Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Brief History Of Mali and Important Facts! I love facts.

In my research for my future home, I learned a lot. Maybe you will, too. This is taken mostly from Wikipedia ( and the CIA World Factbook (

Early History ca. 700-1591
Mali's early history was dominated by three famed West African empires-- Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. These empires controlled trans-Saharan trade in gold, salt, and other precious commodities and were in touch with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern centers of civilization (Timbuktu was the major trade city). All of the empires arose in the area then known as the western Sudan, a vast region of savanna between the Sahara Desert to the north and the tropical rain forests along the Guinean coast to the south. All were characterized by strong leadership (matrilineal) and kin-based societies. None had rigid geopolitical boundaries.

The extent of the Songhai Empire imposed over current (2010) state borders

The Kingdoms ca. 1592-1892
After the Empires faded from power, kingdoms rose to power and expanded to include areas that are now Mali, Guinea, Cote D'Ivoire and parts of Burkina Faso. They were all challenged to some extent by each other, but all fell to French rule around the 1890s. 

French Colonization, 1892-1960
Mali fell under French colonial rule in 1892. French Sudan was administered as part of the Federation of French West Africa and supplied labor to France’s colonies on the coast of West Africa. In 1958 the renamed Sudanese Republic obtained complete internal autonomy and joined the French Community. In early 1959, the Sudanese Republic and Senegal formed the Federation of Mali, which gained full independence from France as part of the French Community on June 20, 1960. 

Senegal quickly seceded a few months later and the Sudanese Republic renamed itself the independent nation of Mali on September 22, 1960 (Mali's official independence day). A one-party state was established, Mali withdrew from the French Community in 1962, adopted an independent African and socialist orientation with close ties to the Eastern bloc. Following a progressive economic decline, however, Mali was forced to rejoin the Franc Zone in 1967.

In 1968 fourteen military members staged a bloodless coup d'etat and created a one party system with  Lt. Moussa Traoré as president. Mali stayed relatively calm for the next decade (save for a border dispute over minerals with Burkina Faso in 1985). Slowly, Malian opinion shifted towards a multi-party democracy.
 Rule by dictatorship was brought to a close in 1991 by a military coup - led by the current president Amadou Toure - enabling Mali's emergence as one of the strongest democracies on the continent. President Alpha Konare won Mali's first democratic presidential election in 1992 and was reelected in 1997. In keeping with Mali's two-term constitutional limit, Konare stepped down in 2002 and was succeeded by Amadou Toure, who was subsequently elected to a second term in 2007. The elections were widely judged to be free and fair.

The Flag of Mali in traditional Pan-African colors
General Information
Mali is roughly the size of two Texases (but just a bit smaller). It shares borders with Algeria,  Burkina Faso, Guinea, Cote D'Ivoire, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal. Its terrain is described as "mostly flat to rolling northern plains covered by sand; savanna in south, rugged hills in northeast." I'm going to miss the idea of being near a rainforest... but I like sand. You can make castles out of it. Also, sand means camels. And I freaking love camels.

Abject poverty comes with an entire set of issues all of its own, and Mali is no exception. Mali has the third highest birth rate in the world (46 births per 1,000 people-- compared with 13.83/1,000 in the US) and also one of the highest infant mortality rates (113 deaths per 1,000 live births-- compared with just 8.38/1,000 in the US). The average woman has an incredible 6.8 children in her lifetime. Only 3% of Mali's population makes it past his or her 65th birthday, and total life expectancy is around 52 years old. These are all statistics that will become real to me. They will have faces, have names, and be a part of my daily life. These are statistics that the Peace Corps aims to ameliorate.  

Literacy hovers around 46% with males being vastly more educated and literate than females. Mali is 90% Muslim, 9% indigenous beliefs, and 1% Christian. Its population is estimated to be around 13.8 million people, with the ethnic breakdown as follows (Mande 50% (Bambara, Malinke, Soninke), Peul 17%, Voltaic 12%, Songhai 6%, Tuareg and Moor 10% [Saharan nomads!], other 5%). About 80% of Mali speaks Bambara, which is what I'll likely be learning. The official language is French, but only the well-educated speak it. The time difference is five hours ahead of eastern time.

There is so much to learn! The more I read about it,  the more excited I become. In the next few posts I'll talk more about the Peace Corps' history there and more about my job description and expectations. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Welcome to Good Golly Miss Mali!

Hello! This blog will chronicle my adventures in the Peace Corps/ Mali. I am thrilled and honored to be a part of such a well-respected and successful program. Though most of you reading this blog already know me well, I'll still start off with a brief introduction and my recent history up until this point.

I'm 22 years old and I'm from Nashville, Tennessee, though I grew up in upstate New York (birth to age 13). I love the North, but boy, do I love living in the South! It's going to be hard to leave behind country music, sweet tea, and Southern hospitality, but I know that really great things await me. I graduated from Brentwood  High in 2006 and graduated from Maryville College in 2010 with degrees in Sociology and Environmental Studies as well as a minor in French. I studied abroad in La Reunion, France in the spring of 2009 ( I currently live in Brentwood, Tennessee until my departure for Mali on January 31st, 2011. Things I love: chocolate, parades, handshakes. Things I dislike: peanuts, rudeness, Sugarland. Things I am: cheery, vegetarian, ambitious. Things I aspire to be: more patient, a member of Dumbledore's Army, successful.

I was kind of dragging my feet on starting one because I didn't feel like I had much to say, but lo and behold my adventure began and I hadn't even left Brentwood. About two months ago I was issued an invitation to serve in the Agroforestry sector of Guinea, also in West Africa, and let me tell you, I WAS SO EXCITED. I jumped up and down singing "I'm going! I'm going! I'm going!" for roughly 11 minutes before I got too winded to finish texting everyone I knew and had to sit down. I moved home to Brentwood from Maryville about three weeks later and began preparing for what was supposed to be an early December departure.

Then, about three weeks ago I received a phone call that was rather unexpected. Guinea got delayed until mid-January. I understood; there were issues related to the election that was yet to take place. So, I  held my breath and checked the news religiously. There were sporadic reports of military violence and protests regarding the results of the election, but nothing big. Nevertheless the Peace Corps was concerned that things wouldn't calm down in time. Consequently, a week ago, I got the call that every Peace Corps hopeful dreads. Guinea was cancelled. I was reassured that I would be placed immediately, and I have to give the PC their due respect because I was contacted the next day with FOUR choices.

Now, everything you hear about the Peace Corps tells you that you need to learn to be flexible, patient, have a sense of humor, etc. because so many things will happen that are out of your control. I am certain that those will come in handy during my service. However, I was completely overwhelmed by the prospect of four choices: Zambia, Mali, Madagascar, and Morocco, chosen because I wanted to stay in Africa and I wanted to use my French to some degree, and they are all leaving in the next three months.

I spent this week researching and reading information on all four. Zambia was pretty quickly eliminated, as it was a math and science teaching position. I'm definitely not qualified for that. I also eliminated Morocco because while I'd love to learn Arabic (it's on my bucket list!), I didn't love the job description. It ended up being a toss up between Madagascar and Mali. I loved the job description of Mali the best and I also couldn't give up on the idea of living in West Africa.

Overall, I'm sad that Guinea never happened. I was talking with a fellow Guinea invitee, and she described the feeling as "the one that got away." I completely agree. Thankfully, Mali and Guinea share a border, so maybe I'll get to visit. Otherwise, I couldn't be happier. I am so fortunate to be able to do this, and so hopeful for a successful placement. Here we go!