Monday, February 20, 2012

Valentine's Day Reflections

Happy Belated Valentine’s Day, dear readers! I know I’m a bit late, but you can blame Africa. Really, though, inspiration for a post hasn’t struck me in a while, but it’s more convenient for me to place the responsibility on the inconsistency of our wifi provider or the frequent power failures as the hot season approaches. I’m not actually sure why the power goes out in the hot season. I theorize that sections of town go without power because more people are using electricity for fans and such. Last year, we in Sikasso blamed the political instability of our neighbor Côte D’Ivoire, but this year it just looks like it’s going to be a doozy of a hot season. Yipee. But I digress.

It took us well over eighteen hours, but we finally downloaded the newest episode of Glee and watched it this morning. Crazy, crazy amounts of peppy cheer, teenage love, snappy dance moves, glitter, and badass messages of gay rights put me in a super happy mood. So, in honor of last week’s holiday and this morning’s good mood, I’ve belatedly comprised a little list of things I love, things that I don’t love, and things that I think you should love. After all, this is the holiday for love, right? Or, at the very least, telling people publicly and embarrassingly how much you care about them. I’m putting my own spin on it, since for Valentine’s Day this year I couldn’t publicly and embarrassingly show my boyfriend way over in California how much I care about him—except now I’m blogging about those things, so nevermind. HI MATT

Things I Love:
1)      My Dog. You may or may not know, but I’m kind of obsessed with Scout. She’s awesome and entertaining and she makes me super happy. Something I love.

must. snuggle.

Evan with Mr. Chaucer
2)      My Brother. Sender of hilarious emails, mixer of delicious cocktails, finder of good reads, master player of the viola, fellow cat enthusiast, and little-sister-supporter extraordinaire, I give you, Evan Freaking Barker. <3.  

Majestic, no?
3)      Letters: writing, sending, and receiving them. Yes, I know you over there in the real world have, like, actual jobs to occupy your time, reliable internet on your phones (!), and about a million and one other fun things to do because your lives are AWESOME because you live in AMERICA (so much cheese and electricity!) but don’t forget to write, y’all. Thank you notes, “just because” cards, “hi, I miss you!”-- all of these things apply to everyone, all over the world, not just your favorite PCV. I was chatting to a friend this Vday, and we both decided that the best love is love that comes from old friends. The reliable, supportive, and knows-you-better-than-your-mom-does friend that sometimes just needs a little reminder of how special they are to you. Valentine’s Day isn’t just for lovers!

Since coming to Mali I estimate that I’ve written about fifty or so letters to lots of different people including friends, family, a fourth grade class, and even a complete stranger. Weird, maybe, and time consuming for sure, but you know what? It’s pretty awesome, if you think about it, to write something (anything), put it in an envelope, attach a brightly colored sticker that apparently contains the worth of your written words’ safe journey, and send it into the great, great unknown of international postal travel, only to hope that it arrives safely at some undetermined date and will be read with friendly eyes. I like to consider it a good habit of mine that I write letters. And, just for the record, if you write me one (even an email!), I promise I’ll write you back. J

Things I Do Not Love:

1)      Missing my family, friends, and boyfriend. Wah, wah, yea, I signed up for this but I can still miss them. I get to see them in April and May for my envy-inducing month-long vacation to Spain and Italy, and BOY and I looking forward to it. The level of my excitement practically counts as cardio.

Beth and Tim like to deny that this Thanksgiving ever happened,
but I'll be damned if we don't bring back Barker Family Beer Pong in 2012.
2)      Constantly being harassed for being white/a woman/a white woman. If I have to jokingly explain, one more time, that my father requires that my two hundred cow dowry be sent to him in America AND that I’ll bear no children nor wash my husband’s clothes….. nah, fuck that. The next man that asks me is going to get a full-on, Chelsea-level rant complete with wild hand gestures, a pitch of voice that even dogs don’t like, and a scathing description of everything that is wrong with asking a complete stranger that question. Also, can I just add that I really, really dislike people who say that feminism is extreme or unnecessary? Come to Mali and see what I see, then I dare you to maintain the same opinion. And don’t try to separate feminism in America from feminism elsewhere. Women are women. Gah.

Okay, okay. I missed the scorpion
the first time, but wouldn't you also
be a little nervous if the fate
of your pristine MC pennant was
hanging in the balance?
3)      Scorpions, snakes, and big fucking spiders. So over them. 

Things You Should Love:
SPOILER ALERT—See: soapbox

1)      Your education.  Yea, you may hate your parents for putting you through parochial school (but secretly know you’ll do it to your own kids someday), you may be thousands of dollars in debt from that private liberal arts school that made for the best four years of your life (I’m looking at you, Maryville College), you may be, after your fourth violin recital before the age of four, shaking your head and diagnosing your mom with Tiger Mom Syndrome, you may even be just wizening up to the fact that because of your lifelong homeschooling, you’re best friends with your parents, like that new character on Glee. But I’m willing to bet that besides all that, you understand, at least on some level, how damn lucky you are to be educated.

 I’m not just talking about being able to read, though let’s take a moment to discuss that, since it’s HUGE. Imagine, if you can, being illiterate. Not only would you be deprived of your sporadic yet life changing Good Golly Miss Mali updates, but you wouldn’t be able to go to school, run a business, own property, travel safely, avoid your peanut allergy, outsmart that jerk in the next cubicle over, learn about something that interests you, or FINALLY learn the lyrics to that catchy Rusted Root song. The basic act of reading is a luxury to most Malians. UNICEF estimates that the literacy rate in Mali is somewhere between 26% and 47%, with half as many women literate as men. And it's actually probably even lower than that.

But the real kicker, in my opinion, is the educational system. It seems to be based on some ridiculously antediluvian model of rote memorization developed by colonists and/or torture masters. You’d be surprised to realize how much critical thinking, creativity, analysis, imagination, and problem-solving you picked up, just from your elementary school teachers’ passion and dedication to your future. Know an educator? Hug them. Well, hell, even if you don’t, thank your parents for making you work harder on the assignment that you didn’t think mattered, for helping you get your first library card, for encouraging you to find out more about something that interested you. I could probably write an entire blog about the educational system here, but I’ll resist. Yea, education’s pretty important. Anyway, I hope you love yours.

2)      Public Transportation wherever you live. I’ll just save my breath and show you Mali's:

The Fulani were not happy about this.

Rainy season on a thoroughfare
to Cote D'Ivoire
Believe it or not,
this is actually a fairly common sighting

You know, I’m not actually sure about the origins of Valentine’s Day, or why it’s so important that we get all romantic and poetic about something that is, in my opinion, a rather private, intimate emotion. This year, Valentine’s Day in Mali was just like any other day in Mali, for the exception of a little extra love from a few near and dear people in my life. And you know what? I kind of liked it like that. I saw it as a sort of second Thanksgiving with more pink and less stuffing (I’m not saying the latter is okay, I’m just sayin.) Hence my lists—I have noticed lately that I feel more thankful for good people and a good life, rather than for things, a sentiment I think we too often push to the wayside after the end-of-year holidays. Being here has made me think about all sorts of ways to love, not just romantically (by the way, if you’re curious, the distance between Mali and California is eight hours and a bazillion sad, sad miles). While dinner or flowers or chocolate are always welcome, I’m sure most of you would also agree that just knowing that you’re loved and free to love makes all the difference, especially when the date is not February 14th. I hope you guys had a good day, and I hope that this gives you pause to consider just how awesome it is to feel love. Giant Malian spiders excluded.

Go away, Mouse Spider. No one likes you.