23 February 2014

Project C.U.R.E and VFOM

Virginia Friends of Mali formally launches fundraising effort for Project CURE.

Dear Friends, VFOM is very pleased to continue our work in health projects in our sister city Segou.
Project C.U.R.E. is the largest provider of donated medical supplies and equipment to developing countries around the world.
"Project C.U.R.E.’s Cargo program delivers semi-trailer-sized cargo containers carrying medical donations to under-resourced hospitals, clinics and community health centers in developing countries. We manage a complex inspection, inventory and logistics process that annually places millions of dollars worth of medical supplies and modern equipment directly into the hands of doctors and nurses so they can provide quality care to their patients, many of whom are women and young children. 
Project C.U.R.E. collaborates with community partners in each country to develop a high-level understanding of the scope of need. Our thorough, on-site assessment process ensures that every container delivered will meet the specific needs of the recipient hospital or clinic, equipping the medical staff with life-saving tools to improve diagnosis, treatment and care. Each semi-trailer-sized container delivers $400,000 worth of medical supplies and equipment on average, increasing access to healthcare for the most vulnerable populations in the world."

Cliquez ici pour voir et télécharger le flyer en français/Click here to view and download a flier in French. English version coming soon.

17 February 2014

Segou: Teaching with Mr Salim Coumaré

by Dr. Robin Poulton

Philosophy at Lycée Cabral - Class 11-L teaching with Mr Salim Coumaré on Monday afternoon and Wednesday morning, 10 and 12 February 2104

Sister City – meaning Hospitality, Friendship and Fraternité
Friendship - Macky Tall and the Tall clan
Family – meaning, and new meanings
Slavery – Virginia & Mali links
Identity; name; religion, family; religion, superstition;
History and Sister Cities – changing American perceptions of themselves

On Feb 10th 2014, I went to school with my host, Councilman Salim Coumaré, who teaches philosophy to seniors at the main Ségou lycée with its 1700 students, 114 teachers and 44 sundry staff. This is a place with latrines you would not recognize. The 44 classes that have computer science as a subject once a week, have to share the Lycée’s 11 computers: these is not one computer in the Staff Room, so teachers – who cannot afford to buy their own computers - have great difficulty in following social media, keeping up with their emails, or even reading the news.

Coumaré and I were teaching his 11th grade class: adolescents around the age of 17-18 who have one more year (12th grade) before they graduate. There were around 25 men and 15 young women in the room, and the teachers’ equipment consisted of white chalk, and a blackboard made of black paint across the cement wall. As Coumaré explained who I was, I wrote on the black cement my name, my Malian name, and the words ‘Sister Cities’. That seemed to me to be a good place to start a philosophy discussion.

There is a new curriculum this year. Previously the philosophy class followed a classic historical pattern: the big names of Ancient Greece (Aristotle, Epicure), Islamic Scholarship and Theology (Averroes, and Ahmed Baba al-Sudani of Timbuktu), Medieval Theologians (Saint Augustine, Thomas Aquinas), Renaissance Luminaries (Gallileo, Copernicus), the Enlightenment (Diderot, Voltaire) and then Modern Philosophers of francophone inclination (Descartes, Rousseau…) and Germans in the Twentieth Century (Marx, Kant). Now the teachers are requested to study topics such as Religion, Superstition, Identity which are more complicated to deal with, especially if you have no text books and no photocopier.

We covered a number of these issues during the class. Sister Cities introduced ideas like ‘citizen diplomacy’ and values of Hospitality, Friendship and Fraternal relations (not forgetting sororial relations to keep the women engaged). Feminism may be on their curriculum, but we did not get to that!

The values led us to concepts of marriage and family. The nuclear family in America is so totally different from the sprawling clan relationships of Malian family life, that the students’ mouths opened with astonishment. Imagine then, their reaction as we described the breakdown of the American family through movement (the motor car has destroyed much family life in USA), and through divorce. The result of America’s high divorce rate is the ‘recomposed family’ – a new concept to our Malian students – and the fact that many US men have two or more wives… and women may also have multiple husbands! This compares with the Malian acceptance of polygamy: Malian men (but not women) may have up to four partners at the same time, whereas Americans can have four or more… but normally they have to divorce one in order to marry the next one.

