Thursday, September 15, 2011

Chance encounters.

I'm getting pretty good at introducing myself to strangers. This pleases me, as I have made rewarding connections in this fashion. Also, normally I'm quite shy about so joining a group at random, so this marks a big improvement.

If it weren't for being social, I would not have heard about Yeredon, the school for dance and drums. (This happened about a week ago.) If I hadn't heard about Yeredon, I would not be the proud owner of a djembe.

That's right: I bought a djembe. And a sweet case to go with it. Photos will be posted tomorrow. Learned the rhythms to four dances so far, which should be enough to get me started as accompaniment for some African classes back home. (I wouldn't expect to get paid -- just show me the rhythms and I'll play for you for free. This seems to be a common arrangement.)

My drum instructor (on the right) playing checkers with a local drum student.

After my drum lesson today, I went to La Relax, a patisserie/restaurant in the Hippodrome district (an area of Bamako popular for its discotechques). Rather than sit by myself, I caught the eye of two foreigners that were about my age and asked if I could join.

People I meet here are endlessly fascinating. So far it's been an even split between research workers, Peace Corps volunteers, and non-profit interns/employees. The two women I met today were of the last category; one works in co-op development and the other works in gender equality. They hail from Quebec. The Canadian government is sponsoring their work here through funding development non-profits in Africa. The woman in gender equality will be here for one year, taking a break from a Master's in international development. They have both traveled around the world extensively (although not together -- they just met recently). We enjoyed sharing our experiences, talking about travel, and commiserating over challenges of life in Bamako.

Sidenote: It's probably due to the circles I run in, but there seems to be a large ex-pat / foreign aid worker community in Bamako. Given the high level of development for a West African city, this shouldn't surprise me; Cameroon and here are probably the most popular francophone countries. Still, it's been interesting to encounter so many white people. A very different experience from Brazzaville, where I would only occasionally meet a Frenchman with a passion for African music. I've enjoyed many engaging conversations about the nuances of international development. One thing is for sure: it's not for me. I am not ruling out the possibility of working internationally, but I would almost certainly go batshit crazy working for the prototypical African NGO. Too much crap dealing with politics, social dynamics, inertia, etc., both among fellow workers and the management staff.

By the end of our 2-3 hour dinner chat, we were exchanging phone numbers and making plans to meet tomorrow. They're getting together with other friends for a nice dinner (goat cheese ravioli! mmmm...) and then tentative plans to hit up Le Diplomat, one of the dance venues in town well known for its live music.

Had I not made eye contact and said "Hello," I would still be searching in vain for some company tomorrow evening. I don't like going out to these dance places by myself -- I get too stuck in my own head. Also, it's easier to rally for an outing at 11pm when there are other people involved.

Yikes. One day left in Africa. My emotions are mixed. Definitely ready to go home, see all my friends and loved ones, get back to school, etc. This has been an amazing time. It is the transition to a different kind of life that has me not entirely gung-ho about the return. I have grown accustomed (relatively) to the traveler's life. To living in Africa (relatively). Oh well. There's a time and place for all things. The time for this chapter of my life rapidly draws to a close. I am glad that I can close it with nothing but contentment and awe at this incredible experience.

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