldene, me and a few of the other volunteers went to observe different departments i.e. Occupational Therapy, Specialist Therapy and psychology. The teachers are all so dedicated to their jobs and patient which makes it such a pleasure to watch them work with the children. They showed us how they assess children and diagnose each child; and how they help the children. You see really the progress of children in their one to one time with the specialist teachers. For example there was a little boy who was 8 months old that came in and at the beginning of the session he could not sit up at all even with support as it pained him too much. However towards the end of the session he was crying less and even sitting up with support. Unfortunately even though the school is open, they have no electricity as they are behind on their electricity bill.
On the social side of things we have certainly been immersing ourselves in Malian culture. Dicko our security guard has told us how we are his favourite group so far, to show us this he has been plying us with Attai (a traditional tea) around three times a day. Team YMCM went on the hunt for pineapples and mangos and thus went to the market well tried to go to the market. We thought it would be a good idea to go via sutrama. Sutramas are the main form of public transport in Bamako, they are usually green ran down minibus with a wooden benches. They are supposed to have a maximum capacity of 30 however after around 18 people were pretty much sitting on top of each other. It was pretty uncomfortable but funny at the same time as everyone on the sutrama found us hilarious, and couldn’t stop laughing when we attempted to speak the little Bambara that we knew.  After our first sutrama ride, one of the conductors guided us through Le Grande Marche and got us on the second sutrama that would supposedly take us to the market. However when we got of the sutrama, the fruit and vegetables was nowhere to be seen. We walked around for about an hour and then finally gave up. The ironic bit was that on our way back by taxi we went past the fruit and veg market which was only about 5 MINUTES walk from where we were.
Additionally our pizza experience on Saturday evening gave a whole new meaning to Africa time. Even though we had prearranged with the local pizza guy that we would be coming at 6 in the evening for pizza. We arrived at 7 and so did he! It took him forever to heat up the oven and could only make one pizza at a time. It took about an hour for each pizza to be prepared served to us ( and we had 5 pizzas), however the pizzas were delicious when they came out. Definitely one if the best meals since we arrived in Mali (bar the Sharwamas down the road that are amazing).  He informed us that it was the first time that he had ever made pizza in his life, which was also pretty impressive.
As mentioned before a volunteer (Jemma) fell into the sewer which was full of gunk that smelt unbelievably bad. She was walking back to the apartment in the dark and texting when she fell waist deep into the sewer. She came running back to the office screaming that she had a terrible accident, we all came running down. We quickly got her in the shower as she had loads of little insects on her thankfully there were no leaches and she is alright. However she did provide us with a lot of entertainment that evening, as you could imagine.
On Sunday we went to our first Malian wedding, which was amazing even though we were the source of entertainment yet again. We all wore traditional clothes that were made for us from the materials that we bought from the market. At the wedding the singer came up to JJ and sang a song for him in which she included his name. Furthermore there was traditional dancing, we all got dragged on the dance floor to dance; Jemma and Lorriane from the other group were particularly good. You can see the pictures on facebook if you interested in seeing what we wore.
Hope you enjoyed reading the blog. Also please donate to this justgiving page, all proceeds will go straight to our projects here in Mali:

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Welcome To Mali --- une semaine

Bon Soir! Ca Va,

I have just finished my first week as a volunteer for IS Mali, and we all have had sooooooooo many new experiences . Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa and is one of the poorest countries in the world. The two main languages are French and Bambara, which people here use interchangeably, even in the same conversation.  

Mali is a country of contrast as the south is greener than the north which is in the Sahara thus a great deal drier. Furthermore as you have may or may not have read in the news about the kidnapping of foreigners in Timbuktu which is located to the north Mali is dangerous. Along with much of the north, which also includes Djenne where the famous mud mosque is and Dogon country are all in the red zone, which basically means we are not allowed to travel there according to the British Foreign Office. We are all GUTTED about it. The south however is both safe and stable. In addition to this there is vast difference in the weather during the day and night. During the day the weather is very warm, it is not hot just quite yet as we are in WINTER apparently, but the night is really cold. I wish I bought my jumpers.

On Monday me and the rest of the volunteers (Bridie, Felicity, Jemma, Megan and Rachel) met the Malian Interns Fatimatou, Mama and Mahamed and the staff (Fred, Rene and Jean Pascal). They are all so nice and welcoming, helping us to settle into life in Mali. Also on Monday, Salifou Benglay (our teacher) taught us all about Malian culture and Bambara. Salifou taught us the importance of cola nuts which are pretty much used for everything in Mali, from asking a girl to marry you to asking someone to forgive you. We also got our Malian names, mine is Sarah Tamboura.

On Thursday we went to meet the two of the three groups that we will be volunteering with, UMAV (the Malian Union for people with Visual Impairments/ Union Malienne pour des Aveugles) and FEMAH (Fédération Malienne des Association de Handicapés).  We already a lot of ideas for them both, UMAV in particular. At FEMAH we got invited to a wedding that is taking place next Sunday which should be really fun.  When the meetings finished we decided to pay the supermarket a visit, which turned out to be very expensive probably because everything is imported.  Thus helping us come to the conclusion that the best place to shop is the market where most people shop.

After the rather expensive trip the supermarket, we made our way to the Le Grade Marche (the big market in Bamako).  I have mixed feelings about our trip there today. On one hand it was amazing to see such talented artisans in their element making everything from jewellery to leather wallets. On the other hand it was the first time since my time in Bamako that I saw real poverty. I suppose to a certain extent due the area that we are staying there many NGOs and it seems to be quite well off, we have been sheltered from the poverty that for majority of the population in Mali is a reality. At the market there were little children who were begging for money and a man who was using his hands to move around as he could not walk. This image helped to reinforce why working with groups such as FEMAH, UMAV and AMALDEME is so crucial as, disabled people in developing countries tend to be the most disadvantaged and often the poorest of the poor.

Newhos thats all for this week, hope you enjoyed my blog and that it wasn’t too depressing. If you want to know we are doing on a more regular basis, here is the page on facebook that you can like and get updates from: