Sunday, September 26, 2010

In Mali, much like in low-income areas of the US, young men often have to leave their families in order to find work. In an attempt at making a meager wage that will be sent home to their families every month, Malian men move around with the seasons working on farms, at construction sites, or in the rice fields. The work is grueling, and the men often work every day starting at 7 am and going until 4 or 5 pm. Some of the luckier men get Sundays off. Typically, the workers live in small huts with four or more other men/boys. They can’t cook for themselves, so they have a host family that cooks them lunch and dinner, and they make breakfast on their own over a small charcoalstove.Most of them do not have a formal education, and a few (especially the younger ones) are paired with a “teacher,” and are taught to memorize the Koran. These men and boys are my neighbors.

I most regions of Mali, people live in what are called concessions. Each concession typically has a small courtyard, an outdoor cooking area, a well, a nyegen (latrine), and several entrances to individual huts. Each entrance door opens up to one or two small rooms with mud walls and a ceiling of mud and branches. Sometimes there is a window, but often there is not. The floor is usually dirt, but can sometimes be cemented. Usually a family of 5 or more can live in one of these small spaces. Within the concession there can anywhere from 3-5 families. In my concession there are three entrances and seven people. I'm lucky. Most concessions, including my site mate’s, have between 18 and 20 people (that’s not counting the donkeys, chickens, and the sheep that are running around!). At first I was nervous about being placed with transient farm workers. As it turns out, they are all really sweet, kind, and love to talk about America with me. Many of them haven’t seen their families in months, others (especially the younger ones), years. They create their own families out of necessity, and learn to share and take care of each other. I like exposing them to American food and teaching them simple things theyve never heard before, like that the world is round, and that there are these things called germs. It really blows their mind! The sad part is that they have to move on after the season is over. The good part is, as I recently found out, that they come back! Now that it’s rainy season, it’s time to again start working in the fields, and many of the men that I thought I’d never see again have begun trickling back. We exchanged stories from the last season, and talked about who else would be arriving and when. It’s great too, because they can really appreciate how much my Bambara has improved. I was very pleased to hear that a good friend of mine, Arnie Coulibaly, would be coming back. Apparently he just was making a quick trip home to see his family in Mopti. Arnie was 22 with a wife and a newborn daughter. He was the type that would stay home at night when the other guys were out chatting, lost in reverie and endlessly looking over his Barack Obama-bound photo album of his family. The only thing he really wanted was to be back home with his family in Mopti. All of the children in our neighborhood loved Arnie, too. He was kind, curious, and bright-- once dissecting my water filter and making it into a hat. He worked all day, every day, in the fields, but would take the time to help me do things like dig my garden. When Arnie left my village last year, it was when our landlord showed up out of nowhere and said that it was time to get to the next job. It always happens like that. Sometimes I don’t even get to say goodbye, I just wake up and theyre gone. With Arnie, luckily I was there and I got to watch as he and his friends bagged up the last of the rice, excited for a change of pace, and then set off with promises of a quick return.

Today I came home to the news that Arnie Coulibaly has passed away. Apparently, on the quick trip back home, Arnie died of a stomach related illness. Being that it is rainy season, I’m guessing that it was probably due to contaminated well or pump water. If this was the case, left untreated, this type of infection would have caused Arnie to have chronic diarrhea, a severe fever, to become acutely dehydrated, and he would have been in a great deal of pain. Many Malians who cannot afford a trip to the doctor use traditional medicines that can sometimes abate, but often not treat the illness. How does this happen? It happens for many reasons, two of which are: a lack of health education, and a lack of access to clean drinking water. claims that, “nearly one billion people lack access to safe water and 2.5 billion do not have improved sanitation.According to the World Health Organization, “3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease.” Arnie’s death was unnecessary, preventable, and heartbreaking.

Please support, or continue to support, the work of Peace Corps volunteers. Their water sanitation and health education initiatives help to prevent unnecessary deaths like Arnie’s. For further information, or to get involved, you can check the Peace Corps website ( and read about and/or donate to volunteer projects. You can also get further water sanitation statistics from any of the following websites:,, or

Rest in Peace, friend.
Ala ka da yoro sumaya.

Arnie is the one on the left in orange. This is taken from Seli Ba, which is the big celebration at the end of Ramadan.

1 comment:

  1. So sorry to hear of Arnie's painful demise. Sounds like he touched many lives. My heart goes out to you and his family. Your blog has come a long way. Thanks for keeping us informed and for helping me remember the importance of reaching out. Much Love, AJ xo