Thursday, May 26, 2011

Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

Because cotton is one of Mali’s primary exports, cloth and fabric are plentiful.  This helps make clothing a valuable part of Malian culture.  One of the easiest and least expensive ways to buy clothes is to buy cloth and have clothes custom made by a tailor.  A complete outfit with pants and and shirt is only about $20.  The tailors are very creative and the clothes they make are beautiful and interesting.  The variety of fabric is endless and the patterns are very colorful and often unusual and amusing.  John recently had a new set of clothes made.  Rather than pre-buying fabric, he left it to his tailor to pick out the fabric.  He picked up his clothes a few days later.  The first time he put them on, Julie burst out laughing.  The fabric pattern features loaves of sliced bread in a plastic wrapper.  It’s even more interesting because this type of bread isn’t available in Mali.

John loves his new clothes and continues to receive a lot of compliments from Malians whenever he wears them.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Yin Yang

Today we have another term – probably one you’re more familiar with.  Yin Yang: the ancient Chinese philosophy that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  We’re happy to report that we’ve been experiencing the YANG to our WAWA day YIN.  We made another trip downtown to make a second attempt at seeing the doctor.  We braved the market and once again met up with our contact.  At least this time, we had a better idea of who we were looking for.  Julie’s appointment was for 4 pm and the doctor finally showed up shortly before 6 pm.  The consultation went very well.  After performing a sonogram, and talking to Julie about her symptoms, he confirmed that she has been passing the last remaining kidney stones in her system.  He prescribed some medicine to help with the pain and other symptoms and we were on our way.  We feel very confident with his expertise and are glad we were persistent enough to try seeing him again.

In case you’re wondering about the cost, the doctor visit was $12 and the sonogram was $30.  This is the full amount – not insurance co-payments.  The prescriptions were a total of $25 for three medicines including a new and promising antibiotic.

Julie is feeling much better.  The pipe in our bathroom has been fixed.  We’re in the process of replacing John’s lost wallet  And lastly, we finished things up yesterday by booking tickets for a family vacation to Kenya next month.  We were able to use our frequent flyer miles to pay for all three of us.  It’s really helpful to have something for us to be looking forward to.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


We have a term in Mali called WAWA, which is an acronym for West Africa Wins Again.  We use it when situations and circumstances become overwhelming and you just feel like throwing in the towel.  WAWA days tend to show up especially during hot season when the weather is miserable and it’s just too hot and tiring to do anything.

Unfortunately, yesterday was a WAWA day.  Julie has been experiencing a lot of pain and complications related to her kidneys.  Yesterday was a holiday in Mali so we had trouble finding a qualified doctor that was working.  Through a friend of a friend, we eventually arranged to meet with a specialist who is supposed to be one of the best (and few) urologist in Mali.  The man knew the doctor and made special arrangements for an appointment despite the holiday.  We were to meet him downtown in the central marketplace.

Our experience with the most crowded days at Disneyland pales in comparison with the throngs of people, vehicles, vendors, beggars, and merchandise all sharing the same small and congested alleyways that make up the central market.  With every step we have to avoid being hit by cars, motorcycles, pushcarts, and people carrying things on their heads let alone trying to avoid all the garbage on the ground.  On top of this, we’re constantly accosted by people trying to sell us everything from underwear to bananas to t-shirts of Muammar Gaddafi.  And to make things more interesting, we were to meet our contact in the witchdoctor and traditional medicine section of the market.  Here we were surrounded by interesting wares including monkey paws, dried chameleons, decaying animal heads of all kinds, cola nuts, leopard skins, and dead alligator parts – anything needed to put a curse on someone.

We were told to look for our contact who would lead us to the doctor’s office which was buried deep in the market.  He was described as a young black man with short hair – a perfect description of 99.99% of the men in Mali.  Thankfully, we tend to stand out in the crowd, so he eventually found us.  It was a huge discouragement when he told us the doctor had already left for the day so our difficult, hour long trip into town was for nothing.  In addition, John lost his wallet in the market which included his ATM card and drivers license.  Unfortunately, his license can only be replaced in person in the States which leaves him with no ID and takes away his ability to drive in Mali.

We also had guests staying in our home and as they were preparing to leave, a pipe broke in the guest bathroom.  We had to turn off the water to the whole house until it could be fixed.  John returned home after dropping our friends off at the airport at midnight and worked until 2 a.m. to get the pipe blocked off and water turned back on.  And these are just the main highlights.  We’re glad this WAWA day is behind us and we’re looking forward to putting off the next one as long as possible.