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Contrast of Worlds: My Most Difficult Stage of the Odyssey Journey

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Fried fish is a big seller
The Blue Bani River and its green grasses stand out next to the plain beige mud houses and the great mosque (Muslim temple or place of worship). The town of Mopti, Mali, is an island among rice fields. In contrast, colorful events fill the streets.

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Do you need a guide?
Jasmine, Kevin, and I arrived at night, after a tiring, hot 13-hour bus ride from Bamako. At Mopti, the bus was immediately attacked by a dozen young men wanting to be our "guides". Here in Mopti, I've discovered that having a "guide" is very important. You need a guide so that the other 1,000 "guides" in the city will leave you alone. Mali is so poor that everyone wants to get a share of the tourist money.

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I need to be over there, where the electricity is
In the morning, I tried to get from the old town on one side of the river, to the new town on the other. I was on a mission to find electricity so I could type this article for you. As I walked on, I needed to pass the mosque, but I couldn't. The streets all around were lined with men in brightly colored robes on brightly colored prayer mats. They all faced the East, where Mecca, the most holy city for Muslims, sits far away in Saudi Arabia. Friday is the most important day of worship for the Muslims. The men go to the mosque to pray if they can, instead of just stopping where they are, as most do on other days.


The next day I was led by my new friend, 16-year old Antou, through the muddy streets of Mopti, Mali. These are her last few days of her vacation. The midday heat makes me slow and sluggish, but Antou is on a mission to introduce me to all of her friends and show them my cool digital camera. Everyone in town knows Antou, and they call out greetings as we walk the streets.

The Tangara household is full of life, with children filling the courtyard. I am constantly amazed by the things I see. They treat me like a daughter here, even though I can barely communicate with the family. I feel so lucky to have this opportunity. At the same time, though, it is hard. The family has very little of the creature comforts I live with at home. I don't want to seem like I'm complaining, but I can't romanticize life here. For me, this has been the most difficult stage of the Odyssey.

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Watch where you step
Not having running water in a crowded household seems to be a problem, especially in the rainy season. The line separating ditch and street has disappeared, and the mud is everywhere--a mix of rain, earth, and raw sewage. I'm very careful where I step, that's for sure.

In the Muslim culture, cleanliness is very important. Five times a day, before praying, everyone washes their hands, feet, and face. Between my constant sweating, the flies, the muddy streets, and the general dirtiness of city life, I feel like bathing every ten minutes!

For meals, we all wash our hands, sit around the big bowl, and dig in with our right hands. It's messy but friendly and fun, and we all wash up again afterwards.

At night, it is far too hot to sleep inside. I sleep on a mat up on the roof with Antou and many of her sisters, brothers, and cousins. The night air is refreshing, the sky is beautiful, but the mosquitoes are everywhere. I have to cover my face and head with a cloth to keep from being eaten alive.

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Antou and one of her teachers
Yet despite all this, Antou reminds me of 16 year-olds I've met everywhere. She's smart, pretty, and has lots of friends. She took me with her to school to meet her teachers, who were preparing for school to start. They said that she is an "ok" student, but needs to work harder if she wants to go to the university in Bamako. At home, she helps care for her younger siblings, and helps cook and clean around the house.

One night, we were walking home and as I carefully picked my way through the moonlit, muddy streets, Antou offered to carry my bag. The next time I looked up, she was hopping from dry spot to dry spot, balancing my computer bag on her head with no hands! I didn't know whether to laugh or to freak out! It's moments like that when I'm struck by the contrast of worlds. I walk the streets of this old, medieval town in Mali, sharing my high-tech digital equipment with them, while I share a bit of their world with you. I hope you like it. I think they do.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...


Jasmine - Timbuktu or Bust!

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