What has this done to marriage? Eyes widened and jaws dropped as we introduced the reality of ‘marriage pour tous’ (a French campaign slogan) and the reality of marriage between two men or two women… and their right to adopt or breed children!

Malian polygamous families often find themselves split: children of the same mother band together, while the brothers and sisters of different mothers are potential (and often real) competitors for the affection, attention and resources of their father. The students found the discussions of ‘loyalty’ and ‘rivalry’ very relevant to their own lives – unlike the unbelievable (to them) story of men and women having same-sex marriages.
One philosophical question that is close to their daily reality, concerns the nature of family and identity, seen through the concepts of fadenya (children of the same father) and badenya (children of the same mother). In class we established that fadenya equals rivalry, jealousy and competition; while badenya equals support and loyalty. On a vote, most of the class considered badenya to bring good elements to life, while a majority see fadenya as negative – but not all by any means, for they also see emulation and the desire to do better, strive harder (even if this may lead to theft or corruption, which they agree are bad).

The Griots praise fadenya as a vital element of Malinké society. I confess that I see it as bad for Mali’s progress. No one can get ahead, because his very own brothers will pull him backwards. You see shops with the name “Coulibaly Frères”suggesting that sons of the same mother are working together. But “Coulibaly et Fils” is almost unknown: people do not build businesses that pass from father to son.

As a concept, fadenya would seem to accord with the mercantile aspects of the 'American Dream' - a myth by which a small number exploit the rest, or a wonderful opportunity for everyone to do well (take your pick, according to your view of capitalism, the rule of law, and the usefulness of social justice). On the other hand, American society, being built of and by immigrants who want to do better for themselves, is inherently competitive. American society built on striving, on the success of the few at the cost of failure for the mass of society (especially the mass that was enslaved by the wealthy and that still carries on its shoulders the historical burden of American racism).

Fadenya would not exist, without polygamy. Wives defend the interests of their own offspring, in competition with their co-wives. We naturally challenged the students by mis-thinking that ‘polygamy’ meant ‘one woman having several husbands’- and then, when they corrected us, we asked them why this could not happen? Of course, in America is happens all the time: men and women in America can divorce and re-marry (or simply live as a couple) as many time as they like, while a Malian man may take up to four wives, but he keeps them all. The law of marriage in Mali actually stipulates that a man cannot use the income earned by one wife to feed or lodge another wife. The students were intrigued by the idea that many Americans practice a form of “serial monogamy that might be counted as a form of polygamy.”

At each stage, we brought the class discussion back to the Sister City relationship (I was asked, when will we have the first Segou-Richmond wedding?). But what historical links could exist between the two cities and countries? They did not know. So we used and explored the terrible word: Slavery

On the whole, Malians are fairly snobbish about the slave trade: they feel that they were the ones who escaped enslavement, and they feel inherently superior to the ‘captives’. The students were familiar with the idea of the triangular trade, but not with its real, profound meaning. They knew there were mirrors and guns coming south, they had never thought about what their ancestors went through: torn from the land, separated from family and friends, taken away from the place of their ancestors; denied their name, language, religion, identity – and then for many, the tragedy of once more having the break-up as children were sold away from their parents and husbands from their wives. They were moved by the thought of innocent people losing everything.

Nothing made them think more profoundly than this.

The idea of families splitting was a shock: whether through the obscenity of slavery, or through the effects of labor mobility due to the motor car, the students were forced to re-think their assumptions of ‘what is a family’. Do neighbors and friends become more important than ‘family’, when parents, grandparents, children, cousins are scattered throughout the 50 States of the USA?

Then we took the family analysis further, through discussion of the modern American family which is often recomposed, decomposed, reconfigured and even re-invented. ‘Le mariage pour tous’ has become a French political slogan, with conservative Catholics and Muslims (and also neo-Fascists and racists on the far right of the French political spectrum) joining forces to oppose the decision of President François Hollande to allow same-sex marriage. The Malian students in Lycée Cabral were amazed by the concept of men and women marrying people of the same sex.

