Vacation to Burkina Faso and Mali
Trip Start Sep 22, 2003
62Trip End Dec 13, 2005
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We know it's been a while since we last wrote. We were able to take a nice vacation up into Burkina Faso and Mali, our northern neighboring countries. We first stopped in Ouagadougou (pronounced like whaa-gah-do-goo), the capital of Burkina. We stayed there a few nights getting VISAs for Mali. While we were there we took advantage of the time and ate at the American Embassy's cafeteria as many times as possible. This wonderful place is a simple little piece of America that serves burgers, burritos, sandwiches, fries, and Milkshakes. Now, I haven't ever been a big milkshake drinker. But after spending 2 years away from them, they are now one of the tastiest things EVER. They also had coconut cream pie, which wasn't as good as grandmother's but along the lines of the milkshakes we indulged in our fair share. We really treated ourselves right before heading up to go hiking and enjoyed the idea of an American café at the Embassy (Why doesn't Cotonou have one???) Ouaga also has some great tourist shopping, so we spent a day or so shopping for treasures to bring home. We found a tiny little workshop where the artists are in the process of doing the work and we were able to get a great deal on some batiks. Batiks are kind of like silk-screened tapestry, but done with wax and usually have scenes of village life and animals. They had so many different types of batiks that they would start off with about 20 different kinds just to get your ideas on what you liked and then they'd pull out literally hundreds of those similar to the ones you were interested in. Then we'd go through a selection process and weed out only the ones we were interested in (around 20) and then we'd narrow it down to the final selection. After some great shopping, eating, and getting VISAs, we were off to Mali.
In the western corner of Mail there is a region called the Dogon Country, which is really popular with PCVs and other global trekkers. The Dogon country is special because it is along an ancient fault line, which triggered a huge uplift and resulted in a line of cliffs that go on for miles. This alone makes for some amazing hiking but what's also extraordinary about it were its inhabitants and their history. The original civilization that settled in these cliffs was known as the Telem people and they first started building their cliff dwellings in the 7th century. The Telem were forced to live on the sides of these high cliffs due to the very territorial Pigmy people that lived below in the forests. The forests were also dangerous due to the many wild animals. This civilization farmed on the cliffside as well as on the upper plateau. After many hundreds of years it has been presumed that they were forced to leave these cliffs due to drought and unfavorable farming conditions. The next inhabitants moved in during the 15th century and were known as the Dogon people. The Dogon people choose to live amongst the cliffs because they were fleeing from the Muslim and later Christian societies. The Dogon people are animists and have very similar beliefs to the people in Benin. Their settlements are in one of the most scenic areas of West Africa. Their houses are set in the cliffs, the similarities between these dwellings and those found in the southwestern US (i.e. Mesa Verde) are astounding and makes for an amazing landscape and great hiking. The amazing thing about this area is that in the southwest the cliff dwellers disappeared thousands of years ago. In Dogon they continuously lived in these villages up to the 1950 and 60s. So it is like you were just transported in time and are viewing how people lived hundreds of years ago both in the southwest US and in Africa.
We found a great guide (Oumar), one that most Volunteers use and who speaks English, and were off for a 4-day hike among the villages. We did a hike each morning, arrived in a village to eat lunch, took an afternoon siesta, and then hiked another few miles to arrive at another village where we slept. We slept on the roofs of the traditional houses. The local people prepared the food. We usually ate either rice, spaghetti, or couscous with a sauce of vegetables and chicken or goat meat. The food was quite good and satisfied our hungry appetites after miles of hiking. Our guide took good care of us, arranging music and dancing one night, a swim in waterfalls one afternoon, and one meal of the local food (boiled millet flour with a leaf sauce).
After a great 4 days of hiking, we headed up North a little and visited the town of Mopti. Mopti is an interesting town because it is crossroads for several trade routes and therefore a great mix of many different peoples and cultures. It is on the edge of the Niger River, which starts in the far west of Africa flows up north to Timbuktu and then winds through southern Niger and empties into the Ocean from Nigeria. Because of this major transportation route, Mopti has a lively market full of fish, local wares, and salt slabs that are taken from the desert north of Timbuktu by camels and then floated down to Mopti. The market is right on the port, where the large and small canoes bring in the sellers and traders from all over Mali. After taking a walk around the market, we took a ride in a canoe and stopped at several riverside villages to see the different styles of houses and peoples. We also got to see the huge mosque that is made out of only wooden beams and mud.
The next day we traveled back through Burkina, in time for one more milkshake at the Embassy. Then we headed down to Cotonou for our Close of Service Conference. The conference is held at the end of one's 2 years of service in order to explain the procedure for departing, for choosing a date for departing, and for explaining the re-adjustment issue that will happen upon return to the US. It's also a reward for your two years of service so the conference was held in a very nice Oceanside resort. The hotel is outside most PCV's budgets and had amenities that we as PC volunteers are not used too, such as hot water, powerful showers, swimming pool, breakfast buffet, and delicious meals. Although we had sessions for the conference throughout the day, there was still time for swimming, playing volleyball, and just hanging out with the volunteers that we came into Benin with 2 years ago. It's hard to believe we are so close to the end of our service, it seems like just yesterday that we met all these people in Philadelphia.
So here's the details: We have chosen a COS (Close of Service) Date of November 18. We hope to fly out that night and will fly to Texas to spend Thanksgiving with Jason's family there. After spending a few weeks there, we will fly to Norfolk and spend Christmas with family there. In January or February, we hope to take a COS trip somewhere (Place and duration to be determined). Besides that, we will be spending time with family and re-adjusting to life in the US. Honestly, we feel very scared and worried about the re-entry and facing the culture shock that waits for us back in the US. We are sad to leave our village and work that is left here (unfortunately there will not be a volunteer to replace Rebecca until next year, and Jason will most likely not be replaced at all). So please understand us when we say that this is a very exciting, sad, happy, emotional roller coaster period in our lives and it might be pretty hard for us at times. We are looking forward to seeing all our friends and family back home and we really appreciate all the support everyone has given us throughout these two years.
Hope everyone is happy and healthy back home.
Rebecca and Jason