September 29, 2009

A nice place to visit

I just got back from a trip to Mali. It was a good time, I went with a few friends and we took a river boat up the Niger River to Timbuktu. Timbuktu was a really interesting place and it was a really cool experience to be wandering around a city that is so ever-present in pop culture as some mysterious and exotic locale. The people who live there call it the door to the desert and you really do feel that way when you’re there. It’s dry and unbelievably hot during the day. There is sand blanketing the streets and there’s almost nothing green in the entire city. The architecture is really amazing and is sort of how I imagine cities in Morocco or Egypt might look. It could have been straight out of “A thousand and one Arabian nights”.

After exploring the city we took camels out to the Sahara to play in the sand and see the sunset, which was a really great experience. I had never seen a camel in real life before and I can now report back that they are one of the weirdest animals there is. Their teeth jut out of their gums like long white fingers and their feet look like huge mushy bags that squash out every time they take a step. Also, if anyone out there was wondering what sound a camel makes I would say it’s kind of loud warbly groan, pretty much exactly like a bantha from Star Wars.

After Timbuktu we came back down and did some hiking in a part of Mali called Dogon country, so named for the Dogon people that live there. The region has a really interesting history and you can still see the remains of the houses carved into the cliffs of the people who lived there before the Dogon. The landscape was really beautiful and it reminded me a lot of places I’d been in Arizona and New Mexico.

When it was all said and done I had a great time in Mali. The country is beautiful and incredibly varied. It was amazing to wake up one morning in the desert and goto sleep that night in a place lush with greenery and lined with amazing cliffs. And of course there’s always the allure of more developed countries and the inevitable western comforts they provide. I swear I think I’d be happy anywhere in the world these days as long as I could find a hamburger and French fries. Anyways I took a lot of pictures (not of the hamburgers) and I’ve posted a lot of them online. Goto the photo link on the right side of the page to check them out.

Unfortunately my return to Guinea was met with bad news. A round of protests against the government just took place in multiple cities around the country including the capital, Conakry. It’s still too early to say what actually happened but multiple international news outlets are reporting quite a bit of a violent activity and deaths. The last I checked BBC had put the death toll around 130 for the protest that took place yesterday in Conakary. Here’s a BBC article on the recent protest that summarizes what pretty much all the major news outlets are reporting.

Guinea rally death toll nears 130

At least 128 people were killed when Guinean troops opened fire on opposition protesters on Monday, rights groups and opposition figures claim.

Earlier police said 87 people had died, but local activists say hospital sources confirmed a much higher toll.

Human rights groups say they have had reports of soldiers bayoneting people and women being stripped and raped in the streets during Monday's protest.

Junta head Captain Moussa Dadis Camara denied knowledge of sexual assaults.

About 50,000 people were protesting over rumours that Capt Camara intends to run for president in an election schedule for next January.

But soldiers moved in to quell the rally using tear gas and baton charges and firing live ammunition into the crowds.

An eyewitness told Human Rights Watch: "I saw the Red Berets [an elite military unit] catch some of the women who were trying to flee, rip off their clothes, and stick their hands in their private parts.

"Others beat the women, including on their genitals. It was pathetic - the women were crying out."

Another eyewitness told the group: "I saw several women stripped and then put inside the military trucks and taken away. I don't know what happened to them."

There has been worldwide condemnation of the violence.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Guinean authorities to exercise maximum restraint, while the West African regional body Ecowas is reported to be pursuing sanctions against the military regime.

Anyways, I’m posting all this info to let people know what’s going on but I also want to stress that I’m not in any danger and Peace Corps has volunteer safety in mind with everyone decision they make. All the violence has been confined to Conakry and my site and the area around it is perfectly safe. So don’t worry, nothing’s gonna happen to yours truly. In fact Peace Corps has advised us that the best thing we can all do is go back to our sites and wait this out, which is where I’m heading right now. So I advise anyone who’s interested to keep up to date with what’s going on at the BBC website and keep in mind that no matter what I am safe and sound. So don’t worry. And check out my picks from Mali!