The discussion of slave legacy led us quite naturally to the enigmatic status of President Barack Obama. Before he was first elected, the Malian Ambassador in Washington had engaged us in a discussion about the US elections. We asked if the students could understand the opinion of Ambassador Diop, that “Americans are not ready to elect a black president, but they may be mature enough to vote for Obama.” Few of them knew a lot about Obama, but bits and bobs allowed them to recreate his story in part: born in Hawaii (far away from the Mason-Dixon Line) as the exceptionally gifted offspring of an African student with proud Luo ancestry in Kenya, and a white American woman with a PhD in anthropology, Obama is emphatically not an ordinary African-American carrying the burden of slavery.

So what is Obama's name/ identity/ compared to other Americans or to Malians? A Malian treasures his family name: he is Tall or Traoré or Coumaré or Samaké, before he is anything else.  An American, in contrast, is Bill or Chuck or Tom first and foremost, because American treasures individualism and the individual identity. A Malian's identity depends on his family name: and the griots will tell them all about their family. In America, the individual takes precedence over the family. It is therefore fair to assume (from the psychological point of view) that American society is therefore inherently less stable, and inherently more mobile, more dynamic...

I then told them about what I see as the ‘cultural degradation of urban society’ at least among the urban black population of New York where rappers and ‘humorists’ use the language of rapers and images of self-degradation in their normal conversation. This suggests that the denial of identity is deep-set. These descendants of the African diaspora - as much as any Malian - need to discover the history of Sunjata the Lion King, and learn about the glorious history of their African ancestors. The history of African-Americans did not begin with slavery: it began thousands of years earlier in Ancient Egypt and the Kingdoms of the Nile; it continued through the glorious history of Wagadou and Mali, of Timbo and Fouta and Soso; it culminated in the Islamic triumphs of Sonrai and Djéné and Timbuktu. Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the New World in 1492. The Sonrai Empire was destroyed by the Moroccans in 1591. Mongo Park ‘discovered’ Segou and the Niger River in 1795. With the coming of the White Man, the history of slavery was about to begin.

05 February 2014

Wonderful Music Feb. 11, 15 and 20!

Feb 11: Modlin @ Boatright: Fatoumata Diawara

Feb 15: A Night of Mali Music

Feb 20: From Africa To Appalachia: An Evening with Cheick Hamala Diabte, Sammy Shelor, Danny Knicely and Friends

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February 15: A Night of Mali Music

Fatoumata Diawara                 Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
At the University of Richmond Camp Concert Hall / Booker Hall of Music on Saturday night, February 15, 2014 at 7:30 pm. Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara has packed a lifetime of experience into her 33 years. Diawara’s career includes stints as a dancer, and a film and stage star before finding her true calling as an unparalleled singer and songwriter. Blending Wassalou traditions of Southern Mali with international influences, Diawara has performed and recorded with Oumou Sangaré, AfroCubism, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. (From Richmond's Sister City Segou) Bassekou Kouyate is one of the true masters of the ngoni, an ancient traditional lute found throughout West Africa. Following his celebrated debut album Segu Blue and his Grammy-nominated follow-up I Speak Fula, Kouyate and his band Ngoni ba performed as a headliner in the AfroCubism project and appeared with Sir Paul McCartney, John Paul Jones, Damon Albarn, and many more on the Africa Express tour.

Sponsored in part by the Cultural Affairs Committee.

Related Event: Tuesday, February 11

Modlin @ Boatwright: Fatoumata Diawara

An informal conversation with Malian vocalist and songwriter Fatoumata Diawara. Boatwright Memorial Library hosts the 60-minute session.

Free and open to the public
12:00 pm Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Boatwright Library, 1st floor (campus map) - See more at: http://modlin.richmond.edu/events/modlinarts-presents/mali-music.html#sthash.ya51Ggyz.dpuf

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February 20: From Africa To Appalachia: An Evening with Cheick Hamala Diabte, Sammy Shelor, Danny Knicely and Friends

Thursday, February 20, 2014 from 7:30 - 10:00 pm at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. Located in C'ville's historic Black neighborhood, Vinager Hill. 
More information email jsaahc@gmail.com and learn more about this recently renovated center at jeffersonschoolheritagecenter.org.